"You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you odd." ~Flannery O'Connor

Saturday, October 29, 2005

The-more-things-change department II

You gotta admire Bishop William Skylstad, President of the U.S. Bishop's Conference, for his consistency. In an era when too many leaders exercise the virtue of prudence mostly by holding a wet finger up to catch the wind, he doesn't care which way the wind is blowing. He is doggedly principled. But of course there's a catch, as there often is with bishops these days and, I'm beginning to conclude from my reading of history, more days than not: the principles, and the consistency with which he applies them, are tragicomically inadequate from a Catholic and pastoral point of view.

In his recent letter to his diocese, Spokane, about the recently concluding synod in Rome, Skylstad writes:

Finally, I want to make a comment on the hysteria created about a rumored statement on homosexuality among seminarians and priests. The rumors have generated a tremendous amount of press, much of it quite negative. There probably will be a statement forthcoming, but from recent reports that appear to be accurate, the statement will be nuanced and balanced. There are many wonderful and excellent priests in the Church who have a gay orientation, are chaste and celibate, and are very effective ministers of the Gospel. Witch hunts and gay bashing have no place in the Church.

That sounds fine and dandy in the comfortably PC confines of many chanceries, of the putatively Catholic university, and of "progressive" parishes. But the legally bankrupt Diocese of Spokane, and not just Spokane, operates with finances wrecked as a just consequence of the wrecking of lives of men sexually exploited in youth by homosexual priests. Girls and pre-pubescent children were abused too; and of course the majority of priests of whatever sexual orientation did not abuse or exploit young people sexually. But I say 'homosexual' not 'pedophile' because the majority of cases involved adolescent boys, not pre-pubescent children of either sex. I said it in July, I implied it anew a few days ago (see below), and I shall say it again: with a few notable exceptions who lack critical mass, the American bishops as a whole just don't get it. They are corrupt, collectively incapable of recognizing let alone acting on the real problems. They proved it by electing Skylstad president last year, and I explained why.

Even so, my observations were not thorough enough even for a blog post. Diogenes at Off the Record has taken this to the next level in the form of an imaginary letter from another bishop to Skylstad. Please read the whole thing. Here's the central chunk of it:

First, by referring to priests with "a gay orientation" instead of "a same-sex attraction," you cross the line from the descriptive and morally neutral to the political and morally problematic. This implies, even if it does not state,acquiescence in the self-understanding of those homosexual persons who callthemselves gay. This is a disservice to those persons with same-sex attraction-- not only those in your own diocese -- who are struggling against enormous odds to live according to Church teaching, and whose resolve is seriously weakened by bishops who suggest "Gay is OK."

Second, it is hardly a secret that your own diocese is bankrupt -- and that because of your and your predecessors' catastrophically bad decisions about keeping sexually disturbed priests in ministry. Yes, I know some victims were female. Yes, I know most homosexual priests don't molest minors. But the fact remains that Spokane was buggered into bankruptcy by priests known to be deviant, and the underlying causes could have been avoided by unexacting prudential decisions well within the moral compass of an ordinary parishioner. Staggering naiveté is the kindest way of accounting for your own baffling action and inaction, and I think it behooves you, as head of a diocese bankrupted by sexual anarchy, not to touch on the subject of gay clergy at all, for any reasons. I say this with the good of the larger Church in mind.

Then too, Bishop Skylstad, the admonition against "witch hunts" comes ill from your mouth. Most Catholics who read that line will recall all too vividly your predecessor Lawrence Welsh of unhappy memory. They'll remember the police report oncerning the male prostitute Welsh throttled during an act of fellatio in a Chicago hotel room back in 1986. They'll remember the fact that it was the terrified prostitute that went to the Chicago police, who in turn only contacted Spokane law enforcement because of a long-shot connection with the Green River serial killer. You were Bishop of Yakima at the time, of course, but your comments on Welsh's behavior three years ago -- "Obviously, he had a very serious drinking problem. Certainly, it's very sad behavior associated with that drinking. That would be my observation" -- render your recent "witch hunt" language farcical. If, confronted with a bishop's sodomy and attempted manslaughter, you can't do better than "drinking problem," would you be able to put the right name to a witch even after she'd turned you into a bat?

Let's face it: in the only relevant sense, there are altogether too many witches on the prowl, and indeed "the witches" are the reason Spokane is not a solvent diocese today. We have to bear in mind, moreover, that the faithful can't help but take to heart the news reports, inasmuch as they've gone unchallenged except on trivial points. They know that Archbishop Hunthausen promised the Spokane detectives to get Welsh into counseling, and they know that, in spite of Hunthausen's awareness of the Chicago episode, Welsh was back in the saddle for the next four years. They know Welsh's drinking caused him to be retired at Bishop of Spokane at age 55 in 1990. Worst of all, though, we have to deal with the fact that after Welsh was deposed from Spokane he was almost immediately made an
auxiliary bishop of St. Paul-Minneapolis. So tell me: how do we explain to the laity why a bishop can pull that kind of squeeze-play, drink himself out the ordinary's job, and still end up ministering to God's people as an auxiliary?

After that due reminder of the Welsh debacle, "Uncle Di", who is a priest, gets back to the main point it helps to sustain. It ain't pretty.

Amy Welborn is spot on, as usual:

There is no great mystery here. Chancery Culture - I will not even call it clerical culture anymore because although clericalism defines it, there have been too many lay people culpable and enabling to simply limit it to that - is all but impenetrable, and the whole thing has become so awash in legal concerns, there is no climbing out. The bottom line is that these guys cannot admit they did anything wrong in any specific terms because even if they wanted to, the lawyers won't let them. It opens them up to even more lawsuits. And many of them don't want to because loyalty to their brother priests trumps almost everything.

I will be brutal about this: those of you not in it just cannot fathom how, tragically, the habits of a career in the religious biz, the culture of a religious institution can deaden faith. It's the exact opposite of what we think it should be, but really...the greatest risk to losing your faith is working in the Church. Not just because of what you see, which is the way people usually think of it, but because the risk is high of matters of faith becoming just a job, becoming an agenda, becoming a corporation to protect and defend, becoming a place where people talk, talk, talk about faith but are spiritually empty.

And then it becomes an excellent place to hide. Because no one will rat on you because, really, who are they to judge, because they haven't really prayed in months, maybe years, either, and God knows what they've got going on the side - it may not be boys, but it may be an obsession with building, a simple contempt for the parishioners you're supposed to be caring for, alcoholism, a boyfriend in the beach condo, a wife and children in the Philippines (really), a determined delight in the golf games at the best courses that your rich parishioners can give...who knows.

But the foundational line - which runs beneath the bottom line - is a profound and shocking lack of faith. Back a couple of years ago, there was a lot of talk about being accountable. The bishops need to be accountable to us, they need to be accountable to the people, to the church, etc.

I said at the time, and I say again - I don't care if the bishops are accountable to me. I want them to be accountable to Christ.

Amen, and Lord have mercy.
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