Catholic patience sorely tested

US Catholics are reeling, once again, over some old wounds and some new ones.  And this is happening at the same time that Pope Francis continues to command a media attention – US media foremost – the likes of which show business celebrities, international athletes, and political leaders can only dream about.  And it is preponderantly affirmative media coverage, suffused with hope, and endlessly inventive when it comes to discussing the personality, charm, and humour of the Pope from Buenos Aires. 

So whence the reeling?

In late February, the Public Broadcasting System’s premier investigative affairs program, Frontline, aired a 90-minute documentary titled ‘The Secrets of the Vatican’. Not your usual scandal-mongering outlet, Frontline was unsparing in its tough and thorough examination of the various malaises afflicting the Vatican, its central governance structure, and the international implications for a Church often enmired in costly controversies—costly to its spiritual reputation and to its pocketbook.

American Catholics were distressed by what they saw although none of the items in particular would have been knew to them. But cumulatively? And with some film footage that can only be described as scurrilous and depraved.

And in the midst of this along comes a damning reminder of the astronomical costs—financial and spiritual—borne by the Catholics of the Los Angeles archdiocese, a reminder in no less a paper of record then The New York Times: “A decade of litigation, shameful denial and fierce resistance to civil authority has cost the archdiocese more than $750 million in monetary damages, with the spiritual toll far from tallied.”  And this in an archdiocese with much poverty, immigration needs, and family stresses generated by little hope for gainful employment.

Pastoral ineptitude

As if this weren’t enough in one month, the Myers Affair in New Jersey adds new meaning to pastoral ineptitude. John J. Myers, an Opus Dei prelate, has been Archbishop of Newark, New Jersey for many years and has been embroiled in a few messy controversies during that tenure (he is scheduled to resign in 3 years’ time and has already been assigned a coadjutor), controversies that most recently include negligence in the case of a sex-abusing cleric’s terms of supervision, but all of this pales in light of his most egregious stunt to date:  a $500,000 extension to his $800,000 home—a summer, retirement home, a palatial habitation with numerous bedrooms, fireplaces, a platoon of bathrooms, a hot tub and indoor exercise pool, as well as an outdoor pool and a number of other amenities fit for a princeling.

The outrage this has generated in the archdiocese is unlike any since the outcry that accompanied Bernard Cardinal Law’s specious defiance of calls for his resignation over the sex abuse scandals in Boston and his subsequent and abrupt transit to Rome and a cushy job as Archpriest of the Basilica of Mary Major. American Catholics have traditionally been a conservative lot on the whole, deferential to clerical authority, and conscious of the importance of the Catholic ghetto in protecting their identity in a country that was anything but welcoming to the ‘Romish religion’.

That has all changed as in the twinkling of an eye.  Now they demand accountability, transparency, and above all fairness from their religious leaders, bishops in particular.


It’s called maturation.  And their patience is sorely tested.

The Meyers Affair has highlighted the massive divide that exists in a Church where some of the episcopate see themselves as a species apart, accountable to God and the Supreme Pontiff alone, mandarins of ontological exceptionalism.

The National Catholic Reporter editorialises with a succinct and pointed righteous anger: “Nothing is complicated about the Newark case.  This is clearly the material of episcopal scandal, hedonism undisguised, a level of clerical privilege that knows no bounds.”

It is time for Meyers to step down. Bishops can forfeit their authority by virtue of their behaviour.  Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI tolerated too much in the interest of ecclesiastical stability and magisterial reputation.  Francis understands otherwise, models a different way of being a shepherd, and elects holy poverty over aristocratic entitlement.

It is time to clean house of those bishops who think differently.