Monday, August 01, 2005

Tricky Dick

Dick McBrien really has to put a sock in it.

For those in need of briefing, Bishop Bob Finn of Kansas City-St. Joseph last month discontinued McBrien's column from his diocesan paper, The Catholic Key. The decision caused no small amount of unhealthy triumph from McBrien-haters everywhere, which could've won the Notre Dame firebrand (who almost had an internationally televised breakdown when Ratzinger's name was announced on the balcony) a considerable amount of sympathy.

But then Dick had to open his mouth:
As bishops of a more open and moderate approach to pastoral leadership (one that not only respects but also welcomes legitimate diversity on debatable matters) depart from the ecclesiastical scene either through retirement or death, they are in many cases replaced by men who are more rigid and authoritarian in manner.

Such bishops seem to regard themselves less as pastors than as enforcers of orthodoxy and discipline. To put it more benignly, they see their enforcement duties as what pastoring is all about. For them, anything less would smack of permissiveness and dereliction of duty.

As this second category of bishops became more numerous in the U.S. hierarchy since 1980, diocesan papers changed accordingly. Some have been transformed from adult-level sources of information, interpretation, and discussion regarding developments important to the life and mission of the Church to house organs, comparable to publications produced by labor unions and business organizations.

One of the first things that many of these second-category bishops have done when taking the reins of episcopal authority in hand was to send a signal to the editor of their diocesan papers that hereafter they, not the editor, would be the final judge of what goes into the paper and what stays out. And that would include news stories, editorials, and syndicated columns, even though few remain that could possibly disturb any of these second-category bishops.
Forgive me, but I have to say something very profound: Boo. Hoo. Hoo.

I'm not the biggest fan of diocesan papers -- anyone who's read enough here knows this -- but (and this is a big but) I'm not the bishop. The bishop is the publisher, the paper is an extension of his teaching ministry, and if he wants to run George Weigel, then so be it.

I may be nauseated, but so be it. I'm not the bishop.

If the libs (closely related to the cons) wanted to do their thing, they have their own papers for that. But, obviously, being a liberal Catholic isn't so hot right now. Being conservative and Catholic shouldn't be so hot right now, but that it is signals the triumph of symbolism (lace) over substance (ressourcement). Fortunately, the bishops haven't fallen prey to this as much as McBrien would like his audience to believe. Boo. Hoo. Hoo. There goes his argument.

And I have great misgivings at the perspective that the new generation of bishops -- particularly Finn, at whom McBrien is turning his fire here (without naming him outright) -- is "rigid and authoritarian." For my part, I'd see those former vicars-general who ran the cover-ups and micromanaged the office as "rigid and authoritarian" more than I'd ever see a bunch of younger guys who, instead of becoming desk jockeys in curia, actually worked in the trenches. Look at Honolulu; they're dancing for joy out there now because Larry Silva is anything but those pejoratives... as for his predecessor, well, no comment.

If anyone ever dared call Gomez, Silva, Finn or Joe Naumann "rigid and authoritarian" to my face, I'd fall down laughing and advise a Xanax and a weekend to sleep it off. To even think it is simply ridiculous. To publish it and feign self-righteousness is an insult, both to the bishops and to lay Catholics who have balance and more than half a brain.



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