Commentary on the Bishops' November Meeting
November 19, 2004
The U. S. bishops' November meeting ended yesterday. In line with
the unbroken tradition of the Vice President rising to the post, Bishop
William Skylstad of Spokane, Washington was elected to succeed Wilton
Gregory as head of the USCCB. An unprecedented election did take place,
however, when Bishop Donald Trautman of Erie, PA was nominated from the
floor and won chairmanship of the Liturgy Committee, a post he also held
from 1992-95. The return of Trautman, a champion of inclusive language
and liturgical "reform" in the spirit of Vatican II, sends a
bad signal to those hoping to see reverence restored to the liturgy. The
bishops' embarrassing opening Mass will likely be repeated often in the
future. Participants watched it degenerate to a silly spectacle with "Gimme
that Old Time Religion" and some shepherds clapping and swaying to
the closing hymn before processing down the aisle. Do our bishops have
any dignity left?
How should the sheep in the pew regard this meeting? Unhappily, it mirrored
the simultaneous secular battle in the Republican party over the nomination
of Arlen Specter to head the Judiciary Committee. As the Republicans circled
the wagons to defend protocol over principle and elect a radically pro-abortion
senator to screen Supreme Court and federal judgeship nominees, it was
also business as usual for the club of Church politicians which the USCCB
has become. By electing Skylstad the bishops signalled they have no intention
of true reform. They will protect their man-made protocols including the
automatic election of a bishop whose diocese is bankrupt and who shared
his rectory as pastor with a notorious abuser. "Without a vision,
the people perish," [Proverbs 29: 18] but it seems unlikely the vision
will be restored any time soon by the Bishops' Conference.
As one of my e-mail correspondents wrote, "I was watching some of
the Bishops' meeting proceedings on EWTN two nights ago. I had never actually
viewed one of their meetings before... [The bishops] went on and on and
on about some language changes... they were talking about the use of pronouns
-- when to use 'he,' 'she,' etc. All I could think was, 'Babies are dying
and children are being sodomized. We never see most of you in front of
abortion clinics or making public statements condemning homosexuality,
yet you have time for THIS?'...Our bishops have gone mad."
It is hard to argue with this assessment.
Was it mere coincedence that we heard at Mass this morning, immediately
after the conference closed, St. Luke's gospel describing Jesus' purification
of the temple and His saying, "It is written, 'My house shall be
a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of thieves.'"
Who is the "you" in this accusation - the moneylenders and shopkeepers?
Yes, but more than they.
In the homily I heard this morning, Father described how the pharisees
were guardians of the Law. It was their role to see that unblemished animals
were offered in the prescribed sacrifices. Instead, they allowed blemished
animals to be sold in the temple precincts and accepted them as offerings.
Jesus' actions were primarily an endictment of the Jewish shepherds of
the day. He overthrew the moneylenders' tables and scattered the stall
keepers' animals; but it was the unfaithful jewish clergy who made the
temple a "den of thieves." That explains why, as the gospel
tells us, "The chief priests, the scribes, and the leaders of the
people, meanwhile, were seeking to put him to death." The guardians
imitated Cain's sacrifice rather than Abel's. Like Cain, they hated the
one who exposed their hypocrisy. Ultimately they secured his death.
Are not things similar today? Who is being persecuted in the Church? Isn't
it faithful laity who speak out against abuse? Isn't it orthodox priests
who are driven out or sent to St. Luke's. How many homosexual pastors
who destroyed the vocations of young associates continue unhindered in
their offices? Who are the ones blacklisted from diocesan newspapers and
seen as enemies for shining light on public scandals, while so-called
peace and justice groups with no room for the least of God's little ones,
the unborn, take honored seats at the table?
The first reading from today's Mass, Revelation 10, is instructive. The
scroll being offered to John "was sweet like honey, but when I had
eaten it, my stomach turned sour. Then someone said to me, 'You must prophesy
again about many peoples, nations, tongues, and kings.'" The idea
of doing God's will is sweet, but when it requires preaching a hard truth
that challenges what the world wants, it churns the stomach. Who among
us wants to be spurned, called intolerant, self-righteous, or, God forbid,
a relic of the middle ages. Persecution in the New York Times and Washington
Post is hard to stomach. Hob-nobbing with senators and union presidents
is much more pleasant.
Consequently, the faith of many called to prophesy has grown cold. Most
of those in authority prefer to sway and clap to the beat of political
correctness than experience, even metaphorically, the beheading of John
But there are signs that things are changing. The wall of the united brotherhood
has cracked. The laity rejoiced when several bold bishops stepped away
from the herd and publicly declared they would deny the Eucharist to pro-abortion
politicians. It is a beginning. Last year when a coalition of faithful
Catholic groups protested outside the bishops meeting with signs calling
for the bishops to withhold Communion from John Kerry, Ted Kennedy, Nancy
Pelosi, Barbara Mikulski, and others we were met with hostility and grim
silence. This year there were smiling faces among some of the bishops
as we called out, "Thank you, Archbishop Chaput, we're praying for
your election. Thank you, Bishop Sheridan for your courageous words. Thank
you Archbishop Burke, you give us hope. Thank you...Thank you..."
It was only a handful, but there were only a handful of faithful at the
foot of the Cross.
I had the opportunity to speak briefly to Archbishop Burke in the lobby
of the Hyatt Regency on the opening day of the meeting. I told him how
grateful the laity are for his boldness in defending the Eucharist. I
said I was personally touched by his public statement that he regretted
not taking stronger action sooner. His humble reply was that he continues
to regret it. Opening my hand, I showed him the rosary blessed by the
pope that Bishop Thomas Welsh gave me many years ago when I was a young
mother. "We pray for you daily, Your Excellency."
Let us, indeed, pray for the true shepherds, few though they seem to be.
Fasting, daily Mass, frequent confession, Eucharistic holy hours, the
rosary, novenas, and a determination to fight for the faith will ultimately
bring about the victory - restoration of the Church in the United States.
May Jesus Christ be praised.