Reaction to Fr. Z’s Tips for writing to the Vatican

In another entry I offered tips for how to write letters to the Vatican.

I got a very jaded response from one person, which I can share with you now with my emphases and comments:

Father Z

I would like to ask why you did not suggest that your readers NOT write to Rome.

In your blog "Writing to the Pontifical Commission "Ecclesia Dei" you provided some tips,
which seemed helpful but I feel that you left out the best tip of all.

ROME DOES NOT CARE! DO NOT WRITE, IT IS A WASTE OF TIME!

Indeed you should have provided some of the infinite evidence that the powers that be in
Rome do not care. Specifically:

You could have pointed out that no letter (from us peeons)  has ever removed an apostate
bishop or priest and never will.  [That is simply ridiculous.  The removal of clerics requires canonical procedure.  Remember!  The Church has laws and people have rights.  So, in a canonical procedure there must be "proofs".  Proofs include testimony by witnesses, letters, etc.  Evidence.   So, clearly letters are included in the proofs, as are other documents.  This is a reason why some important letters must be written properly.]

You could have pointed out that our letters are at best a nuisance that usually end up in the trash, or as the butt of a joke around the diner table at some for fine restaurant.  [Well… yes.  I could have pointed that out.  But for the most part, letters are treated with great respect!  The really wacky ones get occasionally the treatment you mention.  But they have to be pretty extreme or bizzare.  I have memories of the weird things I had to read at the PCED.  People sent things about aliens, etc.  However, at those fine restaurants there are better things to discuss.]

There are just too many instances of obvious dissent where out right defiant Cardinals
(Mahoney is a fine example), Bishops (Weakland another fine example), and priests (Too
many to mention) and lay people (Too many to mention as well) should have been chastised
by the powers (who be) that sit on their butts in Rome and instead were given greater license
or in some cases were promoted or awarded for their opposition to Church Teaching. [In another entry I mentioned that during the conference I went to today, a speaker said very openly, and in front of the Prefect of the CDWDS! that the Church today is too afraid to censure.  That is certainly right.]

This in a nut shell, no matter how you parse it, is de facto "Rome Does Not Care!"  [No.  That is simply not true.  Most of the curial officials I know, all the men who are my friends, care deeply.  However, let me repeat what I said in that other entry but in clear words that are hard to misunderstand: if you write useless letters, no use can be made of them.  There are good ways and bad ways to write to a Vatican office, or a bishop or a priest.  Very many of the letters, which are sincere or heartful or accurate… or all three… can’t be used because they don’t have any use as a PROOF, or because they become so extreme that they diminish their utility.]

Yes pray that things change, yes fight the good fight, yes do not give up, but for good faithful
Traditional Catholics, do not write to Rome since Rome Does Not Care. [False.]

Thank You

Jim

Jim… I imagine you are someone who has been hurt and hurting for a long time over the state of the Church.

I feel for you.  I really do. 

But be of good cheer!   The situation is not as you describe it.  

It is not pointless to write to the Holy See.  It matters.  Moreover, people have a right and a duty to write, sometimes.

Let’s review the closing of Redemptionis Sacramentum:

6. Complaints Regarding Abuses in Liturgical Matters

[183.] In an altogether particular manner, let everyone do all that is in their power to ensure that the Most Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist will be protected from any and every irreverence or distortion and that all abuses be thoroughly corrected. This is a most serious duty incumbent upon each and every one, and all are bound to carry it out without any favouritism.

[184.] Any Catholic, whether Priest or Deacon or lay member of Christ’s faithful, has the right to lodge a complaint regarding a liturgical abuse to the diocesan Bishop or the competent Ordinary equivalent to him in law, or to the Apostolic See on account of the primacy of the Roman Pontiff. It is fitting, however, insofar as possible, that the report or complaint be submitted first to the diocesan Bishop. This is naturally to be done in truth and charity.  [It is smart, not just fitting.  It creates paper that can be used as proofs.]

 

Let me just say that in one meeting, years ago, letters from lay faithful were exactly the right ammunition in a fight with a bishop about permission to have Mass with the 1962MR.  They were exactly the right things to have in that moment.

Finally, you might gain some insight into how the Curia works from the great game of baseball, useful for all discussions of the sacred.  The best teams in baseball are such because they diligently accumulate tiny advantages over a long season.  Bit by bit.  Tiny pieces of information are noted and remembered.  "This pitcher tends to throw this sort of pitch when someone is on base", "This batter tends to hit to left field", etc.  Then one day you find yourself in the position where these bits of information come together at a critical moment and you are in business! 

Tiny advantages over a long time. 

Patience.

Reaction to Fr. Z’s Tips for writing to the Vatican
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About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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35 Responses to Reaction to Fr. Z’s Tips for writing to the Vatican

  1. Dr. Lee Fratantuono says:

    I for one can attest to the sensitivity and care with which the PCED responds to letters.

    I composed a letter to them in 2004 about the lawfulness of using certain elements of the pre-1962 Breviarium Romanum in private recitation.

    I received a generous, careful reply. In 2007, in the wake of Summorum Pontificum, I wrote again on a similar issue, and received another generous, careful reply, which cited my 2004 letter to them. How wonderful – a Vatican curial office treating a member of the faithful with personalized, indeed warm attention.

  2. David Andrew says:

    Although I have never attempted to write to Rome over some of the things I’ve seen and experienced, I can imagine feeling a bit insignificant.

    There’s plenty of frustration to go around. Although it’s been explained to me from several points of view, I still can’t comprehend how, for instance, Bernard Cardinal Law never saw the inside of a court room or prison after the mess he left behind in Boston, but instead was moved to live in the splendor and beauty of Rome AND given the honor of presiding at an internationally-broadcast liturgy connected with the death of Pope John Paul II or election of Benedict XVI (I can’t remember which, exactly).

    Perhaps its none of our business, and maybe there’s a slippery slope of sinfulness in wanting to see justice done with respect to some of these sometimes openly defiant bishops. But it would go a long way to restore the confidence of the faithful in the Catholic heirarchy to see some visible evidence that behaviors have consequences, other than bankrupting dioceses and weakening the faith of the Church.

    Just my two-cents.

