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January 23, 2004



Amen. Well said.

Dave P.

Nicely said, Amy. There's never been a better time in my lifetime to give in to the temptation to despair. (Well, ok, the days of malaise that gripped the nation the last two years of Jimmy Carter's administration might give this present darkness a run for its money.)

Which is to say that there's never been a better time to shine the light of the Gospel in the dark places.

Which is to say that it's still better to light one candle than curse the darkness.

Which is to ask: When was the last time we went out of our way to catch somebody doing something *right*? Like, starting with ourselves.

Challenge to all reading this today: Before the day is through, tell one person what a difference Christ has made, or is now making, in your life -- through His Body, the Church. Go to bed tonight knowing you had a hand in rebuilding that which only *appears* to be falling into ruin. I'm telling you, you'll sleep like a baby. Just like Francis must have slept that first night in San Damiano.


In the proverbial words: "If we all agreed, then only one of us would be necessary."


Some of us who have "worked in the Church" precisely because we want to help the good clergy, like Fr. Wilson, Fr. Weinberger, Fr. Shaugnessy. . . . because we know men like this, and know what they've given up to struggle to get the truth told, still object to the Reformation being writ anew, with all its conclusions regarding the Church's deficient and intrinsically corrupt exercise of authority.

Because of this we object to any attempt to import pet causes, or prejudices into the work of reform which must be done. Any longing for vidication of one's past, be it protestant, feminist, dissenter or whatever. This is why there is resistance to some of the very necessary observations regarding the plight of the Church, and especially the solutions suggested for its reform.


The facts are always friendly. It's when we get more comfortable with lying, studied ignorance and obliviousness than we are with the truth that trouble begins.

Lying is a scandal. Telling the truth may be disturbing, but it is not a scandal. It's a virtue.


Thanks, Amy.

Two comments:

(1) I don't think anyone is upset about the "tone" or "harshness" of the critics; it's the use of that tone in such an undiscriminating manner to tar broad groups of people, without specific allegations. I hate to say it, but even your post falls into that: "They know that no one's naive in the chanceries." Really, no one? In all of the chanceries?

(2) What you say about the secret level of clergy communication really troubles me (and I mean that from the bottom of my heart). I'd be interested to hear if others (clergy such as Fr. Rob or others who have worked in the Church) share your view. But if you're right, isn't the bishops' conspiracy much broader, encompassing the 43,000 priests in the US who apparently knew about sexual abuse and did nothing to blow the whistle on it? Why do the critics limit their outrage to "the bishops" and not include "the priests"?

Fr. Rob Johansen


I think we ought to be careful in using words like "conspiracy". It's certainly true that some bishops "conspired" with other bishops and with their staffs to cover up the abuse scandal. But the anatomy of this scandal is not one of a widespread deliberate conspiracy - with all it's implied back room meetings and secret cabals - but of a widespread failure of bishops to exercise the apostolic office of disciplining their clergy and one another. The almost total lack of fraternal correction, resulting from a false understanding and practice of "collegiality", is at the root of the problem. Like all evils, the scandal is the result of a lack of something, not the presence of something.

I know that the brother priests of my acquaintance certainly weren't "in the know" about the abuse scandal and keeping it to themselves.

About "secret clerical communications", I think that's a good point, and one I'll address on my own blog. But it will have to wait, as I "priest-stuff" to do this afternoon.


Amy, your comments are very helpful for gaining a better perspective on outrage over the Vatican spokesperson's "waffling" on the issue of Mel Gibson's movie. My personal concern about this outrage is that it seems to reveal a growing distrust -- even among faithful orthodox Catholics -- of "the hierarchy," "the institutional Church," what have you. I'm concerned that I find myself feeling this distrust as well, and I'm concerned about this because in my experience as a convert to Catholicism, what sets faithful Catholics apart from every other kind of Christian is our belief that our institution was established by Christ for the transmittal of Truth. Take that away, and we might as well be Anglicans, or Lutherans, or Evangelicals. Nothing else makes us distinct, because you can find other Christians who believe in Transubstantiation or pray to saints.

