The U.S. Cardinals Have Spoken

A New Beginning? Or Mere Words?

E. L. Core

This essay was first published @ The View from the Core, April 29, 2002.

In response to the outrageous scandal of sexually immoral priests and bureaucratic bishops who moved them from parish to parish, the pope summoned American cardinal archbishops, on scant notice, to a meeting with Vatican officials. The cardinals issued a statement at the meeting’s conclusion, with proposals aimed at reforming and renewing Catholic faith and life in the USA. But the bishops who must be responsible for implementing any plan of renewal are the very bishops who allowed corruption to fester in the Catholic Church in America. Can they do what must be done? And how can we tell whether they are doing it?

The U.S. Cardinals’ Statement:
Doctrinal Confusion is Part of the Problem

Americans had seldom given so much scrutiny to statements by President Bill Clinton as they did to his grand-jury testimony, August 17, 1998. Much to Americans’ chagrin — and, perhaps, to the world’s amusement and bemusement — the genesis of the presidential testimony was a combination of sexual misbehavior and subsequent official malfeasance. Some of the president’s more remarkable sentences are now etched in our national consciousness: “It depends upon what the meaning of the word is means.... Well, again, it depends on how you define alone.”

Similarly, American Catholics have seldom given so much scrutiny to episcopal statements as they did to the U.S. Cardinals’ Statement at the conclusion of their two-day meeting in Rome, Apr. 23-24. To Catholics’ chagrin — and, surely, to the amusement and bemusement of at least some people outside the Church — the genesis was the same: sexual immorality compounded by official malfeasance. I think that one of the cardinals’ sentences (not so easily memorable, nor an embarrassment, but certainly more momentous) needs to become etched in our national Catholic consciousness: “The pastors of the Church need clearly to promote the correct moral teaching of the Church and publicly to reprimand individuals who spread dissent and groups which advance ambiguous approaches to pastoral care”.

In response to the scandal that provoked the cardinals’ Roman meeting, Catholics all over the country have been asking themselves How could the Catholic Church in the USA have fallen so low? I have already given my own “diagnosis”, summarized in Part Six of Wolves in Shepherd’s Clothing:

“For decades, a crisis has been brewing in the Catholic Church in the USA: a crisis of faith, a crisis of morals, a crisis of courage.” So I began the epigraph of Part One. The sexual scandals — mostly homosexual encounters with juveniles — that now plague the clergy, concomitant with the hierarchy’s failure to deal appropriately with miscreant priests, are, I believe, but a symptom of a deeper, more fundamental scandal: doctrinal confusion and doubt have been wrought, often deliberately, by Catholics in official positions — clergy, religious, theologians. Sometimes, the result has been, in certain circles, the outright denial of ancient Catholic teachings — especially those regarding morality, particularly sexual morality — but also those regarding, for instance, the divinity of Christ, the origins and meaning of Sacred Scripture and Catholic doctrine, and the role of the Church’s teaching authority and of individual conscience.

I have also given my own “prescription”, in the same place:

I am but one layman, in a small parish in small-town America. I have no solution to provide. Fortunately, nobody needs for me to provide a solution: it is at hand, as it always has been. The solution to what ails the Catholic Church is, as it has been in all bad times, the Catholic faith, undiluted and unashamed.... Heterodox theologians — especially if they are bishops — must be removed from their positions, if not put out of the Church entirely. Defiantly immoral priests, and those who encourage and support immorality — especially if they are bishops — must be removed from their positions, if not put out of the Church entirely....

How well do my “prescription” and the cardinals’ proposals match up? Remarkably well, I think. Here are some excerpts from their statement:

.... The participants first of all wish to express their unanimous gratitude to the Holy Father for his clear indications of direction and commitment for the future. In communion with the pope they reaffirm certain basic principles: ....

5) Given the doctrinal issues underlying the deplorable behavior in question, certain lines of response have been proposed:

a) the pastors of the Church need clearly to promote the correct moral teaching of the Church and publicly to reprimand individuals who spread dissent and groups which advance ambiguous approaches to pastoral care....

As part of the preparation for the June meeting of the American bishops, the United States participants in the Rome meeting presented to the prefects of the Roman congregations the following proposals: ....

