Blistering NRO piece flames the recent USCCB meeting

Beware.  This piece from NRO might provoke thoughts that require confession.  I’m not kidding.

That said, this blistering entry by Declan Leary jabs a serious bruise.    Themes: passing v. lasting – passivity and reaction v. activity v. proaction. Let’s see some of this with my emphases and comments.

Assembly of U.S. Catholics Bishops Reveals an Ugly, Incompetent Bureaucracy

More than 200 men in black suits sit in a conference hall in a Baltimore hotel. On folding tables in front of them hundreds of pieces of paper are scattered and pitchers of water are placed at regular intervals. Two tables raised in the front are lined with people apparently in charge, each with a microphone. Everyone has a name tag, hung around his neck on a green lanyard. At a glance, you might think it’s a regional gathering of some professional association of paper salesmen, hotel managers, maybe even low-caliber lawyers. Only a careful look at their collars will show that these men are the apostolic shepherds, more or less, of the Catholic Church in the United States.

One steps up to a portable podium and offers a brief opening prayer. There is a pull-down projector screen behind him lit up with an image of the crucified Christ; one can’t help but think that a better setting might have some permanent reminders of why these men are here — or permanent anything, for that matter. Folding tables, a moving podium, a temporary stage (though why a stage is necessary at all in a gathering of bishops is beyond me), all in a neutral (not to mention, thoroughly secular) location, every exit neatly marked by red-lit signs — the bishops look ready to pick up and run at the first hint of trouble. Call it a sign of the times.

A woman begins to bang out a hymn on one of those plug-in electric keyboards. Another impermanence tic. It’s turning into a compulsion, a reflex against that hideous horror, tradition — or, worse, aesthetics. As the keyboard jumps and jolts along and the bishops sing (each out of tune in his own way), you can’t help but feel nostalgic for the grand organs that once made music worthy of the Church and for the simple, ancient chant that even Blase Cupich could sing without sounding like a character out of VeggieTales.

When morning prayer is ended, though not before one more grating hymn is scraped out, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, reminds them of the reason for this assembly: “To further the sacred work of rooting the evil of sexual abuse from our Church.”

That would be great. But it quickly becomes clear that combating evil is not their primary concern — or that, if it is, they have no idea how to do it. Forty-five minutes into the proceedings, the first substantial mention of the issue finally appears, as a chargé d’affaires from the office of the Holy See’s nuncio to the United States, reading a message from the nuncio himself, tells the bishops that “there can be no hesitation in responding vigorously as a matter of justice.” And therein lies the problem: for the bishops, everything is about responding.


It gets harsher.

Think about that paragraph:

A woman begins to bang out a hymn on one of those plug-in electric keyboards. Another impermanence tic. It’s turning into a compulsion, a reflex against that hideous horror, tradition — or, worse, aesthetics.

That writer has nailed it.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Fr. Andrew says:

    Author seems to be in touch with St. Jerome. Withering.

  2. veritas vincit says:

    That NRO article was devastating. Here’s another piece:

    “. . . the USCCB as a whole is in serious trouble, mostly owing to the actions and inactions of many of its members. It might have something to do with their desperate, delusional desire to mimic their secular counterparts, to be men of the world. Business suits with Roman collars in place of the ancient cassock. Hotel conference rooms in place of a monastery, or even a cathedral. (The Second Vatican Council held its proceedings in St. Peter’s Basilica.) Everything ready to be packed up and forgotten at the end of the assembly, leaving no trace of the successors of the apostles.”

    Tellingly, this article was written, not by an established reporter, but by an intern for National Review, and a college junior.

  3. carndt says:

    Saw it this morning, read it then posted it on Facebook so those of the uninformed could get a, as you simple put, “nailed it” observation of Church leadership.

    Wore a shirt with Viganò’s name on the front to local NO Mass on Saturday. No one knew who he was. So, so sad…

  4. Lurker 59 says:

    —->One bishop seems particularly concerned that sexual [homosexual] improprieties between a bishop and a consenting adult should not be treated too harshly.

    This is why there is sexual abuse in the Church. Until we reach the point that vocalizing such a position is immediately met with deafening boos from the rest of the room, nothing will change.

    Honestly, if we take the episcopate as a lot, I am scared to death for them and scared to death of them. It is terrifying to watching a group of people willingly walk away from Christ (on this and other issues). The tone-deaf nature of these meetings only underscores a justified reaction of the laity to shun the episcopate, which in turn can lead to schism and heresy for the laity.

