Saturday, October 15, 2005

Mis-directed indignation?

Todd of Catholicsensibility takes me to task for lashing out at those members of the plaintiff's bar that are ravishing Holy Mother Church at present in the wake of the clergy abuse scandal. He says he's unsympathetic. Of course, I don't want sympathy. I'm a curmudgeon, not a sad sop. I want justice. I take a risk here of making an enemy, because Todd's comment was obviously not intended as a carefully-thought-out analysis and refutation of my rant. That's exactly why it's useful to answer him point by point . . . he raises the typical knee-jerk reactions made by those who haven't thought carefully about the issues prior to having a microcassette recorder or a camera stuck in their face by a pimply reporter seeking commentary (or by thoughtful enemies of the Church who are doing the devil's public relations work).

Seriously, though, I'm grateful for Todd's coment because it gives me a chance to set fire to set fire to some straw men, pickle some red herrings, etc:

Saith Todd, "if you went to the root of the problem: bishops, you might get some action." I suspect that Todd means that the bishops failed to govern their clergy, and are thus responsible for the morass. Indeed many are--we all know the names of the worst ones (and let's not forget that the bishops as a whole aren't responsible--individual bishops are responsible--and some bishops did faithfully guard their flocks and also act as good stewards of the Church's material patrimony). I say (and I assume Todd didn't) that the bishops are also at the root of the problem because they failed to take canonically obligatory steps to protect the patrimony of the Church under the civil law, by setting up parishes as separate civil law entities each with their own property, and/or by holding property in explicit trust under the civil law rather than as property of the corporation sole. (I posted on this a month or so ago)

It should be clear that I don't think we're obliged to, and in fact, as good stewards may be morally prohibited from, entrusting our own souls, our childrens', or even our temporal goods to any cleric who we believe will exercise malfeasance or misfeasance on them. I and many others dream of the day when a strong Roman Curia will dust off the Rite for the Degradation of the Bishop. I could also respond to Todd's suggestion about me getting some action from the bishops. I wish I could do something, but all I can do is withhold financial support from an errant bishop, refuse obedience to him personally (depending on the facts and circumstances, of course), and send a libellus to the Congregation for Bishops. As (God be praised) I'm not currently supporting, or subject to, any such bishop now, and as I lack standing to bring canonical action, there's nothing I can do but rant. And I do. That's not the point of this post.

It is necessary to consider separately the bishops' failure to deal with pederasts (and, BTW, the bishops' failure to protect the patrimony) and the resultant civil law assault on the Church by the plaintiffs' bar. The bishops' sins do not, in any way, excuse the immoral actions of the litigious victims and the plaintiffs' bar. Did the sins of Caiphas and the "temple authorities" excuse the sins of Judas or Pilate, or vice versa? No. Each of us is responsible for our own actions, regardless of how we, or our clients, have been used. I'm sure someone smarter than me can point to exactly the place in the Summa Theologica or the Roman Catechism or elsewhere for a definitive, and much more clearly stated, exposition of this point.

Saith Todd, "First money isn't everything." Were money (or enmity toward the Church) not driving this, the plaintiffs and their lawyers would be out to humble and impoverish the errant bishops and their pederasts personally, but would leave the patrimony of the Church to be used for the purpose for which it was given. Money seems to be pretty important to the victims that are represented by these people--who I suspect are not as saintly as the SNAP propaganda suggests. And as to whether "money is everything" to the Church . . . that's a ridiculous statement that barely deserves a response. No one would suggest that money is "everything" to the Church, but the material patrimony of the Church is clearly very important to her mission. The church needs material goods (and thus the money, which, while not a good, is necessary in our economy to acquire them) to "order divine worship, to care for the decent support of the clergy and other ministers, and to exercise works of the sacred apostolate and of charity, especially toward the needy." Can 1254. Without money, there's no way to build, maintain, or heat the worship spaces, no means to support Fr. Cool Joe, inadequate resources to lobby and run radio spots for "social justice," no postage for the invitations to ecumenical gatherings, and (lest we forget) no salaries for full time lay liturgists, no new Oregon Catholic Press publications in the parish library, and no McBrien textbooks for the New Whine program.

Saith Todd, "Second, most victims I know or dealt with just wanted to be treated with honesty and respect by the diocese, not stonewalled by smug dudes in dress blacks." By the diocese, I hope he means the chancery office. It's a bit much to ask for each cleric and layman in the whole diocese to be beating his breast and wailing mea culpas (in the vernacular, of course) about the malfeasance of those over whom they have no control . . . and under whom many of them suffered in less dramatic, but equally scandalous, ways that don't get written up in the Boston Globe and LA Times. Were the victims and their lawyers motivated by honesty and seeking respect, why would they attempt to stake a claim on property of those who have done them no wrong?

