Bishop Thomas Paprocki, Diocese of Springfield, Illinois, recently affirmed his support for a diocesan priest’s decision to deny Communion to U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-IL, who has a 100% rating from NARAL Pro-Choice America and Planned Parenthood.
As a sort of counterpoint, Bishop Peter Jugis, Diocese of Charlotte, North Carolina, sent a diocesan spokesman to a meeting held at Charlotte Catholic High School, to apologize to parents for a presentation to students by Dominican Sister Jane Dominic Laurel regarding the Church’s teachings on sexual morality. No one has suggested that Sister Jane’s talk did not clearly present the Church’s teachings; rather, only that such teachings constitute bigotry. I previously blogged on this story here.
In corner “A” we have a Catholic bishop who defends the Church’s teachings. In corner “B” is a Catholic bishop — who at least in this instance — does not.
How might we respond — what does Jesus want us to do — in connection with these two stories? My personal preference — defaulting to “benefit of the doubt,” “avoiding criticism,” “judging not” — especially of bishops who have terribly difficult jobs — is to give Bishop Paprocki a big “Huzzah” and to ignore the situation with Bishop Jugis, or quietly pray about it.
In the Gospel, Jesus says to Peter, you’ll deny me three times. Peter says, No, I won’t. But, nonetheless, when he’s asked whether he is a disciple of Jesus, he denies it. The Gospel records this, but neither the Gospel writers — nor Tradition — condemn Peter. Rather, Peter ultimately repents of his failure and completely surrenders his life to God, finally sharing in martyrdom himself. St. Peter — the guy who was coarse and impetuous — now stands at the “pearly gates”, keys in hand.
We know when we fall short, too. We do things for lots of reasons, sometimes we even permit ourselves to be fooled into thinking that by committing this sin or that we are in fact doing a good thing, but it’s never okay to sin, even if we intend some positive result.
While the Church elevates and venerates sainthood, it does not do the reverse and consign people elsewhere. There is no anti-canonization, no list detailing the souls of the condemned. It would be contrary to the three theological virtues — especially hope — to do otherwise. Only God knows our heart and the state of our soul, and we know that He is infinitely merciful. He loves us all, and wants us all, with Him. If He is the Good Shepherd, then He does even more than we know to find His sheep.
If the Church doesn’t condemn, how can we condemn each other? We can’t. But when a priest — or worse, a bishop, or worse yet, the Pope — does something that we know isn’t right, what are we, the faithful, to do in response?
First — especially now that there is no such thing as keeping things “under the rug” (the information age completely prevents this) — is that we must call a spade a spade. We’re going to have to honestly confront our failings and it’s going to hurt when we cast light on an unpleasant situation. We’ve got to be able to say to our clergy (and each other), “Do better, for the sake of the Church.”
Second, honest appraisal of a bad or sinful action does not open the door to demonizing or condemning the person. We don’t say, you’re a bad priest or bishop because of what you’ve done. We say, “You’re a Catholic bishop (or priest, or layperson, or whatever), so please stop this and do better, for the sake of the Church.”
Third, we can’t make the demand on our clergy to “do better” if we aren’t willing to offer the support that is needed. A whole host of Catholics sit in the pews and expect our clergy to do all the heavy lifting when it comes to preserving our Catholic identity, but are unwilling to stand in the crossfire themselves.
As a layman, I think it’s my job to stand up for our courageous clergy. If a priest or bishop is left twisting in the wind because he defends the Church and no one gathers around him in support, I say that we the community of the faithful are to blame. We cannot allow our leaders — the generals and officers on the field — to fight our war without the soldiers.
We cannot merely complain about errancy, we cannot wait for them to fix all the problems, particularly those they cannot effectively reach. The Second Vatican Council clearly articulated the role of the laity in carrying out the mission of the Church. We laity can reach places and lives that our clergy cannot. It is our job to do this. We must show our clergy that we honor what they are doing, and we are ready to step on the land mines set for us.
Finally, we need to see the Church as the large and beautiful family that it is. We don’t condemn the brothers and sisters in our family; we love them, we want the highest and best thing for them — we all have our sight set on Heaven; we all have a vested interest in seeing one another there.
1. This wasn’t very good.
2. Please do better, for the sake of the Church.
3. How can I help?