Surely, we have to recognize that powers-that-be within that institution -- including the Holy Father himself -- have their faults and may even be personally corrupt. But I am concerned that in the heat of the moment, some commentators are failing to distinguish between the holiness of the institution and the fallenness of those who make it up. And in doing so, we come awfully close to saying “Who needs the hierarchy?” in the same way Call-to-Action Catholics, “RadTrad” Catholics, and, for that matter, Protestants have.

Yes, we must speak out about the sins, mistakes, and errors of judgment made by our priests, our bishops, even our Pope (should it come to that). But the key question is: how do we do that without tearing down the Church as an institution that Christ Himself founded? It is a fine line to walk; I don’t have answers on how to do that, but am hoping some other commentators might!

Henry Dieterich

I entirely support you, and I ask forgiveness for any time that I might have offended. Everything should be done in love, whether we are talking about bishops, priests, or fellow bloggers.


Fr. Rob:

I'll look forward to reading what you have to say. I should have clarified that by comparing it, perhaps to a family. A monastic community, groups of priests (or subgroups, aligned by region, seminary, what have you), are like a family. We say things and share information in our family that we don't share with others, except our very closest friends. It's natural. But it poses a problem when we're trying to solve problems, sometimes, whether that be within our families or within communities that function like families in this way.



What about the Catechism, when it says that the right to communication of the truth is not unconditional? (see paragraphs 2488-89)

I think this rubs us the wrong way as Americans...


Very well said, Becky.

Neil Dhingra

Amy, that was a very beautiful post. I suspect, however, that some of the hurt feelings from previous discussions came not from the style or tone of some of the comments, but because they forced us to ask ourselves: Are we still accountable to one another?

What does it mean to be accountable to one another? Rowan Williams, the embattled Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury, said at the 1998 Lambeth Conference,

"Up to a certain point we struggle to keep the conversation alive, as long as we can recognise that our partners in this conversation are speaking the same language, wrestling with the same given data of faith. If I might put it in a formula that may sound too much like jargon, I suggest that what we are looking for in each other is the grammar of obedience: we watch to see if our partners take the same kind of time, sense that they are under the same sort of judgement or scrutiny, approach the issue with the same attempt to be dispossessed by the truth they are engaging with. This will not guarantee agreement; but it might explain why we should always first be hesitant and attentive to each other. Why might anyone think this might count as a gift of Christ to the Church?"

Can we recognize any longer that our fellow Catholics are "speaking the same language, wrestling with the same given data of faith"? Or are our various ideologies -"conservative," "liberal," "traditionalist," and so forth - so air-tight and mutually exclusive that we can no longer see many of our fellow Catholics as under the same "grammar of obedience"? If they are, we have no need to be "hesitant and attentive to each other" - we simply have to locate each other on our already completed conceptual maps of abstract nouns and party labels ("Here There be Dissenters"). Then the yelling can begin.

I think that the question we have to ask ourselves is: To whom are we accountable? If the answer is God and myself with only my favorite "isms" in between, then I have a problem.

Thank you again.




Well said. I'd further note Our Lord's reproof of the Sadducees at the temple, when He drove out the vendors (John 2:14-16).

Did He, however, tear down the authority of those religious leaders? No! He told us to do what they say, not what they do. Naturally, this is a problem when our bishops and priests preach against the Gospel.

This puts more responsibility on the laity. We are responsible for our own commitment to orthodoxy and orthopraxis. Although clerical orthodoxy and orthopraxis assists the laity by providing a visible role model, do we not have a greater role model than Our Lord, Jesus Christ?

Thus we return to Our Lord's example, to publically rebuke those clerics who are in error. Not for our own sake to make our way easier and provide visible role models, but for the Lord's sake to make His bride a better one.

If we believe He loves us, should we not believe that He will stand with us?