4) We will propose an apostolic visitation of seminaries and religious houses of formation, giving special attention to their admission requirements and the need for them to teach Catholic moral doctrine in its integrity.... (emphasis added)

Here is a clear admission that the cardinals see that “doctrinal issues” underly the “deplorable behavior”. And that part of the solution is “to promote the correct moral teaching of the Church”. And that promoting correct Catholic teaching involves the public “reprimand” of individuals who spread so-called “dissent”. And that seminaries and religious houses of formation need “to teach Catholic moral doctrine in its integrity”.

Wonderful! Obvious. Common sense. Plain and simple. Long, long overdue. But still wonderful.

Those parts of the cardinals’ statement seem to be more concrete expressions of a passage in the pope’s address at the beginning of their meeting, which is also quoted entirely in the cardinals’ statement:

It must be absolutely clear to the Catholic faithful, and to the wider community, that bishops and superiors are concerned, above all else, with the spiritual good of souls. People need to know that there is no place in the priesthood and religious life for those who would harm the young. They must know that bishops and priests are totally committed to the fullness of Catholic truth on matters of sexual morality, a truth as essential to the renewal of the priesthood and the episcopate as it is to the renewal of marriage and family life. (emphasis added)

The Bishops of the Catholic Church in the USA:
Are They Up to the Task?

In Part Three of Wolves in Shepherd’s Clothing, I asserted “The Corruption of the American Episcopacy”:

The American episcopacy has become corrupt. Not the individual bishops. Well, not all of them. But the episcopacy itself has become corrupt: the group, the organization, the body. It no longer has the will — it has not had the will for a generation or more — to remove subversive traitors from positions of trust, nor to appropriately discipline sexually immoral priests, nor to cause perfidious bishops to be removed from their very midst.

Surely, corruption cannot be overcome by a statement, even a statement from cardinals, from cardinals at an extraordinary meeting convened by a papal summons. What are needed, as I have already written, are (1) honesty and (2) courage in action.

I think the U.S. Cardinals’ Statement was a giant step towards (1) honesty, especially the parts I have quoted, which recognize the connection between doctrinal “dissent” and moral deviancy. As Michael Novak wrote, Apr. 23:

There is a lesson in the present time: The prayerful, orthodox, and faithful priests and religious of this generation did not bring about the scandals that now humiliate the Church. The sins that have brought us low were abetted by a culture of rebellion, pride, and moral superiority, among those who thought themselves more intelligent, more able, more in tune with human progress, open, experimental, and brave. They despised the merely traditional, observant, and orthodox, whom they considered closed-minded, rigid, and intransigent. They turned away from the tried and true asceticism and paths of holiness of the past.

The sins that have disgraced us are the sins of those who promised “renewal” and “progress” down “new” paths. “But we did not mean child-abuse,” the progressives will say in self-defense. “We didn’t mean the abuse of teenagers.” But, hey, a climate in which it was regarded as “rigid” to say that sex outside of marriage was sinful, was not a climate in which playground sand long held lines drawn in it. Young people in pre-marital coupling, older couples “experimenting” beyond the marriage bond, and same-sex coupling were in that climate not regarded as “disordered” but as “healthy experimentation.”

Yet, in the same document, I find an indication of a lack of forthrightness, which may also indicate a potential lack of (2) courage in action. You see, the cardinals managed to note the following:

Attention was drawn to the fact that almost all the cases involved adolescents and therefore were not cases of true pedophilia.

They did not manage, then, to say of what these are true cases. But the cardinals know. You know. I know. Everybody who refuses to kowtow to politically-correct fashionable thought knows.

If the cardinals in Rome could not manage to utter the “H” word — homosexuality — will the American bishops really be able to make sure that Catholic priests and religious and theologians and teachers and writers will be able to do so in the context of authentic Catholic teaching? This authentic doctrine is set forth briefly in the Catechism of the Catholic Church ## 2357-2359:

Chastity and homosexuality

2357 Homosexuality refers to relations between men or between women who experience an exclusive or predominant sexual attraction toward persons of the same sex. It has taken a great variety of forms through the centuries and in different cultures. Its psychological genesis remains largely unexplained. Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.” They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.

2358 The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.

2359 Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection.

From what I have seen so far, it seems that one cardinal has been able to stand up for the truth; another, it seems, has failed to do so.