  3. Jason in San Antonio says:

    To continue your baseball metaphor, Father, it sounds as if Jim–like many Traditionalists I have known–doesn’t have the patience to play small ball. They’re all looking for three-run shots over the Green Monster or the four-bagger in the ninth to put them over the top.

    It’s the singles and the sacrifice bunts we’ve been racking up since, oh, I’d say sometime around the summer of 2005, that are going to get us that W.

  4. michigancatholic says:

    Don’t be too hard on “Jim.” He’s frustrated like many other lay Catholics. Laypeople are not often heard and that’s a fact. Rare is the priest, bishop or cardinal willing to listen to anything but his own agenda. *To many, we matter in principle, but not in fact.* And that’s the cold truth. Erase it or sour grape it if you want, but there it is. (And Fr. Z, you are much better than most. Thank you for listening to us.)

    The church is more clerical now that it may ever have been previously, due to V2 and this is one of the outcomes.

    Pope Benedict is not like that, but it was impossible for him to handle every case, even when he was in the CDF. I also believe that he had grave resistance while there. At times, it did look like a mess. Let’s be honest about that, too.

    I don’t blame “Jim” for how he feels and I’m not sure that he should be scolded like a child. I have felt this way myself on occasion.
    I hope he is able to change his mind in the next few years somewhat on evidence that he sees better things happening.

    The papacy of Benedict XVI has helped me a lot and given me practical hope again. Pope Benedict can’t deal with everything but he is brilliant and he knows the roots and will help as he can. YOu can’t ask for better than that. This pope is “the Great” one.

  5. Jason: A lot of people don’t have the patience to play “small ball”. However, it is understandable that, from time to time, people want to see results.

  6. michigancatholic: No one has been “scolded” yet, though I am tempted for that lack of careful reading.

  7. michigancatholic says:

    I’m not so sure that I would say that “Jim’s” attitude is only a “traditionalist” attitude. I think a lot of Catholics feel or have felt this way. I think it’s one of the big problems the Church faces, right along with the very weak sense of Catholic identity many people also feel, most especially laypeople. Those people aren’t looking for “a grand slam,” only protection and peace.

    It’s the people plaguing them who’ve been yearning for a grand slam. For many years now.

  8. Deborah says:

    I have written my fair share of letters to Rome and yet a response has never been received, not even one. The writing tips Fr. Zuhlsdorf listed were very similar to the principles I had followed in composing my letters.

    In one instance I sent in the actual heretical newspapers as proof. (Context: Most of the parishes in my diocese were selling this awful pro-gay, pro-abortion, very anti-Catholic newspaper which called itself “Catholic New Times” and our bishop told me that it is *my* job as a catechist to inform people of these errors and it’s not his job to control newspapers sold in churches. Despite this response, once I spread the news around we did manage to put them out of business through the hard work and with the help of other orthodox Catholic news servicess.)

    Anyway, the point I wish to make is that we shouldn’t be upset when we don’t receive a response. I would see it as Fr. Z describes, “bit by bit”. These letters will be taken note of and the more people who write in with the same concerns the better chance of the concern being dealt with.

    In other words, every single letter written matters and DOES make a difference. I think it is a good thing if those at the CDF, the CDWDS, or the other congregations, are talking about what they have read in our letters over dinner. We all know word spreads fast…even getting to the Holy Father, himself, no doubt.

    Also, do not assume that the people complaining about things are writing letters to Rome. The majority of people will complain and do nothing – let us not be like that. Write a letter using Fr. Z guidelines and I have no doubt that it will make a difference.

    I think of it in the same way when commenting on blogs – I don’t expect a response from anyone but I hope my comments will plant seeds (hopefully good ones) for others to think about. All with the purpose to bring souls closer to Christ and His Catholic Church.

  9. Karen says:

    Oh, Geez, Fr. Z. Now I entirely agree with Jim. Go ahead and delete this comment too. If \”The powers that be\” in Rome really can\’t see that the pew sitters have had it up to the gills with Mahoney and Bernard Law and their ilk and REALLY come down on them by pulling them out – -then yes, I can see why the average Catholic is tired of feeling like he is being yanked by the chain.

    Go ahead and delete this post too. If Rome really \”cared\” they wouldn\’t appoint these bozos in the first place and they\’d clean house one diocese at the time, starting at the top.

    I\’ve no doubt in your office you can fully swat a deacon who stands in the wrong place at Mass. Rather like a cop hiding behind a bush to catch someone at midnight doing a rolling stop on a right hand turn in the middle of nowhere. But do you have the FORTITUDE to go after the big guns? The O.J. Simpsons of the clergy who get away sheer rank incompetence? That\’s when Jim was asked. You see this virtually NEVER.

  10. For all the complainers on this thread: Would you rather just sit around and whine, do nothing, and go down without a fight?! Yes, we all get discouraged. Get over it. Pick yourself up. Pray. Rejoin the fight.

    As a former dissident Catholic, I can tell you that the dissenting crowd does NOT neglect letter writing and other activist tactics. Not only that, they “bank” upon the fact that a lot of faithful Catholics do nothing to stop them.

    The times are a-changin in our favor. I’ve seen tremendous things happening lately. Don’t give up.

  11. I dunno–

    For years and years I felt that the only voices that could be heard in the Church were those of dissent and political correctness. I’ve had the experience of looking things up, in canon law, or the relevant documents and being chastised for quoting them when voicing my concerns. I have had the experience over and over again, of being told that “traditional” catholicism turned people off. I always thought that was strange because I entered the Church in’75, and every time things got a little more “modern”, (or modernist) we lost people. This was very deliterious to my faith over time.

    But now things seem to be changing. In fact I sent an e-mail, the most ephemeral and easily ignored communication in the world, to a Pastor in the Archdiocese of Louisville about something I was concerned about. I ended up by getting a note from the Archbishop, (Abp. Kurtz–the “New Guy”, not Abp Kelly)and my concerns were addressed in an appropriate manner. Abp, Kurtz thanked me for my concern.

    It’s getting better people, and it’s our job as part of the Body of Christ, to help it along. Even if Prelate Thus-and-So ignores you, eventualy the cost of trash removal to get rid of all those politly and literatly written letters may make a change!

  12. Brian C. says:

    Karen wrote:

    Oh, Geez, Fr. Z. Now I entirely agree with Jim. Go ahead and delete this comment too. If “The powers that be” in Rome really can’t see that the pew sitters have had it up to the gills with Mahoney and Bernard Law and their ilk and REALLY come down on them by pulling them out – -then yes, I can see why the average Catholic is tired of feeling like he is being yanked by the chain.