Neil, I don't know if I totally agree with your final conclusions. Oh, I'm all against the "isms", but it just seems to me that if I do indeed really believe that I am accountable to God, that means, ultimately that I am accountable to others, in the context of what God has revealed my accountability should be.

I can't be accountable to God, in other words, without doing His will, obeying, living by His word, etc., which naturally involves others.

frank sales

I am one of those who is guilty of getting overheated and I apologize. Let me make a couple of points and then I'll disappear:

1) Clearly the Church is governed by fallible humans with personal flaws and susceptible to the institutional flaws that one might expect from a 2000 year old, hierarchical, worldwide bureaucracy. Any realist would expect no less.

2)Corruption and wrongdoing in the Church must be corrected and sometimes this can only be done be publicizing the problem and openly condemning those involved.

3) Some level of privacy (secrecy?) is needed in any institution. A corporation sometimes witholds information from its shareholders because it would create a competitive disadvantage. In my own parish finance committee we don't publish the minutes of meetings because some things that are said may needlessly hurt feelings, etc. Even a democratic governmnent has secrets, which the citizenry understands it cannot be privy to for various reasons. There has to be some level of trust in all of these situations, and wherever there is trust, there will occasionally be breaches of same.

4. As a rule, anyone who is professionally involved in investigating, prosecuting or suing a certain class of people (eg a malpractice plaintiff lawyer) will over time develop enough of a prejudice against that class that the default mode in dealing with them is suspicion and doubt. This is an occupational hazard. I think the rule applies to journalists who carve themselves a niche in criticizing and "exposing" the Roman Catholic hierarchy. The work they do may have intrinsic value, but it twists the way they view reality. The result may be that they end up hurting the very institution they tried to protect.

ok. I'm gone. (please nobody say good riddance!)

Patrick Sweeney


Joaquin Navarro-Valls and Stanislaw Dziwisz did not merely say "no comment" and withold the truth this week.

(1) JNV affirmed in emails to both Noonan and the LA Times the accuracy of the IIAIW quote in December.

(2) JNV and SD then denied that the Pope said this quote in January this week.

This denial was picked up by Frank Rich and Richard McBrien to attack the journalistic credibility of Peggy Noonan, John Allen, and others.

JNV denied this week that he sent confirming emails to PN in December. He didn't say "no comment".

The big deal is that the people associated with the film, and journalists who also confirmed the quote with JNV are being called liars. This is not a "right to the truth" case but a case of bearing false witness.

Franklin Jennings

I don't have an opinion on you , Mr. Sales. I've seen your name around, but I've never thought of you as one of the bombthrowers around here.

That said, if you are right in your self-indictment, I would suggest praying to your namesake, our parish's patron, St. Francis de Sales. He is the antithesis of what you accuse yourself of.

Neil Dhingra

Dear Amy,

I don't think that I see exactly where we necessarily disagree. You write, "I can't be accountable to God, in other words, without doing His will, obeying, living by His word, etc., which naturally involves others."

I would completely agree with that. But there's a catch. Of course, being Catholic involves reception of the sacraments, which "naturally involve others" in the concrete, usually in a geographically defined parish. But, beyond that, the fractured nature of the present day Church and mass communications now allow one to be a Catholic in abstraction from the visible Church and instead within self-chosen communities. One can follow the movements, pronouncements, and cinematic preferences of the Pope directly through the internet. One can determine her liturgical preferences by watching the Mass on television. One can get her spiritual direction through reading select magazine articles and visiting websites. And one can then talk about all of this exhaustively with others who watch the same television shows and read the same magazines in small groups assembled by invitation and defined by particular "isms." There is no need for formal ecclesiastical structures.

All of this may yield a very rich and coherent Catholic life, with its own distinct culture, language, and spiritual practices. Nevertheless, it yields a Catholic life for which the vast majority of the episcopacy, clergy, and one's fellow Catholics are quite simply dispensable. The dissolution of local Churches means that the principle of communion between Catholics becomes the various "isms" that hold together the ideological groups that independently justify themselves by appeals to antiquity, authority, or the future. It is notable that the word "orthodox," now an essential badge of identity among some Catholics, shows up only once (and in a very different context) in the Vatican II documents.

