[Opinion] From feckless episcopal leadership, Lord save us

Catholic Culture - Trinity Communications [San Diego CA]

March 3, 2021

By Phil Lawler

Do you wonder why many Catholics have grown cynical about their bishops?

The Pillar news site reports that this year’s budget for the Archdiocese of Washington includes $2 million for the “continuing ministry” of Cardinal Donald Wuerl— who resigned from active ministry nearly two years ago amid what polite people call questions about his role in the McCarrick scandal.

Two million dollars. $2,000,000.00. That comes out to almost $5,500 every day to support the retired cardinal in doing… what? The archdiocesan budget does not specify what the “continuing ministry” involves.

Sadly, the Washington archdiocese was forced to cut its “archdiocesan charitable giving” by 30% this year, Pillar reports. Charitable giving is allocated just a bit over $400,000, or one-fifth of the Wuerl-maintenance allotment. Which, by the way, is up 35% from the previous fiscal year.

Another new Catholic-news source, Exaudi, boasts an exclusive interview with Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles, who sounds just a bit defensive about the bishops’ role in the Covid lockdown:

“… Pope Francis and the bishops around the world did not close down our churches and schools because the government told us to. We closed our churches out of love for the souls entrusted to our care, especially the elderly and vulnerable.”

I see. And it’s pure coincidence, then, that in one jurisdiction after another, the bishops, motivated solely by their concern for souls, closed down their churches immediately after the secular authorities ordered lockdowns. Even at the Vatican— which, bear in mind, is a sovereign state— St. Peter’s basilica barred visitors a few hours after the City of Rome closed off access to St. Peter’s Square.

Archbishop Gomez continues:

“As I said, the Catholic Church in California has supported and cooperated with public officials’ efforts to contain the spread of this deadly disease, including closing our schools and suspending public worship. We took these steps, not because the government issued an order, but because our God is love and he calls us to love for our neighbors.”

God also calls us to offer public worship, but leave that aside. Isn’t it remarkable that in one diocese after another, the bishop’s concrete expressions of love for his flock dovetailed so neatly with public officials’ edicts?

To be fair, in recent weeks a number of bishops have protested the continued tight restrictions on public worship. There have also been a few bishops insisting that they will keep restrictions in place even after government regulations are lifted. There is no longer the same tight symmetry between the bishops’ orders and those issued by civic officials that we saw last year.

Still, even after the Brooklyn diocese won a clear-as-day Supreme Court ruling that the Covid epidemic has not erased the First Amendment, American bishops have been notably reluctant to challenge intrusive government restrictions— to announce that they will set their own standards for public worship, thank you very much, and if the governor wants tighter restrictions, we’ll see you in court.

You might, by force of habit, look to Rome for inspirational leadership. Alas you might be disappointed. In the Catholic HeraldChristopher Altieri takes a careful look at the current Vatican trial of two clerics charged with sexual abuse of seminarians inside the Vatican’s own walls. The case presented by prosecutors raised some obvious concerns about how Cardinal Angelo Comastri responded when the abuse was first reported. The cardinal himself is not a defendant in this case, however. And that is the point.

Cardinal Comastri could have been investigated, Altieri observes, under the sweeping terms of Vos Estis, the 2019 document in which Pope Francis provided for disciplinary action against negligent bishops. But apparently no such investigation has been launched. Because, you see, Vos Estis makes it possible for the Vatican to investigate a bishop, but does not make the investigation mandatory. Altieri sums things up:

“Lots of people can order or request a Vos estis investigation, but nobody must order or request its activation. In other words: if the law has a trigger, lots of fingers may be on it but none of them have to pull it.”

So if you’re wondering when Catholic bishops will be held to account for their leadership and stewardship, short of the Pearly Gates… keep wondering.