In response to the outrageous
scandal of sexually immoral priests and bureaucratic bishops who moved them
from parish to parish, the pope summoned American cardinal archbishops, on scant
notice, to a meeting with Vatican officials. The cardinals issued a statement
at the meetings conclusion, with proposals aimed at reforming and renewing
Catholic faith and life in the USA. But the bishops who must be responsible
for implementing any plan of renewal are the very bishops who allowed corruption
to fester in the Catholic Church in America. Can they do what must be done?
And how can we tell whether they are doing it?
The U.S. Cardinals
Doctrinal Confusion is Part of the Problem
Americans had seldom given so much scrutiny to statements by President Bill
Clinton as they did to his grand-jury testimony, August 17, 1998. Much to Americans chagrin
and, perhaps, to the worlds amusement and bemusement the
genesis of the presidential testimony was a combination of sexual misbehavior
and subsequent official malfeasance. Some of the presidents more remarkable
sentences are now etched in our national consciousness: It depends upon
what the meaning of the word is means.... Well, again, it depends on how you
Similarly, American Catholics have seldom given so much scrutiny to episcopal
statements as they did to the U.S.
Cardinals Statement at the conclusion of their two-day meeting
in Rome, Apr. 23-24. To Catholics chagrin and, surely, to
the amusement and bemusement of at least some people outside the Church
the genesis was the same: sexual immorality compounded by official malfeasance.
I think that one of the cardinals sentences (not so easily memorable,
nor an embarrassment, but certainly more momentous) needs to become etched in
our national Catholic consciousness: The pastors of the Church need clearly
to promote the correct moral teaching of the Church and publicly to reprimand
individuals who spread dissent and groups which advance ambiguous approaches
to pastoral care.
In response to the scandal that provoked the cardinals Roman meeting,
Catholics all over the country have been asking themselves How could the
Catholic Church in the USA have fallen so low? I have already given my
own diagnosis, summarized in Part
Six of Wolves
in Shepherds Clothing:
For decades, a crisis has been brewing in the Catholic
Church in the USA: a crisis of faith, a crisis of morals, a crisis of courage.
So I began the epigraph of Part
One. The sexual scandals mostly homosexual encounters with
juveniles that now plague the clergy, concomitant with the hierarchys
failure to deal appropriately with miscreant priests, are, I believe, but
a symptom of a deeper, more fundamental scandal: doctrinal confusion and doubt
have been wrought, often deliberately, by Catholics in official positions
clergy, religious, theologians. Sometimes, the result has been, in
certain circles, the outright denial of ancient Catholic teachings
especially those regarding morality, particularly sexual morality but
also those regarding, for instance, the divinity of Christ, the origins and
meaning of Sacred Scripture and Catholic doctrine, and the role of the Churchs
teaching authority and of individual conscience.
I have also given my own prescription, in the same
I am but one layman, in a small parish in small-town America.
I have no solution to provide. Fortunately, nobody needs for me to provide
a solution: it is at hand, as it always has been. The solution to what ails
the Catholic Church is, as it has been in all bad times, the Catholic faith,
undiluted and unashamed.... Heterodox theologians especially if they
are bishops must be removed from their positions, if not put out of
the Church entirely. Defiantly immoral priests, and those who encourage and
support immorality especially if they are bishops must be removed
from their positions, if not put out of the Church entirely....
How well do my prescription and the cardinals proposals match
up? Remarkably well, I think. Here are some excerpts from their statement:
.... The participants first of all wish to express their
unanimous gratitude to the Holy Father for his clear indications of direction
and commitment for the future. In communion with the pope they reaffirm certain
basic principles: ....
5) Given the doctrinal issues underlying the deplorable behavior
in question, certain lines of response have been proposed:
a) the pastors of the Church need clearly to promote
the correct moral teaching of the Church and publicly to reprimand
individuals who spread dissent and groups which advance ambiguous
approaches to pastoral care....
As part of the preparation for the June meeting of the American
bishops, the United States participants in the Rome meeting presented to the
prefects of the Roman congregations the following proposals: ....
4) We will propose an apostolic visitation of seminaries
and religious houses of formation, giving special attention to their admission
requirements and the need for them to teach Catholic moral doctrine in
its integrity.... (emphasis added)
Here is a clear admission that the cardinals see that doctrinal issues
underly the deplorable behavior. And that part of the solution is
to promote the correct moral teaching of the Church. And that promoting
correct Catholic teaching involves the public reprimand of individuals
who spread so-called dissent. And that seminaries and religious
houses of formation need to teach Catholic moral doctrine in its integrity.
