Wednesday, October 19, 2005

"It's lonely at the top."

We've all heard that expression before at one time or another.

A correspondent asked me why I referred to a Catholic prelate as one who "probably hasn't had to open his own car door since getting the red hat." It's a fair question to ask, and deserves a treatment of its own here.

I remember when I first moved to the DC area, on the Virginia side. Bishop Welsh of Arlington was a friendly, approachable man. But you never mistook where he stood, and enough people disagreed with him. Still, it was quite a kick to see him tip his crimson zuchetto when introduced to an applauding crowd. This was a man who took his office seriously, but not himself.

His successor, the late Bishop Keating, was a very different sort. Distinguished, handsome, and one of the most brilliant canonists of his time, he was rarely seen by his subjects, thus earning such unfortunate titles as "Bishop Elsewhere" and "The Handsome Phantom." I only saw him in person once, at the funeral of a priest that I happened to attend. I saw him one other time, on EWTN. He was eloquent and polished in his presentation -- even as he was distant. Upon his untimely death, my pastor, who was very close to him, took it very hard. I wished I could have as well, but I never knew the man. That would be understandable, except by all accounts, I would have been unlikely to have had the chance. I considered myself a poorer man for that.

I first met my current bishop, Paul S Loverde, at a Catholic bookstore. I brushed past him and said, "Excuse me, Father." Upon asking his name, he said, "I'm the bishop." I replied, "Oh, you're that Father." It was right before Christmas. We seemed to hit it off. Imagine the looks on the faces of my parish priests when, as His Excellency was the chief celebrant at my church that Christmas morning, I greeted him at the back of the Church with, "Monsigeur! Buon natale!!!" while kissing his ring.

Now, I don't agree with my bishop on everything, and I use this medium to make those disagreements known. But I'll say this for him; I know my own bishop, in a diocese that isn't big enough for him not to.

Recently, publisher Deal Hudson arranged a meeting between various American bishops and those described as "conservative Catholic leaders." One of them was Peggy Noonan, former advisor to President Reagan. I wish I had her words in front of me, as I cannot do them justice. But she essentially took the prelates to task for being out of touch with everyday people.

When the Church was persecuted in the Ukraine, the people knew their bishops firsthand. They saw them on any given day, risking their own lives alongside those whom they served. After the fall of communism, clerics and chancery officials were sent by Western countries to help build up the infrastructure of the newly-liberated church. Those who suffered for their Faith alongside their own shepherds, now had to make an appointment to see him -- if they were lucky enough to be seen.

Closer to home, in the "land of the free," I've watched over the years, as errors against Church teaching and practice go unhindered, even under the watchful eyes of reputedly "orthodox" bishops. I watch today, as otherwise good men are overwhelmed to discover the extent of the conspiracy they apparently aided, as numerous errant priests succeeded in sexually violating children, most of them boys. Sodomy is a sin that "cries to heaven for vengeance." Sodomy against a minor is a crime in every state of the Union. If they knew little else, they surely knew the horror of these crimes.

What could possibly compel a man not to act on that knowledge?

The late Cardinal O'Connor once remarked that a bishop is often "morally bludgeoned" by his staff. I used to understand that excuse, but not anymore. I can only conclude that a man can excuse virtually anything in the name of expediency, when he is shielded from the faces of those who bear the weight of that which is excused. To put it another way, he does not have to explain himself to me, if he never has to look me in the eye.

I am absolutely convinced that a Catholic bishop should never have that luxury of avoidance. Its cost is currently estimated at one billion dollars, and rising.

The check awarded by the King of Jordan to the Archbishop of Washington will go to do much good elsewhere, but it wouldn't begin to cover the cost of being out of touch with the "man on the street." If you can't come face to face with that man without going through your attorney, the price is already too high.

And that's just in this world. With no "statute of limitations" in the next, don't even get me started!


Jack said...

I had the pleasant experience of meeting the Bishop of the Trenton (NJ)diocese several years ago when my son made his confirmation.

It was a glorious celebration, hours long, and the day was long to say the least. When service was over, parents were allowed to have their pictures taken with the good bishop. When our turn came, me & my son walked up to him and we stood on either side of him, waiting for the camera to do its thing.

His smile was radiant as he greeted us, and I couldn't resist the urge to ask, "Long day, right Bishop? Without the bat of an eye or a waver of his smile, he recountered, "You betcha, my son."

Man of God? Most definately. Just plain man, too? You betcha.

Tom said...

Cardinal McCarrick came to Washington with a reputation for being out-of-town, and he's spent a lot of time out of town here as well.

But he's also come to my parish at least three times; the one time I was there we did come face to face, and he joked with my four-year-old son.

I don't know when he last closed his car door; he's from New York City, and never learned to drive, so I doubt he ever did close a lot of car doors. But if one of his flock wants to come face to face with him, he'll probably be at their parish again soon, once he gets back from whatever overseas trip he's on.

Heck, he'll even make time to meet with Peggy Noonan.