|John Joseph Myers, Archbishop|
Now it turns out that Newark New Jersey Archbishop John Joseph (aka “Farmer John” because of his southern Illinois roots) Myers of Newark sent a letter to his clergy insisting on the tightest of guidelines about who may and who may not receive Holy Communion. Turns out that the priests and religious of the Archdiocese are as banned from the Lord’s Table as are the multiply married, the transgendered and the gay. “His Grace,” as he likes to be known with all the affectations of an Anglican Primate waddling into the House of Lords, has declared that “Catholics must be in a marriage recognized as valid by the Church to receive Holy Communion or other sacraments.” Well, golly gee. That puts the Arch himself in a catch 22. If he is married, it cannot be in a canonical marriage, as priests cannot validly marry. And if he is not married—well he himself has declared that only those in a marriage the Church recognizes as valid can receive the Sacraments—he is not eligible for Holy Communion. We have canon lawyers for a reason—you would think they would have checked his letter before it was sent out. In fact you would think a good secretary would catch the blunder. But at the end of the day there are more horses’ asses than horses. No need to verify the obvious.
But that is only part of the story. “His Grace” of Newark is living beneath the shadow of his far more popular successor, the appointed coadjutor, Bernard Hebda, as the clergy and faithful count down the days to Myers’ 75th. Myers and Hebda provide a sort of good cop/bad cop duo. Hebda, at least in his public face, walks a more Francis line on things. He lives more simply, living in a dorm at Seton Hall University. He has better people skills and is more approachable. Behind the scenes he is every bit the Institution Man that most bishops are, but if life is a Christmas pageant, he knows how to play the shepherd. That alone gives him an edge over many of his colleagues who are still into the Prince of the Church model and can’t seem to shift. In any event, Archbishop Hebda gave a good talk to the Religious of the Archdiocese yesterday where he offered a far more inclusive theology of Church than Myers’ terse veditum. It wasn’t a direct assault on Myers’ position but it made it clear that there is a new sheriff waiting in the wings, one who sees the Church as more inclusive and welcoming to all. In the event, most priests have said that they will take the Archbishop’s letter for what it is worth and that policies in the parishes will change little if at all. The Archdiocese is in the middle of a 90 million dollar capital campaign and it will be interesting to see if Archbishop Myers’ letter causes much fallout.
Myers is not the only bishop to express his concerns about where Francis is taking the Church. Cardinal Burke has said that the Church under Francis is a ship without a rudder. Bishop Tobin of Providence has criticized Pope Francis. Archbishop Chaput who just two weeks ago welcomed the Pope to Philadelphia has spoken up about the “anxiety” that Francis’ Synod on the Family is causing among those determined to resist any change in pastoral practice. Several other bishops—Cordileone of San Francisco, Loverde of Arlington, Lori of Baltimore, Paprocki of Springfield, Lennon of Cleveland, Sheridan of Colorado Springs, Slattery of Tulsa, Olmstead of Phoenix, have all been quoted from private conversations—often after a drink too many—with disparaging remarks about Pope Francis or the direction in which he is taking the Church. I am sure they are not the only bishops who have let slip their dismay with the current occupant of Peter’s chair.
Clergy and laity are far more outspoken. Despite the lovely welcoming ceremony at the seminary of Saint Charles in Philadelphia, the word is that the student body is overwhelmingly anti-Francis. Even more rabid are the seminarians at Mount Saint Mary’s in Emmitsburg where Francis is widely regarded as a usurper on the Papal Throne. And an acquaintance just back from the sabbatical program at the Pontifical North American College (you know, you saw the video of the NAC *** Men’s Chorus and the toe-tapping clerics of Little Broadway) was shocked by the anti-Francis sentiments being expressed openly by “a vast majority” of the NACers. Diocese of Arlington clergy regularly undermine the Pope and his desire for a more inclusive Church from the pulpits of Saint John the Beloved in McLean, Saint John the Apostle in Leesburg, Saint John the Evangelist in Warrenton, Saint John the Baptist in Front Royal, and several other parishes where the priests are determined to hold the line against any loosening up of Church discipline. Arlington, while particularly infested with clergy who are anti-Francis is far from the only diocese that is suffering from a split Catholicism. Examples can also be found in New York, Philadelphia, and Boston. And of course, our friends such as the Canons of Saint John Cantius in Chicago and the Canons Regular of the New Jerusalem in Wheeling and in Saint Louis as well as the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest run churches that are bubbles of a bygone Catholicism and while they are devout in prayers for the Holy Father, otherwise barely acknowledge his existence much less his vision for the Church in our contemporary world.
And then we have the blogging priests. “Father Z,” who in between gorging himself with culinary delights and squeezing into over-sized airline seats manages to blog consistently against Francis and his policies, is sort of the Dean of the Anti-Francis blogs. More vicious but less well known is the English Father Hunwicke, a refugee from the Church of England who would like to make us all over in his image and likeness of what the Catholic Church should be, as if the soured Anglican would know authentic Catholicism. And of course there is Rene Henry Gracida, the retired bishop of Corpus Christi and his blog, Abyssus Abyssum Invocat which might be better translated the Abysmal Calls to the Abysmal. Honest to goodness, the man was a poor enough excuse for a bishop, as a blogger he just fills the world with a gloomy faux gospel of judgment and condemnation. Father Joseph Illo, aka Father Riceroni, the San Francisco treat, makes sure everyone is on board with his scribe and Pharisee Catholicism in contradistinction to Francis’ message of Mercy. And then there is The Black Biretta: A Cleric Opines. Sorry Father, but stop opining and get to work preaching the Gospel, the Good News of salvation not the sour news of condemnation. You weren’t ordained to opine and you obviously weren’t give the charism by the Holy Spirit to have anything worthwhile to say.
I won’t even go into the Lay Bloggers save to say that Michael Hichborn of Lepanto Institute is in virtual schism in what he says about Pope Francis and the Synod of Bishops. Rorate Caeli, at one time a worthwhile blog despite its right-wing biases, has lost any credibility for sound theological thinking or for loyalty to the Church and has just morphed into a rant. As for the witches of Eastwick, Janet and Carole and Mary Ann and the other koven of krazies are beside themselves in despair and ready to jump ship from Peter’s barque should compassion and reconciliation triumph over self-righteousness and spiritual pride. Let ‘em go, let them all go.
In the end it will be, I think, much ado about nothing because while many priests and the wing-nut laity will let spiritual pride win out and convince them that they know Catholicism better than the Pope, ultimately I don’t think a single bishop will go with them. You can’t have a schism without a bishop. In the end Myers and Sheridan and Olmstead and Lori and Burke—and even that old senile windbag Gracida—won’t walk Peter’s plank. Frankly I might have more respect for them if they did. I can deal with stupidity, but it shakes me to see people who lack moral courage to stand by their convictions. Old hens all, I am afraid, who squawk and pick and ruffle their feathers but nothing more.