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Friday, May 29, 2009

Armchair Archbishops

There is something I consistently see out of people who claim to be "good Catholics", and it makes me wonder at their definition of terms. What lexicon are they using that makes them translate the Latin into that particular self-aggrandizing phrase?

Our wonderful Archbishop recently wrote a very pastoral (in the PROPER sense!) letter (1) to a disruptive dissident group in our Archdiocese. I am not going to post links to either the letter or the website I'm about to discuss as I don't want any more attention than necessary brought to this issue. Nor do I want the self-hating group of "Catholics" to obtain any benefit of publicity from my blog.

The real issue I want to discuss really has nothing to do with the heterodox problem children, anyway, but those who claim to be "orthodox" while wearing their vitriol on their sleeves.

How does one get dressed in the morning with that tacky stuff all over them?

I read the letter from the Archbishop and found it to be clear, concise, and to the point. The group it was directed at cannot mistake the point he is making unless, as the song says, they are "reading between the lines to misunderstand." (2)

And of course, from THAT group I expect such idiocy. If they AGREED with the Bishop and followed Church teaching, he wouldn't have written the letter in the first place!

What disturbs me is that another blogger posted the letter on his site with some minor commentary, and his post was very positive. He obviously supports the good Archbishop.

Unfortunately, his readers immediately began deconstructing the letter, nitpicking minor phrases, other readers began making weird arguments from silence as though perhaps they thought the Bishop should have written an extensive Apostolic Exhortation (3) instead of the letter that was proper to the situation.

This drives me NUTS! This is completely disrespectful of the Bishop who, one knows, is already going to be taking a massive hit from this group (which has not ceased to harass him from the very announcement he was coming to our diocese); does he really need to be brought down by "friendly fire"?

What is up with these "Armchair Archbishops" who apparently think they know more than one of the best of our Shepherds?

I'm quite certain such pastoral letters are difficult to write, especially when addressing a serious ongoing issue in a particular diocese. Of course the Bishop must hone in on the most immediate of issues, for who is going to read a ten-page exhortation? No one. My goodness, the Pope can't get people to read even his shortest of works, who's going to read the Bishop's if he doesn't get to the point immediately? He doesn't need to drag in what he's already said to this group, very publicly. He doesn't need to reiterate every teaching of the Church that MIGHT have bearing on the issue just to satisfy the snarkiest of "orthodox Catholics".

How dare ANY of us be so arrogant to nitpick a Bishop? It's treading a very thin line, one I've addressed in previous posts. Under Canon Law, we owe respect to our priests and bishops, and when we start making stupid and snarky criticisms of our leaders, what message does that send to others? If we profess to have respect for our Magisterium, guess what? It starts at home. It starts with the priests (which means not villifying them in blogs and comboxes), it starts with the Bishops (ditto), and it means that if we can't edify, we should maybe keep our mouths shut.

By the way, that applies to others as well. The blog I'm citing (but not citing) is one I read, although I avoid the combox as it tends to be overwhelmed with ad hominem attacks from overzealous followers. Most of whom, it seems some days, think they would make perfect Bishops. I thank God every day for the intervention of the Holy Spirit in that matter!

When we get snarky like that, it sends a message to the non-Catholic world, and rightly...they see it as infighting. Which it is. Completely unnecessary infighting, for aren't we actually on the same page? Allegedly? After all, we tend to agree that the letter is a good one. Then why tear it to pieces? Such an action completely undermines the Bishop, and for what?

There might be a time to criticize the words of a Bishop (NEVER attacking the Bishop or priest themselves!), just as there might be a time to criticize the words of others. But this can ALWAYS be done in charity. And perhaps blogs aren't the proper venue for such criticism. Perhaps there's a better way. Something more proper. Something more in line with humility and holiness and less in line with the hostile bashing comments typica to a secular newspaper article.

People, the world already hates Catholics. Don't invite more hostility, please. And don't encourage it.

Perhaps when a Bishop does something good, instead of deconstructing his words in order to ask why he didn't say what we think he should, maybe we should sit back, remember that the Holy Spirit is in charge, and, at least in the case of my Archdiocese, He is very much in contact with our Shepherd.

Maybe the lay-Bishops in their armchairs should stand down and let the Holy Spirit do his job, and maybe they (and we all) should do ours: to support the Bishop, pray for him, sacrifice for him, and act according to our Baptismal call to preach the gospel to all nations. We don't do a very good job of that if we're busy snarking off at the Bishop over inane details in a letter written for a specific situation.


Hmmm...I think I just might write a letter of support to our Bishop tonight.


