Desperately Seeking Bishops

It’s no surprise we have a crisis in leadership in the Catholic Church. Apart from the Scandal that took off in the public consciousness in 2002, the past few months have re-emphasized for us that we lack effective leadership at all levels of the Church, from top to bottom. Wherever you look are men who are often, at best, personally faithful but lacking in other necessary skills.

If we were to start fresh today, what would we need in a Catholic bishop? If we were to look at our seminaries, what should we cultivate in the our future priests and bishops?

First and foremost, they should be faith-filled and holy with a zeal for Christ. That should be a given and really ought to be the minimum we expect from our priests. And in their holiness and zeal, they would strive to follow Christ in the Church’s laws, doctrines, and disciplines.

Second, our bishops need to be leaders, not managers. We need men who will have the ability to lead their priests and laity, to energize them, to marshal them, to impassion them. We don’t need managers, fundraisers, or bureaucrats. We don’t need glad-handers or movers and shakers. We need men who are charismatic and impassioned, who have backbone, and who have clear vision and focus on a singular mission and priority: the salvation of souls. Everything else must serve that goal.

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A Time for Prayer and Fasting

“Prayer and fasting is all well and good, but what can I do that is really effective?” I’ve been seeing variations on that sentiment in recent days, accelerated by the revelations in Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano’s testimony as released last week. His earth-shaking accusations against many top Vatican and US bishops, including Pope Francis, who he called to resign, because of their alleged complicity in covering up immorality and abuse, has left many Catholics reeling.

Social media has been awash in hand-wringing and people asking, “What can we do?” Because we don’t want this all to be swept under the rug to disappear in the next news cycle. We want our Church to be cleansed and the rot to be cleared out. We want the truth to come out and allegations examined. If the Pope is innocent of these accusations, we want to know it. If he’s guilty, we want him to make reparation.

Some have called for the withholding of donations to dioceses or parishes, which has some consequences. The assumption is that it will cut down on bishops’ lavish lifestyles. For one thing, by and large, most bishops don’t live lavishly. And for those who seem to have cushy perqs, they often get those from specific donations from large donors and foundations. The people who get hurt in that scenario are people like the director of religious formation or the diocesan accountant or the receptionist at the chancery or the person who goes around teaching confirmation kids about the Church’s message of chastity because they’re the low hanging fruit in the budget. “Fine,” they say, “I will direct my donations to my parish.” Well, the bishop will just demand a tithe from your parish to support his ministry. “Then I will put restrictions on my parish donation, so that it can only be used for local things.” The person you’re hurting in that scenario is your pastor who still has to pay the bills and satisfy the parish’s obligations while juggling all these restrictions and the bishop’s demands.

What’s really behind this desire to withhold money is a desire to be effective. As regular laypeople in the pew we don’t feel like there’s anything we can do to fix the Church or hold misbehaving bishops accountable. Read More and Comment

As For Me and My House: A Reflection on Staying Catholic

I believe in one, holy, catholic, apostolic Church. I say those words every Sunday and I still believe them, including that the Church is holy. Yes, she is full of the rottenness of men, the stink of sin rising to the very top. But she is still the Church.

In today’s Mass readings (the 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time, August 26, 2018), we hear from St. Paul (Eph. 5:21-32) that Christ loved the Church and loves her still, despite her flaws and sin. He doesn’t just love her, He died for her, to sanctify her, to cleanse her. He loves her so as to become one with her, to make her part of His mystical divine body. Just as the Old Testament prophet Hosea stayed faithful to Gomer, his wife who was also a harlot, so much more so will Christ stay faithful to His Church, even as she is unfaithful to Him and stinks to high heaven of sin.

After all, where else can we go? Even as I read last night the riveting and earth-shattering testimony of Archbishop Vigano, who names names and demands that Pope Francis and other high-ranking Vatican officials resign their offices for their failures to protect the Church from predators and underminers like Theodore McCarrick, I wept for my Church. And yet it never entered my mind that I would leave. This morning, my family was there in our parish, sitting in our regular pew, to celebrate Mass. And we heard Jesus challenge His disciples (John 6:60-69), after they have received the hard teaching of the Real Presence in the Eucharist from Him, “Do you also want to leave?”

