Thursday, September 22, 2011

To Bash, or Not To Bash

I don’t really want to bash bishops. I agree with the concept of respect for the episcopal office; I agree that bishops are human beings, too, and thus not incapable of errors; I agree that obedience to a bishop’s decrees is required of the faithful. Sometimes, it seems to me, bishops act in highly irregular ways. Yes, we may have a media slant on the issue at hand, or the bishop may have very good reasons for taking some particular action, and we may not be privy to all the information he has used to guide his decision. Still, there are times when you just have to shake your head…and maybe shake up the community by asking some questions or making some comments.
I want to respect bishops. I do respect the office. I try to make my respect for the office lead to respect for the individuals. But when confronted with story after story appearing to reflect episcopal laxity, negligence, and even hostility toward orthodox priests, it is difficult not to become frustrated and resentful. It is hard not to see the "good" bishops as exceptions to the rule.

For instance, the recent case of Spokane Bishop Cupich telling his priests and seminarians not to pray at abortion clinics is very concerning. What are we to make of that? Should we remain silent because he is, after all, a bishop?
Today I see on LifeSiteNews that an elderly Canadian priest has been suspended for denouncing abortion and homosexuality. I have to wonder why a priest who is willing to speak the Truth is silenced – not by the civil authorities, but by the very Church whose teachings he defends!  The vicar general of that priest’s diocese cites “pastoral prudence” as the reason for the suspension. A very convenient concept, that: pastoral prudence. Much can be silenced in the name of pastoral prudence.
I’ve been a Catholic for 9 years. I have had personal interactions with only two bishops. Certainly, I should not judge all bishops by the two with whom I’ve interacted. However, I have also read of the actions of many other bishops, and the negative reports have vastly outweighed the positive.
Human nature leads us to characterize groups of people based on our interactions with only a few of the representatives of those groups. You can call it stereotyping, if you want, or you can call it “schema formation” which is a concept I studied as a grad student in psychology. We have limited capacity for holding information, so we tend to reduce our experiences to common denominators.  So, when we see many negative stories about bishops, we eventually form a negative view of that group. Is it fair? No, not to individual bishops who are doing their jobs. But it’s a fact of life. And the way bishops can change that view is to have more of them standing up for the truth that the Catholic Church teaches. I think it’s been quite a while since a bishop was martyred.
M personal experiences have certainly colored my impression of bishops: One bishop with whom I and an associate spoke regarding the issue of the extraordinary form of the Mass was quite condescending in his attitude toward us and the laity in general. He made it clear that he felt no compunction to obey Rome; "I'm my own superior" he told us. He made sweeping generalizations which he apparently expected us to believe. For instance, he told us that many of the irregular liturgical practices we mentioned were not abuses because “it’s done that way in many places in the US”. He maintained that liturgical abuse is “a matter of perspective”, and that if the priest says the words of the consecration properly, then little else matters. He also maintained that even if a translation of the Latin prayers of the EF Mass are provided, “people won’t read them”. I find this kind of reasoning ludicrous, especially from a bishop.

The other bishop with whom I have had personal interaction was fond of saying, “You may be right, but there are more important things than being right.” Hard to argue with that kind of “logic”! (He was also known to invoke “pastoral prudence”.) When I complained about a priest who had maligned me and my family, allowing and possibly encouraging our good name to be trodden upon, even in a town 90 miles away, this bishop said there was nothing he could do about it. Why? Because he didn’t have first-hand knowledge of the situation. All I could think, as I stood there with my mouth open, was “I’m telling you it happened. You spent 45 minutes on the phone with my husband listening to the story. And there’s NOTHING you can do?” In matters of institutions and individuals failing to reflect Church teaching, he liked to use the rationale that “I have the authority, but I don’t have the power” to correct them.

I know I’m not the only one with this kind of experience. We are seeing more and more evidence of bishops who, essentially, are not faithful to the teachings of the Church, especially where homosexuality, artificial contraception, and even abortion are concerned. Michael Voris has had much to say about the homosexuality issue the past two days, and I think he has good points.

So what do we do? Do we turn a blind eye and a deaf ear when bishops say and do scandalous things? Or do we respectfully, but firmly, announce that “the emperor has no clothes”?

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