Quo Vadis, Reverend Bishops
One block from the National Basilica Shrine of the Immaculate Conception dedicated to the Blessed Mother stands a large steel, brick, and glass building dedicated to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Within its walls operates the bureaucracy of the Catholic Church in America. Among its dozens of departments and committees are Catholic News Service whose liberally-slanted articles fill many diocesan papers including The Arlington Catholic Herald, and the Catholic Campaign for Human Develop-ment, a controversial "charity" that has funneled millions of dollars into liberal lobby groups. In many respects the prob-lems in the hierarchy are reflected in their Conference whose staff of over 350 religious and lay employees churns out position papers and pastorals, some of which advance the most radical and dissident agendas in the Church.
Two particularly egregious examples are the 1997 document, Always Our Children [AOC], used to promote acceptance of homosexuality and the 1978 document, Environment & Art in Catholic Worship [EACW], used to justify destroying beautiful old churches in the name of renovation and building new ones resembling shopping malls. The body of bishops never voted on either of these documents nor do they have any juridical or binding force. They do, however, have tremendous propaganda value and continue to be used to undermine the faith. Yet very few bishops have ever spoken out to correct their errors.
By no means are these the only examples of seriously flawed materials coming from the bishops. Economic Justice for All, their 1985 pastoral letter indicates a major problem with the approach the bishops take towards issues. As Michael Joyce, president and CEO of the Bradley Institute, said at the 1996 Acton Institute Conference held at Catholic University, "It is to the national government of the United States that the bishops look to secure human dignity."1 Sadly, the bishops' social justice programs have been less about encouraging their flocks to perform the corporal works of mercy than about partnering with government to force redistribution of income. This is certainly the case with many Catholic social justice groups including SALT [Social Action Linking Together] in our own diocese which regularly gives awards to liberal pro-abortion politicians and measures its success by the amount of tax dollars procured for its pet projects.
Joyce goes on to say, "The once-powerful link between neighbors has been severed, for it is no longer their task to see to one another's needs.... We are to insist that the government take action, consult experts, establish a program. Even the bishops tell us this." [It's illustrative that Cardinal Law, in dealing with the growing sex-abuse scandals in Boston, responded by forming a committee! Establishing committees and blue ribbon panels is a typical strategy for bureaucrats who want to distance themselves from problems.] Joyce contrasts the bishops' attitude toward government with that of Pope John Paul II citing a passage from his encyclical, Centesimus Annus, "The State sets itself above all values [and] cannot tolerate the affirmation of an objective criterion of good and evil beyond the will of those in power. The State tends to absorb within itself the nation, society, the family, religious groups, and individuals themselves."2 Despite this, the U.S. bishops have become seriously entangled with a big government that tends to see its citizen existing to support it. Why? Follow the money.
Catholic organizations consume millions of social service tax dollars in the United States. Hospitals, Catholic Charities, colleges - many receive major funding from federal and state government. So when the Church lobbies for more taxes for the poor and homeless, it often lobbies for its own programs. Unfortunately, fear of losing the money muzzles the truth. This has certainly been true with Ex Corde Ecclesiae, the Vatican document requiring bishops to defend the faith on Catholic campuses. Monika Hellwig, executive director of the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities and an outspoken critic of the Vatican document, argues that implementing it endangers the federal money. She and her liberal academic colleagues, many of whom welcome Eve Ensler's lewd play, The Vagina Monologues, to their campuses, retain the name Catholic while gutting religion programs and inviting anti-Catholic speakers under the guise of academic freedom.
Catholic hospitals have also succumbed to the lure of the dollar. Some have partnered with secular organizations so they can offer abortion referrals and contraception. When this happens, a wing or floor in the building is maintained by the non-Catholic entity, which offers the immoral services. The ethics board of the hospital engages in the necessary moral gymnastics to justify the scandalous arrangement, using rationale that rivals the legalism of the Pharisees in the gospels.
For the most part, it is the laity who have blown the trumpet about problems like these seeking redress from their shepherds. Unhappily, they are often treated with contempt, even punished, for embarrassing the local bishop. Such was the case last summer in the Diocese of Ogdensburg headed by Bishop Gerald Barbarito. Msgr. Robert Aucoin, rector of Wadhams Hall College Seminary, who has a column in Arlington Herald, invited Fr. Richard Sparks, author of the sexually explicit Growing in Love sex ed program, to speak at a catechists' meeting. Laity, led by businessman Rick Hevier, exposed Sparks' program and blasphemous comments he made at the West Coast Religious Education Conference last year. Several lay people who joined a prayer vigil opposing his invitation were removed from their positions as lectors and extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist at the cathedral. Retaliation against the orthodox is not uncommon while notorious dissenters are wined and dined, like Sr. Joan Chittister who gave the keynote address at last year's NCEA [National Catholic Education Association] convention with little opposition.
