Thursday, January 10, 2019
Tone Deaf. . .
Could it be typical of many, dare I say most, Roman Catholic clergy? There is a real tone deafness to the impact of these scandals not simply with regard to their affection laity have for their church but the embarrassment of having this all play out in the news -- something Roman Catholics in a Southern City feel even without the news headlines of bishops and beach houses and priests and altar boys. Nobody wants to attend a church that they feel they must constantly defend or explain especially when the issues are about immorality.
You have come to expect such headlines when it is about Hollywood stars or pop musicians or even politicians. They do not lay much claim to moral authority. But when it happens in the Church and particularly when it happens with the seeming complicity of Roman bishops who are there to supervise such people and hold them accountable quickly for their failures, then there is a problem of some magnitude. The abusive situations are not the only or the primary locus of the scandal but the failure of the bishops. That they either deliberately ignored, did not know or pay attention to, or did not deem the problem sufficiently important to deal with is the larger issue and it will surely spill over into the papal court if there is anything to show that Francis was also one of the see no evil monkeys who twiddled their thumbs while the Church was burning down.
As a Lutheran this whole thing is not without its teaching moment for those not Roman Catholic but who also have a structure in place and people endowed with the authority of supervision of doctrine and practice. Lutherans sometimes act as if we are so congregational that the larger structures of the Church are optional and not essential. In fact, as essential as the local administration of the Word and Sacraments are, so also is the supervision of doctrine and practice essential to maintain not only its integrity but the very assurance of the truth to those who hear and receive its grace. Rome's failures are not simply the failures of what is still a small number of priests to gross immorality but the larger failure of those set apart for this oversight.
The problems in Lutheranism, from the outrageous Nadia Bolz-Webers of this world to those who deny the basic affirmations of the Creed, stem from a similar failure to hold accountable those ordained and to hold accountable those congregations who join a church body to the doctrine and practice of that church body. Until we fix the problems of doctrinal supervision and oversight of practice (that which is episcopus), we will continue simply to put out fires and remain tone deaf to the impact of those fires upon the faithful in the pews and those who only know us by the odd fringes so endearing to social media. Some fear the heavy hand of the Law from those who have been charged with this episcopal oversight. I fear more the loose grip of a Gospel which finds it hard to hold any accountable to the Truth.