The Catholics who fall outside the boundaries of particular "isms" then simply need not exist. There is no accountability to an NCCB which need not exist, clergy whose only role is to consecrate, or dissenting laity. They cease to be "of us" because they do not speak the language or share the same data of faith of our increasingly invisible Church. Their very claims to be "Catholic" strike us as inexplicable and we quickly turn to dismissive accusations of selfishness or lurid conspiracy theories. And conversation becomes angry, suspicious, even violent.

This is not, I hasten to say, a good thing. Hopefully, I'm wrong.


Charles A.


In a balanced Catholicism, truth is transmitted more by Tradition than by the "institution." The latter exists to delimit and define (but never contradict) the Tradition.

The problem in the last generation of the Church is that very little store is set by Tradition, since Vatican II is (seemingly or actually) responsible for dismantling so much of it.

So people have come to depend all the more on the "institution" and especially the Papacy, and especially JP II. That's why it's so devastating when flaws are manifest... there's very little or no Tradition to cushion the blow.

God help "conservative/orthodox" Catholics if (when?) the next Pope is of a more progressive stamp than John Paul. How will they react?



I feel compelled to put in my $0.02 here as I was rather involved in the last exchange of comments on this topic.

I do hope that whatever comments I made were understood not to condemn or criticize others but to express my concerns about the matter, which I did have and had not really spoken up until this last opportunity.

I do appreciate your willingness to host these exchanges, Amy, which can become rather contentious on some matters. I do learn so much. I appreciate hearing other views/ perspectives or learning new information that I do not have.

I thought Rod Dreher and I ended our particular recent exchange on a rather friendly, amicable note. As we had noted, we really do not know one another but as names on a web site. We are human beings with families, friends, livelihoods, passtimes, etc. In my mind, it would not be right for me to have any opinion or judgment about others on Amy's or other sites, beyond whether I disagreed w/some position stated.

Thank you again Amy for providing this space and your guidance in introducing topics.



Jane M

When I read your statement, Amy, I was struck by the comment about clergy saying things to each other that they will never say to "us". Some sort of converse is also true. When I have listened to the Sunday sermons of a priest over months and years, I know something about him that quite possibly the bishop doesn't know at all. It all depends on whether he speaks to the bishop in the same way as he speaks from the pulpit. I tried to raise an issue about a priest whom I had heard preach and say Mass dozens of times. I chose an example of what was bothering me and the bishop assured me that the guy hadn't meant what he said. He said "not" but meant "not only" was the bishop's exact position. I gave up because ... how could the bishop repeat my experience? He wasn't going to listen to the sermons over and over and he was going to listen to what others in the chancery told him. But it was the months and years of it that told me that the priest meant "not". As in, "Pray brethren that our sacrifice which is not this bread and wine but our broken hearts, may be acceptable to God..." I guess what I'm trying to say is that the different level of knowledge cuts both ways but I don't think that bishops generally see it. They know that they know things that others don't. Do they know that others know things that they don't know, but maybe should?



While reading your post I thought about bishops and that they were once priests serving in parishes and would be understanding having had that experience. But maybe I don't know how bishops become bishops.


Neil, the USCCB need not exist. Fact. It's an artifact of the desire for professionalism, a la the AMA, among bishops. As a phone number directory, it's fine. As a pressure group and a juridical unit, it's a flop--that's from canon law. It's simply not juridical. It causes way too much trouble for everyone involved except the secretaries who get paid good cash for typing those documents that nearly no one reads.