Saith Todd "Third, you might have a protest on your hands if you encouraged people to walk out on the homilies of people like Rigali." I'm not sure how walking out of a Rigali homily is relevant to my post. Frankly, I'd likely never walk out on a homily by an errant cardinal or bishop (again, I'm not sure what the Rigali connection is here). That's because I'd never be sitting at the beginning of a homily by a Mahoney or a Law or a Tod Brown or a Skylstad. I just wouldn't go. I have walked out of a homily or two in my time though--not a bishop's . . . merely a priest at a parish I was visiting who was spouting heresy or otherwise undermining the Magisterium. But for the record, I strongly recommend that (a) anyone who can avoid Mass said by or a sermon preached by an unrepentant cleric who has previously manifested grave dereliction in his duties should do so and (b) anyone who is caught unawares at Mass by a cleric preaching heretical things or undermining the doctrine and discipline of the Church should, in fact, walk out, because it does not offend our Lord to refuse to listen while others give Him offence. The foregoing principles should apply as equally to Rigali (whom I guess Todd holds out as a neo-con Catholic hero) or an SSPX or FSSP priest, as they do to the notorious offenders whose names we so often recite.

Saith Todd, "Fourth, technically speaking, it's not your money or mine, but if we're talking selling off episcopal mansions and chanceries, it's likely our grandparents' money." I think I have acknowledged, in the relevant posts, and in the post where I talk in detail about the material patrimony of the Church, that the patrimony comes from those who've passed before us, not just the Church Militant. I know much of it was our ancestors money. (Frankly, if it's an episopal mansion, it probably wasn't even my grandparents' money).

Even so, determining the origins of a piece of property doesn't change the ownership of the property now. Technically speaking, canonically speaking, the money is given to and held for the benefit of the Church, not the administrators to whome the goods are given. See Book V, Titles I and II of the 1983 Code of Canon Law. What is the Church? In the spirit-of-vatican-too, it's us, the "people of God," not just the guy with the crosier. In traditional doctrine, it's . . . lo and behold . . . the same thing: "The Church is the congregation of all those who profess the faith of Christ, partake of the same Sacraments, and are governed by their lawful pastors under one visible Head." (Baltimore Catechism No. 3, Q489). Once we write a check, isn't just the bishops' cash, it's all of ours, and the bishop holds it in trust to be used for our spiritual benefit, just like an executor holds a decedents estate, and (here I get personal) just like a 401(k) trustee or pension trustee holds our retirement money for our benefit.

Saith Todd, "Fifth, you might consider the Bride's own lawyers, who, in one instance, tried to help a priest dodge responsibility by suggesting the woman should've practiced safe sex." I, and many other traddies, and a number of neo-con Catholics, have considered those fellows. (although it came to light before I started blogging and I never felt a need to post about it). Their reprehensible conduct does not defile the Bride, nor does it in any way excuses those of the litigious victims or their lawyers. Would you have it that Sadam Hussein's immoral conduct to his own people justified Bush's secular Wilsonian crusade into Iraq, or that Bush's crusade excuses the violence perpetrated by Iraqi insurgents on non-combatant Iraqis? (Not that I wouldn't, in the right circumstances, favor a real Catholic crusade to conquer the infidel, mind you).

Saith Todd, "In sum, plaintiff lawyers in general (those whom you're attacking here) are engaged in a practice which is morally prudential, unlike bishops, some chancery officials, and offending sex predators. " I'm not attacking all plaintiffs' lawyers (although, as a group, I don't care for them), I'm attacking plaintiffs' lawyers who are trying to take away some or all of the material patrimony of the Church. Their conduct is not a moral or a prudential question (by which I'm not sure if Todd means it's wise or it's a matter of fair dispute). A tort suit that will result in an settlement or a judgment that directly or indirectly diverts the patrimony of the Church to something other than its intended purpose is objectively forbidden. So much so, that (while the 1983 Code does not deal with offences with such specificity) the 1917 Code of Canon Law imposed serious penalties (I think excommunication, but I don't have a copy of the 1917 Code to check) against those who used the civil courts to attack the Church. And with regards to the folks in the chancery and the pederasts, I think it should be obvious (even if I hadn't just said so repeatedly) that the sins of A do not excuse the sins of B.

Saith Todd, "I'd doublecheck the people your serving with righteous indignation." Indeed I've checked them many times over. I've listened to them, I've thought carefully about what their doing, and the system that they're working in, and my analysis stands!

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