Monsignor Harry J. Byrne, JCD * * * Comment/

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Location: 3103 Arlington Avenue,, Bronx, NY 10463, United States

April 2, 2008


Anticipating Pope Benedict's trip to New York, members of the press have been calling to catch the feelings of New York Catholics about the Pope and the Catholic Church. The fallout from the sex abuse crisis is far from over. Confidence in and credibility of the bishops, lost through bad personnel management by many, has not been restored. Recent financial scandals have raised questions about the adequacy of supervision and oversight in this area on the part of church authorities.

As a result, many parishioners and many priests see the need for more transparency and lay participation in the bishops' decision-making apparatus. Present mechanisms may function well in assuring doctrinal soundness but their track record regarding management performance has not been reassuring. This goes even to the top. John Paul II was a remarkable personality. His excursion into Communist Poland had much to do with the ultimate collapse of the regime there and elsewhere. His encyclicals were constantly declaratory of basic human rights, of the evils of Communism and of unbridled capitalism.

But while JPII was liberal and progressive towards the outside world, he was unremittingly conservative towards the internals of the Church. He withdrew certain forms of liturgical ministry from lay men and women, directing these back to the ordained; he increasingly centralized authority in himself, as e.g. by crippling the authority of national conferences of bishops( He demanded unanimous consent of the national bishops to establish a policy or regulation. Even one dissent would send the issue over to the Vatican. He insisted on liturgical translations into Japanese being made in Rome, against the Japanese bishops, who wished them done in Japan.); by the obscurantism of forbidding even discussion about ordination of women and of optional priestly celibacy; by insisting on the "complemtarity" ("secondary") role of women; by a relentless clericalism. When Cardinal Bernard Law was driven out of Boston by his people and his priests because of his secret reassignments of abusing priests, John Paul II appointed him Rector of the prestigious Santa Maria Maggiore basilica in Rome with housing and servant staff and a six figure income! Did the Pope simply "not get it"? Or did he not care what the Catholic world and outsiders thought of this? What were his priorities? Did American bishops go along with this and fail to advise him how this action would be perceived? Under his regime priestly vocations in the developed world declined remarkably? Did the Church take any creative steps to remedy the situation? Like discussing optional celibacy? In this regime, lacking new vocations, the religious sisters began to die out. Did the Pope
take any creative steps to remedy the situation? Like discussing giving them greater roles in administration and litugical ministry, perhaps ordaining them as deacons or even priests?

While celebrating the admirable qualities of JPII, it is not out of order to criticize ill-chosen policies and practices. A healthy person may not be aware of any particular part of his or her body. But a headache creates an awareness of the head; a backache, of the back; a sprained ankle, of the ankle. One talks of the head, the back, the ankle, not adverting to the otherwise total health of the body. It's that way with our Church. The total health is good. The parishes are alive with devotion and spirituality and works of charity. The sacraments are received, Bible studies undertaken, spiritual retreats and mini-revivals occur. But there are tensions in life - tensions within governments, institutions, marriages. The only thing without tension is a corpse. So the Church has its tensions. We work on a headache, a backache, an ankle. To make the whole body more healthy. So if the faithful and the clergy talk about tensions in the Church, they are not unmindful that its overall health is good. They simply want to see the Church more effective in preaching the Word, in administering the sacraments, in bringing people closer to the Jesus of Galilee and Judea. They still see Church authorities as iron bands around a barrel, holding it together, and preventing its contents from being dissipated.

But a member of this Church must speak up when he or she sees a Cardinal Law rewarded, rather than censured. The whistle-blower can imagine the numbers of the faithful turned away from the Church in incredulity and outsiders repelled by an act perceived as unjust! Actions have their consequences, often unintended!