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From feckless episcopal leadership, Lord save us

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Mar 03, 2021

Do you wonder why many Catholics have grown cynical about their bishops?

Vision Book Cover Prints

The Pillar news site reports that this year’s budget for the Archdiocese of Washington includes $2 million for the “continuing ministry” of Cardinal Donald Wuerl— who resigned from active ministry nearly two years ago amid what polite people call questions about his role in the McCarrick scandal.

Two million dollars. $2,000,000.00. That comes out to almost $5,500 every day to support the retired cardinal in doing… what? The archdiocesan budget does not specify what the “continuing ministry” involves.

Sadly, the Washington archdiocese was forced to cut its “archdiocesan charitable giving” by 30% this year, Pillar reports. Charitable giving is allocated just a bit over $400,000, or one-fifth of the Wuerl-maintenance allotment. Which, by the way, is up 35% from the previous fiscal year.

Another new Catholic-news source, Exaudi, boasts an exclusive interview with Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles, who sounds just a bit defensive about the bishops’ role in the Covid lockdown:

… Pope Francis and the bishops around the world did not close down our churches and schools because the government told us to. We closed our churches out of love for the souls entrusted to our care, especially the elderly and vulnerable.

I see. And it’s pure coincidence, then, that in one jurisdiction after another, the bishops, motivated solely by their concern for souls, closed down their churches immediately after the secular authorities ordered lockdowns. Even at the Vatican— which, bear in mind, is a sovereign state— St. Peter’s basilica barred visitors a few hours after the City of Rome closed off access to St. Peter’s Square.

Archbishop Gomez continues:

As I said, the Catholic Church in California has supported and cooperated with public officials’ efforts to contain the spread of this deadly disease, including closing our schools and suspending public worship. We took these steps, not because the government issued an order, but because our God is love and he calls us to love for our neighbors.

God also calls us to offer public worship, but leave that aside. Isn’t it remarkable that in one diocese after another, the bishop’s concrete expressions of love for his flock dovetailed so neatly with public officials’ edicts?

To be fair, in recent weeks a number of bishops have protested the continued tight restrictions on public worship. There have also been a few bishops insisting that they will keep restrictions in place even after government regulations are lifted. There is no longer the same tight symmetry between the bishops’ orders and those issued by civic officials that we saw last year.

Still, even after the Brooklyn diocese won a clear-as-day Supreme Court ruling that the Covid epidemic has not erased the First Amendment, American bishops have been notably reluctant to challenge intrusive government restrictions— to announce that they will set their own standards for public worship, thank you very much, and if the governor wants tighter restrictions, we’ll see you in court.

You might, by force of habit, look to Rome for inspirational leadership. Alas you might be disappointed. In the Catholic Herald, Christopher Altieri takes a careful look at the current Vatican trial of two clerics charged with sexual abuse of seminarians inside the Vatican’s own walls. The case presented by prosecutors raised some obvious concerns about how Cardinal Angelo Comastri responded when the abuse was first reported. The cardinal himself is not a defendant in this case, however. And that is the point.

Cardinal Comastri could have been investigated, Altieri observes, under the sweeping terms of Vos Estis, the 2019 document in which Pope Francis provided for disciplinary action against negligent bishops. But apparently no such investigation has been launched. Because, you see, Vos Estis makes it possible for the Vatican to investigate a bishop, but does not make the investigation mandatory. Altieri sums things up:

Lots of people can order or request a Vos estis investigation, but nobody must order or request its activation. In other words: if the law has a trigger, lots of fingers may be on it but none of them have to pull it.

So if you’re wondering when Catholic bishops will be held to account for their leadership and stewardship, short of the Pearly Gates… keep wondering.

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 CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.

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Show 4 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: EiLL - Mar. 10, 2021 7:01 PM ET USA

    I am grateful for the priests who continued to celebrate the Holy Mass throughout our lockdown. My husband and I were not fearful of being "locked up" if the police came into the church. Sunday Mass was more important. Thank you for continuing your mission of truth to us.

  • Posted by: jonesd1936 - Mar. 07, 2021 5:41 PM ET USA

    ...and they weary God !!!

  • Posted by: grateful1 - Mar. 04, 2021 7:57 PM ET USA

    Wilton Gregory and Donald Wuerl are, of course, McCarrick cronies. I'd have thought Wuerl might feel even a little chastened after his unceremonious, er, departure in the wake of his buddy McCarrick's ouster. Guess I was wrong. The rot sinks ever more deeply and widely, from the top down. I'm surprised only at how brazenly it does so.

  • Posted by: miketimmer499385 - Mar. 04, 2021 11:36 AM ET USA

    The Governor of Mississippi has ended mask and capacity restrictions as of March 3rd. I'm waiting with bated breath for our parishes to align their Mass restrictions with this advice, surely one which we have all been anxious to hear. I'll be more than less bishops will continue with the restrictions. The "grand opening" day events will show the true colors of the individual Catholic hierarchy and I think it will be a depressing spectacle.