CAN WE BE GOOD WITHOUT VIRTUE?
In response to yesterday's post titled "In illustration," someone wrote me to say that Archbishop Vlazny was "a good man" though one who did not like to make waves or rock boats or upset applecarts. Such men tend not to discipline the disobedient priest or theologian, no matter what they say from the pulpit or the podium, but they mean well and feel bad when things go wrong.
I know what the writer means by "he's a good man," but can we rightly say of a man who has willingly taken such a post that he is a good man if he will not do what the post requires? Part of being a good man is doing your job and protecting those for whom you are responsible. Goodness is measured by action and particularly by the actions you are bound (in the bishops' case called, sworn, vowed) to take. It is hard to see what meaning "good" can have without such measurements.
I have myself defended timid clerics I knew as "good men," but I wonder if in doing so I was not speaking with a very modern understanding of goodness, which defines it as a matter of feeling and sentiment and not of virtue and therefore action. They were good because they felt kindly disposed to the world and wanted things to go well for everyone.
Archbishop Vlazny and his peers are shepherds, remember. The earthly shepherd -- an image given us by the Good Shepherd Himself -- gives us some way of measuring their work. Do we call a shepherd "a good man" if he sits on the wall and watches the wolves carry away his sheep? Do we call him a good man if he lets some of the junior shepherds eat a few of the sheep and deliver others to the wolves? Do we call him a good man if he just won't do the job?
Do we say "He's a good man, but he really doesn't like to upset the wolves"? When he lets the wolves carry away his sheep do we say "Oh, but he's a reconciler"? Or "He needs to keep the unity of the pasture"? Or "It's a hard job, protecting sheep"? When he lets the junior shepherds eat his sheep, do we say "He needs to be their shepherd too"?
No one would call a shepherd "a good man" if he let the sheep die when he could easily have saved them. He might be a friendly, jovial, kindly man, one who meant well and hoped for the best, but "good," no.
Shortly after posting my "Bad Shepherds" (below) another friend sent me an article from The Oregonian, which began:
Archbishop John Vlazny has reassigned a Catholic priest who resigned as pastor of his Forest Grove parish after blessing the relationship between a married couple and a single woman who were later convicted of sex crimes.
Oh. Right. The article did not explain what exactly the priest, a Fr. Elwin Schwab, "blessed," but whatever it was he did, it can't have been good. He was demoted from the pastor of the parish to the associate pastor of another, but the diocese's spokesman "said the move was not a demotion, simply a change of assignment." This is a) a lie, and b) a lie when telling the truth when have better for them. His new boss said that Fr. Schwab had "acknowledged" his "mistake," which one suspects is not the same as confessing and repenting of his sins.
As I suggested in "Bad Shepherds," these people, the Archbishop Vlazny's of the world, are exhausting the patience of those whose support they most need. Not to mention the risks they are running, given what Jesus said about the fate of those who led the little ones astray. I cannot understand why these men do not tremble.
Last night I was clearing up yet another pile of accumulated magazines and found an old issue of The New Oxford Review a friend had sent me. He had wanted me to read the article on the Catholic bishops and their unwillingness to enforce the rule that those teaching theology in their dioceses have a mandatum, or episcopal seal of approval, for their orthodoxy.
This the pope required in 1990 through his Apostolic Constitution on Catholic Universities, Ex Corde Ecclesiae, but the American bishops spent years avoiding actually approving the document, by taking their time creating guidelines for applying its requirements. And then, finally, in 1999, they issued guidelines that effectively gutted it.
They left out any requirement that the theologians' status be anywhere announced and any penalities for the theologians who do not ask for or receive the mandatum. Prof. Jones may ask for it and get it, ask for it and not get it, or not ask for it at all, but you and I will never know. And Prof. Jones will continue to be quoted by the newspapers as an accredited spokesman for the Catholic Church, even when he is saying something the Catholic Church does not believe. It is as if the government withheld the safety ratings for automobiles (unless a company wanted their cars' ratings released), and still said they were being obedient to the law that required the ratings and were still looking out for everyone's safety.
Among those quoted in the New Oxford Review story as not inclined to do anything about the mandatum was, alas, Cardinal Law. His own diocesan seminary, St. John's, is one of the problematic ones. He does not seem, from all reports, to have done much about it.