Anthony Cardinal Bevilacqua, archbishop of Philadelphia, former bishop of Pittsburgh, included the following among his remarks at a press conference, Apr. 26:

We feel that a person who is homosexually oriented is not a suitable candidate for the priesthood, even if he has never committed any homosexual act.... There’s an obligation of celibacy in every priest. There’s a difference between a heterosexual candidate, what his choice of celibacy is, and that of a homosexual celibate. When a heterosexual celibate chooses to become a celibate in the priesthood, he’s taking on a good — that is, his own desire to become a priest — and he’s giving up a very good thing, and that is a family and children that could follow. That would not be true of a homosexually oriented candidate. He may be choosing the good, but... he’s giving up what the church considers an aberration, a moral evil.

Secondly, the risk of someone who is homosexually oriented is higher in the priesthood. In the sense that he’s constantly associated with males, always associated in the seminary, outside, when he becomes a priest — I’m not saying that it will always happen by any means — I think we have, it’s possible we have homosexuals who have been very chaste, and I don’t ascribe that it means that they will commit a sin; I’m not saying that at all. But the risk is much higher.

We have found that, when you have someone — even using the example of an alcoholic, oriented toward alcoholism, they may be wonderful in the seminary but when they get into the tension of the priesthood there is a tendency at times to seek some kind of outlet, and that’s why some priests who have never touched a drink as candidates, when they become priests, they have fallen into alcoholism. The risk is higher.

On the other hand, Adam Cardinal Maida, archbishop of Detroit, former priest of the Church of Pittsburgh, has been reported, Apr. 25, as backtracking from comments that more closely approximate to the truth than do his later redactions:

Seeking to clarify earlier remarks that outraged gays, Cardinal Adam Maida said Wednesday he blames errant priests, not homosexuality, for the Catholic Church’s sex abuse crisis.

“Homosexuals are not pedophiles,” Maida, who is head of the Detroit Archdiocese, told The Detroit News after the second day of meetings in Rome with Pope John Paul II. “There’s a distinct difference ... (The sex crisis) is mostly an issue of adolescents and priests. That’s where the problems are. What’s grievous is you use your collar to betray a trust.”

The clarification came as activists accused Maida of gay-bashing after news reports on Tuesday quoted the cardinal saying the current priestly sex abuse crisis is “not truly a pedophilia-type problem but a homosexual-type problem.” Maida also said bishops need to “cope with and address” the issue of homosexuals in the seminary.

What is here called an act of “clarification” might better be called an act of cowardice. Now, I don’t think Catholic bishops ought to ordinarily be in the business of outraging people. Ordinarily. But if the people are activists bent on radically redefining the Catholic faith to suit their sexual perversions — or any and every sexual perversion — well, if the cardinal of Detroit can’t cope with that kind of outrage, he ought to let braver men do the talking.

Some Tests for the American Bishops:
How the Laity Can Score Them

Talking is all we got, so far. The bishops will have to show us that they can “walk the walk” as well as “talk the talk” — assuming some of them can manage to continue to do even that. Honesty and courage in action: they will be required, every day, every step of the way. Every national meeting, every diocesan meeting, every press conference and pastoral letter, will require honesty and, perhaps as never before in the USA, courage in action. Those who are falsely called “dissenters” — who are, in reality, quite happy assenters to any and every doctrine at odds with the Catholic faith — will scream in fury if the bishops actually take the steps necessary to regain their “moral authority” and restore the integrity of Catholic faith and life in the USA. And every syllable of every furious scream will be faithfully reported in a mainstream media that hates authentic Catholicism as much as “dissenters” do.

The next year will show us what future the bishops of the USA really have planned for Catholics in America. During and after the bishops’s semi-annual meeting in June, mainstream media, and perhaps the bishops in response, will want to talk only about what policy will be put into place to deal with “pedophile priests”. That will be, as logicians might say, necessary but insufficient.

We have the cardinals’ own words to show us how to judge the bishops’ response: “The pastors of the Church need clearly to promote the correct moral teaching of the Church and publicly to reprimand individuals who spread dissent and groups which advance ambiguous approaches to pastoral care.”

I submit that, if the answers tally up to zero — as I suspect they will — we shall know that the U.S. Cardinals’ Statement was merely words.

Lest We Forget

“The pastors of the Church need clearly to promote the correct moral teaching of the Church and publicly to reprimand individuals who spread dissent and groups which advance ambiguous approaches to pastoral care.” (U.S. Cardinals, April 24, 2002)

© ELC 2002

Webpage © 2002 ELC
Lane Core Jr. ('Statement.html
Created May 10, 2002; not revised.