Tall Poppy Syndrome and two American Bishops

A couple of bishops have raised their heads in defiance of contemporary Tall Poppy Syndrome.

First, Most Rev. Daniel R. Jenky issued a letter to his subjects in the Diocese of Peoria.  He kindly allows us to eavesdrop by putting it on the interwebs.  HERE

Without mentioning by name the Pew Research Center, he talks about their findings concerning plummeting belief and/or acceptance of the Church’s teachings on the Real Presence and Transubstantiation Bp. Jenky writes about the Eucharist.  He works from Scripture, the Church Fathers, dogma defined by Councils.  He talks about how to “enhance” faith and reverence through “regular instruction, Benediction, processions, visits, holy hours, and quiet times of personal prayer before the Tabernacle.”  Bp. Jenky rightly emphasizes that Holy Mass is the privileged place of encounter with Christ in the Eucharist.  He touches, barely, on the “greatest possible care” that should be given to “public worship”, which he puts together with preparation of homilies and “training of servers, readers, ushers and musicians”.   I won’t go along with him at this point about increasing Communion under both kinds.  Frankly, in the present context that multiplies by forces of magnitude the risk of profanation.  Let’s get people back on track with understanding that Christ, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity, is in – IS – each Host and fraction therefore equally, is in each drop of the Precious Blood.  One species is the best approach until we have gotten the basics shored up.

He points to our ars celebrandi.  I grant that in a letter to the diocese a bishop cannot elaborate and embroider each and every point.  He had to make the points and move along, ne longius.  And, to his credit, he mentions different levels of liturgical solemnity and also ritual Masses.  

That said, we need for bishops to be increasingly and visibly liturgical.   Over all other initiatives, sacred worship must become our primary tool for EVANGELIZATION.   That’s what this is about, the “new evangelization” in territories where the Faith has eroded or caved in.

A bishop is, yes, the Grand Administrator, “Martha” with many unavoidable cares.  But “Mary” remains the better part for bishops and priests.   The Sacristy must be cultivated with the Sanctuary, to create the knock-on effect we need in the minds and hearts of the faithful and the not-so-faithful.  Augustine of Hippo lamented the obligation of hauling around his administrative and more worldly tasks in lieu of being able to devote himself to the study, prayer and contemplation he longed for.  He had originally returned to N. Africa to form a monastic community for this, but he was dragooned into clerical life.  He called his active duties his sárcina, the enormously heavy backpack of the Roman solider.  He wrote eloquently of the tension of the busy life and the life freer for the heart and mind, trying to find otium in negotio, “unburdened time within time for business”.

Bottom line: bishops and priests must become more and more liturgical.  Of all the things we have to do in and for the Church, sacred worship is the most important.  Only we can do it in the way that only we can do it.  Sounds tautological, but think about it.

Next in our Tall Poppy post, Archbishop Chaput raised his head up and wrote in his newspaper and online to the people of Philly about Jesuit homosexualist activist James Martin’s divisive and destructive antics.  HERE

This has bought about some whining on Twitter about how mean Chaput is and how they can hardly wait till he has to submit his resignation (soon).  Context: Martin spoke earlier in the week at St. Joseph’s University in that Archdiocese about his homosexualist agenda.   After the fact, Chaput wrote this statement to instruct the people committed to his pastoral care.  After the fact.  Perhaps he didn’t want to make assumptions about what Martin would say within the boundaries of the archdiocese.  But, still… c’mon.  Martin has spoken often enough without veering to merit what Chaput wrote after the fact of Martin’s talk in Philly.

That aside, Chaput made some good points, clearly.   Here’s one:


[A] pattern of ambiguity in his teachings tends to undermine his stated aims, alienating people from the very support they need for authentic human flourishing. Due to the confusion caused by his statements and activities regarding same-sex related (LGBT) issues, I find it necessary to emphasize that Father Martin does not speak with authority on behalf of the Church, and to caution the faithful about some of his claims.


He lays out succinctly and kindly what the Church teaches about all the things that Martin obscures or undermines, namely, that homosexual inclinations are “objectively disordered” and that all people are called to chastity and continence.  Since people of the same sex can never be married, they are not exonerated from chastity and continence.

Chaput makes a good point.  First, he acknowledges Martin’s claim that he has “never challenged [the Church’s] teachings”.  I’m not so sure about that: asking that the language of the Catechism and other documents be changed is a kind of challenge without being an open denial of the teaching.   However, Chaput says, rightly, that:

Catholic teaching always requires more than polite affirmation or pro forma agreement, particularly from those who comment publicly on matters of doctrine.

Priests and bishops can’t dance around or rope-a-dope.  They can’t rely merely on qui tacet consentire videtur.  No.  We have the obligation to teach as Paul wrote in 2 Tim 4:

Praedica verbum, insta opportune, importune: argue, obsecra, increpa in omni patientia, et doctrina…. Preach the word, be urgent in season and out of season, convince, rebuke, and exhort, be unfailing in patience and in teaching.

Let us not be ambiguous about important matters such as the Church’s teachings on these important moral issues which, in our day, are burning issues.

A bishop can’t let one issue dominate all his access to his people.  You can’t preach about abortion or homosexuality or care of the poor every single time you have their attention.  However, I still think Archbp. Chaput – given Martin’s visibility and his relentlessly corrosive work – would have done well to write this both before Martin’s talk in Philly, as well as to have reacted to it afterward.  He is a fine writer and, when he engages, he delivers.

