The American Catholic Church: A Defense

Note: The great Fr. Weinandy reminds us this morning that there’s much good – if much also mixed – in the Church on these shores. And for all our problems, it’s worth remembering and working to advance what’s still sound. That’s one of our missions at TCT as well. We don’t give in to hopelessness here, even when the problems mount up. Instead, we double our efforts. Please, help us stay at this urgent task. You know how: There’s the DONATE button above, but more importantly, there’s you. – Robert Royal

Although much has already been written concerning Pope Francis’s elevating Bishop Robert McElroy to the College of Cardinals, I believe a critical aspect of Bishop McElroy’s appointment is missing.  It appears to many that by bestowing a red hat upon McElroy, Pope Francis has slighted Archbishop José Gómez of Los Angeles, who is, after all, the shepherd of the largest diocese in the United States, a diocese that contains multiple ethnic populations and diverse cultures. Moreover, he is a man of authentic Catholic faith, upholding the conciliar and magisterial teaching of the Church concerning faith and morals.  He is esteemed among the American hierarchy – currently serving as the President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.  Given these, and other credentials, it would seem that he meets the criteria needed to be a cardinal.  The fact that he has now been passed over by Pope Francis on a number of occasions gives rise to bewilderment.  Has Pope Francis insulted Archbishop Gómez?

Even if Pope Francis has his own defensible reasons for not elevating Gómez to the College of Cardinals, yet there are many other capable American bishops and archbishops from whom Francis could have chosen.  These prelates are, again, men of authentic Catholic faith who have boldly spoken out in promoting and defending the Church’s teaching, teaching that is vital to the present American cultural setting – evangelization, racism, immigration, abortion, gender theory, etc.  The question arises: Why were none of these men chosen by Pope Francis?  Is the passing over of these men also a not-so-hidden insult?

With regards to Archbishop Gómez and other bishops and archbishops of similar stature, it would appear, as some may conclude, that it is precisely their loyalty to the Church’s perennial teaching, especially with regards to its moral teaching, that disqualifies them from Francis’s consideration.  They bear the hallmarks of conservatism and traditionalism. And, therefore, they are incapable, in Francis’s eyes, of discerning the present working of the Spirit within today’s Church. Pope Francis is correct in that bishops, as well as the entire Church, should clearly discern the contemporary work of the Holy Spirit.  The problem is that Francis never clearly articulates where the Spirit is leading the Church – such knowledge remains an ambiguous unknown.  One might discern the mind of Francis and thus where he believes the Spirit is leading, however, in what he does – like appointing Bishop McElroy, and others of like mind, to the College of Cardinals.

It is common knowledge that:

•McElroy does not see abortion as the preeminent evil scourge of our age – a scourge that fosters other forms of violence within our American society, including the daily mass shootings

• Moreover, McElroy is in favor of ordaining women deacons, though the ordination of women to the diaconate inevitably suggests a course for them to be ordained to the priesthood and episcopate.  But then, maybe he does realize the consequences, and so wishes to advance women to the presbyterate.

• Then, there is his ambiguous attitude toward the morality of homosexual acts, an ambiguity that he shares with other like-minded bishops, priests, and lay organizations who appear to have Francis’s approval.

• Lastly, there is McElroy’s early relationship with Theodore McCarrick, a man who is not known for his staunch support of the Church’s teaching.

*Pope Francis in the U.S. (2015)

Thus, is McElroy, for Pope Francis, a living concrete example of where the Spirit leading the Church?  It would appear to many that he is, and if this appearance is true, then Francis has not only insulted Archbishop Gómez and the American hierarchy, but also, without intending to, the faithful American Catholic laity.

Many, if not most, of the laity are not aware of the ecclesial, theological, and political significance of papal appointments.  They presume that the universal Church is being governed properly. Their primary concern revolves around the needs and life of their local parishes.

The faithful Catholic laity, who live, champion, and defend the Church’s teaching are also most often those who are most active in their parishes and other Catholic organizations.  They are on the front lines of the pro-life movement, the food pantries and soup kitchens, the advancement of Catholic schools and education, the fostering of racial and ethnic equality, and members of their parish councils.

It is precisely their traditional Catholic faith that inspires and motivates them to be so ardently active.  Although many are unaware of the ecclesial implications of a so-called “progressive” bishop being raised to the College of Cardinals, such appointments do not represent this faithful Catholic laity.  Thus, it appears, unbeknownst to them, that they have been slighted by the McElroy appointment.

The heart of the problem may be that Pope Francis’s seeming distaste for the American Catholic Church is founded upon a misconception.  Because the United States is the wealthiest and most powerful country in the world, one gets the impression at times that Francis perceives it as being selfish and bullying.  There may be some truth to this, but the American Catholic Church, as I have attempted to demonstrate above, is hardly selfish and bullying.

Rather, it is, on the whole, most generous and caring.  Moreover, the American Catholic Church as such is not aligned with any particular powerful political party or any class of wealthy and prestigious elite – the media or industry.  Actually, it is the more “progressive” Catholics, clergy and laity alike, who are in league with the formidable liberal, and often anti-Catholic agenda active within mainstream American culture.

One would expect Pope Francis to be pleased and proud of the American Catholic Church for being such a vibrant bulwark against such a secular gospel.  Yet, he seems to perceive it as a hindrance and foe to his own itinerary, and so he appoints men to prominent ecclesial positions who are of like mind to his own.

Archbishop Gómez, and other bishops of his caliber, will probably never be made cardinals by the pope.  They, nonetheless, humbly remain faithful shepherds who proclaim, defend, and promote the apostolic faith.  And for this we can give thanks.

*Image [Getty photo]

You may also enjoy:

Robert Royal’s Who Is Pope Francis Speaking to?

Francis J. Beckwith’s The President, the Pope, and The Green Book

Fr. Thomas G. Weinandy, OFM, Cap.

Thomas G. Weinandy, OFM, a prolific writer and one of the most prominent living theologians, is a former member of the Vatican’s International Theological Commission. His newest book is the second volume of Jesus Becoming Jesus: A Theological Interpretation of the Gospel of Johnl.

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