My Neighborhood is the Church?
My neighborhood is not very young, but it isn’t that old either. I can remember when it was built, about fifteen years ago. I recall thinking at the time that the builder had yeoman’s work before him. The neighborhood is built on a hill that, pre-development, was threaded throughout its slopes with tiny streams that literally seemed woven together as they tumbled down the hill, degenerating at the main road beneath into a swampy mire.
My house is conveniently situated three-quarters of the way up the hill, where I can catch the occasional glorious sunset, especially on summer evenings. However, it is not so close to the summit that it does not have a flood-protecting dry pond above my back yard, with a storm drain in my back yard to boot. In wet weather, my sump pump is very active. Beneath my house on the street, there are more storm drains (the streets are littered with them), and at the bottom of the hill two large ponds threaten to overcome the through-road at its lowest adjacent point.
I took a walk on my neighborhood streets one recent evening. It had rained in a leisurely fashion all day, but had been quiet for at least several hours. Though the streets were all but dry, I could still hear the water trickling, and at times rushing in the storm drains as I circumnavigated the avenue’s loop on the face of the hill, taking myself downhill to a lower flat, then across in the opposite direction, then uphill again. And then I thought a curious, idle thing: what would happen if an enormous storm should come, and by some ill-fated chance the hill should destabilize and bring ruin to the foundations of our house? What would happen if the unruly water reclaimed its own?
This, as I said, is but an idle thought; but at the same time I felt a sense of unease. I thought of mudslides in California, and of the powerful storms that at times attack the coast in the American Northeast, causing flood and stress damage to homes and ancient landmark bridges and business establishments.
Why does this have any significance? At 10:00 AM I was a frustrated author, struggling to write an article that wouldn’t have made it past paragraph three. By 5:00 PM I had completely put the article out of my mind as a lost cause. By 8:30 PM I was wandering around my neighborhood thinking metaphorically about the subject matter, and not realizing it, until I got home, took a shower, reprogrammed my iPod, sat down at my computer—and it hit me like a ton of bricks.
I started out the day in deep thought about the crisis in the U.S. ecclesiastical ranks, and the sexual abuse crisis that has swept the church during recent years. I ended in whimsical thought about my home being destabilized.
If you’ve indulged me thus far, you are certainly entitled to an explanation. On one coast you have Cardinal Mahoney in Los Angeles (engaged in the usual sexual boundary dispute), and on the other you have Archbishop O’Malley (Cardinal Law’s successor, with a backlog of problems), whose diocese most recently honored a pro-abortion politician and also received a Vatican order to stop offering child adoption to gay couples.
I know that the Church is built on solid rock; resisting the gates of Hell. And the Church is founded on Christ and his vicars, not our bishops. But our current crop of bishops stands on very tenuous ground indeed. Even those excellent bishops that we possess have been, to a certain extent, tainted by the misdeeds or inaction of their peers.
So maybe my fantasies weren’t so much whimsical as a subconscious attempt to come to grips with—or find a solution for—these problems. And these are the problems that haunt all of us. At our core, we want to believe that the new Pope has some grand scheme to renovate chanceries across the United States. But we all want to know why “bad bishops” have remained in power or retired only to be replaced by ethical equals.
For example, it comes to light that Bishop A commits (or conceals, or permits, or facilitates) an offense that would, at least in the eyes of the educated public, merit the swift hook. Why doesn’t the Vatican biff him downstairs and replace him with a truly qualified shepherd? If my neighborhood’s hill became unstable, the people of our community wouldn’t rebuild our houses in the same location. We’d be forced to go elsewhere in search of a more reliable base for new development. It begs a question about individual bishops: in the wake of these scandals, why rebuild on sand? Shouldn’t we be putting all our efforts behind a search for solid rock?
The answer is two-fold. First, as I’ve mentioned in at least one prior article, our Faith lies in Christ and not in men. Even without good bishops, we can find security in our Faith. I would never think of leaving the Church—and I reiterate that in my strange metaphor the “hill” is likened to a bishop (or some bishops) and not to the Church as a whole.
Second, I strongly believe that substantial changes need to be made in both the composition of the body of bishops and the selection process for new bishops. Until this happens, the Faithful will always have the unpleasant sensation that there is still moving water underfoot.
Is there something unique about the Church and its hierarchical structure that has prevented a truly pragmatic approach to internal reform? I’ve spent some time researching this question, and will be doing more investigation in future days. I look forward to exploring these issues, and related ones, in at least one future article. In the meantime, if you have any comments or insights on this subject, please contact me through the link found below.
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