Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Breakdown Of The Bernardin Machine

Thanks to the Sanctus blog for pointing out this ditty from the Catholic World Report.

Here's the deal. Many moons ago, a war was fought for the conscience of the Catholic Church in America over the broad issue of social justice. Despite the repeated insistence of the Pope(s), the decision was made to reject a hierarchy of concerns that would be topped, of course, by abortion. Instead, what was promoted was a thing called "the Seamless Garment." This became the shelter of the Pelosis of the world, who insisted that abortion could be back-burnered since there were "other issues" that held equal or similar weight (alleviation of poverty, health care, capital punishment, nuclear weapons, etc.).

Here is CWR to tell the tale.

In the years following Roe v. Wade, the US bishops debated the place of abortion in their agenda. Cardinal John O’Connor of New York argued for giving primacy to the abortion issue, while Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of Chicago wanted abortion integrated into a long and dubious list of “threats to life.” The latter view prevailed in the USCCB, and became known as the “Seamless Garment.” The upset election of New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan to the USCCB presidency over Bishop Gerald Kicanas of Tucson, the media-described Bernardin “protégé,” is a posthumous victory of sorts for O’Connor.

Not that the Bernardin Left is now powerless in the Church in America. It retains plenty of influence in chanceries and Catholic classrooms across the country, not to mention—as evidenced by the close vote between Dolan and Kicanas—the episcopate itself. But the “Seamless Garment” bishops are running out of steam, stopped not only by their overtly political liberalism, which looks painfully passé in the light of the Democratic Party’s crack-up and the nation’s changing mood, but also by the moral fallout of their doctrinal liberalism.

Historians will likely note that what ultimately silenced and discredited the “Seamless Garment” bishops was not this or that silly political stance, but the sex abuse scandal. Before it erupted, bishops like Roger Mahony could command an audience on topics like amnesty; after it, their moral authority seemed shot. People were in no mood to be lectured on “justice” from bishops who hadn’t provided any to children in their own dioceses.

The irony of Bishop Kicanas’ defeat is that the fingerprints of dissenters are on the weapon that felled him: members of SNAP—who normally wouldn’t object to a politically liberal, doctrinally vague candidate like Kicanas—broadcast to the press his complicity in ordaining a priest who went on to molest minors. Kicanas’ explanation of the ordination to Tim Drake of the National Catholic Register managed to unite liberals and conservatives against him: SNAP found his refusal to apologize offensive, while his admission that he knew of the candidate’s homosexual experiences and ordained him anyway left conservatives dismayed.

So true. For a bit more history, you can check this entry over at EWTN. Here's what it comes down to, though. The "Bernardin Left" is losing out. Formerly, these folks ran the bishops of the nation via the USCCB. It's not that way anymore. The fact that +Dolan's victory has been cast the way it has been (fear and loathing) shows the terror these people are experiencing. I'm not predicting some sort of Catholic America renaissance, but we at least might get to see bishops acting like bishops again. Perhaps even listening to Rome on occasion, rather than the latest "pastoral review panel" or whatever they call it from the Conference.

Sanctus has it right:

Traditionalist Catholics and pro-life evangelicals will likely remember the "Seamless Garment" era not so fondly as a time when Catholic bishops seemed more eager to plead for leniency for serial killers on death row than for the protection of unborn children in the womb. The implications of this upside down and backward understanding of the sanctity of life are, dare I say it, apparent in those bishops' handling of the sex abuse scandal.

I'm not asking for the American equivalent of Trent. Just some sanity for a while would be nice. Dismantling The Machine is a good start. Stripping things back down to the individual level, rather than that of the collective, will help with lots of these problems. Sex abuse stuff being a huge one, but the trickle down to everything else is just as huge, I think.

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