    Karen…. believe me, I empathize with your frustration, perhaps in ways that (paradoxically) you can’t, yet. This is far from a complete response to your complaint, but I once heard it said that “the removal of a Bishop is less like the firing of a CEO or the impeachment of a politician, than it is like the removal of a father from a home and the removal of custody of his children from him.” There are plenty of–to be frank–incompetent and even destructively-behaved fathers whose removal would still devastate the children far more than any alternative. I think we (at least in the democracy-worshipping U.S.A.) have a tendency to dehumanize those with whom we stridently disagree, and we’ve developed rather a chevalier attitude toward [if I can borrow the phrase, and I don’t mean it literally] the “throw the bum out!” idea. It may well be that some bishops need to be removed, even despite the trauma it would cause (and I really don’t think we, living in a secular and superficial culture, really appreciate the upheaval caused in the spiritual order–the “order of grace”–when a father in the Church is pulled from his household)… but this sort of rabid, “since we can’t morally kill him, at least let’s get rid of him!” idea really needs to be mortified and brought back into submission to the intellect.

    Go ahead and delete this post too. If Rome really “cared” they wouldn’t appoint these bozos in the first place and they’d clean house one diocese at the time, starting at the top.

    Believe it or not, I completely empathize with your exasperation (and even fury–you’ve said nothing that I haven’t thought or said, in the past, if not worse), but I also know how soul-poisoning that attitude can be. Speaking as a “reformed loopy liberal” (who would once have seen nothing amiss with Cardinal Mahoney’s liturgical, spiritual and theological errata, for example), I’m very grateful that God didn’t bring down on my head what I (in moments of thoughtless–and even sinful–anger) repeatedly wished upon heterodox priests, nuns, bishops, etc. I’m glad gave me the chance to reform, and to experience a true conversion of heart (or “reversion”?). In all charity, I’d ask that you take your completely justified frustration at the heterodoxy (and–to be blunt–what I’ll call either “spiritual pride” or “spiritual idiocy”) of some of our shepherds, offer that (very real, and underappreciated!) suffering for the healing of Christ’s Body, the Holy Church, and pray for the salvation of the souls of these misguided shepherds in question. Believe me–speaking as one who used to think as they did (which only increases my own exasperation against them!)–they need such prayers desperately, even moreso because they don’t *think* they do!

    I’ve no doubt in your office you can fully swat a deacon who stands in the wrong place at Mass. Rather like a cop hiding behind a bush to catch someone at midnight doing a rolling stop on a right hand turn in the middle of nowhere. But do you have the FORTITUDE to go after the big guns? The O.J. Simpsons of the clergy who get away sheer rank incompetence? That’s when Jim was asked. You see this virtually NEVER.

    Don’t you see that this is the “problem of evil”, all over again? Why does an all-benevolent, all-powerful, all-knowing God allow the innocent to suffer and the wicked to prosper? Part of the answer is that this life is not the end… and you and I, who are blessed with the grace to see that fact clearly, need to live up to that fact. We need to believe that these men in question are heading for a terrifying judgment day… and we should *not* anticipate that idea with glee! We should be begging our Heavenly Father, with tears, fasting, and prayer, to spare them from the terrifying judgment that they may well face, in being derelict in the salvation of the souls of the thousands (or even millions!) of souls in their charge.

    I shiver enough, when I think of the times I’ve failed God in my own little walk of life. (It makes me think of the TLM offertory, where the priest begs forgiveness for “his numberless sins, offenses, and negligences”–I don’t know how anyone can pray that without having tears threaten to form in his eyes!) Would you want to be in the shoes of these shepherds, standing before Our Lord at the end of all time, as He asks of them, “I gave you charge of millions of My very Own beloved sons and daughters; why did you lead them astray? Do you not know that their fate is at least partially on your head?”

    Pray for them. Not only is it the right thing to do, but it will (if my experience is any indicator) help to disperse the rage that threatens to poison even the holiest soul. I, for one, am grateful for the Saints (and saints on earth) who kept praying for me, long after others would have (with some justification) walked away in disgust from my heterodoxy and jumbled secularism. *I* came back, by the grace of God… and I can only trust that these people who exasperate us so much can come back, too.

    In Christ,
    Brian C.

  13. michigancatholic says:

    Brian C,

    It would cause many of us no trauma at all-none whatsoever-to remove all of the misbehaving bishops in one fell swoop. We’ve been wishing some of them could get ousted for years because some of them defy Rome at every single turn and some of them terrorize us. Are you kidding?

    And you can’t be serious about that whole emotive fatherhood thing. Learn some church history. That’s a thoroughly modern gloss and a soppy one. I don’t know any bishops as persons; most Catholics don’t. Diocesan priests do and they have special obligations to the bishop but we laypeople generally don’t. To us, the bishop is the ordinary of a geographical region and nowdays he can as easily be a decent one as not. If you’re lucky, he doesn’t make too much trouble for you if you want to actually act like a Catholic. You’ll probably never see him for more than an hour a year unless you go to church at the cathedral. He probably won’t himself try to teach you anything because he probably sees himself as a committed administrator of whatever he values, which we hope is the church, but…. That’s how it is.

    I can pray for a corrupt bishop retired every bit as well as I can pray for him still in charge of the diocese. There’s absolutely no reason a bishop has to run a diocese if he’s corrupt or incompetent. We’re simply not that destitute and we never will be. That’s the thing that all that mushy nice talk neglects to mention.

    BTW, none of this has to stand in the way of one’s religion. You don’t have to fawn over a corrupt bishop if that’s what you have. You can avoid the bishop if you have to. You worship God, not the bishop anyway.

  14. James says:

    Brian C,

    What you wrote (8:58pm) about the removal of bishops being analagous to the removal of a father from their home was a breath of the Holy Spirit: you are spot on! How profound! How beautiful.

    You are right to say it should happen in extreme cases, but that we should be deeply concerned about disrupting the “order of grace”. I’ll pray that more people think like you do: trusting God; believing His order is perfect; focussed on their own sins before others; praying for those who hurt them.

    God bless Brian C!

