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When everybody else 'gets it'—the bishops' blind spot

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Aug 12, 2016

My column yesterday, on how bishops “don’t get it,” has prompted some revealing responses. Without a single exception, the lay people who have taken the time to respond to me have agreed with my basic point: that our bishops are unaware of the extent to which they are the problem. Many of the priests who have responded also agree with me. But all of the disagreements have come from priests. This, I suggest, is a bit more evidence to support my thesis. There is a class of clerics who cannot imagine the possibility that we are suffering from a crisis of clerical corruption. They cannot see what is wrong, because they are what’s wrong. Unfortunately, their failure to recognize the problem does not prevent their rise through the clerical ranks—quite the contrary.

Perhaps I’m a bit obsessed with this thesis—which wouldn’t be surprising, since I’ve been shouting it out from the rooftops for 20 years or so. But I thought I saw the same clerical phenomenon on display in this interesting post by my favorite canon-law expert, Ed Peters. He is writing on a different topic: the failure of American bishops to enforce Canon 915, which requires withholding Communion from those who are in flagrant public defiance of Church teachings on key moral issues. (The latest example is Vice President Joe Biden, who recently presided at a homosexual ‘marriage’ ceremony.)

Peters points out that a Protestant commentator, Carl Trueman, writing in First Things, shows a clear understanding of the need for Catholic bishops to take disciplinary action. “Gracious,” writes Peters, “even some Protestants think it’s time!”

There it is again: that pattern blindness! The canon lawyers see the need for disciplinary action. The loyal lay Catholics see the need. Even the Protestants recognize the need. The only people who don’t see the urgency of the situation (aside from those confused people who don’t object to legal abortion) are the bishops—who are, unfortunately, the only people in a position to enforce the discipline that is so very necessary.

Peters sees the possibility that the American bishops might begin “the long-awaited, major pushback” that is needed. My colleague Jeff Mirus also sees more bishops prepared to take personal responsibility for their flocks. If that trend really has begun, it must be nurtured; if it hasn’t yet started, it must be encouraged.

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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