One would like to believe that most U.S. bishops act as "servants of the servants of God." Unfortunately there is little to demonstrate it. Rather, many exhibit the worst aspects of clericalism, apparently seeing themselves as the aristocracy of the Church and the laity as serfs whose job is to "pay, pray, and obey;" not, however, to obey Church doctrine, but to obey the bishop, no matter how irresponsible or evil his actions.
These examples are only a symptom of a bigger problem in the Church in America - the loss of faith among the clergy. Pope Leo XIII recognized it over a hundred years ago. His apostolic letter Testem Benevolentiae (Witness to Good Will) to Baltimore's James Cardinal Gibbons, who authorized the Baltimore Catechism, warned against "Americanism," the heresy that the Church should accommodate its doctrines to our country's distinctively independent spirit. The chief proponent of this nonsense was Fr. Isaac Hecker, founder of the Paulists, an order that publishes many dissenters including Monika Hellwig.
Dubbed by his colleagues as the "apostle of reconciliation of the Church with the age," Hecker fostered a vision of Catholicism as a "bustling, up-to-date business corporation"3 selling the faith by downplaying or ignoring difficult dogmas. Sound familiar? His philosophy gave birth to the "cafeteria Catholic." This could only come about, however, because his ideas were enthusiastically embraced by "some of the most powerful, liberal American churchmen of the day, including Bishop John Keane, rector of Catholic University; Archbishop John Ireland of Saint Paul…and James Cardinal Gibbons of Baltimore, dean of the American hierarchy and the cleric the pope addressed in his letter."4 Is it a coincidence or a consequence that 65 years later Fr. Charles Curran stood on the steps of Catholic University and denounced Humanae Vitae, Pope Paul VI's encyclical defending the Church's doctrine on the integrity of married love, a document that remains untaught and unpreached in most parishes in this country.
The scandals currently rocking the Church in America are the inevitable result of many bishops systematically ignoring dogmas on sexual morality. To date we have a handful of admitted sex abusers among the hierarchy. Bishops G. Patrick Ziemann, J. Keith Symons, Anthony O'Connell, and Daniel Ryan have resigned. Others have been accused of sex abuse and harassment, but, at present, continue to serve. Equally scandalous, however, are the dozens of bishops (more revealed every day) who aided and abetted thousands of homosexual clerics moving them from parish to parish and hushing up their activities. Some of these bishops shouldn't just resign, they belong in jail for criminal negligence and obstruction of justice. They have used every legal tactic available to avoid telling the truth. Has it really been concern for the good of the Church or concern for their own reputations and advancement? If Cardinal Law were the CEO of a company would his resignation even be a matter for discussion?
Catholics need to realize that the sex scandal in the U.S. is no accident. Michael Rose's book, Goodbye! Good Men, documents the very deliberate homosexualization of the clergy by screening out orthodox men from seminaries and admitting, even recruiting, open homosexuals. This is more than mismanagement, it's downright evil. And the breadth of the problem leads to the conclusion that many bishops have seen the Church, not as an opportunity to serve, but as a comfortable career option. They operate, ala Hecker's view, as businessmen more interested in power, money, and comfort than in the souls of their people. They build bureaucracies to insulate themselves, and often staff them with those hostile to the faith. Many initiatives damaging the Church in America have originated in the bowels of a bishop's chancery or a committee of the Catholic Conference.
One example: Randy Engel, Director of the U.S. Coalition for Life, the oldest pro-life research agency in the nation, recently outlined the dismal history of the Catholic Conference's support for MOD [March of Dimes], which for 50 years has promoted eugenics abortion. Engel outlines many horrendous eugenics grants awarded by MOD then comments, "Realizing that these and other MOD research grants and eugenic programs are opposed to everything that the Catholic Church teaches about the sanctity of human life…one would have expected the American bishops would have been at the head of any national boycott of the March of Dimes. Instead, the record shows they did NOTHING. No, actually…they did do something, they and their bureaucrats at the [Catholic Conference] DEFENDED the March of Dimes."7 Msgr. James McHugh, (later Bishop McHugh, now deceased), as head of the Pro-Life Secretariat led the charge to protect the MOD. McHugh was also deeply involved with SIECUS, [Sex Information and Education Council of the United States] a philosophical ally of Planned Parenthood and one of the most anti-life organizations in the United States. Pray for him.