  15. Karen says:

    Brian, I pray for the kleptomaniac, but I do not put him in charge of a cash register. The captain of a submarine is a “father figure” too – but if he let’s the ship run into an island “well meaning” or not, the Navy makes sure he’s not Captain. I’m sure everyone has had to experience at some time or other working for an incompetent boss. Absolute contempt then boomerangs on the incompetent boss’s boss. “Can’t the guy above him see what an incompetent fool that guy is? Does he not see disharmony where there was harmony? etc.” Attendance dropping off? One may “kiss the ring” but one still has to earn personal respect. Ring or no ring. I can respect a man’s office, but that doesn’t mean I have to respect him personally.
    And I agree with Michigan Catholic. To 99.9 percent of the people in the diocese they see him from afar and don’t know him personally. Personally, he may be a great guy to have a beer with, even say the rosary with. Might even give a good sermon. I may be able to paddle a rowboat nicely, but that doesn’t mean you should put me in charge of the USS Reagan tomorrow.

    Some men simply aren’t up to the job of bishop. Remove them before OTHERS GET HURT BY THEIR INCOMPETENCE. In the first post I wrote, I suggested if one has to appoint these sensitive souls “special papal Ambassador for counting holes in the accoustic tile in Uganda” then DO IT. It is an absolute scandal that some of these men have been allowed to remain running anything.

    Scandal is doing something which may cause someone else to lose faith. I can’t count the number of Catholics I know who fell away because they were discouraged that people remained in charge whom they see as absolute hypocrites.

    What’s infuriating is to be treated as an idiot child who “doesn’t understand all the nuances.”

    Father Z. here has commented on my own Bishop’s “make up a story about the Moto Proprio and see if the idiots buy it” letter regards the Latin mass. I’m not even a particularly big fan of the Latin Mass (though I wish nothing but good things for the people who want it) — but I have nothing but utter contempt for a man, bishop or no, who is in a position to “know better” who says things that clearly contradict what people can read for themselves, should they bother to, i.e. the pope’s statement re: the Latin Mass. My bishop is counting on “sheeple” not questioning him. And that’s what I find contemptible that he thinks everyone is stupid. I haven’t even mentioned his complete incompetence re: running the diocese into the ground with the settlement for the pedo scandal. His “solution?” Start with asking the NON offending priests to give up 1/12 of their salary as “retribution.” Never an “I’m sorry I messed up, will you forgive me?” Even Peter asked for forgiveness for his transgressions.

  16. Jordan Potter says:

    I don’t have any problem with Cardinal “Mahoney,” but personally I wouldn’t mind if Cardinal “Mahony” found an early retirement.

    Maybe that’s why he’s still Arcbishop of L.A. — maybe the Holy See disciplined a guy named Mahoney by mistake. ;-)

  17. Habemus Papam says:

    Write to Rome, give it a shot. I have just written to Ecclesia Dei and have no idea whether I’ll get a reply, never done it before but its worth a try!
    As far as hearing the voice of the laity goes, never forget that subversive invention; the Internet. Blogs are read I’m sure by powerful people in influential positions and our views are being noted. Yes we have been ignored and there are none more arrogant than those drunk on Vat II but this Pope does understand. He is turning things around, the Holy Ghost is moving powerfully in our time.

  18. Geoffrey says:

    I’ve written to Curial officials as well as other prelates (cardinals and bishops) as both a Catholic layman and Catholic publisher, for various reasons. I’ve always received a polite response, sometimes from the secretary of the specific cardinal-archbishop, but always a response. The personal letters from the individuals themselves are always very encouraging and helpful. I think the only time I never received a response was when I wrote to His Holiness himself… but I expected that!

  19. magdalen says:

    I did write to Rome a few years ago. They send things back to the bishop who
    contacted my parish and asked that I be removed from any activity in the
    parish. Writing to the bishop certainly is a waste of time like when our
    diocesan paper wrote about the laity ‘doing’ the sacrament of the sick and I
    wrote the bishop who answered me patronizingly and said I need to read
    Lumen Gentium and the catechism and see that the work of the laity is
    changing. Well, it never will to that extent bishop!

    And those who have exposed the deep and demonic corruption in some seminaries
    have been, for the most part, ignored. I recently met a gay ex-priest. This
    was known in seminary where the Mass and piety were mocked and there were
    many gay seminarians. This man said that a number of sick individuals were
    being ordained and then inflicted upon the faithful. All this with the
    knowledge of the bishop and rector.

    I do not think writing does any good. These evils are fought on the knees and
    we must take up the armour of God and use spiritual warfare for we are
    not just fighting flesh and blood.

  20. John says:

    On various occassions I have written to my then bishop (never received a reply). I have written to a Curial official about a decade ago (never received a reply). On both occassions I did recieve the “return receipt”. I have given up on the hierarchy. Let’s face it; they are politicians with different agendas. Some agendas I favor (TLM; decent, non-heretical homilies,etc) but they are still politicians. I truly believe, with all my heart, that Our Lord Jesus abhors politicking clergy: afterall, he was put to death by them. I no longer support my parish with anything except prayers. It is sad that only a masochist would be happy with the nonsense that is offered to the average parishioner. Why does one think the average parish is aging and the faith is not known? Sure, the Pope may say wonderful things, but the bishops, for the most part, ignore them. I have to be concerend with more pressing things such as earning a living, following the eternal moral precepts, loving my neighbor, feeding the hungry (soup kitchens always need volunteers), educating my children in the Faith then to get involved with some neo-modernist claptrap that is presented.

  21. Habemus Papam says:

    John: You’re not alone in avoiding the “average parish” and attending only the TLM. This has happened since the mid-60’s when Catholics left in droves. Thats the unspoken fact. Its covered up now and history has “most” Catholics accepting the Vatican II changes with a few die-hards following Lefebvre. Not so. Countless numbers stayed at home, prayed the Missal and left the parish behind. The political clergyman was born, implementing policy yes it stank, still does. BUT this is the start of a new era (OK it depends on the next Pope to deliver the goods but this Pope is making a huge start). So don’t give up on the Church which is truely the Mystical Body of Christ. Agonised and Crucified and now Rising from the dead.

