There is both bad and good news to report on church affairs this week. The bad news might have been avoided if the examples in the good news were followed.
First we have the rebuke from Rome of America’s religious women, which has been chronicled here by John Coleman, Francis Clooney and others. In contrast with male clergy, who continue to battle sex abuse charges that should have been resolved years ago, women religious may be the most respected members of the church. Then a bishop in Peoria seems to have lost his common sense in a homily addressing current political controversies.
There is some good news to cite, however, in the pages of the National Catholic Reporter (April 14-26), our own America (April 30), and the London Tablet (April 14). Wise prelates are listening to their flock, thinking about the issues, then speaking out.
On the nuns, the Newark Star Ledger editorial page declared: “It’s not about faith. It’s about dogma and it’s about politics. Problem is, American nuns have become too educated. They now lead their schools, hospitals and charities. They minister to people on the margins of society, those who are discriminated against. And they recognize the church hierarchy for what it is: woefully out of touch . . .”
“Freedom of religion” was not supposed to be a partisan issue. But the Republican candidates, two of whom were Catholic, accused the Obama administration of waging a “war against religion.” The insinuation was clear: to disagree with prominent members of the U.S. Catholic hierarchy was to be against religion itself.
On April 14, Bishop Daniel R. Jenky, CSC, of Peoria, in a call to Catholic men,” in St. Catherine’s Cathedral, presented most of Western history as one continual persecution of the church — from the apostles in prison, through Roman emperors, revolutions, French prime minister George Clemenceau and Bismarck’s “Kulturkampf,” to Hitler and Stalin, climaxing in Barack Obama with his “radical pro-abortion agenda.”
Nevertheless, Bishop Jenky said, the church would “survive the hatred of Hollywood, the malice of the media” and the “wickedness of the abortion industry.” Catholic politicians who decline to vote as the bishops say are all “Judas Iscariots.”
The Peoria chancery says the bishop’s remarks are taken out of context. But the full text and online audio make clear that the text climaxes in what appears to be a call for Catholics to vote against Obama. If they don’t, “all our public ministries except our church buildings could be shut down.”
At the University of Notre Dame, almost 50 faculty members have called upon Jenky to “loudly and publicly” retract his remarks or resign from the university’s board of trustees. His comments, they said, demonstrate an ignorance of history, insensitivity to victims of genocide and absence of judgment.
One might ask, should not also some of his fellow bishops, if they disagree with Jenky’s statement, say so?
Meanwhile, the Diocese of Trenton, where I grew up and my family was active in public life, including my father who was the editorial writer years ago for the Trenton Times and also for the Monitor, the newly established diocesan paper, has shown creativity and courage by appointing William Byron, S.J., a professor of business at St. Joseph’s University, to do a survey of those in Trenton who have left the church and to tell us why. America readers know the results of the survey, including: remoteness and arrogance of clergy, alienation of women, broken marriages, etc. But Trenton, which is struggling to stay alive as a city, at least has a bishop, David O’Connell, like Byron a former president of Catholic University, who is willing to listen.
In Vienna, according to the Tablet editorial, Cardinal Schonborn is dealing gently with the Austrian Priests Initiative, a movement calling for change on birth control and on refusing communion to divorced people. The NCR reports that when a young homosexual man Florian Stangle, 26, in a publicly registered domestic partnership, was overwhelmingly elected to the parish council, the pastor asked him to quit the council and stop receiving the Eucharist. Cardinal Shonborn asked himself, “What would Jesus do?” and invited Florian and his partner to lunch and listened, listened. The young men’s “witness taken as a whole” demonstrated their commitment to the faith, he said, and “the church rejoices in their efforts.”
Would the condemnation of the nuns and the unfortunate sermon in Peoria have happened if these men blessed with authority believed that the Spirit works in the whole church, not just in Rome or chanceries, and had listened? Really listened.
Raymond A. Schroth, S.J.