In his most recent post over at First Things, R.R. Reno discusses the contemporary phenomenon in the Church which he aptly labels “duck and cover” Catholicism. Specifically addressing the firestorm which erupted when Governor Mike Pence of Indiana signed the state’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), Reno observes:
As I expected, the leaders of the Catholic Church have done everything they can to avoid saying anything in response to the furor over the Indiana RFRA. Their counsel is “dialogue,” an unfortunate weasel word long used by administrators who don’t want to take a stand.
Some months ago, I predicted that Catholicism in America would basically accommodate itself to whatever sexual regime dominates our society. The accommodation won’t be explicit. The Church won’t endorse homosexuality or gay marriage. Instead, the bishops will step aside, avoid controversy, and just stop talking about things that carry a high price for dissent. This duck-and-cover non-statement fits perfectly into this trajectory.
My first impulse is to laugh…
But I can’t laugh, because the tragedy is too poignant. Doubtless there are faithful Catholics in Indiana who think marriage is only possible between a man and a woman. Doubtless they resist the pro-gay propaganda their children are subjected to by the media and often in school. Doubtless they try to support the Church’s teaching on sex, family, and marriage. In the midst of a propaganda blitz denouncing all dissent from the coming regime of gay rights, this anodyne non-statement says to them, “You’re on your own.”
I’m sure that’s not the intent of the Indiana bishops. They’re undoubtedly faithful men trying to be good pastors. But they’re also disoriented by the rapid pace of cultural and political change in America (aren’t we all). And, to be frank, they’re also disoriented by mixed messages from Rome. (Who are they to judge?) They’re as frightened as the rest of us of being denounced as “homophobic bigots”…
Every option has a price. So they find a way to do nothing. Duck-and-cover.”
Mr. Reno is onto something very profound here. While the faithful look to their bishops for examples of heroic virtue, what they sometimes find instead are men who are simply flawed and frightened.
A little over a week ago the Church entered Holy Week with a reminder of those first bishops, the apostles themselves, and their very human reaction to conflict when the crowds turned against them. From the gospel reading for Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion:
Then, while he was still speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, arrived, accompanied by a crowd with swords and clubs who had come from the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders. His betrayer had arranged a signal with them, saying, “The man I shall kiss is the one; arrest him and lead him away securely.” He came and immediately went over to him and said, “Rabbi.” And he kissed him. At this they laid hands on him and arrested him. One of the bystanders drew his sword, struck the high priest’s servant, and cut off his ear. Jesus said to them in reply, “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs, to seize me? Day after day I was with you teaching in the temple area, yet you did not arrest me; but that the scriptures may be fulfilled.” And they all left him and fled. (Mk 14:43-50)
These were the twelve selected by Christ Himself.
Yes, of the twelve there was a traitor. Do we indeed have bishops today who betray Our Lord just as Judas did two thousand years ago in Gethsemane? Of Course, and it is no less scandalous now than it was then. We know these Judas priests by their actions and words. We know them by their betrayal of the past and their refusal to transmit the authentic faith from one generation to the next.
Thankfully, we also have bishops with the courage and fidelity of Saint John. The beloved disciple followed Our Lord to the foot of the cross, where he alone of the apostles stood with Our Lady before the suffering Christ. Today one thinks of courageous men such as Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco or Bishop Athanasius Schneider of Kazakhstan. In stark contrast to a disordered and relativistic culture which celebrates homosexuality, or a Church which fails to protect Our Eucharistic Lord from repeated desecration, these two men exemplify a heroic virtue that is as rare as it is inspiring.
The sad reality, however, is that many bishops today reflect the behavior of the other ten apostles that night in the garden of Gethsemane. They do not conspire to betray Our Lord and His Church, but neither do they exhibit the courage and fortitude needed to stand by the Truth, particularly if it leads to the Cross. Human nature compels most people to run away from conflict, not towards it. “And they all left Him and fled.”
Like the apostles in the garden that night when Christ was arrested, more and more bishops today will flee when the persecution begins. They will abandon Him by their silence and through accommodation. They are neither Judas nor John. They are the other ten. Please pray for them. Now is the time for heroic virtue and courageous priests, not duck and cover Catholicism.
(Picture: Arrest of Christ by Duccio, 1308-1311)
Brian Williams is a convert who entered the Catholic Church in 2006. He is a graduate of Long Beach State University with a BA in History. Brian blogs on life, liturgy and the pursuit of holiness at liturgyguy.com. He lives in Charlotte, North Carolina with his wife and five children.