Back to business as usual

Back to business as usual

Bishop Wilton Gregory spoke yesterday about this week’s meeting of the US bishops’ conference. A few things struck me as I read this. For one thing, I looked at the agenda and I thought to myself: could I picture the same agenda for the Councils of Nicea, Chalcedon, or Trent. Yes, I know those were ecumenical councils called to address the pressing issues of the day, so maybe I should look at it from the other direction: What makes this meeting’s agenda any different from some generic non-profit charity’s?

Here’s what Bishop Gregory has to say with regard to “moving on” from the Scandal.

“I believe that it is important that we not lose context of all that the church has done, and continues to do with such clarity, generosity, and effectiveness,” he said. “We still feed the poor, we still assist immigrants, we still are engaged in international questions of import—that’s part of who we are as Catholics.”

As my friend Diogenes says, the motto could be: “The US bishops: Working to rape you less.” No one disputes the Church’s great works; what we’re asking is for them to address the root causes of the Scandal. All of the measures so far have been bandages, designed to stop the immediate cause of pain, but none of them have gone any deeper.

What happened to the idea of a plenary council to discuss why so many priests turned out to be molesters? What about the much touted survey of seminaries? What about discussing the widespread dissent from the Church’s teachings?

No, instead we have very important meetings to discuss “international questions of import.” And that’s the other thing that gets me: Where in all of this is the discussion of the Church’s primary mission?  You remember the one:

Go, therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. (Matt 28:19-20a)

Except of course that policy statements dreamed up by bureaucracies on salmon fishing in the Columbia River are more important. And because so many interreligious and ecumenical dialogue groups have informed us that it is not polite to convert others to the Catholic faith. Sorry Jesus, but we’ve changed the mission.

You know, I’d feel infinitely better about all this if the bishops were meeting in a monastery rather than a plush hotel. My problem is that I can’t imagine the apostles gathering for the Council of Jerusalem in the local Hyatt, dining in fine restaurants, and discussing international farm subsidies. Somehow I think their agenda would be different.

  • RC,

    Surely there are more appropriate places to gather that incorporate an opportunity for penance, reflection, and worship in a Catholic atmosphere. If they want to use a Catholic college then change the meeting dates to winter and summer break times.

    You unintentionally (I assume) make my point. The Church’s job is the salvation of souls and if that’s what the bishops’ conference was accomplishing in these meetings then the colleges, seminaries, monasteries, and religious houses should be lining up to provide space.

    Instead what we have is the gathering of a bureaucracy that accomplishes little.

  • Brendan,

    I’m not saying that they can’t address political issues. What I’m saying is that they seem to give those issues prominence. When they spend more time on matters of salvation than political matters I’ll be happy.

    Just look at Gregory’s quote: What three areas of the Church’s work did he highlight? Sacraments? Preaching the Gospel? No. And of the three areas he did highlight, ask yourself if it takes the Church to do those things or whether any secular group could do them too. What makes it uniquely Catholic? It’s like Gregory saying last year that the Church’s primary goal is the protection of children. Sorry, but it’s not, it’s the salvation of souls.

    As I said, if they spent more time on matters of faith, I’d cut them some slack.

    And it gets back to the old question of what exactly a bishops’ conference is doing. Are they usurping the rightful office of the bishop himself, giving bishops cover from having to hard things themselves by letting them say the bishops’ conference is doing?

    In the end, I see these meetings like I see Congress: if their terms end with them having passed no new laws or regulations, I see that as a plus for us.