Catholic Clergy: Making Themselves Irrelevant

The beliefs of the Catholic Church are defined by two thousand years of careful writings and a slow process of understanding the revealed truths.  This has brought us our Catechism, our Creed, encyclicals such as Humanae Vitae, and other solid references which provide a foundation for living well, especially in stressful times.  One role of the clergy is to guide us Catholics in these teachings.

The Church is not defined by whatever a priest in Paducah happens to say on Tuesday, and its faithful are under no obligation to take direction from misguided clergy.  But how do we determine when to ignore?  For Catholics using their rational minds and their God-given free will, it’s been happening for centuries.  Some (unfortunately) leave the church altogether, some walk to the next parish over, and some simply ignore the bad advice and view their priest as just a delivery vehicle for the sacraments.  Sadly, what we’re seeing now is an unprecedented amount of incompetence, and it exists at all levels of the church. 

Let’s start at the top.  Pope Francis continues to astound the Catholic faithful with his ridiculous, fact-denying comments, from global warming as the world’s most pressing problem, to his undying support of soul-deadening socialism/communism, to his purge of pro-life advocates within the Vatican, to his intentionally nebulous writings on serious matters of faith, to his most recent act of squelching the U.S. bishops in their efforts to address the child abuse problem within their ranks.  Some could argue we’re expecting too much from this man, given the stellar theological minds which occupied his position the prior 30 years.  But I disagree -- we’re simply asking for several logical statements, based on fact, not feelings, which can hold up to the scrutiny of an intelligent high-school senior.  His inability to hit this low bar drives Catholics to ignore him.

Next down the chain are the cardinals, such as New York’s Timothy Cardinal Dolan who, by proudly claiming excommunication shouldn’t be used as a punishment, has kept in good Church standing a man who is blatantly promoting murder.  The unswerving intents and actions of Gov. Andrew Cuomo have been known for years, and the good cardinal seems to care not, laughing it up with him and currying favor whenever possible, evidently with the childish expectation that being a good pal will win him over.  Selectively citing prior canon lawyers on loosely related cases shows an astounding lack of the circumspect behavior required of his post.  It would have been easy to find other canon lawyers with the opposite view, so clearly Dolan didn’t even try, instead telling us it’s essentially settled law.  This lack of diligence incumbent with his office will reap its due rewards when folks simply ignore his next public statements.  Perhaps he could start by rationalizing why communion is a right, an enticement to be distributed in hopes of not alienating an adult, but for an innocent child (a seven-year-old desiring first communion), it is a privilege not available until he or she has shown proper respect for the eucharist through first confession. 

Some of our bishops are not much better.  The most recent are the two Kentucky bishops chiming in on the Covington controversy.  Displaying an astounding lack of maturity for a man in his position, Bishop Roger Foys ignored his responsibility to spend a few hours looking for facts, and instead immediately groveled before the mob, throwing the students under the bus.  Armed with the same lack of facts, Bishop John Stowe from a neighboring diocese concurred, with the ridiculous statement that the students were obviously guilty of something, and simply wearing MAGA hats was an affront to the pro-life movement (not exactly a Thomist or Augustinian advancement of Catholic theology).  Subsequent apologies may earn them forgiveness, but in their pathetic claims of “being bullied,” these fully-grown men have shown their character. Clearly, leadership and rational thought aren’t in the quiver.  They, too, will be ignored the next time they speak.  Not many years ago, Albany’s former bishop Howard Hubbard set an example for his flock when he proudly made the trip to D.C. to attend the inauguration of the most pro-abortion president ever, but couldn’t be bothered to stay an extra day to attend the March for Life.  On immigration, the U.S. Council of Catholic Bishops promotes an illogical self-serving agenda of lawlessness, in direct violation of its own Catechism.  And after decades of ineffective efforts against its homegrown problem of sexual abuse, only now is the USCCB beginning to admit that maybe it should have some adult supervision from the laity and the state.  For a number of the individuals, and certainly as a group, they are an unimpressive, uninspiring lot.

Finally, at the parish priest level, we often see a profound lack of will to stand in the pulpit and talk directly about an important moral issue.  I’ve had one priest tell me, in a patronizing tone: “We don’t like to discuss controversial issues -- it disturbs some of the parishioners.” Sometimes, after mass, we are handed a letter which provides a paragraph with conventional church teaching on a topic, but that is invariably followed by another paragraph saying that there are many other factors, and decisions are always complex, so perhaps it’s safest to say there’s no solid Catholic viewpoint.  Really?  We are way more intelligent than our clergy credits us, and we are seeing right through their invisible cassocks. 

Many Catholics are blessed with solid leaders who are likely struggling as they see what is happening around them; we continue to pray for them and all of our clergy.  We recognize that our clergy are people, prone to error and sin.  Detractors like to focus solely upon these failures, and willfully ignore the undeniable amount of good achieved in its two millennia of existence, vastly overwhelming the times of bad actions.  But, while we recognize the value of the Church’s history, we also recognize that the real point of Catholicism is our faithful connection to Jesus and our corresponding works, which silently preach that faith.  To be good Catholics, we don’t actually need the specific individuals who populate today’s hierarchy.  We will ride it out until these weak-kneed vicars are flushed, and we will pray that perhaps our children will one day see competent leadership.  From top to bottom, the clergy are driving more and more of their flock away from their guidance.  Quite simply, by their actions and inactions, they are one by one, making themselves irrelevant.