  22. Johnny Domer says:

    Fr. Z (or if there is a canon lawyer reading this) could you explain the nuts and bolts of the procedure involved in removing a bishop? How long does it take? What kind of evidence is necessary? Is there some sort of canonical trial that needs to take place? Can the Pope not, acting of his own initiative, remove a bishop for whatever reason (obviously in justice a good Pope seek solid evidence of malfeasance, but I’m asking whether he can just in theory do this whenever or for whatever reason)? Has the procedure become more involved and difficult since…the pontificate of Pius XII, let’s say? I think the idea that many laity have about how this should go about is the following: Step 1, the Pope sees pictures and reads about every wacky thing Cardinal Mahoney does, much of which can be publicly seen on the internet; Step 2, he calls Mahoney into his office, charges him with all this, gives him a chance to explain himself; Step 3 after a bit of reflection, talking with other knowledgeable people about the subject, he [let us just suppose] takes away the cardinal’s hat and sends him to some monastery somewhere. And heck, the Pope obviously has full authority to transfer bishops–can’t he just transfer someone like Mahoney (the frustrated orthodox layman might think) to a monastery? I don’t think by “remove a bishop” anyone necessarily means “strip him of his faculties/or declericalize him/canonically kick his butt”; probably these people mean more “ship him away where he can’t do harm.”

    I assume that Pope Benedict is a good man and that he is doing what he can, and I know that I am not as wise as he is. But it would be nice if someone could clarify those questions, I think.

  23. Brian C. says:

    (*sigh*) I knew I was running a risk, waltzing into a thread whose topic was a sure magnet for hot tempers. Well… so be it.

    I apologize in advance for the length of this; it was either “get it all said in one go”, or send multiple parts which might have been more disjointed.

    In the interests of clarity (and, hopefully, to disarm some of the ire that may have built up in reply to my comment), let me say the following, up front:

    1) Do I think that many bishops have sinned grievously, in manifold matters (ranging from the homosexual predator scandal to the desire to “destroy our patrimony with a club named ‘the Spirit of Vatican II’ (TM)”)? Yes, absolutely–many more than are willing to admit it, in fact.

    2) Do I think that many men were ordained priests and bishops who lacked even the rudiments of proper spiritual formation, and who subsequently used their authority to evil advantage? Of course. Even a handful of personally-corrupt *popes* have “decorated” the history of the Holy Church, as predicted by Our Lord (cf. Matthew 18:7)–and their judgment on the Last Day may well be far more severe, for all that (cf. Luke 12:42-48). God alone can judge the extent to which these men know the wrong they are doing… but as to the fact that many boshops and priests have done great wrong, there is no doubt at all.

    3) Am I aware of the fact that several popes, even despite their personal sanctity, were excessively unwilling to discipline wayward priests and bishops? Yes. I revere Pope John Paul II, and I await with eagerness the day when he is elevated to the altar; but he himself admitted (more and more, near the end of his life) that he did not discipline as he should have disciplined… and that shortcoming has caused a great deal of grief for many of his spiritual children.

    Now… that being said:

    michigancatholic wrote:

    It would cause many of us no trauma at all-none whatsoever-to remove all of the misbehaving bishops in one fell swoop. We’ve been wishing some of them could get ousted for years because some of them defy Rome at every single turn and some of them terrorize us. Are you kidding?

    …and Karen wrote:

    The captain of a submarine is a “father figure” too – but if he let’s the ship run into an island “well meaning” or not, the Navy makes sure he’s not Captain. I’m sure everyone has had to experience at some time or other working for an incompetent boss. Absolute contempt then boomerangs on the incompetent boss’s boss. “Can’t the guy above him see what an incompetent fool that guy is? Does he not see disharmony where there was harmony? etc.” Attendance dropping off? One may “kiss the ring” but one still has to earn personal respect. Ring or no ring. I can respect a man’s office, but that doesn’t mean I have to respect him personally.

    This is where I think you both misunderstood me, rather significantly. When I mentioned “fatherhood” and “trauma in the order of grace”, I was using technical terms, not sentimental ones–and you two seem to be rather fixated on the sentimental, emotional level of this issue. Why else would you even mention the “I don’t know him personally” idea, along with the extent to which a bishop’s removal “wouldn’t upset you”? With all due respect: what possible difference does it make how you, I, or anyone else **feels** about a bishop’s removal? That’s hardly the point. When our bishop dies, our father dies; that is a cold, objective fact, as immovable as the multiplication table, and as hard as nails. The way you two seem to be addressing this issue, you seem to think a priest’s (or bishop’s, or pope’s) fatherhood is primarily a function of “the consensus of sentiments of the people, as to how he does his job”. Do you seriously misunderstand the Sacramental nature of Holy Orders, or the iron-hard ontological reality of “alter Christus”, so badly as that?

    Take your comments regarding the “lack of trauma if a bishop is removed”; can’t you see that you’re speaking purely on the emotional/political/pragmatic level? One might just as easily (and as wrongly) deny the seriousness of excommunication, on the basis that the women in St. Louis who simulated an “ordination” didn’t “feel” any different after Archbishop Burke declared their excommunication. What possible difference would anyone’s emotional state (or opinions) matter, regarding whether the order of grace has been shocked (by a priest’s or bishop’s removal), or not? On that basis, no mortal sins committed by anyone with a deadened conscience would be of any ill effect! No… the consistent teaching of the Catholic Church has been that every validly ordained deacon, priest, or bishop is tied with “invisible family bonds of grace” to us, and especially–in the case of priests and bishops–to the people (their “spiritual children”) under their charge; and the removal of such a father should not be mouthed about as if a mere politician committed some crime or other, and needs “firing”, “impeaching”, or the like.

    I do suspect that you may take me to mean “there’s virtually never an occasion to remove any priest or bishop from his position”, and–by assuming so–misunderstand me again. My main point is that, even if it were necessary to remove 90% of the bishops and priests in the world, *OUR ATTITUDE* toward that should be one of grief, repentance and tears… not as spectators of the Circus Maximus, clamoring for the blood of “those who offend us”. No matter how many amputations we must suffer, let us not treat the amputations as mere trimmings of fingernails.

    michigancatholic continues:

    And you can’t be serious about that whole emotive fatherhood thing. Learn some church history. That’s a thoroughly modern gloss and a soppy one.

