Lots of opinions about episcopal leadership in the Roman Catholic Church – did you know that? Wow, some of the opinions are pretty sharp.
Even from bishops themselves. Over in Australia this week, retired bishop Geoffrey Robinson said that Cardinal George Pell is an “embarrassment” to “a lot of good Catholic people” and should no longer be the voice of Australian bishops in the wake of his comments about child sex abuse within the church. Restoring faith won’t be easy. The Catholic Church in Australia is in meltdown just now over you-know-what. Cardinal Pell is saying the requisite things about transparency and welcoming a government inquiry into the Church’s handling of…etc.etc. But also saying the Church has been unfairly targeted due to “anti-Catholic prejudice.”
Bishop Robinson has been outspoken about many things; for reasons of health he stepped down from office in 2004 eight years before the retirement age. Here in the US, Bishop Robinson has recently spoken at meetings of Voice of the Faithful (the lay group formed to “keep the faith, change the church” after the scandals broke out), and New Ways Ministry (the Catholic outreach to gays and lesbians from which the Vatican removed their leaders Sr. Jeannine Gramick and Fr. Robert and ordered them to cease speaking on the subject.) Not your typical Catholic bishop, Geoffrey Robinson.
Over at Religious News Service, Mark Silk weighs in on the US bishops’ meeting this week: “The Catholic bishops embarrassed themselves in Baltimore.” His issue is that the bishops did and said nothing about the presence among them of convicted Bishop Robert Finn of Kansas City. And that their letter on the economy veered so sharply from the views of their 1986 letter – after sharp criticism it was voted down, leaving the bishops saying nothing about the economy. And that the bishops are moving forward with the canonization of Dorothy Day – while pretty much ignoring everything she had to say.
Over at The Dish, Andrew Sullivan takes up the HBO documentary “Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God.” (H/T Eric Bugyis at Commonweal.) The documentary is about the handling of you-know-what by the Church, especially by Joseph Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI. Sullivan thinks it “will one day surely bring the whole house of cards down, so that the church can be rebuilt amid the ruins created by deeply sick and psychologically crippled men at its core.” Ouch. Sullivan talks about the implications for the hierarchy’s credibility: now there are “two Catholic churches in America: those few in the pews who still listen to the bishops and those who exist almost in a parallel church, focused on their own parish, their own priest, and their own faith, which remains, for many of us, undimmed.” Sullivan is in the latter category, as Bugyis seems to be also. Sullivan doesn’t mince words about the hierarchy: “This is where we are. It feels like the last days of the Soviet Union.”
I hear from so many Catholics these days so many comments like those of Robinson, Silk, and Sullivan, that I was heartened by the headline of David Gibson’s piece, also at Religious News Service: “Catholics like their bishops, love their nuns.” As Gibson reports, “24 percent of American Catholics say they “very satisfied” with the hierarchy and another 46 percent say they are “somewhat satisfied” for an overall 70 percent approval.” Not bad. But the bishops are running behind nuns, parish priests, and pope, in that order: nuns have 83% approval rating, parish priests 82%, and the pope 74%.
But. David – why did you do this to us? A “P.S.” to this report says, almost off-handedly, that the poll is from last summer. Last summer?? So much has happened since then! LCWR, Sr. Elizabeth Johnson, Girl Scouts, Sr. Margaret Farley, the HHS contraception mandate, the Fortnight for Freedom, same-sex marriage in the elections, Bishop Finn, and so forth. Maybe David is piquing our interest for a coming poll? It wouldn’t be like him to make the point cynically that high approval ratings for bishops are a thing of the past, so I’m not sure what he’s up to.
For my money, one of the most perceptive commentaries on the daunting challenges facing the Catholic bishops was penned by Fr. Thomas Reese SJ., “Is There a Political Plan B for the Bishops?” Do give it a serious read.
It’s a funny time we’re in. There seems to be lots of ferment around issues of authority, power structures, and credibility. Where’s it all going? Is the Holy Spirit up to something? What is it? I have no idea.
Let’s all pray for the bishops.