Friday, May 18, 2012

When bishops allow the weeds to choke the wheat

I read, with interest, a post by Monsignor Charles Pope, whose blog I recommend for regular reading. He does a pretty good job of breaking down more complex things. In a recent post, he looked at two different ways that bishops use discipline within the Church: 1) Swift and, 2) More cautiously so as not to rip up with wheat with the weeds. He balances two texts in Scripture that people, who favor one approach or the other, will use.  He asks for some discussion.

I'm going to offer my response here.

First, Monsignor Pope talks about prudential judgments and when it comes to disciplinary methods within the Church, two bishops could take two different approaches, and both may be effective, depending on the circumstances. I would say that one bishop could make use of both methods, depending on the circumstances of each case. He may find that with some things and certain people, swift action is required; in other cases he may be concerned with winning the battle while losing the war by acting too quickly. At the end of the day, the bishop is accountable to the Just Judge. He has to balance whether he will lose more people with one approach or the other.

Many look at bishops as spineless cowards who are not publicly vocal, and who don't take swift, decisive action against wayward Catholics who have a public platform, such as politicians, educators, or journalists.  This, of course, is a judgment that is hard to make without reading souls, which belongs only to God. In fact, we may very well be engaging in rash judgment when we attribute this lack of swift action to cowardice. We really don't know if it is true cowardice that causes a bishop to be publicly silent on a matter; or, concern that other less informed Catholics observing, will be so shocked, as to run the other way.  We also don't know what exchanges have taken place privately, and whether penalties have been threatened.   I'm only offering these thoughts to illustrate that there is more than one possible reason for a bishop's apparent cowardice that may not be cowardice at all.

As you can see, I'm laying out what I believe to be part of the rationale used by bishops to not make use of more swift action, especially after someone has thumbed their nose at the Church and the bishops repeatedly, and likely led other Catholics astray.  I think there is a time and a place for the slow, cautious approach and with some Catholics and Catholic institutions, organizations, etc., patience should have run out long ago.

Faithful Catholics have gone from being apathetic to downright angry over bishops using this slow, patient approach.  Those bishops may very well think that the frustrated faithful do not understand the delicate process of correction and the damage that can happen when it is delivered too swiftly.  But, the ferry left the dock years ago.

There are Catholic politicians like Nancy Pelosi and Kathleen Sebelius; Catholic schools like Georgetown; Catholic theologians like Fr. Richard McBrien, religious sisters like Joan Chittester, dissenting rags like the National catholic Reporter whose strange teachings lead others astray, and against the bishops.

Some weeds choke the wheat!

I will answer Monsignor Pope by saying that I have no problem with bishops making use of the slow, patient approach in certain circumstances; however, there comes a time when bishops need to take notice of when a particular weed is choking the wheat around it and cull that before it yields more like itself.  This, we faithful have witnessed for decades - the spread of weeds.  Too much fear over uprooting the wheat with the weeds has resulted in the weeds overtaking the wheat field.  Now, it's much more difficult to deal with.   Even when Our Lord spoke the truth with gentleness, some could not accept his message.  We will always have these among us and they themselves will have to account for their own choices.  But the bishops will account for souls led astray by wolves in sheep's clothing. Some things need to be seen for what they are and dealt with accordingly.

I close with the words of Pope Benedict XVI on the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in 2010

“Your rod and your staff – they comfort me”: the shepherd needs the rod as protection against savage beasts ready to pounce on the flock; against robbers looking for prey. Along with the rod there is the staff which gives support and helps to make difficult crossings. Both of these are likewise part of the Church’s ministry, of the priest’s ministry. The Church too must use the shepherd’s rod, the rod with which he protects the faith against those who falsify it, against currents which lead the flock astray. The use of the rod can actually be a service of love. Today we can see that it has nothing to do with love when conduct unworthy of the priestly life is tolerated. Nor does it have to do with love if heresy is allowed to spread and the faith twisted and chipped away, as if it were something that we ourselves had invented. As if it were no longer God’s gift, the precious pearl which we cannot let be taken from us. Even so, the rod must always become once again the shepherd’s staff – a staff which helps men and women to tread difficult paths and to follow the Lord.

The Comment Box is open, but take note! 

Please note that I did not mention any particular bishop.  I prefer to keep the discussion generic rather than have the combox head into condescension on certain bishops.  If you can raise your point about a particular case in a dispassionate manner, with due respect for the office of bishop, I'll moderate your comment.

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The obedient are not held captive by Holy Mother Church;
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