Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary
Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary

Is it peace, Jehu?

By Diogenes ( articles ) | Jun 21, 2006

Washington's emeritus would fain leave his brother bishops the parting gift of peace:

Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick sharply warned the U.S. bishops June 15 that "the intense polarization and bitter battles of partisan politics may be seeping into (the) broader ecclesial life of our Catholic people and maybe even of our (bishops') conference."

If the year were 1966, this could be read at face value as a caution both timely and reasonable. In 2006, as neither. The divisions McCarrick deplores are hardly a recent development. What is new is the candor with which bishops have begun to acknowledge them.

In the Camelot days, Joseph Bernardin ran the NCCB as Richard J. Daley ran the Chicago City Council: committee-work, "debates," and voting were all rigged in advance, and the news cameras were brought in for the bogus meetings so that the proletariat could see unanimity in action. The losing side -- comprising those Fr. Neuhaus calls "John Paul II bishops" -- was constrained to submerge its disagreement in the general buzz of affability: de episcopis nil nisi bonum.

But the divisions were there for all that, and at root they were doctrinal in nature, not personal antagonisms. As the Holy See began in the 1990s to reject the NCCB's goofy initiatives one after another, the minority faction in the U.S. episcopacy grew bolder and less willing to grin and bear it when the Bernardinians killed the mike on them or ash-canned their proposals. Finally, the sex-abuse crisis in 2002 brought about a public relations melt-down so swift and devastating that the bishops no longer had any good-will to put at risk. When there was not even a simulacrum of amity to preserve, and thus nothing to lose by speaking with candor, a few bishops tentatively began to address the de facto schism by admitting the truth -- or, as Cardinal McCarrick puts it, by giving voice to the "intense polarization and bitter battles of partisan politics." Small wonder he's panicky.

It's all there already in St. Paul. Divisions in the Church based on theologically irrelevant antipathies (ethnicity, class, language ...) can and should be overcome by charity. But heresy, as Paul says, calls for an anathema -- and if you can't convince heretics of the truth, it's better that they be schismatics as well. The contrary notion -- that schism is to be avoided even at the cost of heresy -- is lethal in the long run, look no further than the current woes of Anglicans and Presbyterians. What we're watching is not schism in the making -- but rather a desperately frantic scramble to cobble together a majority willing to pretend, in public, that the schisms have yet to occur. Roman Catholics, it bears repeating, are in no position to gloat. On the vexed issues, our bureaucrats are doctrinally closer to Frank Griswold than to Ratzinger. We're split by the same fault lines. Contra McCarrick, we need to polarize while we still have a pole.

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