Isn't it reasonable to think that one purpose of a bishops' Conference is to use that body to admonish brothers whose actions endanger the people of God and bring scandal to the Church? Such has not been the case. Bishop Daniel Ryan of Springfield, IL is a good illustration. Exposed by RCF [Roman Catholic Faithful] as a homosexual predator who hired male prostitutes as young as 15, he was forced to resign in 1999. But the depth of the rot in that diocese is indicated by the fact that Ryan still performs Confirmations, gives priests retreats, and concelebrated at the Mass installing his replacement, Bishop George Lucas, who held his installation reception at a Masonic Temple.5 No matter how horrendous the scandal, the bishops and their Conference seldom respond. Oh, there may be an occasional handwringing such as Conference President Bishop Wilton Gregory's statement, We Have Been Enlightened, addressing the sex abuse issue; but in view of the disastrous situation in the church in America it looks like crocodile tears and posturing for the media.
The bishops and their bureaucracy seem to operate with a fortress mentality where damage control is the first response to criticism. Just look at the homosexual abuse scandals. Following the revelations in Boston of over 80 priest abusers, other bishops have released some names of their own priest-predators in what appears to be a preemptive move to minimize scandal. Protecting the innocent and rendering justice seem of little importance. The most recent example is Roger Cardinal Mahony of Los Angeles, an icon of modernism, who sponsors the infamous West Coast Religious Education Conference which every year features some of the worst dissenters in the country, e.g. Fr. Sparks. On April 4th KFI-AM, a local radio station in L.A., released the content of 40 e-mails between the cardinal, his lawyer, and other staff members discussing damage control in the diocese.6 They reinforce the image of the entrenched bureaucracy protecting its turf. Meanwhile, the list of bish-ops who covered up for abusers continues to grow. Pope Paul VI was certainly on target when he said the smoke of Satan has entered the Church.
Our current problems are one more indication that the Church in many dioceses in the United States is in de facto schism, a fact long apparent to the orthodox faithful. It's one of the reasons Fr. John Hardon began the Marian Catechist Program. Only through teaching the authentic faith can Catholicism survive in this country. The lay faithful must pray, study the faith, and fight. Phil Brennan, a veteran journalist and past columnist for National Review puts it well, "As Christ drove the money changers from the temple, we are going to have to drive the innovators and infiltrators and heretics out of the positions of authority they now occupy."8 His reform proposal calls for purging homosexuals from the seminary, dismissing priests practicing perversion, eliminating liturgical abuse, condemning heretical doctrines, stripping the name "Catholic" from organizations that promote moral relativism, and denouncing, even excommunicating, public figures who defy Church teachings and support murder of the unborn. "If we are to survive," says Brennan, "we must become genuine Roman Catholics, fully in accord with the Magisterium. The struggle to take back our Church…must become the struggle of all Catholics."9
The Shrine of the Immaculate Conception and the bishops' building down the street offer a powerful metaphor of both the problem and the solution in the Church in the United States. The Shrine rises to heaven in praise of the Immaculate Mother of God. Adorers kneel with bent heads in the adoration chapel. Penitents pray in the Crypt Church after Confession. The walls in the crypt gallery, engraved from floor to ceiling with thousands of names testify to generations of Catholics whose donations built it. Everywhere the faith shines. Down the street at the bishops' Conference a security guard watches the entrance. The faithful paid for that building too, but they aren't allowed in.
1 Joyce, Michael S., "Bad Economics," Crisis Magazine, November 1996. www.ewtn.com/library/business/badecono.htm.
3 Brennan, Phil, "Quo Vadis, Ecclesia Romana?", NewMax.com, March 27, 2002.
5 Engel, Randy, "The American Bishops and the March of Dimes: A Time for Re-Assessment," published by the Michael Fund, www.michaelfund.org.
6 Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam, newsletter of Roman Catholic Faithful, Winter 2001/2002.
7 See website www.kfi640.com/Archdiocese Transcript.html for e-mail exchange.