Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Bishop Tobin on ‘Archbishop Weakland’s Perplexing Pilgrimage’

I’ve got a dozen or so bookmarks to the Bishop’s Column pages at various diocesan newspapers I check on weekly. They’re selected because I find them particularly good teachers, like Bishops Wenski, Soto and Olmsted and/or because they can be counted on to be blunt – a quality I find refreshing and unfortunately rare in Church conversations.

Providence Bishop Thomas Tobin fits both categories, but I have to admit being surprised when I saw today’s column headline, “Archbishop Weakland’s Perplexing Pilgrimage”. Was I really about to read one bishop criticizing another publicly? Yes I was. To be fair, the column says many fine things about the retired Archbishop before launching in, excerpt:

It strikes me that critics of Archbishop Weakland should be at least a little restrained in their umbrage, for after all there are many redeeming qualities of the Archbishop’s life and ministry. He responded willingly to the Lord’s call to the consecrated life; he has served the Church generously in a variety of difficult leadership positions; he has shown a determined commitment to the progress of the Church and the implementation of the Second Vatican Council; and he has consistently reached-out to the poor, the weak and the disenfranchised members of the Church and society. If his service has been marred by human imperfections, so be it. So is mine, and so is yours.

On the other hand, supporters of Archbishop Weakland should also be able to recognize the self-serving inconsistencies and contradictions contained in his story.

For example, although the Archbishop always took pride in his liberal theological tendencies and his public pronouncements on controversial issues, he seemed to be genuinely puzzled, even hurt, when others labeled him a dissident.

He passionately promoted the dignity of the laity and their role in the governance and ministry of the Church, but had little hesitation about quietly using their money to cover-up his egregious sexual offense.

He disparaged the secrecy of the Holy See but for twenty years hid his own indiscretions behind the walls of the chancery, indiscretions that were not just a matter of personal behavior but also profoundly affected the reputation and welfare of the Church.

He railed against what he considered the authoritarian pontificate of Pope John Paul II, but clearly used his own persona and authority to impose his vision of the Church upon his own fiefdom in Milwaukee, easily dismissing those who opposed him as conservative, right-wing nuts.

In short, like many dissidents in the Church, throughout his life Archbishop Weakland benefited generously from the support of the institutional Church, but never hesitated to criticize the Church whenever it served his own purposes to do so.

This blog, it has been noted elsewhere, can have a stridently critical tone at times. But I have never used it to publicly criticize any bishop (unless you count an excommunicated moonie). I have a well-developed philosophical reason for not criticizing bishops, but the cynic could also fairly note who signs my paycheck.

Fraternal (even public) correction among bishops themselves has biblical and plentiful historic precedent and justification, but to my knowledge little contemporary usage. This is something new to me, hence my surprise. Readers can, and I’m sure will, take issue with the specific criticisms mentioned in Bishop Tobin’s column. There was however much clamoring, across ideological divides, during the clergy abuse crisis for fraternal correction among bishops. Is that the only area the practice is called for? (It should be noted that Bishop Tobin’s comments are in the context of reflecting on Archbishop Weakland’s published memoirs and public reactions to them.) Read the whole thing.