Wonderful! Obvious. Common sense. Plain and simple. Long, long overdue. But
Those parts of the cardinals statement seem to be more concrete expressions
of a passage in the
popes address at the beginning of their meeting, which is also
quoted entirely in the cardinals statement:
It must be absolutely clear to the Catholic faithful, and
to the wider community, that bishops and superiors are concerned, above all
else, with the spiritual good of souls. People need to know that there is
no place in the priesthood and religious life for those who would harm the
young. They must know that bishops and priests are totally committed
to the fullness of Catholic truth on matters of sexual morality,
a truth as essential to the renewal of the priesthood and the episcopate as
it is to the renewal of marriage and family life. (emphasis added)
The Bishops of the
Catholic Church in the USA:
Are They Up to the Task?
Three of Wolves
in Shepherds Clothing, I asserted The Corruption of the
The American episcopacy has become corrupt. Not the individual
bishops. Well, not all of them. But the episcopacy itself has become corrupt:
the group, the organization, the body. It no longer has the will it
has not had the will for a generation or more to remove subversive
traitors from positions of trust, nor to appropriately discipline sexually
immoral priests, nor to cause perfidious bishops to be removed from their
Surely, corruption cannot be overcome by a statement, even a statement from
cardinals, from cardinals at an extraordinary meeting convened by a papal summons.
What are needed, as I have already written,
are (1) honesty and (2) courage in action.
I think the U.S. Cardinals Statement was a giant step towards (1) honesty,
especially the parts I have quoted, which recognize the connection between doctrinal
dissent and moral deviancy. As Michael Novak wrote,
There is a lesson in the present time: The prayerful, orthodox,
and faithful priests and religious of this generation did not bring about
the scandals that now humiliate the Church. The sins that have brought us
low were abetted by a culture of rebellion, pride, and moral superiority,
among those who thought themselves more intelligent, more able, more in tune
with human progress, open, experimental, and brave. They despised the merely
traditional, observant, and orthodox, whom they considered closed-minded,
rigid, and intransigent. They turned away from the tried and true asceticism
and paths of holiness of the past.
The sins that have disgraced us are the sins of those who
promised renewal and progress down new
paths. But we did not mean child-abuse, the progressives will
say in self-defense. We didnt mean the abuse of teenagers.
But, hey, a climate in which it was regarded as rigid to say that
sex outside of marriage was sinful, was not a climate in which playground
sand long held lines drawn in it. Young people in pre-marital coupling, older
couples experimenting beyond the marriage bond, and same-sex coupling
were in that climate not regarded as disordered but as healthy
Yet, in the same document, I find an indication of a lack of forthrightness,
which may also indicate a potential lack of (2) courage in action. You see,
the cardinals managed to note the following:
Attention was drawn to the fact that almost all the cases
involved adolescents and therefore were not cases of true pedophilia.
They did not manage, then, to say of what these are true cases. But
the cardinals know. You know. I know. Everybody who refuses to kowtow to politically-correct
fashionable thought knows.
If the cardinals in Rome could not manage to utter the H word
homosexuality will the American bishops really be able to make sure that
Catholic priests and religious and theologians and teachers and writers will
be able to do so in the context of authentic Catholic teaching? This authentic
doctrine is set forth briefly in the
Catechism of the Catholic Church ## 2357-2359:
Chastity and homosexuality
2357 Homosexuality refers to relations between men
or between women who experience an exclusive or predominant sexual attraction
toward persons of the same sex. It has taken a great variety of forms through
the centuries and in different cultures. Its psychological genesis remains
largely unexplained. Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual
acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that homosexual
acts are intrinsically disordered. They are contrary to the natural
law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from
a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can
they be approved.
2358 The number of men and women who have deep-seated
homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively
disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with
respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination
in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill Gods
will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice
of the Lords Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.
2359 Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By
the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the
support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they
can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection.
From what I have seen so far, it seems that one cardinal has been able to stand
up for the truth; another, it seems, has failed to do so.
Anthony Cardinal Bevilacqua, archbishop of Philadelphia, former bishop of Pittsburgh,
included the following among his remarks
at a press conference, Apr. 26:
We feel that a person who is homosexually oriented is not
a suitable candidate for the priesthood, even if he has never committed any
homosexual act.... Theres an obligation of celibacy in every priest.
Theres a difference between a heterosexual candidate, what his choice
of celibacy is, and that of a homosexual celibate. When a heterosexual celibate
chooses to become a celibate in the priesthood, hes taking on a good
that is, his own desire to become a priest and hes giving
up a very good thing, and that is a family and children that could follow.
That would not be true of a homosexually oriented candidate. He may be choosing
the good, but... hes giving up what the church considers an aberration,
a moral evil.