(1.) A Pastoral Letter is one written by someone with Pastoral Authority regarding a matter of pastoral significance

(2.) Sabra Girl by Nickel Creek, lyrics: "Rosy the lines you wrote with your hand. Reading between them to misunderstand."

(3.) An Apostolic Exhortation is a document by the Pope explaining certain matters of doctrine, disciplines or practices, usually does not contain new teachings but is used to "exhort" the faithful to follow certain teachings and/or practices. It is commonly issues by the Pope after a Synod of Bishops


Father Cory Sticha said...

Thank you for this post! I saw the original letter, and thought that it left no ambiguity in the matter. Fortunately, I did not see the comments to the letter, which was probably a good thing to maintain charity. My reaction would have probably been less charitable than yours.

paramedicgirl said...

It's hard to know from reading your post what the issue was that is at the centre of this controversy. But it is important to never attack a priest.

(I hope everyone doesn't think that all orthodox Catholics are snarky!)

Jeff Miller said...

I usually try to give a lot of leeway when reading a pastoral letter. These letters are not suppose to be a dry recitation of Church teaching and canon law, but an attempt to heal. I guess many people think a pastoral letter should be like a post from a pundit blogger.

Though I must admit that some letters from bishops I have read that attempted to be pastoral, really seemed almost like an apology for having to defend the faith. A couple letters from California bishops in the wake of Prop 9 seem to fit that mode to me.

I thought the recent statement from the Archbishop of Miami was a good model as a balanced pastoral statement.

Adoro said...

Father ~ Thanks. Yes, good think you didn't read the comments...they wasted no time criticizing the Bishop for not saying this or that, or for not choosing a different phrase, etc.

paramedicgirl ~ The issue at the center here really isn't the issue. I was vague for a reason, but if I named the blog that had the letter, everyone would know what I'm talking about and suddenly it WOULD become the issue of this post. I'm not going there. Besides, they need no publicity.

Jeff ~ Exactly. Many Pastoral Letters are for the people of the diocese (and anyone else) in general, but this letter was for a certain group; one that has a history and has actually been addressed each year. There's a LOT of history there. Even in this letter, the Bishop really isn't saying anything this group hasn't been told before. I think he's also saying it more clearly.

As far as the Miami Bishop's letter...I agree. I liked that one, too. And also got disgusted with comments condemning him after he issued that letter. *sigh*

The "apology" letters...yeah, those drive me crazy. I think they tend to display a misunderstanding of the word "pastoral" which is not a synonym for "acquiesce".

Hidden One said...

Adoro, I'm about 99.7% sure I know exactly what blog and what post you were referring to, and I agree with you entirely on all of your comments and attitudes toward it if so. If I have the correct post in mind, well, at least the armchair archbishops are taking on a couple of dissenters at the moment.

I also agree heartily with the rest of your post... and if I hear of either of the two bishops in whose dioceses I reside in at various points in the year doing something of the evidence-of-episcopal-spine variety or just something really good in general, I think I will write the applicable bishop a letter of support. May I have the occasion to do so very soon!

Adoro said...

Hidden One ~ You may very well know, it's a prominent one. Glad to hear the snarks are taking on the snarkiers, though.

Cathy_of_Alex said...

Amen. Amen and Amen.

How do these people get dressed in the morning? They cloth themselves in dissidence.

Hidden One said...

Yup, definitely that one.

Julia said...

I read the comments on that one. Lots of arrogance, not to mention misinformation. I don't normally read the comments on that blog, either, but for some reason did today.

I also thought the Bishop's letter was good, and I pray that the situation works out OK. That group (the one being addressed in the letter) makes me absolutely sick and very sad. They give the Catholics who carry that cross faithfully and gracefully a horrible reputation.

Nan said...

Adoro, I think you're talking about a blog that I gave up reading for Lent. It was too polarizing for me at that time.

I'm glad the Archbishop let them know his stance so there can be no ambiguity.

Adoro said...

Cath ~ It sure does stick to them, doesn't it?

Hidden One ~ Yup

Julia ~ Sometimes I have hope and read the comments there, and I don't' think I've ever found that hope affirmed.

Nan ~ Yeah, that's exactly why I rarely read it. I follow the feed, read posts that interest me or I think might be helpful in some way. But it's too much of a temptation to just read the comments. it's like a train can't look away. I know the blog author has posted emails from people who have kindly criticized this problem, and he's tried to staunch it. But...some people are just plain obstinate. I wonder why he even allows comments at this point.

If I were coming into the Church, seeing the prominence of that blog, I'd be so put off I'd look elsewhere unless God's grace was so strong it blinded me to such a problem group.

Larry Denninger said...

"Armchair Archbishops" - great turn of phrase!