Tongue-tied bishops—is it fear of retribution?

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Mar 12, 2019

John Allen of Crux does his best to be balanced, but he can only do so much. When he suggests that “Vigano may have made it harder to get to the truth on McCarrick“, he can’t avoid implying that many American bishops are keeping their silence, rather than demanding a thorough investigation and public explanation of the McCarrick affair, because they fear being labeled as critics of Pope Francis.

But why would that be—unless Archbishop Vigano’s charges are essentially accurate? And if they are essentially accurate, wouldn’t it be incumbent on a successor to the apostles to demand the truth, rather than to worry about the possible consequences for his ecclesiastical career?

Allen offers another possible explanation for bishops’ reticence: The rumors in Rome that a thorough investigation “could stain the legacy of St. John Paul II and some of his key aides, including Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, the pontiff’s priest secretary, and Cardinal Angelo Sodano, John Paul’s Secretary of State.” That’s possible. But again, isn’t the truth more important than the preservation of a public image? The Church has already made a definitive judgment on the holiness of John Paul II—who, let’s recall, was known for his repeated invocation of the phrase, “Be not afraid!” And as a matter of fact, those Roman rumors (at least the ones that I’ve heard) point toward Cardinals Dziwisz and Sodano rather than the late Pontiff.

Those two cardinals, Allen points out, remain alive, capable of defending themselves and perhaps of retribution against less powerful prelates who might challenge them. So there’s another potential explanation for our bishops’ silence.

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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  • Posted by: mclom - Mar. 14, 2019 1:13 PM ET USA

    I agree with commenter Jvob5058 who wrote on Mar. 12, 2019 1:58 PM ET USA . I frustrates me too that so much immorality was going on, yet so many bishops heard nothing, saw nothing, said nothing.

  • Posted by: MWCooney - Mar. 14, 2019 12:09 PM ET USA

    I can't help but believe that the Lord and Judge of all will not look kindly on those in the hierarchy who, actively or by default, chose an imagined "prudential" silence instead of speaking the Truth that their sheep need for salvation. Failure to speak out against others' mocking of God is itself a form of mockery. Deus non irridetur!

  • Posted by: SPM - Mar. 12, 2019 11:59 PM ET USA

    Retribution? What possible retribution could there be? Not being moved up the career ladder? That should not be seen as a negative. Worst case, "retired" earlier? Most Bishops I know would have been joyous at being allowed to ditch the administrative and ceremonial business and simply be free to pray and celebrate the Sacraments. So what is the retribution?

  • Posted by: dfp3234574 - Mar. 12, 2019 9:09 PM ET USA

    Yet again, Phil, you ascribe the most sinister and mean-spirited motives to prelates. No new evidence is provided here. A post like this only foments more undeserved distrust and anger toward Church leaders. What's the point of this? And what other organization would look into how a guy climbed the organizational ladder *four decades ago*? It's 2019, and it's only in the past year that people have realized that gays have an enormous presence in Church leadership? Really?!? Ugh. Enough, already.

  • Posted by: LCRich - Mar. 12, 2019 5:51 PM ET USA

    I am afraid that fear of retribution may be a major factor as a reason for Bishops silence. My opinion is that this is not a display of strong faith and trueleadership. With strong faith, I would offer up the potential of retribution as a potential of suffering to offer up to God and to His holy Church. Strength and willingness to personally suffer is something true leaders need to offer.

  • Posted by: fenton1015153 - Mar. 12, 2019 5:37 PM ET USA

    Any leader, who is afraid of spilling their own blood, is not being a true leader. They have forgotten that Jesus told Peter to stop thinking like man. Is that what happens when you don't pray enough? Bishops it is time to put on the armour of God and act like children of God.

  • Posted by: Monserrat - Mar. 12, 2019 2:13 PM ET USA

    "How is it, Lord, that we are cowards in everything save in opposing Thee?" - St. Teresa of Avila

  • Posted by: Jvob5058 - Mar. 12, 2019 1:58 PM ET USA

    How about another possibility. Our Bishops are so tainted and compromised by personal involvement or careers made and spent by going along too get along. It’s simply not believeable that Fr. Rueda, Randy Engels and many other journalists and lay people ( including this reader) have known about the homosexual infestation in the Church for two, three, four decades, while those in close and constant contact were unaware. They’re not going away: they must be driven away.