By Diogenes (articles ) | Apr 25, 2004

Amy Welborn alerts us to the likelihood that Redemptionis Sacramentum will be put to eventual use in Indianapolis. Wrapping fish.

In a statement issued Friday, Indianapolis Archbishop Daniel M. Buechlein said he was asking priests, liturgy committees and the Archdiocese's Office of Worship to study the instruction for a few months and make any necessary changes to worship.

"I would be astonished to find that some of the abuses are actually happening in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis," Buechlein said.

Buechlein is far from being the worst of the U.S. bishops, but this kind of feeble mendacity is demoralizing. It makes one's heart sink a little, as when a person we had previously admired phones in sick in order to get a day off work. As a Tom Wolfe character says, "A lie might fool someone else, but don't let it fool you: it tells you you're weak."

With very, very few exceptions, gutsy priests do not become bishops. In a contentious, doctrinally polarized environment, it is all but impossible for a principled man to reach the age of 40 without making the kind of enemies who'd wreck his chances of a bishopric. The men who make it through almost never have the toughness of character needed in a reformer, regardless of their professed orthodoxy. Prof. James Hitchcock describes the upshot with pitiless candor:

Step by step, through a process which is largely unconscious until almost completed, the bishop is recruited as an ally by the very people whose practices he was supposed to correct. Unless he is cynical, he cannot continue to defend things which he knows are wrong, hence he eventually comes to believe that alleged abuses are not abuses at all and that the problems in the diocese stem from those who "do not accept the reforms of Vatican II." To the degree that the bishop has a lingering bad conscience over his failure to act where action is needed, his discomfort is projected onto his conservative critics.

Perhaps each of us has experienced this in one form or the other. We all have a list of liturgical horror stories, some amusing, some infuriating. We know the frustration attendant on unreturned phone calls and patronizing form-letter responses to complaints. Most of us also realize that formidable obstacles, canonical and pastoral, stand in the way of reforming bishops, even where there's a will to reform. All the more disheartening when a bishop has an enormously potent weapon placed in his hands, and he telegraphs to all and sundry that he hasn't the slightest intention of using it.

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  • Posted by: - Apr. 26, 2004 1:53 PM ET USA

    Exactly! The same will happen with the process of dealing with so-called Catholic politicians. The 'Task Force' will release a document sometime in 2005. It will be a mealy-mouthed declaration full of compromise and non-judgmentalism. Then each diocese will have to 'study' it for another year before any 'action' is taken. Lack of spine makes it easier for bishops to duck for cover when unwelcome issues ruffle the episcopal feathers. Can't we all just get along...?

  • Posted by: - Apr. 25, 2004 11:43 PM ET USA

    One coping strategy I use is to go to my "quiet place" and imagine a world of dioceses under interdict, bishops summarily removed from their dioceses, priests defrocked, nuns ordered back into habit and into the convent under pain of excommunication, theologians with their teaching credentials revoked...Sometimes for a warm fuzzy I imagine "On Eagles Wings" as the background music.

  • Posted by: - Apr. 25, 2004 8:39 PM ET USA

    How well informed you really are ! Indeed, "gutsy men do not become bishops." Perhaps there are a few exceptions. But most of the gutsy priests I have known were driven to a heart-attack or a stroke, or they were just driven OUT.

  • Posted by: - Apr. 25, 2004 5:59 PM ET USA

    Wasn't there a military term "Captain Dunsel" to denote a figurehead Captaincy? (I'm going from memory based upon a 60's Star Trek show) -- perhaps its time for the shorthand "Bishop Dunsel" to denote these Ecclesial 98 pound weaklings.

  • Posted by: - Apr. 25, 2004 4:27 PM ET USA

    This show has been "off Broadway" for over 30 years now. People have developed many ways of coping, dependent upon their level of mediocrity or apostolic revulsion. The problem has always been at the very top - unfortunately a false neo-clericalism and misplaced politeness have allowed the bad actors in this drama a pass when criticism is to be levied. The Holy Father has universal jurisdiction throughout the Church but refuses to use it. It is "wondrous strange" - a real mystery.