A Laundry List for U. S. Bishops

Well, I haven’t posted a blog in some time, so I might as well stir up some controversy. Since my last posting, the Catholic Church has been turned upside down by allegations of sexual misconduct involving high-ranking clergy and even implicating Pope Francis in covering up some of those who have engaged in sexual improprieties with minors and adults.

A few things to keep in mind. In the Catholic Church, one bishop and even a group of bishops do not have any authority over another bishop. Only the pope has authority over a bishop. As a result of this structure of authority, the U. S. Conference of Bishops cannot legislate, cannot pass rules or decisions, that are binding on any bishop. This obviously can make the accountability of bishops problematical, in the sense that the pope may not have the resources or the will power to correct a bishop or group of bishops. It also contributes to the reluctance of bishops to publicly correct another bishop.

In addition to all this, there is no recognized process for the correction or discipline of a pope. This is why, for example, if the U. S. bishops seek access to documents under the control of the Vatican in their attempt to determine the details of the Cardinal McCarrick situation, the Vatican could decline to produce relevant documents and the U. S. bishops would have no recourse.

The lack of adequate procedures for accountability in all levels of the clergy has led many to recommend an expansion of the role of the laity in the Church. However, the laity will never have authority over priests, bishops or the pope. At most, the laity could be empowered to receive reports and allegations and to investigate, report findings and make recommendations in response to allegations, but their role could go no farther.

Okay. I could go on with more preliminary comments, but let’s get to the laundry list I have put together.

  1. The U. S. bishops need to oversee an aggressive investigation of the sexual misdeeds of Cardinal McCarrick. They have said they are going to empower a panel of lay experts to conduct the investigation. They need to name the panel and get them started. Those who were complicit in McCarrick’s sexual improprieties (Cardinal Wuerl and others) should be pressured to resign or abdicate their positions, if their resignations are awaiting papal acceptance.

  2. New procedures for establishing the accountability of bishops, cardinals and popes should be adopted and included in Canon Law. The accountability should not only apply to sexual violations but also to behaviors and decisions which violate the established traditions of the Catholic Church.

  3. The existing procedures for the protection of minors should be revised to include sexual advances by clergy toward adults. They should be further modified to provide that allegations of violations by clergy would be reported to a lay individual and/or lay panel, and the investigation of such allegations would be made by qualified lay persons.

  4. Each diocese in the United States should conduct a competent investigation and make an objective determination of the extent of active homosexuals in the clergy within the diocese. Active homosexuals should be barred from engaging in any clerical functions in the diocese.

  5. Those in the clergy who are promoting or tolerating the promotion of active homosexuality should be required to cease such activity.

  6. Catholics who actively and publicly promote or support abortion rights, especially politicians who vote in favor of abortion rights, should be given warning and, if they do not publicly repent and desist, should be promptly excommunicated. Penalties should be set forth In Canon Law for bishops who do not enforce this requirement.

  7. The Church needs to end the scandal of permitting cohabiting couples to be married in the Catholic Church (and in many cases receiving Holy Communion at their wedding Mass). If Canon Law inhibits priests from withholding marriage in such situations, Canon Law should be updated to adequately address this situation.

  8. The Church needs to end the scandal of the frequency and ease of obtaining annulments of marriage. The provisions of Canon Law which address the grounds of annulment on the basis of defects of consent should be reexamined and revised. The Catholic doctrine of consent in marriage is based on Roman custom and has no substantial Scriptural or theological basis. The Orthodox Church, for example, does not hold that consent “makes” the marriage, as the Catholic Church does.

  9. There should be public corrections of Pope Francis by individual bishops as often as necessary. I realize that it would be difficult for a bishop to tell the Catholics in his diocese that some of what the Pope does and says is not reliable. As the spiritual shepherd, however, the bishop has a duty to tell the people entrusted to him when the Pope has strayed from established doctrine and practices. I’ve read many of the documents issued or approved by Pope Francis. I’ve never seen anything like them in the history of the Church.

I welcome comments and corrections regarding these proposals.

A Son of Ireland Reflects on Catholicism in Ireland

A lot has been and will continue to be written about the vote in Ireland last Friday in which over 65% of the Irish voters approved the legalization of abortion in Ireland. I hope to add some distinctive comments about the outcome of the vote.