    The fact that you describe my point as “emotive” shows that you misunderstood me, as described above; my point about the fatherhood of a bishop, and about the spiritual disruption caused by his removal, has absolutely nothing to do with emotion, politics, opinion polls, sentimentality, or any other merely natural concerns.

    As for Church history, I can only wonder at your point, here. Perhaps you meant St. Ignatius of Antioch?

    “For if I in this brief space of time, have enjoyed such fellowship with your bishop–I mean not of a mere human, but of a spiritual nature–how much more do I reckon you happy who are so joined to him as the Church is to Jesus Christ, and as Jesus Christ is to the Father, that so all things may agree in unity! Let no man deceive himself: if any one be not within the altar, he is deprived of the bread of God. For if the prayer of one or two possesses such power, how much more that of the bishop and the whole Church! He, therefore, that does not assemble with the Church, has even by this manifested his pride, and condemned himself. For it is written, “God resisteth the proud.” Let us be careful, then, not to set ourselves in opposition to the bishop, in order that we may be subject to God.” (Epistle to the Ephesians, 5)

    At any rate, if you’re arguing against some sort of “sentimentality-based obliviousness to the sins of bishops”, then you’re hardly arguing against me.

    michigancatholic continues:

    I can pray for a corrupt bishop retired every bit as well as I can pray for him still in charge of the diocese. There’s absolutely no reason a bishop has to run a diocese if he’s corrupt or incompetent. We’re simply not that destitute and we never will be. That’s the thing that all that mushy nice talk neglects to mention.

    I hope, at least, that I’ve disabused you of the notion that I want “all bishops to remain in office, no matter what they’ve done”. It’s not the removal of bishops to which I objected, per se–it’s the [forgive my stridence] rather spiritually impoverished, theologically ignorant, and–quite frankly–primally selfish attitude of those who clamour for what Fr. Z. once (in a tongue-in-cheek manner) once referenced as “the night of the long knives”, in which bishops fall by the dozens. If justice demands that this-or-that bishop be removed, then let him be removed… but don’t let’s use our wounded egos and pride to make up our minds on that matter.

    Karen wrote:

    I may be able to paddle a rowboat nicely, but that doesn’t mean you should put me in charge of the USS Reagan tomorrow. Some men simply aren’t up to the job of bishop.

    Please don’t think for a moment that I think the errant bishops’ appointments/consecrations were *good* things–far from it! But we can’t simply approach the matter as if ordination and episcopal consecration meant nothing more than an election of a CEO by a board of directors! Can’t you see that Holy Orders enacts an *ontological* change, and not simply a corporate, political, administrative change (which could be done or undone with no special spiritual repercussions)? If a man is not qualified to be a priest or bishop, then by all means: block his ordination! But once it’s done, it’s done… and removing him (which is possible, and sometimes necessary–do remember that I’ve said this repeatedly, please!) is a far more grave matter, which has repercussions which reach far beyond what any human can see. My overarching concern is that we–who have certainly suffered at the hands of errant priests and bishops–not allow ourselves to slip into a sort of “self-righteous utilitarianism” by which we seek our own gratification (spiritually, of course!) at the expense of another.

    In summary: those who say “it’s useless to write to Rome about abuses” are badly mistaken, on two levels: the tactical (as Fr. Z and others have explained, it *does* do good, even if the process doesn’t meet our personal tastes for speed and visibility of results), and the spiritual (“if the proper channels don’t get me what I want, I’ll get what I want by improper means!”). The latter is the same spiritually pernicious poison which St. Paul rebuked in the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 6:1-8).

    Do keep striving for the good; but do not embrace evil means (or attitudes) when striving for it.

    In Christ,
    Brian C.

  24. michigancatholic says:

    No, Brian C.

    Referring to your bishop as your father is an emotive way of speaking. We are pointing out to you that it\’s a much more formal relationship that exists between parishoner and bishop. He is not my father, but my appointed administrator because of the location in which I live.

    When bishops have failed, it\’s not primarily that they have displeased us that is the problem–we could ignore them if they were just ugly or corny or slow-witted. No, it\’s that some of them have been objectively in dissent with Rome, objectively dishonest and conniving, and dismissive of laypeople and their needs. They also often misuse funds. Some of them are still dismissive to laypeople in the extreme. Some of them have attempted to pervert the liturgy from the rubrics set down from Rome. Some of them have even countersued families with abused children in order to keep the crimes quiet!

    Don\’t give me your emotion crap. That\’s not the problem here, although some of you would like it to be. Some of the bishops are objectively incompetent, dissident &/or evil and need to be removed for the reputation of the church and the good of the people.

    There are many reasons why huge numbers of Catholics have left, but this is one of the big ones.

  25. michigancatholic says:

    And yes, when a bishop is ordained, there is an ontological change that occurs because it is an ordination. But that doesn’t make the man magically better morally than he was before. I’m sorry but just like it’s possible to ordain a person to the priesthood who doesn’t have a vocation or who is totally unfit to serve for objective reasons, it’s possible to ordain someone to be a bishop who is objectively unfit to serve. It’s incumbent on Rome to be careful who they ordain, and then to watch that these men do not “go bad” and misuse their power, which is considerable as a result of their ordinations.

    Nowhere, nowhere, nowhere in history, in tradition, in the Vatican documents does it say that each one of these men are infallible in their dioceses. Ever. They are not mini-popes. Together they cannot comprise an “alternate magisterium” either. Do some historical research. Appointments of bishops have a long and tortured history and they haven’t improved a lot in some places. Bishops have a higher profile since V2 because of the “Spirit of Vatican II” and the bishops conferences, but a lot of what they’re pushing along these mini-pope type lines is sheer baloney.

    Are they ordained, yes. Are they important in the hierarchical lineup in the Church, yes, because they represent geographical coverage and as such are meant to administer regions full of laypeople and others. When they are in union with Rome, they are to be listened to and followed as part of the chain of authority that is the Church, but when they disobey, dissemble and distort, they can be put aside as reliable sources of information. We have learned this in the last 20 years or so, and unfortunately that’s how it is. Example: If your bishop says you, a layperson, have to stand on your head during mass, you can tell him nicely it’s in violation of the Roman Missal and completely ignore him on that statement.