The beliefs of the Catholic Church are defined by two thousand years of careful writings and a slow process of understanding the revealed truths.  This has brought us our Catechism, our Creed, encyclicals such as Humanae Vitae, and other solid references which provide a foundation for living well, especially in stressful times.  One role of the clergy is to guide us Catholics in these teachings.

The Church is not defined by whatever a priest in Paducah happens to say on Tuesday, and its faithful are under no obligation to take direction from misguided clergy.  But how do we determine when to ignore?  For Catholics using their rational minds and their God-given free will, it’s been happening for centuries.  Some (unfortunately) leave the church altogether, some walk to the next parish over, and some simply ignore the bad advice and view their priest as just a delivery vehicle for the sacraments.  Sadly, what we’re seeing now is an unprecedented amount of incompetence, and it exists at all levels of the church. 

Let’s start at the top.  Pope Francis continues to astound the Catholic faithful with his ridiculous, fact-denying comments, from global warming as the world’s most pressing problem, to his undying support of soul-deadening socialism/communism, to his purge of pro-life advocates within the Vatican, to his intentionally nebulous writings on serious matters of faith, to his most recent act of squelching the U.S. bishops in their efforts to address the child abuse problem within their ranks.  Some could argue we’re expecting too much from this man, given the stellar theological minds which occupied his position the prior 30 years.  But I disagree -- we’re simply asking for several logical statements, based on fact, not feelings, which can hold up to the scrutiny of an intelligent high-school senior.  His inability to hit this low bar drives Catholics to ignore him.

Next down the chain are the cardinals, such as New York’s Timothy Cardinal Dolan who, by proudly claiming excommunication shouldn’t be used as a punishment, has kept in good Church standing a man who is blatantly promoting murder.  The unswerving intents and actions of Gov. Andrew Cuomo have been known for years, and the good cardinal seems to care not, laughing it up with him and currying favor whenever possible, evidently with the childish expectation that being a good pal will win him over.  Selectively citing prior canon lawyers on loosely related cases shows an astounding lack of the circumspect behavior required of his post.  It would have been easy to find other canon lawyers with the opposite view, so clearly Dolan didn’t even try, instead telling us it’s essentially settled law.  This lack of diligence incumbent with his office will reap its due rewards when folks simply ignore his next public statements.  Perhaps he could start by rationalizing why communion is a right, an enticement to be distributed in hopes of not alienating an adult, but for an innocent child (a seven-year-old desiring first communion), it is a privilege not available until he or she has shown proper respect for the eucharist through first confession. 

Some of our bishops are not much better.  The most recent are the two Kentucky bishops chiming in on the Covington controversy.  Displaying an astounding lack of maturity for a man in his position, Bishop Roger Foys ignored his responsibility to spend a few hours looking for facts, and instead immediately groveled before the mob, throwing the students under the bus.  Armed with the same lack of facts, Bishop John Stowe from a neighboring diocese concurred, with the ridiculous statement that the students were obviously guilty of something, and simply wearing MAGA hats was an affront to the pro-life movement (not exactly a Thomist or Augustinian advancement of Catholic theology).  Subsequent apologies may earn them forgiveness, but in their pathetic claims of “being bullied,” these fully-grown men have shown their character. Clearly, leadership and rational thought aren’t in the quiver.  They, too, will be ignored the next time they speak.  Not many years ago, Albany’s former bishop Howard Hubbard set an example for his flock when he proudly made the trip to D.C. to attend the inauguration of the most pro-abortion president ever, but couldn’t be bothered to stay an extra day to attend the March for Life.  On immigration, the U.S. Council of Catholic Bishops promotes an illogical self-serving agenda of lawlessness, in direct violation of its own Catechism.  And after decades of ineffective efforts against its homegrown problem of sexual abuse, only now is the USCCB beginning to admit that maybe it should have some adult supervision from the laity and the state.  For a number of the individuals, and certainly as a group, they are an unimpressive, uninspiring lot.

Finally, at the parish priest level, we often see a profound lack of will to stand in the pulpit and talk directly about an important moral issue.  I’ve had one priest tell me, in a patronizing tone: “We don’t like to discuss controversial issues -- it disturbs some of the parishioners.” Sometimes, after mass, we are handed a letter which provides a paragraph with conventional church teaching on a topic, but that is invariably followed by another paragraph saying that there are many other factors, and decisions are always complex, so perhaps it’s safest to say there’s no solid Catholic viewpoint.  Really?  We are way more intelligent than our clergy credits us, and we are seeing right through their invisible cassocks. 

Many Catholics are blessed with solid leaders who are likely struggling as they see what is happening around them; we continue to pray for them and all of our clergy.  We recognize that our clergy are people, prone to error and sin.  Detractors like to focus solely upon these failures, and willfully ignore the undeniable amount of good achieved in its two millennia of existence, vastly overwhelming the times of bad actions.  But, while we recognize the value of the Church’s history, we also recognize that the real point of Catholicism is our faithful connection to Jesus and our corresponding works, which silently preach that faith.  To be good Catholics, we don’t actually need the specific individuals who populate today’s hierarchy.  We will ride it out until these weak-kneed vicars are flushed, and we will pray that perhaps our children will one day see competent leadership.  From top to bottom, the clergy are driving more and more of their flock away from their guidance.  Quite simply, by their actions and inactions, they are one by one, making themselves irrelevant.