Catholic Culture Podcasts
Catholic Culture Podcasts

Of aircraft safety and Catholic doctrine

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Feb 14, 2020

The Boeing Corporation fired an executive, the Wall Street Journal informs us, after the disclosure of emails in which company employees mocked the Boeing 737 MAX as a plane “designed by clowns, who in turn are supervised by monkeys.” Those emails caused federal regulators to wonder whether Boeing took aircraft safety seriously, and so Keith Cooper, a “midlevel executive,” lost his job.

You should understand, now, that Cooper did not write those emails. Now did he receive them. But he supervised the people who did write the emails. Actually, it isn’t clear that Cooper knew about the emails. But Boeing boss David Calhoun saw that question as secondary: “Awareness in the leadership ranks around whether that’s happening or not is not an excuse if it’s happening.”

In other words Cooper should have known that some employees in his department weren’t taking their responsibilities seriously; he should have instilled an attitude that would have made those damaging emails impossible. So the company took action—not only firing the manager, but explaining his departure in no uncertain terms. “Disciplinary actions have to be taken,” the Boeing chairman reasoned, when the corporation’s mission is endangered.

Why am I writing about Boeing’s problems? Because I couldn’t help contrasting the company’s action—axing an executive and explaining why—with the actions (and inactions) of the Catholic hierarchy.

What happens when a representative of the Catholic Church—a priest, a religious, a teacher at a Catholic school—makes light of Church doctrine? What happens when a prominent priest tours the country, telling everyone who will listen that the Church has been profoundly wrong in her attitude toward homosexuality? Or when a theology professor at a Catholic university publishes blasphemous theories? Or when a parish priest, counseling engaged couples, tells them that the paperwork must be completed properly so that they won’t have trouble getting an annulment?

What happens? More often than not, nothing happens. Sometimes a diocesan or religious superior will issue a “clarification,” reaffirming the Church’s teaching. Sometimes—less frequently—the offending party will be called in for a scolding. But have you ever seen a public statement from some Church authority, saying in effect: “That individual has been removed. We will not allow official representatives of the Church to undermine her teachings.” I haven’t.

Boeing fired an executive whose subordinates apparently took the company’s mission lightly. If only Catholic bishops were held—or, better, held themselves—to the same standard!

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

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  • Posted by: fenton1015153 - Feb. 15, 2020 8:04 AM ET USA

    You are absolutely correct. The Bishops must be self correcting and very active in defending the integrity of our faith. I wonder if the fraternal behavior of Bishops and priests becomes more of an attitude of us versus them instead of a relationship with Jesus. What can be done to inspire Bishops to do their jobs? Prayer certainly is an option. A more secular approach might be of the French model involving guillotines. I pray that won't happen but it has in the past. Pray for mercy!

  • Posted by: wenner1687 - Feb. 14, 2020 6:49 PM ET USA

    Your cogent comparison of leadership by the boss of Boeing Co. to that of the inept and lukewarm Catholic hierarchy has an echo of Jeremiah 35, and the example of the Rechabites used by God to reproach Judah for failure to in faithfulness to God's law. However I don't expect you to have any more success than Jeremiah in motivating the Bishops to an appropriate burst of reform.