How does Peter respond? He doesn’t say, “O Lord, I understand what you’re teaching me. I know what you mean when you said we must gnaw upon your flesh to have eternal life. Those other guys just haven’t given it deep enough thought.” No, what Peter says is, “Master, to whom shall we go?” To whom, indeed. Peter is admitting he doesn’t understand and perhaps even that what Jesus just said is troubling, but that he also knows deep down to the roots of his being that Jesus is Who He says He is, that He is the One who has come to seek and save the lost, that He comes from the Father. And that’s good enough for him.

It’s good enough for me. I won’t leave, no matter what priests, bishops, or popes do, because the “words of eternal life” aren’t from them. They are not “the Holy One of God” that Peter proclaims. And, sure, Peter doesn’t quite live up to his promise in that moment, denying Christ at the cross, but he comes back and is forgiven. So, I too, may be shaken by the events to come, the revelations of misdeeds and sin, but I won’t stray far. I will come back to the Way.

Because, as Joshua says in the first reading (Joshua 24:15), “As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” My first loyalty is to the Lord, not to men. And we will serve the Lord in whatever way He calls us, in whatever way restores His Church and advances the kingdom. The alternative is to proclaim I will not serve (“non serviam”), but that way is the way of hell, literally.

“Far be it from us to forsake the Lord… therefore we also will serve the Lord, for he is our God.” (Joshua 24: 16, 18). Whatever may come, my house will serve the Lord, will stay faithful, will cling to the Sacraments, even as we do what we can to support the housecleaning to come in the Church.

In Response to IRL, by Amy

It’s an odd feeling to find myself even in partial disagreement with my friend Amy Welborn, and I am now doubting myself, but I will press on nonetheless. Amy is writing this week about technology and today she writes about the Church, evangelization, and technology.

To be sure, there’s much I agree with. Like her, I believe that parish and diocesan websites are vitally important and need to be done better. Parish websites, first and above all, need to make it easy for people to get the information they came for, usually the Mass times, including the holy day of obligation Mass times. They also need to be kept up to date. The worst failing of parish web sites is out of date content and the second worst is the failure to put new content up. I have held that every parish needs someone whose primary job is to go to every meeting possible and otherwise to badger the staff for stuff to put on the web site (and in the bulletin). Read More and Comment

Christ’s Resurrection Shook 200 Billion Galaxies Down to Their Atoms

The boys have been studying astronomy for a Cub Scout achievement and one of the facts that came up was that the Milky Way galaxy has 300 billion stars and that there are 200 billion galaxies in the observable universe. So huge.

And as I sit here contemplating the Resurrection, I think of how on one tiny planet, perhaps alone of all the trillions and trillions of planets around the trillions of stars bearing life made in the image and likeness of God, the Second Person of the Trinity was Resurrected.

That event, that amazing, historic, stupendous event shook the whole Cosmos right down to its foundations. Every atom, every subatomic particle, every string of dark matter, every neutrino was shaken … and CHANGED.

The Resurrection wasn’t just a big event. It was THE event. I can become so blase about it. Yes, God died for me and rose from the dead.

No, wait, listen: God … Died! He … Rose! And changed everything.

Scientists studying the Shroud of Turin say that the image was placed upon the fabric, not by paint or dye, but burned into the top layer of each strand by an unknown form of radiation that emanated not from the surface of the Body it contained, but from every cell of that body at once.

And that radiation carried more energy than that output by our sun in its lifetime. Then the cloth collapsed because the body within had moved elsewhere.

Why? Why would the Resurrection take place in such a spectacular manner, especially no one was in the tomb to witness it? Why not? Why would God create a universe of 200 billion galaxies for a people who would probably never travel beyond orbit of one star? Because it requires no drain of resources on Him, because creation is an act of His Will. And so the Resurrection would carry such power as an act of His Will and as a sign. It’s a sign for us today, 2,000 years later with our scientific understanding to begin to grasp the event.