  26. michigancatholic says:

    Perhaps you are not aware that for long spans of time in the middle ages, bishops & abbotts were actually appointed by civil authorities, and they chose who they saw fit. There were many bishops who never, during their lives, ever set foot in their dioceses. In some cases, it was a title, given to someone who one didn’t know what else to do with–ie. the King’s doofus cousin, once removed, etc. These offices often carried lands and benefices, from which goods were remitted to the owner wherever he was.

    At Trent, this ended. It was one of the many reforms that Trent mandated to help prevent people leaving the Church. Absentee bishops were disallowed and their appointments were directed to Rome. Since then, a bishop has had to spend a certain amount of time in his own diocese physically, and actually spend some time administering it.

    Church history is rather more alley-oop on the ground than many people have been led to believe, I’m afraid. Look this up if you don’t believe me. It’s true. [Understanding this stuff is one of the bars one has to get over to convert to Catholicism and converts often know this stuff only too well.]

    In answer to the obvious questions, yes, one of the marks of the true church is visibility on earth–in terms of a structure which is a hierarchy. We do not believe in an ethereal or “spiritual-only” church as protestants do, but we also have to accept that God guides it and it has also never been as neat and tidy as people would like to think.

  27. Brian C. says:

    michigancatholic wrote:

    Referring to your bishop as your father is an emotive way of speaking. We are pointing out to you that it’s a much more formal relationship that exists between parishoner and bishop. He is not my father, but my appointed administrator because of the location in which I live.

    If you really believe that your bishop is your “appointed administrator” (which is true, in a limited sense) and *nothing more* (which you certainly seem to imply, and which is–forgive me–dead wrong), then I’m not sure what else I can say to you. To my ears, you might just as well call the Church “the corporation to which you happened to belong, due to the accident of family heritage”, and nothing more. Don’t you remember your Catechism? “The Mystical Body of Christ”, “Alter Christus”, and all that sort of thing?

    It’s eerie: your statements, with few exceptions, fit hand-in-glove with the comments of an atheist friend with whom I’ve been having an ongoing debate; he would read your “Bishop = appointed administrator, and nothing more”, nod his glad approval, and wonder why more Christians hadn’t “seen through the emotional clap-trap [of that “priest = spiritual father” and “Church = “bride of Christ and Our Mother” nonsense]” like you have.

    Doesn’t it give you at least some pause to know that you could (hypothetically) change your logon name to “mighiganatheist” and not change a *word* of what you’ve written? If bishops are nothing more than “appointed administrators” (which, I’d imagine, would also apply to your opinion of local pastors, who merely extend the influence of that “head administrator”), then the Church is nothing more than a human corporation… and if so, then why especially is it so bad that so many people have *left* it (in favor of some other corporation which better suited their personal tastes)?

    It really seems that you skimmed my posts and responded only to the bits which allowed you to vent your ire, and you proceeded to ignore everything else which was germane to the topic; otherwise, you wouldn’t have written–with all due respect–such arrant nonsense as the claims that I see individual bishops as “infallible”, the Church as “spiritual only”, and so on. Despite my many (emphasized) repetitions of the “yes, priests and bishops can [and sometimes should] be removed!” idea, your ire seems not to have allowed you to hear any of them.

    In all seriousness: unless you can show me that you’re willing to read my posts with the attention needed to engage this issue (rather than cherry-picking them for straw-man-esque sound bytes to refute), then I really don’t see the point in taking this discussion any further.

    In Christ,
    Brian

  28. jim says:

    Fr Z.

    I am the Jim who wrote the original email.

    I wanted to briefly respond to some of your well received comments.

    […………that the Church today is too afraid to censure. That is certainly right.]

    This perspective is at the heart of the issue.
    Ok maybe there are some who care, but there remains the issue that they are not willing to act or are powerless to act.

    The result is that they do not care (at least from my perspective).

    […………Most of the curial officials I know, all the men who are my friends, care deeply. However, let me repeat what I said in that other entry but in clear words that are hard to misunderstand: if you write useless letters, no use can be made of them. There are good ways and bad ways to write to a Vatican office, or a bishop or a priest. Very many of the letters, which are sincere or he artful or accurate… or all three… can’t be used because they don’t have any use as a PROOF, or because they become so extreme that they diminish their utility.]

    I feel that this is a specious argument. Basically you are saying that only educated Catholics need apply? I.e. Sheep are intrinsically stupid, we are the sheep, and therefore we are all stupid?

    If you are a faithful moron who has been truly wronged then you are SOL. I hate to bring up social justice, but it seems that this is a prime case of where the Church should be protecting the sheep.

    I do understand the alien issue and other such letters. I am not talking about unrealistic. I am talking about the unreasonable. It seems to me that you put your Bureaucrat hat on when you go down the ignorant slob trail that we all tread out here in the Church.

    This “Bureaucrat” mentality typifies the “It cannot be done” crowd. It drives the continued abortions that we see every day, where we all ask “WHEN IS ROME GOING TO GET RID OF THAT GUY?”

    Never, they do not care because you misspelled the word abuse……

    Look I do like your blog. I am not trying to be disrespectful or ungracious. I am a traddie, but I would have to agree that his is not a traddie only issue.

    There are just too many examples, some were stated here, where the Church is just too busy to do their jobs.

    As a side not I do not agree with the baseball analogy. This is not a game. The Church does not need permission from the office of copies and publications in the Vatican to issue forth punishment.

    Why is the right time to make a move when it is politically expedient, as opposed to when it is needed like “Right Now”.

    An example is where the Church’s guidelines say that there are not to be any baskets used to disperse the Body of Christ at Mass, there are not to be any clear glass containers instead of a chalice for the precious Blood of our Lord, and you see an Arch Bishop doing this in direct defiance. In your face defiance.

    Where you see Bishops who do not support the Church’s teaching on life begins at conception, but they chastise the faithful on not being supportive of the homosexual life style.

    I think this puts mud in the eye of good Catholics who are not smart enough to read the Church’s teaching, and follow by example.

    My point is that we should not HAVE to write letters!

    When we do write the letters have no effect.

    The effect from all this is that it does not appear that Rome Cares!

    It seems that perception is fact in the Church.

    Jim

  29. Pam says:

    I agree with Fr. Z that before writing to Rome we should write our bishop. But our bishop sends a copy of the letter including the writer’s name to the priest to get his response/defense.

    I agree that the bishop deserves to hear both sides of the story but is it the normal practice to inform the priest who it was that wrote the bishop?

