By now, it’s clear to most American Catholics that our Holy Father just doesn’t like us. While most laypeople assumed his ‘rigidity’ slur was aimed at the legions of young people who are returning to the Latin Mass. Nope: most bishops know he’s talking about the Yanks. He calls the US Conference of Catholic Bishops’s conservative majority, like the saintly and learned Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia, right-wing ideologues. His senior advisers accuse Catholic conservatives of engaging in an ‘ecumenism of hate’ with Evangelical Protestants.
Sure: Pope Francis cottoned to a few bishops. He was fond of Archbishop Theodore McCarrick, who served as his grey eminence in the American Church – despite the fact that Francis’s predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, placed McCarrick on permanent administrative leave after he caught wind of McCarrick’s chronic perving on seminarians and altar boys.
Francis is also keen on Cardinal Donald Wuerl, McCarrick’s successor in Washington. Wuerl maintains that he knew nothing about his mentor’s debauchery, but resigned last month after a Pennsylvania Grand Jury report accused him of covering up for abusive priests during his tenure as Bishop of Pittsburgh. In a letter accepting his resignation, the Pope said that – despite whatever ‘mistakes’ he’s made in his career – Wuerl could easily ‘justify’ his conduct. Rather, Francis attributed the Cardinal’s unpopularity of late to ‘sterile division sown by the father of lies’, i.e. demons.
As conservatives, the US bishops’ instinct is to take these slights on the chin. But in the last year, they’ve begun pushing back. It started when Cardinal Blase Cupich, an alleged McCarrick appointee and Francis’s whip in the USCCB, lost a race for the conference’s powerful pro-life committee, despite an implicit endorsement from the Vatican.
In the lead-up to last month’s synod on the youth, Chaput also called for the meeting to be postponed, given that ‘the bishops would have absolutely no credibility in addressing this topic’ until they first rooted out the pederasts and pedophiles in their own ranks. Of course, he was ignored. Yet, in a tacit vote of no-confidence in the Vatican regime, the USCCB elected Chaput one of their delegates to the synod – despite the fact that he was already a delegate ex officio, as chairman of their committee responsible for the young people.
Rome got her revenge on the USCCB by axing their new protocols for investigating promiscuous or abusive bishops. The Congregation for Bishops, of which Cupich and Wuerl are two of twelve members, called USCCB president Cardinal Daniel DiNardo just moments before he took the stage, ordering him not to proceed with a vote on the measures. In a year defined by a disgusted and pissed-off laity, the American hierarchy would not even be allowed to pass a resolution asking priests to avoid living ‘double lives’ or ‘secret lives’.
And Cupich was quick with an alternative proposal (one that he allegedly co-authored with Wuerl), making the whole stunt look like a Vatican-backed coup to establish Cupich as the de facto head of the USCCB.
The US-Roman feud shows no sign of abating, and some of the laity are simply walking away. Prominent columnists Melinda Henneberger and Damon Linker are only prominent Catholics who are abandoning the Faith in the wake of this latest scandal. Lord knows how many ordinary laypeople are doing the same.
If that doesn’t get the Vatican’s attention, now Legatus – one of the largest Catholic philanthropic networks in the world – have chosen to withhold their $820,000 tithe to the Vatican this year. Meanwhile, the Papal Foundation – even larger donor group that was co-founded by McCarrick and advised by Wuerl – is still missing $25 million they donated to the Vatican. The monies were earmarked for a Roman hospital but mysteriously disappeared en route to the Mediterranean. The Foundation’s donors might not be feeling so generous this holiday season either.
Yet reports of a schism emerging between the United States and the Holy See are over-wrought. The real danger here is that ordinary Catholics will become disillusioned, collection plates will come back empty, and parishes will close. Because of the Church leadership’s inability (or outright refusal) to separate the wheat from the perverted chaff, laypeople will treat innocent priests and bishops as guilty until proven innocent.
They’re wrong, of course. But such prejudice is understandable – even inevitable – when the proper avenues of justice fail as spectacularly as they have here. An organization that takes the salvation of souls as its mission statement is actually driving them away. For believing Catholics, that’s the real tragedy at the heart of this scandal. Our bishops, meanwhile, should remember that the Good Shepherd will make them account for every sheep that goes astray.
Michael Warren Davis is US Editor of the Catholic Herald.