This awesome spectacular event that shook the foundations of the universe and leaves me in awe. But also in joy.

Thank you, Lord. Praise you, Lord. Christ is Risen. He is Risen, indeed.

Review: Heroism and Genius: How Catholic Priests Helped Build—and Can Help Rebuild—Western Civilization

The thesis of Heroism and Genius: How Catholic Priests Helped Build—and Can Help Rebuild—Western Civilization is that the whole structure of Western civilization, every major institution, all of its intellectual, entrepreneurial, and cultural accomplishments can be traced to the work of innumerable priests over the past 2,000 years, both famous and faceless.

I have to admit that Fr. William Slattery provides a compelling case that the history of the West, in ways both surprising and unsurprising, owes nearly everything to the Church. But that’s my small quibble. In almost every example given, while the contributions of the ordained clergy of the Church was vital, the contribution of laypeople was just as vital.

Fr. Slattery does acknowledge this early on:

Allow me, however, to clearly underline what this assertion about the key role of priests does not mean. It does not assert the untenable claim to some type of monopoly on achievements: priests obviously hold no property rights on all the heroism, nobility, and genius of a thousand years. Many Catholic laypeople contributed enormously to building the new civilization.

[…]

Allow me, however, to clearly underline what this assertion about the key role of priests does not mean. It does not assert the untenable claim to some type of monopoly on achievements: priests obviously hold no property rights on all the heroism, nobility, and genius of a thousand years. Many Catholic laypeople contributed enormously to building the new civilization.

I don’t disagree with a bit of that, but I don’t think this book necessarily builds the case for it either. On the other hand, whatever the book’s subtitle or thesis, what it does do is provide a look at the remarkable contribution of the Church in the Dark Ages, Middle Ages, and Renaissance to building a better world that we continue to benefit from today.

What Heroism and Genius does best is to strip away the accumulated cruft of centuries of “black legends” concocted by the Protestant reformers as well as Hollywood inventions that collectively created this image of the time between the fall of the Roman Empire and Martin Luther’s 95 theses as an unrelieved slog through the muck and mire of superstition that left 95% of the populace as virtual slaves serving privileged and backward-thinking robed masters. In fact, as presented by Fr. Slattery, the Church—in her priests, bishops and laypeople—advanced the cause of humanity in great leaps.

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A Correction to NPR Story that Quoted Me

I was interviewed this week for a National Public Radio story on the decline of the influence of the Church in Massachusetts. I talked to the reporter for about 45 minutes and had two quotations in the resulting article.

One of the quotations is slightly in error.

On the one hand, 45 minutes was boiled down to two short soundbites, including something that is quite obvious and wasn’t even the main thrust of what I tried to convey, but that’s the nature of an article like this and is expected. On the other hand, I am the least famous or influential person quoted by name in the article (and the first) so I’m sure that was also a factor.

But the article quotes me as follows:

“The church recently managed to pull off a legislative win, helping defeat a measure that would have allowed physician-assisted suicide. But Bettinelli cautions that even that vote doesn’t necessarily mean an upswing in the church’s influence.

Lawmakers are voting “based on their faith,” he says. “But I don’t think it’s necessarily because they are being influenced by [O’Malley].”

I didn’t say lawmakers are voting based on their faith, but voters who voted down the 2012 referendum on assisted suicide. There is currently a bill on Beacon Hill being debated that would legalize doctor-prescribed suicide and I and many others testified against it during a hearing on September 26. But all of those people came on their own or through grassroots pro-life groups. I believe there was a single lay official from the Mass. Catholic Conference, but no bishops or Catholic clergy.

As for what the legislators will do, that’s anyone’s guess. Undoubtedly some will vote their faith, but my guess is more will vote based on what they think the majority of their constituents want (or more cynically, what will advance their future career in the Legislature.)