Charles, better than the progressives will behave when one or more of the following happens:
1. A more orthodox, managerially better pope and/or curia come into power and do something about some of this nonsense and confusion.
2. Catholics grow up (or grow tired and meditative) and conclude that the Church *really is* about Scripture & Tradition (big T) and not politics or star potential, and begin to act accordingly.
3. We hit a solid hard spell (lots of scenarios here) and the "lovey, huggy" Brady Bunch crap so many have learned to rely on simply caves in, and those who still want to hang around *have* to get at least one coherent thought.
4. Our young don't remember the 60s and the 60s die of their own ridiculous weight. Folk guitars, eh? How quaint. What does that have to do with anything. Heh heh,I love it.
5. God steps in in the circumstances of the church and says "Enough." That could happen in a lot of ways, including some of the above.

All it would take is once--if not with this pope then the next or the next or the next. We will still be here. =)


Peace, mc.

I might suggest more research here. The USCCB was a development of the value of councils, and it actually harkens back to Scripture, Acts 15, namely. Gathering bishops annually across 5,000 miles would be impossible in an era without plane travel. But it's no secret that the bishops of any particular country might have found they could get things accomplished if they met from time to time. I bet if the USCCB was more of an a**-kicking group, traditionalist Catholics would be on the bandwagon with their boots on.

So to your statement that the USCCB need not exist. I guess if you really pressed it, we don't need a curia either. Neil's on to something here. Without the sacramental connection, one brand of "faithful" Catholic need never be bothered by anything she finds distasteful. The Church becomes me-and-Jesus, with an occasional internet or TV personality brought in as a consultant.

I had to chuckle when you spoke of "politics or star potential," because hasn't the Church always been about that? James and John maneuvered for position even before the Passion. And seeing how the canonization processs rolls these days, who can say these people aren't "stars?" St. Paul knew it in his day with Apollos, Christ, and himself. Today we have Mother Angelica, Richard McBrien, and all the folks in between.

Getting back to Amy's original topic, being an agent of unity is far more preferable to splintering the Body of Christ. In this life, at least, no human Catholic has qualified for separating out goats from sheep.

Neil Dhingra

Dear michigancatholic,

I really don't know very much about the USCCB, although I do try to read its documents. Let us assume that it is in fact, as you say, consumed by a "desire for professionalism" and in poor shape indeed. Why should it (or something very much like it) still exist?

Vatican II's Christus Dominus, n36 reads:

"From the very first centuries of the Church bishops, as rulers of individual churches, were deeply moved by the communion of fraternal charity and zeal for the universal mission entrusted to the Apostles. And so they pooled their abilities and their wills for the common good and for the welfare of the individual churches. Thus came into being synods, provincial councils and plenary councils in which bishops established for various churches the way to be followed in teaching the truths of faith and ordering ecclesiastical discipline. This sacred ecumenical synod earnestly desires that the venerable institution of synods and councils flourish with fresh vigor ..."

I fear that without the USCCB we will have no visible expression of the "common good" of individual churches. There will be no concrete direction for the "communion of fraternal charity and zeal for the universal mission entrusted to the Apostles." The Vatican is simply too distant and singular to perform this role all by itself for an incarnational religion.

Without this visible expression and direction, we will be at the mercy of the various "isms" of which I spoke, trapped within the narrow confines of our own ideologies and desires. And we will cease to be accountable to one another.



Todd, if you check canon law, you will find that the USCCB is an entirely different kind of organization than the curia. It is entirely advisory. The USCCB can only pronounce juridically on things it has the explicit permission from Rome to pronounce on. True. Check canon law.

The USCCB exists as an advisory board ONLY--this also is true for all other national bishops boards in the world. We are after all a universal church with one headquarters.


Peace, mc.

You speak, of course, from the juridical perspective: where you have done your homework. But a synod or council of bishops is far more than about laws. You betray a certain degree of narrow-thinking in suggesting the only (or the only worthwhile) ecclesiastical endeavor is in making and enforcing regulations. Your notion of one church, one headquarters, is quaint, if not modernistic. Certainly our head is Christ. But you would have a flurry of loyal opposition from Eastern Christians in union with Rome to suggest that the Vatican is in any way a "headquarters." On the contrary, this papacy has been notable for the greater degree of self-governance granted to Eastern Churches.

