(March 15, 2017 – Steven O’Reilly) Our U.S. Bishops have been in the news lately. Lifesite News recently posted an article regarding the U.S. Bishops writing to the new U.S. Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, on the subject of Global Warming. The article reported that the bishops wrote a letter to the Secretary of State, letting him know how important this issue is to them. Now as someone who has written letters to U.S. Bishops on theological questions, I certainly hope their letter on the environment ends up like mine – summarily deposited in a trash can by someone utterly disinterested in what the writer had to say.
I have nothing against Creation. The Lord made it. Creation is, therefore, good. However, God made the world for man, and not man for the world. The Church’s focus is, or ought to be, on saving men, not whales. Reading the article led me to some reflection on the Church at large. I have noticed in life that people who are not very good or interested in doing what is hard, tend to wander off to do what comes easy. It is easier to take the path of least resistance-like a ball rolling down hill. However, when you take that path long enough, do not be surprised when you find yourself, inevitably, at the very bottom of something-usually dark and dank. This reflection suggested to me why too many bishops in our country and elsewhere in the world- including the upper reaches of the hierarchy- are increasingly more like United Nations functionaries for whom the Golden Rule is Global Warming (Climate Change?) or immigration from terrorist countries long at war with Catholic civilization. The political and media elites, Hollywood, etc., will mock you for advocating the Natural Law and Catholic teaching with regard to sexual morality. That is hard. However, they will love you if you are for “saving the whales” and are against Global Warming. That is easy. Do not ask Mr. Joe Catholic to entirely fund the family that got into the country without a background screening you opposed, especially when they will be living next door to him. That is hard. Rely on the Federal government for funds. That is easy.
That is something of our problem in a nutshell. We Catholics do not have, nor have we had, a crop of good bishops for a long, long time. A Church that was strong and sure of itself and its teachings a half century ago is lying in tatters. Nowadays, Catholics who want to be Catholic are “fundamentalists.” Frankly, I never thought the term “fundamentalist” is a category of thought that could rightly be applied to a faithful Catholic, since one must believe everything proposed and taught by the Church. So, if everything is “fundamental” to the Catholic faith in this sense – the term cannot be meaningful in a Catholic context. Yet, our own Pope uses that term- I suppose of types like me. Ok…so if I am “fundamental” – what then is he?
Yes, culture has changed. Yes, there are more temptations through the media, etc. All this has impacted civilization. However, the bishops by and large have been negligent in their pastoral and doctrinal care of the sheep over the last several or more decades. For too long liberal theologians were (and still are) allowed to remain in the universities where they undermined the faith of the young in their charge. Numbers of priests dropped. Numbers of male and women religious are down. Bishops failed to discipline theologians who question Catholic teaching and politicians who acted in opposition to it. Now, some bishops even give communion to public adulterers without a firm purpose of amendment. Polls show too many Catholics do not accept Catholic teaching, not only on matters of morality, but on basic sacramental theology. This list can go on. Most practicing Catholics know the list and can add to it.
Yet, for all their talk about, and emphasis, on “discernment” and “accompaniment”- the popes and bishops have done a lousy job in discerning what is wrong in the Church these past 50 plus years. I didn’t know climate change was so important! I bet 95% of Catholics know what that is, even if they cannot tell you what transubstantiation is- or that they believe it if you explained it to them. Such is the discernment power of our present day episcopate. However, I really-really feel better knowing they have “accompanied” us over the last 50 years. The “where to” to them does not seem to matter-like the growing confusion and division in our Church- but, hey, they are willing to “accompany” us. The type of accompaniment they embody, as the Church has declined these past 50 years or more, is kind of like that annoying relative in the backseat who had been giving you wrong directions and dispensing liberal politics for the last 50 miles.
All the above is super hard to fix. Therefore, fellow lay Catholics, expect more “easy” to-do stuff from our bishops. Christians are being beheaded overseas in parts of the world which still hold out hope of one day conquering Rome and turning St. Peter’s into a mosque. Hey, but we should have more immigration from these countries- and ‘do not worry’ say our bishops. I have wondered about the theology training received by many bishops; but listening to our pope and bishops, I must add that I now wonder about their knowledge and sense of history as well. Good bishops should be less concerned with Global Warming, and more concerned with Eternal Warming. It has been said that “the road to hell is paved with the skulls of bishops.” If this is so, it must also be that a bishop’s vehicle of choice along that road must be environmentally friendly- most certainly not an SUV. No. The road to hell is traveled by bishops in a Prius.
Unfortunately, we lay folks must expect the current batch of bishops of all ranks will generally continue to focus on the easy stuff-afterall, there is more hill to roll down until the Church reaches the bottom (but not much more). Yes, many bishops will focus on the easy stuff. The ‘stuff’ the world loves-i.e., the World itself. One’s natural inclination is to want to be loved. Yet, the adulation of the world is deceptive and dangerous. ‘It profit a man nothing to gain the entire world and lose his immortal soul- but for whales?'
 Yes, a very bad pun based on the Man for All Seasons. I couldn’t resist.