As for the rest of the article, the mindset behind it falls into the old trap of thinking that the Church’s power is in her ability to influence politicians. While lobbying on behalf or against legislation that promotes or hinders a more moral society is important, the primary reason for the existence of the Church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ. While we like to imagine that the Church pre-Scandal was like Alcuin standing at the right hand of Charlemagne, building Christendom in Europe, the reality is that the worldly authority of the Church in the US had already long been in decline.

In another sense, you might even say that the influence of the archbishop of Boston beyond the borders of Massachusetts is even higher with Cardinal Sean than it was with Law. No American bishop is closer to the Pope and most observers believe that Cardinal Sean may have come in second or third in the conclave of 2013. And when it comes to issues of immigration and pro-life matters, Cardinal Sean’s voice is heard above many others. The article does acknowledge this last point.

I will note that as far as I can tell, I was the only conservative source consulted for this article.

Remembering Father Timothy Murphy

The summer of 1996 I was planning to move from Ohio back to Massachusetts. I had finished up at Franciscan University of Steubenville and had a job that allowed me to work remotely from anywhere I had an internet connection. My friend, Randy, who was from Phoenix, had got a job as a youth minister in Salem, Mass., and so we agreed to get an apartment together. However, he then was offered by his new boss, the pastor, Fr. Timothy Murphy, to come live in the spacious, mostly empty rectory to save money. Randy was concerned about our agreement, but the pastor extended the invitation to me as well, letting me rent a room and receive board for monthly rent.

That was how I met Fr. Murphy, who would become a friend, a mentor, and a father-figure to me over the next two decades. Fr. Murphy retired from active ministry a few years ago and has now died after a short illness.

In 1996, Fr. Murphy was the newly arrived pastor at Immaculate Conception Parish in Salem, the second oldest parish in Massachusetts after the cathedral-parish in Boston and the oldest church dedicated to Mary in New England. Fr. Murphy was always proud of the history of the parish, including the fact that he was the second pastor named Timothy Murphy, his eponymous predecessor having lived in the 19th century.

Father Murphy had previously been pastor of St. Angela’s Parish in Mattapan since 1979, an inner-city parish with a very large Haitian immigrant population that had grown there as the neighborhood transitioned from mainly Jewish and Irish families who were moving out to the suburbs. Notably, Fr. Murphy was the first of his seminary class to be named a pastor (back in the days when not every parish priest became a pastor and if so after decades of ministry) and he learned of his assignment on the day Pope St. John Paul II celebrated Mass on Boston Common, October 1, 1979. He served St. Angela’s until 1995 when he took a sabbatical year in Rome before going to Salem.

That year in Rome was special to Fr. Murphy and he talked about it often in the following years and he stayed in touch with the other priests from around the United States who were in the same program year. It also prompted him to do more pilgrimages and international travel.

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Why I Am Catholic (and You Should Be Too): A Book Review

There are lots of books that outline all the reasons one should give up atheism or other religions and become Catholic and with good reason: Because the path to the Catholic faith has its origins in many places and wends its way through a myriad of obstacles, challenges, and objections.

Brandon Vogt—one of the smartest, engaging, and energetic young Catholics out there—has written a new book, “Why I Am Catholic (and You Should Be Too),” that offers his own take on why one should consider the Catholic faith, a take that is aimed directly at the “nones”, the large and growing percentage of mostly young Americans today who tell pollsters that they have no religious preference, and does so in a way that should appeal to a younger audience, characterizing becoming Catholic as a way of “joining the Rebellion”, rather than giving into a massive institution.

I’ll admit it’s a weird decision. It goes against the grain. It’s radical. It is, in a word, rebellious.

In this concise, yet compelling book, Brandon outlines the reasons why anyone seeking the truth should become Catholic, using arguments both old and new. Brandon is an engineer by training and a philosopher by avocation so it’s no surprise that the book and its arguments are laid out in a logical progression, from whether God exists, to the necessity of religion vs. pure spirituality, to the supremacy of Christianity over other religions, to the Catholic Church. Read More and Comment

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