One commentator, Fr. Dwight Longnecker, has expressed the opinion that it’s a good thing that what he calls “cultural Catholicism” has died in Ireland. What he means by cultural Catholicism is a faith that is deeply imbedded in a culture but without vitality and deep conviction, something that everyone takes for granted. Now, Fr. Longnecker writes, people in Ireland can make a conscious, purposeful decision to be Catholic as opposed to just doing what everyone is Ireland has always done.

I understand what Fr. Longnecker is saying, and I agree that there is some merit and logic to his perspective. However, as someone of Irish descent, I can’t help but be saddened and even angry about how quickly something that has been in place in Ireland for centuries to the point of being a key element in the Irish identity has been destroyed in such a short time.

I don’t know the full history of the Sullivans in Ireland, but I would guess that the Sullivans in Ireland have been faithful Catholics for many, many centuries. Our Catholic heritage means a great deal to me and to my sons. We have every intention of honoring that heritage with our own lives and passing it on to our children.

My father, Bernard Sullivan, was a devout Catholic his entire life. I well remember taking a short trip with him to Coffeyville, Kansas to see the home where he lived and the church where he was baptized. During our visit to his first parish, Holy Name Church, I walked up to where my dad was looking at one of the beautiful stained glass windows. He was weeping. When he saw me looking at him, he could only point to the window in front of him. At the bottom of the window was a marker indicating that the stained glass window had been donated by Mr. and Mrs. R. E. Sullivan. They were my father’s parents. His gratitude for having been raised in the Catholic faith by his parents was very deeply felt.

In 2008, I moved from Tulsa, Oklahoma to Newark, New York, which was situated in the Diocese of Rochester. While I hadn’t thought of it at first when my wife and I decided to relocate to New York, it meant a lot to me when I realized that my great-grandparents, Jeremiah and Norah Sullivan, had moved to what is now the Diocese of Rochester when they came to America from Ireland in the 1850’s. My wife and I made a pilgrimage to Addison, New York to visit the graves of Jeremiah, Norah and several of their children in the Catholic cemetery there.

What is particularly distressing to me is how many people in the last 50 years or so have walked away from the Catholic faith without much thought for the sacrifices made by their ancestors to maintain their Catholic faith. In many of the cases I am aware of, the decision to leave the Catholic Church was made for weak or even casual reasons.

I can’t help but wonder if many of today’s Irish people who have rejected Catholicism would be more comfortable with the Anglican Church, which has been much more accommodating to the modern tendency to dismiss traditional moral standards. The Irish have a historical dislike for anything British. Perhaps what we’re seeing in Ireland today is not just a rejection of Catholicism but a rejection of Christianity.

Without getting into the ugly details, there is no question that a big part of the move of the Irish away from the Catholic Church has resulted from the failings of the Church in Ireland. One can understand a disenchantment with the Church in Ireland, but that would not explain overwhelming support for abortion rights.

We need to pray for Ireland, that somehow and soon the Catholic faith will flourish there. If it doesn’t, the Irish people won’t even know who they are anymore.

101 Years and Filled With Joy

It was a Thursday night. I had been asked to bring Holy Communion to the home of a man named Joseph Macri. All I knew about Joseph is that he was on hospice and was expected to die very shortly. His daughters wanted him to receive Jesus in the Eucharist one last time.

When I entered the home, Joseph was asleep on a bed in the living room. His daughters told me something about his life. He was 101 years old. Born in Italy, he came to the United States at age 11  when his parents finally had enough money for him to join them in Indiana.

He worked in an auto plant (Studebaker) until it closed, then found work in other factories. He built his own home in South Bend, Indiana by himself. He ushered at Notre Dame home football games for almost 40 years.

After his daughters woke Joseph up, he and I had a long conversation. Despite being so close to death, he had a gleam in his eye and a joyful spirit. He spoke lovingly of his wife, Gina, with whom he had shared 70 years of marriage. He said he had never raised his voice to her and that he always tried to fulfill every one of her requests. About his employment over so many years, he said simply, "I worked hard."

At around 3 a.m. on the following Saturday morning, I woke up and reflected on Joseph's life. I thought of how I would summarize the beauty and simplicity of his life. Here's what I came up with:

1. You do what you're supposed to do in every aspect of your life.
2. You do it as best as you can.
3. You experience the joy that comes when you follow steps 1 and 2.

A good prayer is that all of us would be inspired by the life of Joe Macri to live as he did. In our final moments on earth, may we, just like Joe,  have a gleam in our eye and a joyful spirit.

Amen.