Sunday, June 09, 2002

Cardinal George's Column In The Catholic New World

Anyone who can get a print copy of it should read Cardinal George's most recent column in the newspaper of the Archdiocese of Chicago, The Catholic New World. (The online version tends to be a week behind. Hopefully, they will post the column before the Dallas Conference.) His column is one of the most insightful I have read about the scandal so far. With due apologies to The Catholic New World, I am going to present some extended quotes from the column:

"On the level of both appearance and reality, the bishops will be addressing the scandal of the sexual abuse of minors by a few priests and failure to correct this shameful conduct effectively and quickly on the part of some bishops. ... But the deeper reality also at stake throughout the discussion of policies is the holiness of priests and the trustworthiness of bishops.
A priest of the Archdiocese commented a couple of weeks ago during one of the meetings about the Sacrament of Penance that people today haven't so much lost a sense of sin as a sense of forgiveness. In the midst of all the shame and scandal, the Church must speak of forgiveness or she will forget her own identity in Christ. There is now much justification for anger; but there is never justification for self-righteousness. Where there is self-righteousness, Christ can do nothing.
A crisis of authority in the Church cannot be resolved if bishops don't act like bishops. A bishop has responsibility before Christ for keeping people united to Christ. A bishop therefore sets boundaries, in the matter of sexual misconduct or any other matter; but, more fundamentally, he encourages people to live virtuously in Christ. When people are "in Christ" and not full of themselves and their own lives, they are the Church. Since the bishop is the visible point of reference for union with Christ, people divorced from the bishop are not part of the apostolic Church.
In fact, a bishop who doesn't get the loss of confidence in the hierarchy today must be comatose. But bishops cannot address that loss outside of the context of faith which creates the Church as Church. The sentence therefore has to finish like this: "My cardinal gets the loss of confidence in the hierachy, and he says we really have to ask for the grace to be more faithful disciples, in what we believe and in how we act, bishops and people together around Jesus Christ."
Today, many groups and people, including some who still see themselves as Catholic, have a vested interest in the failure of the bishops at Dallas. No matter what is done, it will not be enough. And, given our culture, that's largely true. As the bishops move now to diminish and control sources of corruption in the Church, even among themselves, this larger social context of suspicion will remain. It's part of our history. The bishops must do their work and govern the Church as a faith community, but it is the Catholic laity who will determine what is fair in reporting and judging the actions of priests and bishops and it is the laity who will determine the place of the church in this society. There will be no place, because there will be no Catholic Church, no visible body of Christ, if people and bishops are not united in Christ. That's the reality."


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