2.4.08 From Rod Dreher at CrunchyCon:
The Treason of the Bishops
Some readers are aware that the Orthodox Church in America, my church, is undergoing a huge scandal now centered on the hierarchy -- especially Metropolitan Herman and his coterie at church headquarters. It involves money, mostly, but also -- it has been alleged -- sexual impropriety of some of the players. The scandal has been going on for quite some time, and the bishops, being bishops, cannot or will not take decisive action to clean out the Augean stables. What is it with bishops, anyway? Anyway, should you care to, you can read all about the scandal at the exhaustive OCANews.org site, which has become an invaluable source of news and commentary on the mess.
I've not made this scandal an issue on this blog because I learned the hard way how easy it is for me to get caught up in this kind of controversy, to my own great spiritual detriment. It's not that I'm holding the OCA to a different standard than the Roman Catholic Church, my former communion, which I devoted an immense amount of time and energy criticizing for its corruption regarding the sex abuse scandal. It's rather that I know that I have to exercise spiritual self-discipline, knowing my own weaknesses. I must say, though, how impressed I am with the laity and some of the clergy of the OCA, who are in open revolt against the hierarchy. Read, for example, this recent thread on OCANews. People aren't willing to sit silently and let the bishops destroy the Church by their dithering, their weakness and inaction (to say nothing of the kind of corruption that led the Diocese of Alaska recently to ordain to minor clerical orders a convicted child molester; did these people learn nothing from the public agony of the Catholic Church in recent years?!). It is interesting, and heartening to me, to see that people aren't demanding changes in church doctrine, or anything like that. They only want the bishops to act like sober Christian men, and reform the church's government.
This is something I never could understand as a Catholic, and that I cannot understand as an Orthodox: why do men who are given the awesome authority of shepherding souls act in this way? Why do they have such a sense of entitlement? Do they even fear God, or believe in Him?
I love my parish in Dallas, and the good people there. I have not troubled to learn about, or even think much, about that national hierarchy and its troubles. I've focused only on my own spiritual life, and the life of my friends in the parish. And I don't regret it. I don't often read OCANews.org, though I'm very glad it's there. Lately, though, the more I hear from trusted laypeople about developments in the scandal, and the hierarchy's response, the sadder it makes me because I have seen the same dynamic play out in the Catholic Church. And it has led straight downhill.
So, I commend to my Orthodox brothers and sisters -- as well as my Catholic friends, and friends in every Christian church -- the insights of Phil Lawler, a very brave and faithful orthodox Catholic journalist, and a friend. Phil has a new book out chronicling the demise of Catholicism in Boston, which Phil, as a Massachusetts Catholic, knows started long before the John Geoghan case in 2002. Here, from "The Faithful Departed," is Phil on what happened to Catholicism in Boston, and why:
The entire massive structure of Catholicism totters along on borrowed time. But the trend is clear. That whole structure will come crashing down, perhaps within the next generation, unless there is some dramatic change. Yet the Church establishment gives no sign of changing, or even seeking to change. Quite the contrary; pastors and bishops alike studiously ignore the handwriting on the wall and pretend to conduct business as usual.
Catholic leaders today have resources that the twelve Apostles could never have imagined. They have undergone years of formal training, honing the skills for thier ministry. They have access to every means of instant communication, including newspapers and electronic media. They control schools at every level, from kindergartens to universities. Their holdings in real estate alone are worth billions of dollars. Their flocks are (by reputation, at least) the most highly educated Catholic lay people in history. Yet the Church they guide is a shambles.
The Apostles were poor, uneducated, provincial. yet their efforts brought the Gospel to every nation on earth. Today in comfortable suburbs, just down the street from the parish church, one can readily find people who, quite literally, have never heard the Gospel.
Phil goes on to catalogue the calamity that has engulfed American Catholicism. Empty seminaries and convents. Catholic families who don't know the faith, and don't much care. And so on. The glory days are behind the Catholic Church, he says -- but there is always hope. The Church began with 12 apostles who had nothing but their faith. To be truly faithful, Phil says, to truly love the Church, is to see her as she is:
I love the Catholic Church. But love for the Church does not mean unquestioning love for every institution within Catholicism, any more than the love for one's spouse would extend to a cancer within the spouse's body.
When Church agencies begin to serve earthly aims, they become truly cancerous. They may grow rapidly and absorb tremendous amounts of energy -- and they steadily drain real spiritual strength away from the Church. And in any case, the accumulation of earthly resources is pointless; that battle is already lost.
The Church as a whole is the Body of Christ, incorruptible. Individual organizations within the Church are very much corruptible, however, and in America today they are very much corrupt. Loving the Church means denouncing the corruption. Denouncing the corruption, in turn, means protecting the inner strength of our Church, clinging jealously to our one, last, infallible hope.
The same corruption that produced the sex-abuse scandal, the greatest crisis in the history of American Catholicism, remains widespread in the Church today. Indeed the corruption is more firmly entrenched now than it was in 2002 because the hierarchy has refused to acknowledge the most serious aspect of the scandal: the treason of the bishops.
Reform cannot begin until the corruption is acknowledged. And since the American hierarchy apparently cannot or will not recognize the corruption with itself, other Catholics must call the bishops to account and demand the sort of responsible pastoral leadership that the American Church has not seen for years. Under these circumstances lay Catholics who criticize their bishops are not showing their disrespect for the bishop's office. Quite the contrary. Those who revere the authority of a Catholic bishops should protect that authority -- if necessary, even from the man who occupies the office.
Amen and amen. This man has thought and investigated more deeply about the crisis in the faith he loves than just about anybody I know. We must listen to him! If the laity and the concerned clergy of the OCA don't stand up and defeat this corruption now, no matter how much the tiny OCA should grow in wealth, numbers and influence in the years to come, it won't mean a thing.
(Rod Dreher is an editorial columnist for the Dallas Morning News, and author of "Crunchy Cons" (Crown Forum), a nonfiction book about conservatives, most of them religious, whose faith and political convictions sometimes put them at odds with mainstream conservatives. His blog may be found at
http://blog.beliefnet.com/crunchycon) The above article was reprinted from that blog with the author's permission.)