The Connecticut legislature, over relentless objection from the Connecticut bishops, passes a law that requires all hospitals in the state, including Catholic hospitals, to administer “emergency contraception” without first administering an ovulation test. Members of the “Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence,” where else but in San Francisco, as part of their mockery of the Catholic faith, receive Communion from an unsuspecting archbishop. A public school in Maine now makes contraceptives available—without parental consent—to preteen children, with the local bishop leading the opposition to the measure.
A common thread running through these recent stories, and many other similar stories in recent decades, is that many “veteran” Catholics have placed principal blame for these untoward events upon “the bishops,” and not the legislatures, gay activists, and “progressive” public schools that would seem at first glance to be the source of the respective problems.
I’m still waiting for somebody to blame the tragic fires in Southern California on Cardinal Mahony, perhaps asserting that the blazes are divine retribution for his annual CCD Congress.
Surely the annual CCD Congress has become through the years a “who’s who” of dissenting Catholic celebrities, and Archbishop Niederauer has graciously and humbly apologized for not being more on the ball when the “sisters” came up for Communion. But why does it seem as though Catholics are all-too-ready to pounce on their shepherds when things go wrong?
In a recent article in This Rock (http://www.catholic.com/thisrock/2007/0701fea2.asp), I use the term “veteran” Catholics. Who are veteran Catholics?
Veteran Catholics have been in the Church awhile, perhaps all their life, and their orthodox antennae are fully functional. In addition, they are often “veterans” in the sense of having weathered some controversy on the parish or even diocesan level. Their myriad questions and complaints typically boil down to this: What can be done to address perceived problems in my parish or diocese?
They often have a heightened awareness of what’s really going on in the Church. For them, the problem didn’t begin with the much-publicized sex scandals of recent years, as they have long endured the corrosive effects of dissent, classroom sex education, liturgical abuse, and an overall failure to effectively teach the faith in its fullness. Many are engaged on a very personal level, as they’ve seen their Catholic school-educated children and grandchildren leave the Church, in a sense inoculated against all things Catholic.
When veteran Catholics try to speak up about the problems they see in their parishes and dioceses, one of two things usually happens. Some simply vent out of anger or frustration, completely out of tune with the “nuance” of Church bureaucrats. Their style gets in the way of their substance, and their concerns are typically dismissed out of hand. Others, though, present their concerns respectfully and well, but often even then nobody seems to listen or to do anything to correct the problem. In both cases, merely speaking up will often result in the veteran Catholic being ostracized from the local Church, being made to believe that he is the problem, not Fr. Feelgood or Sr. Mary Wicca-Reiki.
For most veteran Catholics, Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI (and their predecessors) are not the problem—indeed, the popes are routinely spoken of in appropriately favorable, if not saintly, terms. Veteran Catholics recognize the role of the pope as the vicar of Christ and legitimate successor of St. Peter. They appreciate the courageous witness of contemporary popes amidst the challenges of today’s world.
The local bishop, on the other hand, doesn’t typically fare so well. To some extent this state of affairs is understandable: The buck has to stop somewhere. The local bishop in essence is president, Congress, and Supreme Court in his diocese. If a politician has a bad record, we can vote him out of office. If a football coach fields a lousy, undisciplined team, he doesn’t come back next season. The bishop, though, not only seems to be ultimately responsible for the spiritual malaise in his diocese, but he also seems to be immune from any repercussions for a “poor performance.”
Not surprisingly, then, veteran Catholics often have an edge to them. Wounds are fresh, and the frustration level is palpable.
Where do we go from here? Catholics United for the Faith for nearly 40 years has effectively addressed issues and controversies in the Church, often under the radar and without fanfare, as we strive to “think with the Church.” We understand the intense frustration that the faithful experience when the faith isn’t celebrated, taught, or lived appropriately, and we understand how this has disastrous, real-life consequences, such as having our loved ones leave the Church. This anger we feel has to “go” somewhere, and “the bishops,” sometimes deserved but most times not, are its most frequent recipients.
In other posts, as well as at www.cuf.org, readers will find more on addressing concerns in the Church in appropriate, godly ways, as we try to move beyond anger (righteous or otherwise, probably a combination) to redemptive suffering and constructive, joy-filled action. This is what CUF has always been about.
I’ll just leave you today with the gentle suggestion that rather than hasten to assign blame outside ourselves for societal problems, maybe we can take a fresh look within, and see that we too are “part of the problem” to the extent we’re sinners. Through prayer and fasting—and especially frequent Communion and Eucharistic adoration—let’s seek first our own personal purification and renewal in Christ as the first and most efficacious thing we can do to be of faithful service to our beloved Church.