This morning another friend forwarded to me an excellent analysis by Dominico Bettinelli, posted on his blogsite. Bettinelli is the managing editor of Catholic World Report and, as my friend put it, "one of the better Catholic bloggers." He kindly gave me permission to post the whole analysis:
The heart of the problem
In Bishop Daily's deposition in the Paul Shanley case, we see the essence of so many problems in the Church today laid bare.
The lawyer for the plaintiff, Roderick MacLeish, asks the following question: "If the priest is making statements and they are inconsistent with the teachings of the Church and refuses to stop doing it, you said that one of things that could be done is to suspend him and prevent him from administering the sacraments; is that correct?"
Bishop Daily answers: "I would think that's possible. But what I'm saying, you are asking the question if he refuses to stop doing it."
Lawyer: "That's right."
Daily: "I would hope that he would be a priest, and if he were a good priest that he would stop doing it."
Lawyer: "What if he doesn't? What are the remedies?"
Daily's lawyer objects, but Daily answers: "I could get a little crude and say send him to the back room but, I mean, he would certainly be talked to and talked to severely, I would think."
Talk to severely? That's it? That's all you've got? So if a priest gets in the pulpit and tells his congregation that raping children is fine, you'll talk to him? Okay, so we've given up the rack and burning at the stake, but isn't there something less than that? How about excommunication? How about a public repudiation of the man?
This is why Ted Kennedy votes pro-abortion every chance he gets and still gets a smile and a handshake when he shows up at his parish in Hyannisport. This is why the second-most "Catholic" state in the country by population, Massachusetts, is also probably the most hard-line pro-abortion. This is why tens of thousands - millions? - of my peers have abandoned the Church and any pretense of living the Christian life despite their baptism. Because it doesn't mean anything. The whole of Catholic teaching means nothing to some of these bishops. At least that's all I can figure.
If the teachings of Christ meant something then a priest, a man who stands in persona Christi at Mass, a shepherd of the flock would die before allowing lies to be taught as truth. Christ died even for Hitler, He died for that evil man's monstrous sins. But even if it were Mother Teresa alone who needed saving, Christ would have died for her comparatively benign sins. The Son of God would suffer so much. Yet, a bishop - a shepherd standing in for the Shepherd - would give the man a tongue-lashing and let him go.
The worst thing Daily can think of for a priest who says boys seduce men and that it's okay for them to have sex is a good talking to. He says that in "crude" terms, he's taking him to the back room. God, no! Not the back room! That's it. I'm so incredulous, I'm repeating myself. I'll let you all digest that.
I think Mr. Bettinelli is exactly right. You cannot observe men like Cardinal Law and Bishop Daily and believe they really know how important truth and error are, though they are sworn to uphold truth and drive away error. They would not refuse to enforce the Mandatum, they would not promise only a severe talking to for a priest teaching error, did they care for the truth as Christian men are supposed to care. And more to the point, as their fathers in the episcopate cared.
Think of St. Alexander of Alexandria and his successor St. Athanasius, for example. Think of St. John Chrysostom. Think of St. John Fisher. Think of all the bishops Communist regimes imprisoned and tortured, and in China do so still. Think of, well, hundreds and hundreds of good men.
What we have are shepherds who will not guard their sheep, at least from the shepherds under them who have developed an odd taste for mutton. They are not even shepherds, really, except by title. In action they are the hirelings Jesus described in John 10:12. They have run away when their sheep were endangered.
The problem began, as Mr. Bettinelli suggests, not with sex but with doctrine. A lot of Catholics have only gotten upset by the revelation that such bishops protected child molesters but not children, but the fundamental problem could be seen long before, in their unwillingness to protect their people - their children, their sheep - from those who molested not their bodies but their minds, who stole not their virginity but their faith. It does not surprise me that a man who would let one of his priests speak poison from the pulpit would let them fondle children in the sacristy.
In habituating himself to the first - and a new bishop has to know that he should not allow his priests to say such things to his people - he trains himself to ignore the second. In trying to "manage" the first and deal with it "realistically," which often means doing nothing at all, he trains himself to "manage," "realistically" the sex abuser. When he finds that he does not suffer any obvious penalties for leaving alone the priest preaching error - the harm to his peoples' souls and minds not being obvious - he begins to believe he will not suffer any obvious penalties whatever he does.
In letting his priests preach error, he has crossed a line he should not have crossed, and we should not be surprised if he keeps walking and goes too far. But the real mistake is not in walking too far, but in crossing the line at all when he knew he should not have done so. These steps are the first steps down very slippery slopes.
