Bishops must recognize the paramount importance of teaching doctrine, rather than shying away from it or “spinning” it.
In 1884, seeing the need to explain Catholic doctrine clearly and definitively to American schoolchildren, the bishops of the Third Plenary Council of Baltimore appointed a commission to prepare a new catechism. American bishops have clearly recognized that their sacred duties are to protect children from doctrinal errors. The result was the famous Baltimore Catechism. Compare this fact with the recent Baltimore bishops’ gathering, at which Bishop Strickland challenged some members of the audience: “Do we believe in the doctrine of the Church or not?
Amid continued revelations of a shocking and scandalous cover-up of sexual abuse reaching Roman Curia levels, American bishops gathered in Baltimore voted on the following resolution:
Recognizing the ongoing investigation by the Holy See into the case of Archbishop McCarrick, Be it resolved that the Bishops of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops encourage the Holy See to release all documents that may be published in accordance with canon law and civil law regarding the misconduct of Archbishop McCarrick.
The wording looked intentionally bland – without even a silhouette of strength. It was most likely to allow almost everyone to vote for him; after all, he asked for little more than simply following the proper protocols of canon law and civil law in matters involving a bishop of their own nation.
Nonetheless, in a motion that sought to combat a conspiracy of silence – ironically enough, by secret ballot – the bishops threw it out in a cataclysmic landslide: 137 to 83. To add insult to injury, count given the accusation that bishops have acted far too often indecisively – three bishops abstained from voting.
Catholics who hoped that some action – any action – would result from this meeting were again heartbroken.
A few days earlier, Archbishop Viganò had addressed an open letter to the American bishops, writing:
I am writing to remind you of the sacred mandate entrusted to you on the day of your episcopal ordination: to lead the flock to Christ. Meditate on Proverbs 9:10: The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom! Do not behave like fearful sheep, but like courageous shepherds. Do not be afraid to stand up and do what is right for the victims, for the faithful and for your own salvation. The Lord will give back to each of us according to our actions and our omissions.
Viganò has, of course, been criticized for his harsh remarks: in our politically correct / theologically incorrect culture, asking people not to ‘behave like scared sheep’ is rude, and reminding people of God’s judgment is simply too awkward. But Archbishop Viganò is a teddy bear compared to one particular saint and the comments she made during a previous moral crisis. The crisis was the papacy of Avignon and the saint was Catherine of Siena.
In a letter to Pope Gregory XI, Catherine writes:
Since He has given you authority and you have assumed it, you must use your virtue and your power: and if you do not want to use it, it would be better if you give up what you have assumed. ; it would be more honor to God and health to your soul.
… If you want justice, you can execute it. You can have peace, by withdrawing from the pomp and perverse delights of the world, retaining only the honor of God and the due of the Holy Church. Authority too you must give peace to those who ask for it.
… This is why I beg you very gently in the name of Christ crucified to be obedient to the will of God, for I know that you do not want and desire nothing but to do his will, so that this severe rebuke do not fall on you: “Cursed be you, you did not use the time and the force which were entrusted to you.
Obviously, bishops do not have the power to right all the wrongs that have been done over the years; it would be an insult to the many people who have suffered to suggest otherwise. Yet bishops must recognize these wrongs transparently in order to accomplish the work of justice that precedes the work of charity. And it is appropriate that the lay faithful report this to the bishops. What do people say about us if we don’t?
Bishops should also recognize the paramount importance of teaching the doctrine, rather than shying away from it or “spinning” it. Doctrine is not only an essential ingredient in healing, but it is a recognition and promotion of the Good News of the gospel. As Bishop Strickland said, Jesus “lived, died, and rose again so that we could be set free from sin and death. I think the more we can share this Good News, the more we can overcome the tragic things we are facing now. “
The Baltimore Catechism has never said it better.