Who knows what bodes for Philadelphia in the weeks and month to follow the Archbishop’s 75th birthday.

Finally, perhaps bishops around the country could make use of Archbp. Chaput’s column as a model for their own teaching in the dioceses entrusted to their care, especially when certain speakers are scheduled.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. Josephus Corvus says:

    It’s great so see a couple bishops actually saying something. One thing I’m confused about regarding Archbishop Chaput’s opening paragraph. I thought that there was a somewhat recent rule change that made bishops responsible for universities in their territories. Or is that only in a general sense in that the bishop can decide if they can operate but can’t overrule individual decisions?

  2. HvonBlumenthal says:

    I was forcibly struck by one glaring omission in Bishop Jenky’s piece: no mention of confession. There isn’t a hope of restoring faith in the Real Presence if people don’t return to the confession box.

  3. Luminis says:

    Archbishop Chaput is the best!! I have written to him several times via email. He returns the email within the hour!!
    He is a good leader and priest. We need many more like him.
    I am so sad to see him go and he will be missed .

  4. Luminis says:

    Can I ask for prayers for the faithful here in Philly, we are very nervous about what may be coming our way!

  5. Giana Rose says:


    I will remember the faithful in Philly. After a year with no bishop, my diocese got a new bishop right as I moved from the diocese. It was a long year, as our previous bishop left under a bit of a dark cloud, to state it mildly. The man finally sent, however, seems to be a humble and holy man, and he has indicated he is intent on doing what he can to bring about much needed healing. You all are blessed with a good bishop now. I pray his predecessor will also be good for the archdiocese, whenever that time may come.

  6. Hidden One says:

    Bishops are, in very practical terms, extraordinarily limited in what they can do with regard to institutions in their dioceses that are run by religious of pontifical rite. Most of what bishops can do in such cases involves demonstrating in spectacular fashion that their croziers aren’t just for show. They have few if any tools more gentle than publicly stripping them of their status as Catholic, levelling local interdicts, etc., if such institutions are disinclined to cooperate. Some bishops, unwilling to do such things, quietly fight wars for years–even many years–in their attempts, not necessarily successful, to address problems more serious than a one-off speaker.

  7. Luminis says:

    Thank you Giana Rose!

  8. mo7 says:

    OK, I had to look up Tall Poppy Syndrome. Thanks, it’s much better nuanced than the condescending ‘overachiever’.

    [Thank you for looking it up!]

    Fr. Z's Gold Star Award

  9. thomistking says:

    Chaput’s letter concerning Fr. Martin is masterful. He is gentle and charitable (perhaps to the point of absurdity) but clear and resolute in laying out the principles of the faith.

  10. Pistis_Alethie says:

    Regarding Martin VS Chaput, I see that some of Fr. Z’s readers still don’t get it. Martin just responded to Chaput’s column, writing: “I was sorry that he [Chaput] felt the need to publish it.” Martin also writes, “the lecture at St. Joseph’s University this week, which prompted his column, is the same lecture that I presented at the World Meeting of Families in Dublin last year, the text of which was vetted and approved beforehand by the Vatican.” What some of Fr. Z’s readers still don’t get is that Chaput’s “column” is too little, too late. Any Catholic whose brain is not comatose knows what Martin is about! He is the quasi-incarnation of the Spirit of Antichrist, which the Catechism defines as: “solutions to human problems at the cost of apostasy from the truth” (C.C.C. 675). Moreover, Pontius Pilate’s sin of “omission” due to cowardliness is still a sin, and a grave one at that, especially when it enables more confusion and ambiguity within the Church. The “omission” of Pontius Pilate prevails among the American Catholic hierarchy. If Chaput is such an intelligent and eloquent man [I am not denying that he is], is there not much more he can accomplish as a VICAR of CHRIST [i.e. a Bishop] against this deceiver, James Martin? To start with, Chaput might begin call a spade a spade by exposing James Martin for what he really is, namely, a deceiver who serves the Spirit of Antichrist. Why does Chaput continue to praise and flatter Martin even within his timid rebuke? What is there to be praised, exactly, in the activity of a priest who routinely ignores and misconstrues the relevance of Divine Revelation to real life? People who fawn over the extremely inadequate gestures of men like Bishop Chaput are part of the problem of what is currently killing the Church in Souls. Saint John the Baptist needs to WAKE UP within Bishops and laity alike!

  11. RLseven says:

    I hardly think James Martin serves the Antichrist. [You can serve wittingly or unwittingly.] His heart is with God and those who are perceived in our Church a the lepers of our time. [I don’t know his heart, but I do know his words and actions and omissions.] He is promoting love and hospitality within our Church for the outcasts. [I deny the premise: homosexuals are not unloved outcasts. Sin is unloved and outcast, not sinners.] He’s not promoting homosexual sex or homosexual marriage, [Openly promotes men kissing each other in church, etc.] but simply that we open our eyes and ears to the fact that people with same-sex attraction are our brothers and sisters and deserve to be treated as such– the same way we love the other sinners in our lives, despite their sin. Correct them, admonish them? Fine. But above all, love them. Like Christ would. [You get to an important point. Martin is NOT admonishing them not to sin. He is providing cover for their “lifestyle” and trying to force acceptance of that “lifestyle” on the rest of the Church.]

  12. Pingback: @JamesMartinSJ responds to Archbp. Chaput via @CatholicPhilly | Fr. Z's Blog

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