Secondly, the risk of someone who is homosexually oriented
is higher in the priesthood. In the sense that hes constantly associated
with males, always associated in the seminary, outside, when he becomes a
priest Im not saying that it will always happen by any means
I think we have, its possible we have homosexuals who have been
very chaste, and I dont ascribe that it means that they will commit
a sin; Im not saying that at all. But the risk is much higher.
We have found that, when you have someone even using
the example of an alcoholic, oriented toward alcoholism, they may be wonderful
in the seminary but when they get into the tension of the priesthood there
is a tendency at times to seek some kind of outlet, and thats why some
priests who have never touched a drink as candidates, when they become priests,
they have fallen into alcoholism. The risk is higher.
On the other hand, Adam Cardinal Maida, archbishop of Detroit, former priest
of the Church of Pittsburgh, has been reported,
Apr. 25, as backtracking from comments that more closely approximate to
the truth than do his later redactions:
Seeking to clarify earlier remarks that outraged gays, Cardinal
Adam Maida said Wednesday he blames errant priests, not homosexuality, for
the Catholic Churchs sex abuse crisis.
Homosexuals are not pedophiles, Maida, who is
head of the Detroit Archdiocese, told The Detroit News after the second day
of meetings in Rome with Pope John Paul II. Theres a distinct
difference ... (The sex crisis) is mostly an issue of adolescents and priests.
Thats where the problems are. Whats grievous is you use your collar
to betray a trust.
The clarification came as activists accused Maida of gay-bashing
after news reports on Tuesday quoted the cardinal saying the current priestly
sex abuse crisis is not truly a pedophilia-type problem but a homosexual-type
problem. Maida also said bishops need to cope with and address
the issue of homosexuals in the seminary.
What is here called an act of clarification might better be called
an act of cowardice. Now, I dont think Catholic bishops ought to ordinarily
be in the business of outraging people. Ordinarily. But if the people are activists
bent on radically redefining the Catholic faith to suit their sexual perversions
or any and every sexual perversion well, if the cardinal of Detroit
cant cope with that kind of outrage, he ought to let braver men do the
Some Tests for the
How the Laity Can Score Them
Talking is all we got, so far. The bishops will have to show us that they can
walk the walk as well as talk the talk assuming
some of them can manage to continue to do even that. Honesty and courage in
action: they will be required, every day, every step of the way. Every national
meeting, every diocesan meeting, every press conference and pastoral letter,
will require honesty and, perhaps as never before in the USA, courage in action.
Those who are falsely called dissenters who are, in reality,
quite happy assenters to any and every doctrine at odds with the Catholic faith
will scream in fury if the bishops actually take the
steps necessary to regain their moral authority and restore the
integrity of Catholic faith and life in the USA. And every syllable of every
furious scream will be faithfully reported in a mainstream media that hates
authentic Catholicism as much as dissenters do.
The next year will show us what future the bishops of the USA really have planned
for Catholics in America. During and after the bishopss semi-annual meeting
in June, mainstream media, and perhaps the bishops in response, will want to
talk only about what policy will be put into place to deal with pedophile
priests. That will be, as logicians might say, necessary but insufficient.
We have the cardinals own words to show us how to judge the bishops
response: The pastors of the Church need clearly to promote the correct
moral teaching of the Church and publicly to reprimand individuals who spread
dissent and groups which advance ambiguous approaches to pastoral care.
- How many theologians, who promote error if not outright heresy, will be
publicly reprimanded in the next year? (Will the famous on-TV-a-lot-these-days
Fr. Richard McBrien, a theologian at Notre Dame, be among them?)
- How many bishops will be publicly reprimanded in the next year for giving
encouragement and support to homosexual behaviors that the Catholic Church
condemns as sinful? (Will Thomas Gumbleton, auxiliary bishop of Detroit, be
- How many groups will be publicly reprimanded in the next year for the same
reason? Or for some other reason connected with Catholic moral teaching on,
say, pre-marital sex, extra-marital sex, divorce and remarriage, abortion,
or artificial contraception. (Will Dignity, an organization of homosexual
activists, be among them?)
- And how many of these reprimands, of whatever kind they may be, will actually
contribute to clearly promoting the correct moral teaching
of the Catholic Church?
I submit that, if the answers tally up to zero as I suspect they will
we shall know that the U.S. Cardinals Statement was merely words.
Lest We Forget
The pastors of the Church need clearly to promote the
correct moral teaching of the Church and publicly to reprimand individuals who
spread dissent and groups which advance ambiguous approaches to pastoral care.
(U.S. Cardinals, April 24, 2002)