    Is it a prerequisite that before one protests liturgical abuse one must be willing to anger, irritate and/or become a persona non grata at the parish. Even though experience has shown that little will change?

    We have had a priest demean people at daily mass who have written the bishop about liturgical abuses and they are barred from serving in church ministries. The nearest Catholic churches are in other towns.

  30. michigancatholic says:

    Pam,

    Pretty much, yes. I always go to the priest first, and then to the bishop, and then to Rome. Chain of command and all that.

    If the priest wants to be as nasty as all that, with his little lay ministry clique, you wouldn’t want to be part of that anyway, would you?

    I’m serious. Being Catholic isn’t really about that kind of one-ups-manship. It’s about faith.

  31. James says:

    Who would tolerate a Judas in their midst?

    Brian C. has made it clear that there are times when it is indeed necessary to remove prelates…but he is saying there is wisdom in restraint. Surely Jesus showed us this with Judas.

    There is no evil which happens except God will turn it to greater glory, and no evil in the Church except that it works to purify and strengthen her. This does NOT mean turn a blind eye, but trust that measures such as praying and writing letters to the Vatican are worthy measures for the laity to take while they bear the cross.

    If the Church were to establish mechanisms for the swift decapitation of swathes of prelates, then God help us if we ever have disinterested popes (e.g. Alexander VI or Julius II) coinciding with a period like 1970-1980. That would be a true catastrophe, for the enemies of the Church will not show ANY restraint.

    There is great protection for the Church in the fact that she moves only slowly.

    Brian C. is asking us to keep spiritual realities at the front of our minds. Not bad advice. Why else did Jesus tolerate Judas?

  32. michigancatholic says:

    So your lesson is that we should tolerate evil and not fight it even when it stares us in the face and we could do something about it?

    There’s a vast difference between these two:

    a) passively allowing evil because one doesn’t have enough decency or gumption to oppose it (ie what we’re being counseled by some here to do–overlook evil, go along to get along)

    b) opposing evil while understanding that the world and the people in it aren’t perfect (the holy thing to do-trust God but keep working for the good and rebuking evil)

    Passively tolerating evil, out of disinclination to speak up, can entail participating in it in a real way. Just remember that.

  33. michigancatholic says:

    To be succinct about your question:

    Christ wasn’t in the business of taking Judas’ free will away. We aren’t either.

    However, that doesn’t mean Christ advocated what Judas did, far from it. He didn’t condone it either. You shouldn’t either, even in analogy.

  34. Brian C. says:

    michigancatholic,

    Seriously… is there any chance you could take a deep breath, and calm down? You’re largely arguing against imaginary opponents, and straw men are cropping up in your responses to the extent that the sheep of the world will soon start protesting the shortage of bedding material!

    To wit: neither James nor I have said a word about “not fighting evil”; go ahead and look. (Forgive me, but you do sound very much like a materialist–which is an odd position for a Catholic to take; are you of the camp that thinks “prayer is all very well for old ladies and those who have nothing else practical to do at the moment”?) The fact that I (or anyone else who disagrees with your temperance-challenged approach) don’t fight evil in ways, styles and/or speeds which meet your personal *tastes* is–with all due respect–quite irrelevant.

    Also: I don’t remember anything being said about “advocating” what the dissident bishops and priests are doing (which seems to be your implication when you mention Jesus “not advocating the actions of Judas”–otherwise, that’s a complete and bizarre non-sequitur). To suggest that “those who don’t fight with my style of vitriol must be advocating for my opponent” is simple hysteria.

    Again: would you be so kind as to calm down, re-read the posts in question, and try to reply in a measured manner that doesn’t avail itself of frenzy? Believe it or not, we’re both on the same side of this issue…

  35. Paul says:

    “However, that doesn’t mean Christ advocated what Judas did, far from it. He didn’t condone it either. You shouldn’t either, even in analogy.” -michigancatholic

    Yet, “And after the morsel, Satan entered into him. And Jesus said to him: That which thou dost, do quickly.” -John 13:27

    We do have to face the fact that Our Lord never appears to stand in the way of Judas’ betrayal, though surely He foreknew it. In fact, Our Lord never seems to “fight” evil in the sense we might want Him to. He once or twice cleanses the temple, and often contradicts false teaching, but never advocates any sort of rebellion against either Rome or the Sanhedrin (and in fact, specifically ordains obedience to both, despite what some might call their “unfitness” for their respective offices). In due time the Romans take care of the Sanhedrin, and are in turn taken care of by the barbarians.

    Throughout Scripture, God almost always uses the wicked to chastise the wicked. Even the Whore of Babylon is destroyed not by God (directly) but by the Ten Horns of the Beast. Joshua is the only righteous man I can recall from Scripture specifically sent to punish the wicked; and of course, the book of Joshua is a type of the Second Coming.

    Another contender would be King Josias, who tried to cleanse Israel by burning the wicked priests on their own altars. But then again, Josias died in battle with Egypt, and his reform failed, and Israel would not heed the warnings of Jeremias, and was destroyed by Babylon. Given that Egypt is the Biblical type of our own sinful inclinations, I would take this as a warning that zeal to overcome evil may very well shipwreck on our own fallen nature.

    In Luke 9:53-55, we read, “And they received him not, because his face was of one going to Jerusalem. And when his disciples James and John had seen this, they said: Lord, wilt thou that we command fire to come down from heaven, and consume them? And turning, he rebuked them, saying: You know not of what spirit you are.”

    Here the Samaritans (those Israelites who rebelled against their lawful king Roboam son of Solomon, and were conquered by the Assyrians for returning to the worship of the Golden Calf, and set up a schismatic temple mixing Jewish and pagan rites) reject Jesus and treat Him spitefully because He is going to the true Temple to offer to God the correct and lawful worship. To His apostles’ quite understandable outrage, He says simply, “you know not of what spirit you are.”

    Michigancatholic, I make no claim to know of what spirit you are. In several of your posts I have seen evidence of a great love for Our Lord and His Church. But I have also seen you insult the piety of your brother and mock the spiritual fatherhood of the priesthood, and thus of the “Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, of whom all paternity in heaven and earth is named.” (Ephesians 3:14-5) This was ill done.

    “Be not overcome by evil, but overcome evil by good.” -Romans 12:21