Dear Reader, I know that I still have not fully explained my point-of-view on the ecclesiastical suppression of this blog, from late November of last year to the middle of March.
I had something written months ago, to share with you once I could. But what I wrote seems self-pitying and out-of-place now, as we all struggle to maintain our connections with each other, by any possible means.
So, for what it’s worth, I present this imagined dialogue, which I wrote on the eve of my February 5 meeting with Bishop Knestout. The meeting itself proceeded nothing like what I imagined. (I knew it wouldn’t.) But it turns out that I did manage to anticipate some of the thoughts Bishop K revealed in his letter of March 19.
From the unpublished-post mailbag…
The bishops by divine institution have succeeded to the place of the apostles, as shepherds of the Church. He who hears them, hears Christ. He who rejects them, rejects Christ and Him who sent Christ. (Vatican II, Lumen Gentium 20)
Good Lord willing, tomorrow your unworthy servant will meet with Bishop Barry Knestout. [February 5, 2020] I imagine the following conversation… (I imagine it. This is a reflective exercise, not a report.)
Bishop: Mark, you wrote that you despised all the prelates and journalists gathered at the Vatican meeting last February. You evidently despise Pope Francis, Donald Wuerl, and Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore. You therefore run afoul of this solemn teaching of the Church (quoted above), itself based on the Lord Jesus’ clear words in Luke 10:16.
Explaining this teaching, Pope Leo XIII wrote in Est Sane that individual Catholics do not have a mandate to criticize prelates. Pope Leo explicitly denounces the supposed defense you have offered me. Namely, that the individual Catholic may limit his obedience and submission solely to maters of faith, and enjoy freedom of speech in other, practical matters.
No. You must refrain altogether from judging the actions of your superiors. Judgments of that kind lie solely in the hands of the Supreme Pontiff.
Me: First, I believe that I deserve some consideration when it comes to the use of literary devices in my writings. You don’t get a readership if you don’t have an edge. I think fairness demands that the reader consider all my scandal-related blog posts as a whole, when deciding if I have demonstrated genuine love for the Church.
I did despise the prelates at the Vatican meeting–for an impassioned moment. And I do despise the situation we find ourselves in. We meaning the Church as a whole, pope, bishops, priests, people.
The situation I see is: most people in our country see our Church as far from holy, far from organized according to admirable principles, but rather they see a lawless, apparently ungovernable mess.
I believe that human beings naturally distrust–and learn to despise–leaders that do not communicate honestly. I despise the evident dishonesty of Pope Francis, Cardinal Wuerl, and Archbishop Lori, among other prelates. But I do not believe that means that I despise the episcopal college shepherding the Church, considered as a sacred whole.
To the contrary, I think that I despise the dishonesty as much as I do, precisely because I love the Church. I have written my blog posts in accord with Canon 212.3. I’m sorry for any failures on my part to observe due reverence.
Bishop: Wait a minute. What ‘evident dishonesty’ of Pope Francis?
Me: In August, 2018, Archbishop Vigano testified that he told Pope Francis about McCarrick’s abuses of seminarians in June of 2013. If what Vigano claimed has even some truth to it, then Pope Francis knew about McCarrick for five years before doing anything about it. And the pope only acted in 2018 because he had no choice but to act.
Pope Francis has never denied what Vigano said. The only thing the pope has said publicly is, basically: ‘You can’t expect me to remember anything about that.’ That is manifestly dishonest, since an honest prelate, learning of abuses done by a sitting Cardinal, would act in the interest of the suffering victims.
The Church owed McCarrick’s victims at least this: to discipline McCarrick in such a way that they would not have to see him say Mass. Instead, they had to watch him represent the Holy See as an unofficial ambassador for years.
Last year, Pope Francis refused to engage the question of what he should have done about McCarrick in 2013. That refusal is dishonest, considering the fact that the Church–at least in New Jersey and Washington, D.C.–certainly deserves clarity about this.
Bishop: And Cardinal Wuerl’s dishonesty?
Me: Cardinal Wuerl learned of McCarrick’s abuses of seminarians in 2004. When Wuerl came to Washington in 2006, he knew that his predecessor had abused young men under his authority. Even though Wuerl had committed in Dallas in 2002 to an end to sex-abuse cover-ups, he participated in the McCarrick cover-up from 2006 to 2018.
Then, when circumstances beyond his control forced the public disclosure of the McCarrick sex-abuse settlement that he had known about for over thirteen years, Wuerl did not come clean. He hid behind spurious distinctions between McCarrick’s abuse of minors and his abuse of seminarians and young priests.
In the eyes of the general public in Washington, and in the eyes of McCarrick’s victim in the 2004 settlement, Donald Wuerl is a disgraced, discredited liar.
Bishop: You cannot prove that our Archbishop is dishonest.
Me: In 2013, William Lori received three written complaints about Michael Bransfield’s profligate spending. The complaints appeared in a 2013 Charleston, West Virginia, newspaper article. But Lori deemed those complaints “speculative in nature.” Lori phoned Bransfield and accepted Bransfield’s mischaracterization of the situation.
In 2018 Lori received a mandate from Pope Francis to investigate Bransfield. The investigators uncovered the fact that Bransfield had given Lori $7,500 in gifts, plus $3,000 in stipends and travel reimbursements.
Lori had that detail removed from the report.
Lori never would have acknowledged any of this, if someone hadn’t leaked it all to the Washington Post, forcing Lori to backpedal and apologize. In July of 2019, Lori promised that an independent financial audit of the West-Virginia diocese would be undertaken and then published. Nothing so far. [The report has subsequently been released. I will have more on that in an upcoming post.]
Seems like a reasonable observer would question Lori’s capacity for forthrightness. Which is exactly what the editorial board of the Notre Dame University student newspaper did, when Lori came to campus to speak. And Judge Anne Burke, formerly of the USCCB sex-abuse Review Board, told the Washington Post that Lori “paid only lip-service to the concept of episcopal accountability.”
Bishop: Even if all that you say is true, you sin against charity by making it public.
Me: If I myself fell into habitual self-justifications for speaking in endless half-truths, I would hope that someone would love me enough to point that fact out to me.