Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Ecclesial 11th Commandment

During Ronald Reagan's 1966 run for the California governorship, and anxious to avoid the political infighting that had helped doom Barry Goldwater's presidential run just two years previously, the GOP established its so-called Eleventh Commandment: "Thou shalt not speak ill of a fellow Republican."

The Republicans didn't invent anything new here. Whether they knew it or not, they were merely copying a centuries old, unwritten practice among the Catholic hierarchy: "Thou shalt not speak ill of a fellow bishop."

While it is true that Paul mentions in Galatians 2 that he once took issue with Peter for conduct unbecoming a Christian, and it also true that disagreements between bishops in the early centuries of the Church could sometimes escalate to the point of fisticuffs (or worse), it is today a rare thing for one bishop to publicly criticize a brother bishop. That is why Bishop Thomas Tobin's current column in the Rhode Island Catholic seems so refreshing.

It seems that Bishop Tobin has recently read "A Pilgrim in a Pilgrim Church," the memoirs of Archbishop Rembert Weakland, and he is using his weekly column in Providence's diocesan newspaper to share his reflections on that book.

His Excellency starts out with a mild caution to some of the archbishop's detractors.

It strikes me that critics of Archbishop Weakland should be at least a little restrained in their umbrage, for after all there are many redeeming qualities of the Archbishop’s life and ministry. He responded willingly to the Lord’s call to the consecrated life; he has served the Church generously in a variety of difficult leadership positions; he has shown a determined commitment to the progress of the Church and the implementation of the Second Vatican Council; and he has consistently reached-out to the poor, the weak and the disenfranchised members of the Church and society. If his service has been marred by human imperfections, so be it. So is mine, and so is yours.

That said, Bishop Tobin launches into some criticism of his own.

On the other hand, supporters of Archbishop Weakland should also be able to recognize the self-serving inconsistencies and contradictions contained in his story.

For example, although the Archbishop always took pride in his liberal theological tendencies and his public pronouncements on controversial issues, he seemed to be genuinely puzzled, even hurt, when others labeled him a dissident.

He passionately promoted the dignity of the laity and their role in the governance and ministry of the Church, but had little hesitation about quietly using their money to cover-up his egregious sexual offense.

He disparaged the secrecy of the Holy See but for twenty years hid his own indiscretions behind the walls of the chancery, indiscretions that were not just a matter of personal behavior but also profoundly affected the reputation and welfare of the Church.

He railed against what he considered the authoritarian pontificate of Pope John Paul II, but clearly used his own persona and authority to impose his vision of the Church upon his own fiefdom in Milwaukee, easily dismissing those who opposed him as conservative, right-wing nuts.

In short, like many dissidents in the Church, throughout his life Archbishop Weakland benefited generously from the support of the institutional Church, but never hesitated to criticize the Church whenever it served his own purposes to do so.

Bishop Tobin concludes with the following observation.

Without a doubt the Archbishop’s pilgrimage has been perplexing; it’s taken a lot of twists and turns along the way. Nonetheless, there’s much the rest of us pilgrims can learn from his travels including this: that whenever a pilgrim wanders off the track and away from the group, he runs the risk of getting hurt or lost, and in so doing, impedes the pilgrimage, and diminishes the peace and joy of his fellow travelers.

The many parallels to the situation in DOR are simply to obvious to mention.


Anonymous said...


Now if only someone speak the truth about Bishop Clark...

~Dr. K

Ben Anderson said...

I've often pondered the lack of consistency between the relationship of the heterodoxy in Rochester with Rome on the one hand and that of the orthodox in Rochester with the heterodox in Rochester on the other.

In the first relationship, the heterodox boast about their openness and that they have the right to discuss all issues and come to different conclusions than Rome. But they are not, in turn, as lenient when their constituents disagree with them. Hypocrisy to the nth degree.