Thankfully for all of us, the Church is more, far more than mere law.


You spoke of **-kicking. Progressives were the first and worst **-kickers. They had no right and no one kicked them first. It was pure unadulterated oportunism. And that stinks like carnage.

Any older catholic who remembers will tell you the truth about what happened. Many of us in the pews are only being Catholics as Catholics have always been, faithful and trying, and that's still true. And for that reason, the Faith will remain and Tradition will return.

Progressives are feeling guilty and know deep down they deserve a good fanny-kicking. They expect it because they know it's only right. They will not be disappointed in the long haul, trust me. I won't do it, the long arm of history will. And maybe Mary will help.


Peace, mc.

Mary doesn't wear boots.


The Church WAS left here for us by Christ. And you do not have the right to deny that or to divert the Church to your own goals.


You'd be surprised Todd. She's stomped a few in her day (Lepanto, et al). It's what the rosary is about. A sweet, faithful, Gospel-inspired weapona against evil.

You make the mistake of trying to neuter the Church.


Be careful, the church is not so easily neutered, even if some of her people behave as though they are gutless. It's that modern short term perspective. Yes, you can get off a fast one, but watch that history. It'll get you every time.

I repeat, the Faith will remain and Tradition will return. Christ's guarantee which you cannot tamper with.


Peace, mc.

I think you've engaged in some wishful thinking here. I looked over your Mary-in-jackboot post above and wonder about how you claim to know the minds and hearts of progressive Catholics. Guilt? Really? Be thankful I'm not a knee-jerk liberal, or I might suggest there's some transference going on here. You've totally lost me on the neuter thing. No idea whatsoever.



I am confused, I have always understood the Church as the Bride and Body of Christ. Am I mistaken, it is really a THING that WAS separated from Him and just left here---to do what? Make juridical laws? Or maybe a living Body and organism that is Christ in the world in every member, individually and corporate?


What exactly is a 'progressive' Catholic?


I used to be a progressive catholic, Todd. That's why I know. Only I grew out of it. Thank God.

Neuter, as in castrate. You know, make impotent. Does that help? The Catholic Church is not a toy that can be manipulated endlessly. The only reason it seems that way to some is the short time frame we're working on now--it's a modernism thing. You know, man is the measure of all things and all that nonsense. But then the oldest person in here has probably seen what--80 years MAYBE IF we have an old crowd...big deal. Believe it or not, the world's climax is not us. We are just one more generation in a long line of generations and more will march on behind us. Life (and the Holy Roman Catholic Church) will go on when we are long dead and gone. Surprise.

History will tell the tale, Todd. And there's nothing anyone can do about that. Let the chips fall where they may. What's worth keeping will remain. The Church has that Scriptural guarantee, remember?


Meaghan, the Church can be described in a lot of ways. It cannot be described in terms of mob rule.

The Church does have juridical rights by virtue of canon law, yes. But then, it has a lot of things.



Where in the world are you getting the reference to *mob rule*? You pound away about logic and reason, and yet you seem to have no problem putting thoughts, words or actions in another's mind, mouth or body. Now that, to me, is very unreasonable and illogical.

No wonder people look down at the church when those of us in it can't even have a discussion, whether we agree or disagree in that discussion, in a Christian and charitable manner. There is nothing wrong with strong disagreement, but something is very wrong with implying motives and intent to others that we have no way of knowing, especially in this medium. I am not exempt from that criticism and know I have done so in the past. But I am aware it is wrong.

We really are not hitting it off and I guess my only question now is just how old are you and how long have you lived as an active member of the church? How do you interact with those that you have to rub shoulders with, especially if you don't agree with them?


Ok, sorry, Meaghan, but there is nothing wrong with the juridical abilities of the Catholic Church. They are legitimate, you know.

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