Catholic Culture Dedication
Catholic Culture Dedication

Quick Hits: Awaiting Pope’s speech to Curia, laity in leadership, a controversial funeral homily

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Dec 19, 2018 | In Quick Hits

John Allen of Crux is an honest reporter, and he clearly tries to avoid overt criticism of Pope Francis. But in a preview of the Pontiff’s annual address to the Roman Curia he is fairly blunt about the failure of promised reforms in this pontificate. The sex-abuse scandal continues, he notes; the prospects for meaningful cleanup of Vatican financial affairs are arguably worse than they were five years ago. So:

If the pope does not address the stall in reforms, both on sex abuse and on finances, that’s inevitably going to be taken by many in the curia as a signal that Francis is largely content with the status quo. Some will be frustrated, others satisfied, but in any event the message will be that this is as far as we go.

“On the other hand,” Allen continues, the Pope could deliver another blockbuster address, and announce that “2019 needs to be the year in which we get real…” Pope Francis has delivered some rip-roaring messages to the Roman Curia in past years, at these events that were used by previous Pontiff for mere exchanges of Christmas greetings.

Yes, but in past years Pope Francis has scolded the leaders of the Curia for their various failures. If he does now address the stalled reforms, it will be difficult to avoid the harsh reality that his leadership is in question.

To be clear, Allen does not raise that question in his column. But it does seem implicit in his analysis.

In First Things, Bronwen McShea provides some useful historical perspective on the role of lay Catholics in the leadership of the Church. She argues persuasively that for most of Church history, lay leaders had far more influence than they do today. Only in the past few centuries, she writes, and largely in response to the rise of centralized political power in the nation-state, has authority been concentrated heavily in the offices of bishops and particularly in the hands of the Roman Pontiff. Today, she says: “We need a change of attitude. Laypersons and even clergymen under episcopal authority need not confuse filial deference to bishops and popes with uncritical, docile acceptance of all the forms of power the hierarchy currently wields.”

Father Don LaCuesta has been thoroughly vilified in print, and disciplined by his own Detroit archdiocese, for a homily preached at the funeral of a young man who committed suicide. Ed Peters notes, , however, that the actual text of the priest’s homily was not the insensitive harangue that reporters have suggested. He restated the Church’s clear teaching against suicide, and invoked God’s infinite mercy—in this case on the soul of the deceased, Maison Hullibarger. But the young man’s parents were incensed. They had asked Father LaCuesta not to mention the cause of Maison’s death. Whether the priest should have honored that request is debatable; perhaps he saw a compelling pastoral reason for speaking about suicide, since the congregation would undoubtedly have that issue in mind. And although obviously a priest should be particularly sensitive to grieving parents, those parents do not have veto authority over his preaching.

But there’s more. Maison Hullibarger’s mother complained, regarding Father LaCuesta’s homily, “He basically called him a sinner in front of everybody. We were just blindsided.” Well, yes, Maison Hullibarger was a sinner—like his parents, like Father LaCuesta, like you and me. If he hadn’t been a sinner, there would have been no reason for a funeral Mass. If it’s true that his parents were “blindsided” by the statement that a sinner needs redemption, then the problems with preaching in the Detroit archdiocese didn’t begin with this funeral.

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 See full bio.

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