Anatomy of the healing process

By Fr. Jerry Pokorsky (bio - articles - email) | Feb 18, 2019

Healing—more than repentance—is on the mind of bishops everywhere. Reporting the recent laicization of former Cardinal McCarrick, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, the present of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, issued a statement: “No bishop, no matter how influential, is above the law of the Church. For all those McCarrick abused, I pray this judgment will be one small step, among many, toward healing.”

Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston also spoke of healing: “The seriousness of the final dismissal [of McCarrick] notwithstanding, it cannot in and of itself provide healing for those so terribly harmed [etc.]. Also, the Holy Father’s action by itself will not bring about the healing needed in the Catholic community and our wider society….”

Presumably the healing process describes a movement from unhealthy to healthy, or from abnormal to normal. How Church leaders define “normal,” is the key to identifying ecclesial pathologies.

Cardinal DiNardo links healing to the Gospel. McCarrick’s punishment “strengthens our [the bishops’] resolve to hold ourselves accountable to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.” In contrast, Cardinal O’Malley links healing to chancery procedures. “Sincere apologies and petitions for forgiveness must be part of the healing process but standing alone they ring hollow.” Further: “Leadership in the Church must enforce accountability for cardinals and bishops….” He concludes: “In the Archdiocese of Boston there are strong policies and procedures to protect our people and as best possible prevent any occurrence of abuse and we carefully monitor compliance.”

Two views emerge from these press releases. The DiNardo view accents the power of the Gospel and, one hopes, includes repentance (cf. Mark 1:15). The O’Malley view accents the authority of diocesan policies and procedures.

Cardinal O’Malley hopes to achieve healing by measuring behavior against the best practices approved by the insurance companies: policies, procedures, protocols, transparency, accountability, etc. In contrast, Cardinal DiNardo opens the door to healing all human endeavors when he identifies the Gospel as the norm. Any behavioral deviation from Gospel demands is abnormal. Hence Cardinal DiNardo’s broad Gospel approach allows us to take a holistic view of “what went wrong.”

Here is a sketch of some historical abnormalities in need of healing:

  • In the 1990s, most bishops opposed accurate translations of Scripture and liturgical translations from Latin into the vernacular.
  • In the 1980s most bishops seemed oblivious to the lack of orthodoxy in seminaries or the proper celebration of the Mass.
  • In the 1970s most bishops waited for the Holy See to correct the Catholic Theological Society’s obscene errors in Anthony Kosnik’s “Human Sexuality.” Dissent from Humanae Vitae and priests pushing perversion went unpunished for the most part.
  • In the 1960s most bishops were confused or inattentive to the proper implementation of the Council according to the text of the documents. They allowed dissident proponents of the “spirit of Vatican II” to infect every level of the Church. Most Catholic colleges today are toxic to the Faith.
  • Finally, the bishops did little or nothing to enforce orthodoxy since the Council, except to lean on rambunctious conservatives who were usually—but not always—compliant.
  • Conclusion: With such a widespread loss of respect for the demands of the Catholic faith, is it any surprise that moral licentiousness thrives alongside doctrinal and liturgical license?

But every act of “transparency” (such as the public data-dumps of priest personnel files) will only inflame the demand for further disclosures: who, what, where, when, and why? The lists released this year will be periodically updated in the years to come, sparking renewed outrage.

So for the foreseeable future, the destiny of every bishop is to suffer. The “healing process” according to the O’Malley model will be endless because of an inability to define the meaning of “normal” or replacing it with an abnormal “new normal,” composed of merely bureaucratic solutions. An endless preoccupation with “protecting our young people”—by administrative measures that do not take into account traditional Catholic morality—guarantees failure. Episcopal policies will never have more clout than the Ten Commandments accompanied by the graces of the Sacraments.

But there’s unexpected hope that comes with the promise of inevitable suffering. The bishops control their own destiny. They can determine how they will suffer.

Going forward, the bishops could choose to suffer for defending the Gospel: orthodox liturgy; orthodox seminary formation; orthodox catechetics; disciplining priests who advocate perversion; identifying and forcing the resignation of pervert bishops and cardinals; answering the Dubia even if Pope Francis refuses; retracting the capital punishment error; keeping clerical noses out of the politics of immigration that rightfully belong to the laity. By taking the faith seriously again, bishops would regain their self-respect. And priests tempted to violate their promise of celibacy might think twice about risking eternal damnation.

Indeed, disciplining pro-abortion Catholic politicians would break the stranglehold that McCarrick continues to hold on the body of bishops. His infamous 2004 rejection of then-Cardinal Ratzinger’s letter instructing bishops to deny Communion to manifest grave sinners continues to be de facto USCCB policy. The Ratzinger letter said that denial of Communion is obligatory “regarding the grave sin of abortion or euthanasia.”

Without a doubt, the wrath of dissidents, gay clergy, and liberal politicians would erupt everywhere if our bishops chose this route. But their suffering would be a glorious Cross to bear and a means of true redemption, restoring trust in the integrity of episcopal leadership defending the Faith. Many of us would join them without reluctance. After the media firestorm, they could turn their attention to the “ongoing healing process of repentance” by tending to the fallen human condition with the Gospel truth and Sacraments. Indeed, guaranteeing the proper celebration of the Sacraments is the finest gift of healing a bishop can offer his people.

For the first time in many decades, the bishops have a clear choice: suffer in union with Christ for the salvation of souls, or waste their suffering seeking the fleeting consolations of institutional solvency. Cardinal DiNardo’s Gospel standard, if a good number of bishops take it seriously, offers Catholics a palimpsest of hope.

The “process of healing” should bridge the gap between the abnormal and the normal. We provide an invaluable service to the Church when we repeatedly ask the bishops to define the meaning of “healthy” and “normal” for purposes of identifying the abnormal for excision.

Fr. Jerry Pokorsky is a priest of the Diocese of Arlington who has also served as a financial administrator in the Diocese of Lincoln. Trained in business and accounting, he also holds a Master of Divinity and a Master’s in moral theology. Father Pokorsky co-founded both CREDO and Adoremus, two organizations deeply engaged in authentic liturgical renewal. He writes regularly for a number of Catholic websites and magazines.
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  • Posted by: steve.grist2587 - Feb. 25, 2019 5:48 AM ET USA

    Healing will not come without justice. Because of the bishops' criminal dereliction, justice will only come through state and federal prosecutors who have convened grand juries. It saddens me greatly to know that Christ's Church is targeted as a criminal enterprise, but this is where the bishops have taken us by abandoning the Gospel of Life and instead promoting with the Culture of Death.

  • Posted by: tomdwyer42076294 - Feb. 19, 2019 1:12 PM ET USA

    Well stated, Father. I recall St. Paul calling out St.Peter in Acts when Peter equivocated with the Jewish Christians. The national Catholic conferences need to speak truth to power when it comes to the Vatican.

  • Posted by: feedback - Feb. 19, 2019 11:12 AM ET USA

    "For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that be the will of God, than for doing evil." [1P 3:17] "I consider that the sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed for us." [Rom. 8:18]