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

Monday, January 08, 2007

Almost-Archbishop Wielgus: same tune, different lyrics

I rarely miss an opportunity to excoriate the U.S. bishops for collective, if not always individual, hypocrisy. Most of what disturbs me is motivated by worldliness: an inordinate desire to protect positions and keep money flowing, leading to coverups that are invariably blown and other moral compromises—such as those about birth control for the laity—that speak louder to people than words. I used to think, however, that certain sectors of the Church were far less tinged by moral compromise. A few indeed are. But the Polish Church, so long taken as a beacon of strength and vitality, is apparently not one of them.

By now, most Catholics know that Stanislaw Wielgus, appointed Archbishop of Warsaw by Pope Benedict XVI little more than a month ago, was forced to resign when it was revealed that he had once "collaborated" with the security services under the Communist regime. You can read the story and the background in last Friday's column by the ever-reliable John Allen of NCR. Scandal-mongers are, naturally, most interested in knowing what the Pope knew about Wielgus and when he knew it; it would appear that there was no excuse for his not knowing, if indeed he didn't know in time. Perhaps he was in denial, relying on the character testimony of his late predecessor or that pope's longtime personal secretary, now Archbishop of Krakow. The affair is certainly an embarassment. But that too shall pass. What interests me far more is the fact that Wielgus was far from unique among Communist-era Polish clergy in collaborating for the sake of securing coveted privileges. The environment was quite different from that of the United States, but the moral failing was of the same kind that I so often criticize in the U.S. bishops. To frame it as a sound bite: pandering for perks.

Such of course is hardly new in Church history. One might even say that Judas was the first and most egregious instance of it. The Church has always seen betrayal from within, even at the highest levels, and always will until the Parousia. My disappointment about it stems not from any imagined novelty thereof, or any naïvete about partially regenerate human nature, but from my impatience with the obstacle it poses to what so desperately needs doing: evangelizing the culture. No matter how many sound, well-reasoned, and high-sounding documents exhort the laity to do what needs doing, it won't be done sustainably with so many worldly prelates and clergy.
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