How Things Have Changed: St. Paul Versus Today’s Bishops
In Galatians, St. Paul publicly rebuked St. Peter. Peter left eating with Gentiles out of fear of Jews. Paul’s desired to remind the man Catholics know as the first pope that:
- Peter was misleading Gentiles, Jews, and Barnabas about Mosaic law;
- Peter was leading Jews to believe that they are separate from Gentiles (contrary to Peter’s belief, held since Acts, that “God shows no partiality”);
- and, lastly, Peter’s actions came from cowardice.
Paul was exactly right. He corrected Peter — the highest of human superiors! — charitably and speedily. Even the public nature of the admonition was necessary. If Paul had waited, many souls could have been at risk for mis-education.
Contrasting Paul With Today’s Bishops
Today’s bishops could use some of Paul’s courage and steadfastness.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) met last week to discuss the Catholic Church’s sex abuse crisis. They were expected vote on a code of conduct for bishops (‘cause “don’t abuse kids and don’t cover up abuse” isn’t clear from Church teachings?) and to create a lay person-led investigative panel for when bishops are accused of sex abuse, cover-ups, etc.
The Vatican told the bishops to wait until February. So the bishops cancelled their planned vote. Later, a non-binding resolution urging the Vatican to release records about former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick failed. Opponents of the measure said that it was redundant because the Vatican is investigating McCarrick.
The bishops’ failed efforts follow media reports which show that as many as one-third of living U.S. bishops have been accused of covering up and/or committing abuse. McCarrick is chief among them. His pursuits of seminarians were well-known by many clergy and seminarians.
Some Pauls Exist
There are a few Pauls who have been effective among today’s bishops. One is Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley. He publicly rebuked Pope Francis for denying knowledge of widespread Chilean abuse. This led to an apology from the pope.
Yet even O’Malley’s office mishandled a letter alleging clergy abuse. That letter was sent in 2015. To his credit, O’Malley acknowledged that his apology and defense didn’t mean much. Via Catholic News Agency: “O’Malley said that he recognized that his apology and lack of knowledge of the 2015 letter was probably still insufficient ‘given the way the Church has eroded the trust of our people.’”
Cardinal Raymond Burke and others have corrected Pope Francis on many matters. And USCCB President Daniel DiNardo didn’t take the Vatican’s delay order completely lying down:
“We are not ourselves happy about this,” DiNardo told reporters in an unusual public display of frustration at a Vatican pronouncement. “We are working very hard to move to action — and we’ll do it,” he said. “I think people in the church have a right to be skeptical. I think they also have a right to be hopeful.”
Finally, to give credit where it is due: Chicago Cardinal Blasé Cupich, a chief enabler of Pope Francis who supported canceling last week’s vote, had a Paul-like moment in October. In an interview with the liberal weekly National Catholic Reporter, Cupich said bishops must
as a group, say, “We cede our rights as bishops to have somebody else come in and investigate us,” the cardinal told NCR. “Every bishop has to be willing to say, ‘I will allow myself to be investigated by an independent group if there is an accusation against me.’ “
Some fake accusations are sure to come forward. However, Cupich’s admission that bishops have broken virtually all trust with lay Catholics and the general public is surprising and refreshing.
Souls At Risk
Paul corrected Peter out of concern that the small gatherings with which they ate would be misled about Christ. Today’s pontiff follows the path of his recent predecessors in risking millions of souls. Victims and their loved ones may be most at risk of leaving Christ’s Church. But so are those scandalized by the whole sordid mess. Even the abusers and those who covered it up could have been fraternally corrected and held legally accountable.
That’s not all. Evangelization has become far more difficult. So has effective advocacy of Church sexual teachings.
Peter listened to Paul. Pope Francis has mostly ignored his Pauls. He has declined to respond to critics. He has punished Cardinal Burke and others. He recently declared that those who criticize the Church’s bishops over the abuse scandal are influenced by Satan.
Like many clergy, Pope Francis has broken the trust of Catholics. That trust won’t start healing until he acts more like his founding predecessor.