    We need to return to the teaching of the Church to fix the abuse problems within the clergy. Defrock and hand over these people to the secular authorities for a just punishment. Treating the clergy harshly is to abandon them to their demons and hell by coddling, condoning, and excusing their abusive behavior.

  5. Traductora says:

    I thought it was a great piece, and I loved what Bishop Baker said! The only sensible man in the room, apparently – or maybe the only believer? I’ve never met him, but he was the pastor of the Cathedral in my town before going to Birmingham. He’s obviously been pretty busy there with EWTN and the other activities, and seems to keep a pretty low profile, probably in order to keep his job.

    But my favorite thing in the article was the garbled response of the moderator to Bishop Baker’s words. As the article’s author says, “Archbishop Henry Vigneron, of Detroit, was so thrown by the mention of Jesus that he couldn’t even string together a coherent sentence.”

  6. rollingrj says:

    Just simply condemning.

  7. Clinton says:

    I’ve often wondered if our episcopacy would be so resigned to accept the collapse
    of Catholic demographics here in the US if their own careers were linked to concrete,
    verifiable results. If a bishop knew that he would never be considered for an
    appointment to major metropolitan see, nor a red hat, nor become a mover and
    shaker in the USCCB, or perhaps denied a vote in USCCB proceedings if his numbers
    were bad
    , I think he’d likely get off his episcopal derriere, find out what might
    reverse those demographics in his diocese and Make. That. Happen.

    Instead, too many bishops enjoy the approval of their colleagues, appointments to
    prestigious sees, red hats and election to powerful positions in the USCCB with
    influence over decisions that affect the Church nationwide– all while the demographics
    in their own dioceses are, by any reasonable metric, miserable. Why on earth should
    such men rise to the top when their performance is demonstrably bad? It seems to
    me it’s because there is zero linkage between what it takes for a man to rise on
    the episcopal ladder, and what it takes to be an actual success as a bishop.

    Consider the undeniable success Bishops Fabian Bruskewitz and the late +Robert
    Morlino both had in their respective dioceses. Their vocations per capita, a stat
    that says much about a diocese’s vitality, were far higher than the national average.
    Were they surrounded by other bishops, eager to hear how they had reversed the
    national trend of imploding vocation numbers? Were they ever invited to address
    the USCCB to inform their brothers how they too could turn things around in their own
    seminaries? They were not– and the reason why is because too many bishops aren’t
    so much interested in what would reverse collapsing Catholic demographics as much
    as they’ve resigned themselves to the inevitability of that collapse and see their main
    duty as presiding over that slide into irrelevance with the least amount of controversy
    and bother for themselves and their chanceries. Besides, many of the things that
    would reverse the Church’s decline involve a return to Tradition, and that is
    something few bishops have the stones to promote against the resistance of their
    fellow Church professionals in chanceries, media, and academia.

    What would a USCCB meeting look like if that organization were run with an actual
    interest in results? If bishops knew that their own influence and advancement
    were tied to their effectiveness within the dioceses in their charge, I believe the
    USCCB would be quite different from the assembly described by Mr. Leary.

  8. bartlep says:

    I think the #1 problem is the loss of faith. If these abusers were faithfully praying their breviary, praying the rosary, going to confession on a regular basis and seeking spiritual direction, I think many problems would be solved.

  9. Gaetano says:

    As we watch the bishop continue to fumble the abuse crisis, I continue to hope that some bishop will stand up and be the champion clergy abuse survivors deserve. Where is the outrage? Where is the indignation? Nothing has done more good at our parish than hearing exactly that from our pastor in response to the McCarrick scandal. He was a true pastor.

    As for judging bishops by metrics, it has its merits but only goes so far. McCarrick pumped up his ordination stats by recruiting gay seminary candidates from Colombia through the Casa Maria pipeline. It produced some outrageous scandals, both sexual and financial.

    Sadly, even devotions alone are not enough. Maciel was pious on the outside, while living a horrifically corrupt life until the last unrepentant moment of his life.

  10. excalibur says:


    Discussion has been droning on for hours into the second day, mostly over the precise wording of various documents, directives, programs, etc. (all of which say more or less nothing), when one bishop finally stands up to say something worthwhile. It’s Bishop Robert Baker of Birmingham, Ala., and he seems to have had enough:

    I just want to especially point out that the NAC [the National Advisory Council to the USCCB] did strongly emphasize “cultivating an ever-deepening spirituality of chastity and virtue,” and I hope we can find ways to really articulate that further. Just a general observation: I notice the name Jesus Christ hasn’t been mentioned in the course of this. . . . It might not hurt to throw that in there somewhere. . . . Hopefully, somewhere, his name could be mentioned.