All this episcopal inaction has one effect I don't think I've seen described by anyone else. What the bishops have done in both cases - the toleration of error and of child abuse - is dishearten and anger those who would be their most faithful and their most realistic supporters. I am not talking about the alienated Catholics who object to nearly everything, nor the average Catholic who doesn't pay much attention to the affairs of the Church (and who shouldn't have to), and certainly not to the liberal Catholic who wants his Catholicism less embarassingly Catholic.
Bishops like Law and Daily have disheartened and angered those Catholics who accept the faith and life of the Catholic Church and try to live it themselves, but who also understand how difficult it is to work out in public, especially in a body as big and as old as the Catholic Church in America. They have alienated the orthodox realists. We don't expect miracles and we understand mistakes. We understand the demands a diocesan bishop faces, and what compromises he might feel he must make in order to keep his diocese working - to keep his sheep watered and fed. We know he may go farther than we would because he sees the situation more fully than we do, and that he may with all good intentions go too far. We know he is human.
But even understanding so much, we expect that a bishop will still do his job, including the hard parts, because it is his job. No one forced him to take it. Those of us who have children will be nearly as angry when he lets a priest poison our children's minds - we should not have to give our chidren an antidote to our parish priest's sermons - as when he lets a priest abuse them. He has no more excuse for allowing the first than he has for allowing the second.
We expect him at least to publish the names of theologians who do not receive the Mandatum, so the faithful know who they are. We expect him to discipline a man who preaches error and prevent him from preaching till he will preach the truth. And we expect him to discipline a man who molests children and prevent him from molesting any more. And this isn't too much to ask.
NOW JOKES ARE OUT:
From AKMA's Random Thoughts, the blogsite of A. K. M. Adam, a professor of New Testament at Seabury-Western Theological Seminary. He explains that the dean had told a joke in chapel about a married couple, and that he realized it would not work if the couple were homosexual, because "a joke forces one to use an economy of information would require that the gayness of the couple be part of what's supposed to be funny." (The seminary is one in which homosexuality is accepted and approved.) He continues:
So I was wondering how long it would be before you could tell a "couple" joke without tacitly reinforcing the perceived normality of heterosexual couples, the marginality of homosexual couples, and it occurred to me that this may be one of the reasons I don't tell jokes much: the genre constraints make it harder to say what I want, on my terms. So although I incorporate humor in preaching, writing, teaching, and most every other aspect of life, I rarely tell jokes, more often narrating events or inflecting words to highlight peculiarities in the world.
I thought this was interesting, and don't have anything to say about it, other than to note that he is saying that the normal discourse supports a normal (not his word) sexuality. A "couple" joke already reinfoces the normality - perceived (which is to say, seen) by some, not by others - of heterosexual couples. This is yet another case in which to reject the moral order requires a new discourse, which explains why our moral avant garde is so eager to establish and enforce upon everyone else a new language.
It is not a language that reflects reality, of course. It is hard to imagine a time when to tell a joke involving a homosexual couple will not include the homosexuality as part of the joke.
WORTH LOOKING AT:
Go to the website of St. Andrew's International Church in Athens and click on the "The Good News" link on the left for a very well done presentation of the Gospel.
AN EGALITARIAN TEXT, BUT NOT IN THE USUAL SENSE:
The latest issue of The Expository Times (October 2002) has an interesting article by an Ed. L. Miller of the University of Colorado titled "Is Galatians 3:28 the great egalitarian text?". He argues that the "standard" - i.e. the egalitarian - reading, is wrong. (The website seems to have posted some articles from the previous issue, but not this one.) The last half of his concluding paragraph reads (the emphases are his):
What it [the verse] reveals is that while there is a soteriological unity of all believes in Christ, this did not, in Paul's mind, nullify the social differences between believers in the world. Indeed, those very differences were integral to his argument for believers' unity in Christ! Galatians 3:28 is, thus, a great egalitarian text with respect to believers' position in Christ, but not with respect to their positions in the world. What we do with that is another question.
Judging from the article itself, he seems to be firmly in the egalitarian camp. He does not offer a particularly sophisticated or difficult reading of the verse, mind you, but draws out what seems to be its clear meaning. The fact that the "standard" reading is so far from the clear meaning of the text does make one wonder about the objectivity of the scholars whose consensus has made the egalitarian reading the standard one.