On the evening of the first day of the SWLC Study Week, Cardinal Wuerl gave the keynote presentation – “The Word of God and the New Evangelization.” His presentation was urbane and literate, dogmatic and spiritual. I can’t say that there was anything that I disagreed with in his presentation.
The gist of the talk was that as Christians, we have to start all over again and re-propose the Christian Gospel to a world that is dominated by secularism, materialism, and individualism. In our pursuit of this goal, he said that our “New Evangelization” must be clear, relevant, alive, and enthusiastic. We must speak to people where they are – socially and culturally – and we must communicate in the forms of media where they participate.
So far so good. But there was, as is often the case in such presentations by Catholic bishops, an 800 pound gorilla in the room that was studiously avoided by the Cardinal.
Because of the dominant secularism, materialism, and individualism, and also because of history, if we expect anyone to listen to our proclamation, we must go to the world with great authenticity. And that is the big problem that the Catholic Church faces.
While the bishops keep wanting us to “go on” and “move past” the clerical sexual abuse crisis, that isn’t happening. It remains a big issue for the authenticity of the Catholic proclamation in the midst of today’s secular world.
While the Church has done much, and reformed much, and is no longer enabling the direct abuse of minors, very little accountability has been manifested by those who were so directly responsible for these problems, the bishops themselves. While the Vatican was quick to remove an Australian bishop who briefly raised the issue of the ordination of women, it left the bishops responsible for enabling the abuse of minors in place. It gave Cardinal Law, one of the most egregious enablers of sexual abuse, a prominent job in Rome and to this day he has kept his position on the Vatican congregations that select and form bishops.
When pressed on the question of removing the guilty bishops from office, Vatican authorities typically fell back on theological arguments – the bishop is “married” to his diocese, and you just don’t remove him. That is certainly part of the theology, but when the Vatican wants to move a bishop to a different diocese, any respect for the theology of the episcopacy goes out the window, and the Vatican moves the bishop wherever it wills. Some bishops are”serially married” to a string of dioceses. So we are left with a situation where those who were responsible for this great evil remain among us, and we are expected to trust them and look to them for spiritual direction. I am all in favor of Christian forgiveness, but I also believe in accountability for actions. There are deeds so egregious that retaining someone in high ecclesiastical office damages the authenticity of the Church’s proclamation and represents an on-going injustice to the victims.
The scandal does not end there. The US Catholic bishops are guilty of material cooperation with the objective evil of unjust war. I have covered the arguments on this in detail in my Open Letter to the Papal Nuncio at http://www.justpeace.org/sambi.htm and other documents available online at http://www.justpeace.org/warresponse.htm. From the beginning of these wars, the bishops embraced an attitude of moral relativism. This lack of consistent respect for the right to life of the civilian population of Iraq and Afghanistan has gravely harmed the Church’s witness to the Gospel of Life. People do not respect our proclamation of the rights of unborn children, because they do not see any authenticity in our message.
We shouldn’t hold our breaths that anything is going to change soon with our bishops. No one, other than Catholic Workers, Pax Christi, and some in the religious orders, calls the bishops to accountability for their material cooperation with the objective evil of unjust war. The mainstream Catholic media is silent on the subject. The Catholic peace movement is about as marginal as it gets in this day and age, when in addition to secularism, individualism, and materialism, we must add blood lust as one of the defining characteristics of our era. We live in a time and place which adores violence and makes money on that deal. Blood and death pervade our media. Our children play games where they rape and torture and kill other characters.
If that be the mainstream, then I am happy to be marginalized out on the edge. That’s where the action is anyway. The days of these empires of blood and power are coming to an end, as a consequence of their own internal contradictions and sins. God still is in control, and God will bring judgment upon the American Empire. As the song of Mary promises, the thrones of the proud will be cast down, and the rich will be sent away empty.
Dorothy Day said that the Church was a cross on which Christ is crucified every day. This seems to me to be a call to take up that Cross, the Cross of the Church, and to offer our prayers and our works as reparations for the many sins against life of our own bishops and clergy. If the bishops are going to pander to nationalistic violence and compromise their witness to the Gospel of Life, then we ourselves must become more authentic, more faithful, and embrace a true journey of holiness of life and action.
That is our vocation, as peacemakers in this age of secularism, individualism, materialism, and blood lust. We take as our motto the advice of Paul the Apostle to the Romans –
Do not be conquered by evil, but overcome evil with good.
And we remember these words from the book of Wisdom –
For the Lord of all shows no partiality, nor does he fear greatness, because he himself made the great as well as the small, and he provides for all alike; for for those in power a rigorous scrutiny impends.
Novena to St. John Chrysostom on behalf of the US Catholic Bishops – http://www.justpeace.org/stjohnchrysostom.htm .