Action Alert!

means & ends

By Diogenes ( articles ) | Apr 18, 2004

I've read some thoughtful criticisms of OTR's approach to The Crisis, claiming we're naive in focusing so narrowly on the bishops as the pivotal issue. One reader suggested we're looking for a "quick fix," that we're the equivalent of those football fans who think all their team's problems would be solved if they just got a new quarterback.

This criticism makes an important point. Yanking bad bishops is a necessary, but not a sufficient, condition of amendment. On one hand, we'd want good reason -- much stronger evidence than we have now -- to believe that the replacement bishops would be better than their predecessors; on the other hand we have to acknowledge that bad habits of churchmanship common to clergy and laity mean the impact of prayerful, gutsy, orthodox bishops would be considerably weakened, even if such bishops gained the ascendancy.

That said, it's a ground floor mistake to see The Crisis as a particularly vexatious "large-scale problem," susceptible of administrative correction in secular management terms. In the only important sense, there is no fix.

The Crisis is "unfixable" because it is not a problem that a manager can stand outside of, it's not a problem like falling sales or declining SAT scores or difficulty in retaining partners in a law firm. You don't gather in a committee room and toss the problem out on the table and brainstorm about it. It's not a question of alternative means to a given end but of alternative ends; and the contradictory, mutually exclusive ends subsist in the very persons -- the only persons -- with the authority to address the problem. To borrow our critic's "new quarterback" image, you can only profitably plan an offense if you know both coaches and players want to score more than their opponents, that they want to win games. But when the very question at issue is whether games should be thrown or not, no amount of football expertise can solve it.

Reggie Cawcutt and Joseph Ratzinger are not men working in different ways toward the same goal. They want different teams to win. Sometimes our local ordinary will be a Ratzinger, sometimes a Cawcutt, most often a man who oscillates between one position and the other. Those of us who are not bishops have no say whatever in the concrete decisions made, yet we all, to a greater or lesser extent, have to play along with the fiction that we're all on the same team with the same purposes.

How do you know your bishop is not a closet Cawcutt? You don't. You can't. Even Cawcutt was a closet Cawcutt until his e-mails were hacked. Thus it happens, not infrequently, that those who love the Church are governed by those who hate her. They have a difficult path to walk without losing their honor or their faith. When it is suggested to them that a new program, or covenant, or management solution will allay their anxieties -- indeed that it is small-minded of them not to feel enthusiasm and gratitude for the same -- their exasperation is forgiveable.

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