    The response: “And what I’d — just to get back to the genre that we’re dealing with, uh, one of the advantages of having this as an ‘emphasis area’ is it doesn’t just become the work of one committee, but we hold ourselves to the agenda of cross-committee collaboration in all of these areas.”


    For one thing, Archbishop Henry Vigneron, of Detroit, was so thrown by the mention of Jesus that he couldn’t even string together a coherent sentence. And what concrete ideas, if any, can be gleaned from his gobbledygook, which reflects only the hollow, secularized bureaucracy that has taken hold of the institutional Church in America? Bishop Baker’s suggestion that assaults on our most deeply held beliefs should be treated as just that, rather than as matters of procedure to be ironed out, is entirely ignored. Maybe the implications — that there’s a problem deeper than enforcement here, that there might actually be something fundamentally wrong with the direction we’re taking — are too terrifying to grapple with.

  11. excalibur says:

    There is the problem. Most of the bishops do not believe in Jesus.

  12. Kerry says:

    Have we not the Bishops we deserve? “What’s wrong with the world?”.
    Chesterton’s reply, “I am”.

  13. Gil Garza says:

    The irony of this gaggle of bumbling clerics posing as astute businessmen is that though an increasing number of the Bishops rule over bankrupt dioceses bereft of new seminarian recruits, the national conference is flush with money.

    Hundreds of millions of dollars in Federal Government grants run coursing through the Bishops’ bank accounts making the Catholic Church in America the single top non government recipient of US taxpayer money by far in the world.

    This makes the US Bishops primarily a non-profit organization funded by taxpayers that also conducts religious activities rather than a religious organization funded by the faithful that has a small taxpayer funded component.

    And what business does the US Bishops engage in which eclipses their other religious activities?

    The US Bishops primary activity for which they receive hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars each year is the care of foreign migrants.

  14. samwise says:

    @excalibur: Archbishop Vigneron has begun brilliant reforms for the love of Christ in Detroit. See his as well as his recent decision to cease sports on Sundays throughout his Archdiocese. He also strongly supports the Latin Mass. As for his hearing the Name of the Lord, he was probably surprised no one else bowed their heads

  15. Marion Ancilla Mariae II says:

    I wish the bishops would stop talking about “healing,” and “moving on,” and “purifying the Church,” and about “restoring” and “justice,” and “we must all do penance.” None of it – none of the talk – can come close to addressing the realities before which we all ought to fall down on our faces:

    1. Jesus Christ Himself is scourged and spat upon yet again whenever a sexual predator functioning as a priest harms a minor. And whenever a bishop gives cover to a predator. Who will answer for these blasphemies? Yet I hear none of the bishops speaking about this.

    2. I think a sizable number of the bishops and/or chancery staff still don’t get what the victims went through, and what many of them are still going through . . . especially spiritually, emotionally, intellectually. I recently watched the HBO miniseries _Chernobyl_. In episode 3, we see one of the brave firefighters’ body decompose while he still alive, due to fatal exposure to radiation. The scene is several minutes long; the poor victim is stretched out on a hospital bed, looking hideously gruesome, but conscious and talking. This – this – is a perfect analogy of what the victims of the predator priests look like *on the inside.* Because of what has been done to them! I wish each of the bishops and staffs would watch this few minute segment on YouTube, and be told, “Your Eminences and Your Excellencies, this is what the victims’ lives look like interiorly. It won’t help them to hear words about restoration and moving on stronger and better than before. As the Church is called to be in solidarity with the poor and the suffering, so we’re called to be in solidarity with these victims of predator priests – many of whose inner lives now look like the poor Chernobyl victim in the YouTube segment. We need to get the spotlight on what the Church can do to help them and restore them to life in Christ, wherever it has been lost.”

    *Then* we can talk about healing and moving on and “better and stronger.”

    “There was nothing sane about Chernobyl. What happened there, what happened after, . . . all of it . . . madness.” – Professor Valery Legasov, HBO miniseries *Chernobyl*

    “There was nothing sane about the ways in which the Church mishandled these appalling cases . . . What happened there, what happened after, . . . all of it . . . madness.” – Ordinary U.S. Catholics in the pews.

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