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Quick Hits: Provocative questions—on suicide and schism, the USCCB and a diocesan tribunal

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Sep 17, 2019 | In Quick Hits

Writing for First Things about the Seattle suicide scandal, Father Paul Mankowski, SJ, puts his finger on the problem: the fact that the Eucharistic liturgy was used as a stage for a cause, with innocent children as bit actors. The priest involved says that he was not acquainted with the cause—which turned out to be the glamorization of a man’s suicide—but he evidently was willing to allow manipulation of the Mass. And apparently this was not unusual at the Seattle parish, where, Father Mankowski suggests, the congregation was accustomed to “playing church.” So the situation was ready-made for scandal, Father Mankowski concludes, because “where playing church is the norm, the notion of scandal becomes risible in itself, and fear of giving scandal to ‘these little ones’ disappears.”


For Crisis, Leila Marie Lawler asks, Is It Time to Abolish the USCCB? and concludes in the affirmative, arguing that the practical effect of a powerful bishops’ conference has been to deter individual bishops from carrying out their proper responsibilities. Of course the USCCB isn’t going to be abolished, and there are people employed by conference on worthwhile projects. But as Leila observes, the bureaucratization of even good works, the reliance on professional staff, is itself part of the problem. The title takes the form of a question because this is a provocative piece, meant to encourage reflection on what the episcopal conference has become. Although, to be fair, the question isn’t entirely original. The same question was asked by Leila’s husband (that’s me) some 34 years ago, in the same magazine.


Many months ago, New York Times columnist Ross Douthat, troubled by the growing divisions within the Church under the leadership of Pope Francis, mentioned the risk of schism. Now the Pope himself has discussed that risk, prompted by a Times reporter—whose question in turn was prompted by the preoccupations of the Pope’s strongest supporters. But now Douthat counsels against hasty responses. “Because if everybody is talking about schism, for the time being nobody is in it—and that ‘for the time being’ could last, like many situations in a fallen world, for an unexpectedly long time.”


Finally, will someone please assure me that this shocking article in the American Spectator by George Neumayr is false? Please tell me that it can’t possibly be true—that the Diocese of Wilmington couldn’t have a man serving on its marriage tribunal—as “defender of the bond,” no less—who has abandoned the priesthood, now identifies himself as an Anglican, and is a partner in a homosexual marriage.

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 CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.

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  • Posted by: Retired01 - Sep. 18, 2019 2:05 PM ET USA

    Let's hope that the shocking article in the American Spectator is not true. I would not be surprised, however, if the shocking article is 100% accurate.