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Devil’s Advocate: A Second Look at Recent News

By Dr. Jeff Mirus (bio - articles - email) | Jun 24, 2011

Without being remotely able to steal Phil Lawler’s thunder as our prime interpreter of Catholic news (there is a reason, after all, his blog is called On the News), my “don’t look now, but” comments on several news stories two weeks ago stimulated quite a bit of comment (Interpreting the News: Adoption, Sex Abuse, Liturgy). I hope I’m not wrong in taking this to mean they stimulated thought. So let’s try again.

Archbishop Chaput Counsels Catholic Charities
Preserve Catholic identity of charities, schools: Archbishop Chaput

What’s interesting to me about this story is that Archbishop Chaput is mimicking the Pope. Don’t get me wrong; I don’t mean for a moment that Archbishop Chaput has been reluctant to press Catholics to strengthen their identity in the past. On the contrary, he has been in the forefront. But it is surely no coincidence that he is bringing this special message to Catholic social workers just weeks after Pope Benedict launched a full-court press against Caritas International, conflicting openly with the outgoing leader of that organization, vetoing a proposed speaker at the Caritas International Assembly, and both addressing the leadership himself and sending other key curial officials to do the same.

All of this had one theme: the effective reform of Caritas to restore its Catholic identity.

My point is that when the Pope actually sends signals that have teeth in them, that is, disciplinary signals, two kinds of bishops move quickly into line to send the same signals: (1) Deeply committed Catholic bishops who deliberately try to mirror the Holy Father’s priorities because he is their spiritual head; and (2) Bishops who want to be promoted to larger dioceses or higher offices. I am as certain as I can be that Archbishop Charles Chaput is in the former category. But what was it that St. Paul said? “Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. The latter do it out of love…; the former proclaim Christ out of partisanship, not sincerely…. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed; and in that I rejoice” (Phil 1:15-18).

Milwaukee Archdiocese Relaxes Objections to Financial Probe
Bankruptcy court approves scrutiny of Milwaukee archdiocesan finances

The Archdiocese of Milwaukee is the subject of a lawsuit which claims it has moved money around to protect it from being used to compensate victims of sexual abuse. Initially, attorneys for the Archdiocese resisted a financial investigation, but they relented when they were assured the investigation would be limited to this one charge. That’s perfectly understandable for any organization, but in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, there are clearly additional reasons for relief.

You may recall that the former, long-time Archbishop of Milwaukee, Rembert Weakland, used nearly a half-million dollars in Archdiocesan funds to pay off a homosexual lover. Weakland also admitted to shuffling pedophilic priests around from parish to parish, and claimed not to know clerical abuse of children was a crime. And of course he questioned several aspects of Catholic doctrine. Right now, only God knows what grave financial improprieties a close look at Milwaukee finances would reveal. One understands why diocesan attorneys have so readily stood aside for a review of one single point.

Laity Can Appeal to the Papal Nuncio
CDF official: laity have right to turn to nuncio

The message of this news story is clear, and I suppose it is another example of improved discipline under Pope Benedict XVI that the message is being sent at all: The papal nuncio in each country represents the ministry of Peter, and the people in the pews should feel free to let him know if their bishop is, in effect, a bad bishop.

Of course, there are two sides to this call for complaints. The first is that just as lay people complain to their bishops about their priests constantly for the stupidest reasons (not that there are not also valid reasons to complain), so too do Catholics complain to the papal nuncio about bishops for some pretty despicable reasons, especially if they regard themselves as “somebodies”, that is, as persons of influence who know how to play the game. Papal nuncios must necessarily filter what they hear very carefully.

The other side, however, is more problematic. In the United States, at least, faithful lay persons have been complaining to the Apostolic Delegate in Washington for more than forty years about the most egregious abuses, often enough in fact to recognize that none of it ever made the slightest difference to how their local church is run. If Pope Benedict is looking for another disciplinary battle that he can definitely win and use to create more pressure for reform, I suggest that the next time he removes a bishop from office, he should let slip that he was alerted to the problem by complaints received from lay people by his nuncio in that region.

That might not put the fear of God into wayward bishops, but it would help instill a salutary fear of the people about whom a bishop is supposed to care the most.

Profiting from the Pope
ID Card for Pope John Paul I sold on Ebay
A cologne named for the Pope

It is nice to see that people will still pay to be associated with the pope, or to possess a genuine papal accoutrement. It suggests that the successor of Peter still has that cachet, that je ne sais quoi. I can even understand why a wealthy person would want to own Pope John Paul I’s Venetian ID card, from when he was Patriarch there, especially given that the expenditure was to be given to charity.

But alleged papal cologne? We’ve carried ads from Excelsis on CatholicCulture.org, for the purported private formula of Pope Blessed Pius IX, and we’ve been happy to have them. It is harmless, and if it sells, why not fabricate a scent to associate with Benedict XVI gloriously reigning? That said, however, I just don’t get it. After all, it’s not exactly the odor of sanctity. And these days, does anyone wear cologne?

Burning questions here. Comments?

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Show 4 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: timothy.op - Jun. 27, 2011 10:25 AM ET USA

    A perfect opportunity for the Nuncio to show that he means what he says is the up-coming 'sexual diversity' conferences set to take place at Fairfield and Fordham Universities this Fall. The conference series explicitly promises blatant contradiction of Church teaching on fundamental aspects of morality (and probably faith as well). For either of the local Bishops to allow this would be a reprehensible travesty and would do grave harm to many souls. Let us raise our voices in protest!!!

  • Posted by: Defender - Jun. 26, 2011 2:03 AM ET USA

    Perhaps it's time for the Papal Nuncio.... Another (supposed) Catholic governor has failed to support traditional marriage and it's unlikely that any of the bishops will do anything about it. The bishops give great scandal in not exercising their office - but many of them may not have heard of the term either. It's one thing to point to secularism as the greatest ill the Church faces, but quite another when they do nothing about it.

  • Posted by: Steve214 - Jun. 24, 2011 9:19 PM ET USA

    All makes sense to me!

  • Posted by: jmoore20082145 - Jun. 24, 2011 5:37 PM ET USA

    why not fabricate a scent to associate with Benedict XVI gloriously reigning? Well, I just read on Joan's Rome that this may, indeed be happening - to quote her blog "I could be wrong but I’m fairly sure that one of the more unusual gifts that Pope Benedict will receive for the 60th anniversary of his priestly ordination on June 29 is a fragrance created especially to mark this anniversary." The entry goes on to describe the description given by Excelsis.

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