Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Church Reform Today: The Political Ties of Bishops, 1

One of the goals, indeed the chief goal, of the Gregorian Reform was to free the Church from political entanglement with the Empire.  The purpose was not create the two separate spheres, or I should say separated spheres, of Church and State which our American mythology values so highly because the Church, with its mission to proclaim the kingdom of God, cannot act as if the State—or any other institution—simply exists in a universe parallel to itself.  The Gospel demands that we take an appropriately critical, critical according to the norms of the Gospel, stance towards the world and all that is in it.  By critical I do not mean negative.  A negative critique of creation slides too easily towards Gnosticism.  By critical I mean that we as Church must critique the world as to where it does and where it doesn’t match up to the Gospel.  Note: we as Church.  It is not the role of the “Institution” alone to do this.  Indeed, the Institution, which is not the Church but only one aspect of Christ’s Church, itself must stand under the critique of the Gospel.  That itself is a lesson that most people in the Institution seem to have forgotten these days.   But to critique with integrity we must not only have stood under the judgment of the Gospel ourselves, we must not be indebted to the institutions we critique.  I am not sure that as the Catholic Church we are equipped to critique our society.  The sex abuse scandal has revealed the lack of gospel integrity in the Church, not because of the sinfulness of certain clergy or religious (though that does not help), but because we, both as Institution and as Community of the Faithful became complicit in the abuse by our failure to address the issue honestly and openly.  We will always have sinners in our midst.  There will be sexual predators of all varieties because human society, and we are a human society, will always have sexual predators.  We will have adulterers and fornicators of both gay and straight sorts. We will have drunks and druggies, thieves, embezzlers, abortionists, those who practice euthanasia, who bear false witness, who cheat their employees, who don’t give their employers an honest day’s work, and who pollute the air and water.  We will have people who take us to wars that cannot be justified, and those who sell bonds that are junk.  Sinners are what makes the world go ‘round and moreover Jesus died for them.  They belong in Church.  indeed, they—or rather we—are the Church.  Don’t get on your high horse about “those” or “that kind of people” or “them.”  We have met the sinner and he is us” to paraphrase Pogo.  That being said, however, it is not our task as Church to bless sin by tacit complicity in remaining silent.  Acknowledging our own sins and failings, individually and collectively, we need to be able to speak out about injustices in the world around us—from sexual abuse of minors to abortion to the death penalty to unjust wars, to human rights abuses, to whatever is wrong and unjust in the ways that we relate to one another whether individually or societally.  Because I sin, there are fundamental wrongs in the way I myself and an individual treat people around me.  I need to be reminded of that and challenged to take responsibility for that.  And there are fundamental wrongs in the way that I, not as an individual but as a member of our American society, treat people around me.  I—and other Americans—need to be reminded of that and take responsibility for that.  And there are fundamental wrongs in the way that I, not as an individual but as a member of the Church, treat people around me.  I—and others in the Church with me—need to be reminded of that and take responsibility for that. 
     One of the ways that I, as a member of American society, am guilty of fundamental wrongs in the way I relate to others around me is that I tolerate the murder of the unborn, hundreds of thousands of the unborn.  I don’t approve of it but I am as complicit in it as any bishop has been complicit in the sexual abuse of minors.  I know it goes on.  I confess it is wrong.  I lament it.  But I go about my day; I eat my meals; I go to work; I hang-out with my friends; and I sleep at night in spite of it.  “I wish we could do something about it.”      But that is only one of the sins I am complicit in as a member of our society.  I stood by while Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfield led George Bush like a pig with a ring in his nose to war—and led us to war along with him—a war that cannot and never could be morally justified and a war that was energized by a knowing web of lies about WMDs.  And I see the coffins come home and the mothers and the wives and the children trying to make heroes of those who are in fact victims because these deaths must have some significance more than the loss of pawns on a chessboard to make the Vice President and his friends even richer than they are.  And I watched while hundreds of thousands of senior citizens were robbed of their retirements by the Savings and Loans Debacles.  And I have no idea how many people are put to death—legally but not morally—in Texas and Virginia and wherever else while I sit down to dinner, or have a drink on the patio, or sleep undisturbed at night.  And Latinos who just want a chance for them and their children to have a better life die in the desert night after night while I dream undisturbed.   And I know that racism didn’t die with Miss Hilly Holbrook when I hear Sunday Mass goers say “Well, he isn’t my president.” 
     There was a time when our bishops gave moral leadership.  There was a time when our bishops wrote a pastoral letter warning us about the fundamental moral evils beneath “Reaganomics”—you know that system that made some people rich before it made a lot of people poor when it imploded back in 2008.   There was a time when our bishops gave moral leadership and wrote a pastoral letter on War and Peace.  They didn’t make these letters up out of whole cloth.  They took the scriptures, the Fathers of the Church, papal pronouncements, the Documents of Vatican II—they mined the whole tradition to give leadership in our day and age.  But today?  Where are they today?

     “When a Baptist gets money, he becomes a Presbyterian,” a friend told me a few years back. “And when a Methodist wants to join the country club, he becomes an Episcopalian.  When a Catholic priest becomes a bishop, he becomes a Republican.”  One of the senior bishops in the United States, a man who has been a bishop since the “old days,” even before the Apostolic Delegation of Jean Jadot and his crop of liberal Vatican II bishops, told me “The problem with the bishops today is that they are the sons of doctors and lawyers and professionals.  They have no connection with the working class—they were raised to see the working class people as a threat—they come from ‘management’ families.”  Yes, I think that is part of the problem.  The bishops know only a segment of society, they have lost touch—as most white Americans—with their own roots.  But I think the problem is far more serious.     You have men as bishops who have lost their socio-political autonomy and who see the challenges facing society not from the perspective of a Gospel critique but from a political ideology.  More to come.   

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