Saturday, June 28, 2008

Scandal and Disunity? Burke vs Robinson

Archbishop Burke practicing for new job in Rome.

The following is an excerpt from a commentary by Fr. Thomas Doyle on the speaking tour of Bishop Geoffrey Robinson. The entire commentary can be read here:

12. Without wanting to sound arrogant or smug, I believe that those of us who have been on the inside of the clerical world have a more painful appreciation of Geoff Robinson’s witness to the victims, their supporters, Catholics and the public in general. He had been in the seminary system and therefore the clerical world since age 12. He spent over a decade of his life studying in Rome without the opportunity to return to visit his homeland. He was named a bishop in 1984 and at that time entered the inner circle of the clerical-hierarchical elite. Nearly all of his years as a bishop have been during the pontificate of John Paul II who insisted on total personal loyalty from bishops and unquestioning assent to his version of orthodoxy. Truly, the clerical world has been Geoff Robinson’s past, present and future. It was profoundly instrumental in forging his identity and value system. With this contextual background his public witness is nothing short of amazing and even shocking. While many bishops have agreed with him and have privately criticized the Church’s and the Vatican’s response to the abuse crisis, only two have publicly spoken out clearly and unequivocally, Tom Gumbleton and Geoff Robinson. Both have incurred an official rebuke from the Vatican and both have been left to stand alone by their “brother” bishops. Geoff (and Tom as well) has stood strong in spite of the public opposition of the bishops of Australia, the U.S. and the Vatican. He has not only publicly sided with the victims but he has called into question two of the pillars that support the hierarchical world of image and control: the exercise of power and the traditional understanding of human sexuality. {This public silence really bothers me. Why don't more bishops speak up? Maybe the Vatican would punish them and take their diocese away from them, but is losing your diocese worse than losing your soul?}

13. To fully appreciate Geoff’s challenge one must understand that the hierarchical governmental system with its monarchical style and appended aristocracy is officially taught to be of divine origin. In plain English this means that the Higher Power, the creator and sustainer of the universe, had decided about 2000 years ago that “He” would communicate with humankind through a male and celibate dominated power structure that would be essentially stratified but also contradictory to the words and actions of the embodiment of this Higher Power in human history, namely Jesus Christ. Christ, on the one hand made it quite clear that he had no use for arrogant churchmen and that his Father’s love extended equally to the marginalized and disenfranchised as well as to the privileged. Yet the institutional Church wishes us to believe that on the other hand Jesus decided to start up a church that would be run like monarchy with people whom God loved more in leadership positions over those whom He loved a little less, namely the “lower” clergy and the laity. {Well stated Tom, how can a reasonable person read the New Testament and then see Jesus reflected in the magesterium? I think it's called brain washing.}

14. By calling into question the Church’s use of power Geoff has challenged not only the political structure of the Church but the very belief that this structure was founded by God and therefore must be retained without question. {Geoffrey Robinson has certainly committed the big no no. How disturbing this must be to his fellow bishops. What if the laity actually hear what Geoff is saying.}

15. The institutional Church has consistently resisted any questioning of its interpretation of the meaning of human sexuality. There are two kinds of sex: procreational sexual intercourse by married people which is acceptable, though virginity is better, and every other conceivable kind of sexual expression, gesture or thought which is gravely sinful. The Church’s sexual teaching has been controlled by male celibate clerics who are forbidden to have any experience with it yet who believe have the God-given calling to dictate to everyone else, including married people, the when, how and why of sex. With the Church’s history of a distorted and misshapen philosophy of human sexuality as a backdrop, Geoff’s challenge is nothing short of an astounding prophetic gesture.
{What a succinct statement on the Church's attitude towards sex. Stated that starkly it does sort of beggar the imagination.}

16. I have found it difficult if not impossible to conceive of the office of bishop as being divinely inspired and created and equally impossible to believe that individual bishops are selected through some arcane action of the Holy Spirit of the Higher Power. I have not had an experience of bishops as pastors living and acting in the image of Christ the Good Shepherd. Yet Tom Gumbleton and Geoff Robinson have given me hope that the compassionate and courageous spirit of Jesus Christ, infused in the Church’s official leaders, is not mere myth. Their witness to Christ, though they are only two, goes a long way to overcome the constant spectacle we have been subjected to in America of clerics concerned only with their image and their power and with no remote conception of the devastation caused by the clergy sexual and spiritual abuse debacle. {Me too. Prophetic voices, both of them.}

17. Cardinal Re and the various U.S. bishops who wrote letters to Geoff all parroted the same baseless concern: his words were causing confusion and sowing disunity. It is is clear that none of these men have had the experience Geoff has had in ministering to the victims of the Church’s dysfunctional clerical system. In all probability none have taken the time to read his book. Their concerns illustrate just how far out of touch the Vatican and most of the U.S. bishops are from the faithful, whom they claim they are trying to protect and whose support they need to sustain their lifestyles. If anything, the confusion has been caused by the bishops’ and the Vatican’s self-serving response to the plight of people savaged by sexual abuse. Geoff may be a sign of disunity with the bishops but for many he is a sign of hope because while he may be at variance with the bishops he certainly is one with the victims of the Church’s sexual and spiritual abuse. To get the point, one need only ask that simple question: What would Jesus do? It would seem that Geoff Robinson asked himself that question…and had the courage to live out the answer. {I'm glad Tom places this obstinance as a lifestyle issue. Preserving the Bishop lifestyle certainly seems to cause far more damage to children than espousing a cerain other 'lifestyle' I can think of.}


It's probably no accident that this commentary from Tom Doyle becomes available on the same day that we hear of the transfer of Archbishop Burke to Rome to head up the Church's version of the Supreme Court. America's chief excommunicator now becomes the world's chief excommunicator. I read one commentary in which an abuse survivor thinks the promotion is intended to get Burke out of the country to avoid prosecution for hiding abusive priests, a la Cardinal Law. I tend to doubt that, but it is interesting that America now has three Cardinals leading Prefectures in Rome: Cardinal Levada is head of the Congregation for Doctrine and Faith, Cardinal Stafford is head of the Major Penitentiary, and now Burke as head of the Apostolic Signature, and then there's Cardinal Law who does whatever he does. One wonders how long it will be before Cardinal Mahoney gets a palatial estate in Rome.

The sad thing for American Catholics of the progressive stripe, is all of the replacements for these gentleman were even more 'traditional'. Those men would be Niederauer in San Francisco for Levada, Chaput in Denver for Stafford, and Sean Brady in Boston for Law. If I was in the Archdiocese of St Louis I wouldn't be holding my breath that things are going to get more progressive and inclusive any time soon.

True to form, at the same time that Burke is getting his promotion he also censured and placed a nun under interdict for consorting with the women'spriest movement, and publicly protested the fact that the St Louis Dispatch had the audacity to run an add for church services by two women priests under the Catholic services section of the newspaper. He also publicly castigated the two female priests, who he had previously excommunicated. Unfortunatley for AB Burke, he has zero impact on what the St Louis Dispatch chooses to print. Those willful rotten secularists won't listen to him--neither will those schizmatic women, and for that matter, all those traitorist Poles at St Stanislas Kostka and their swelling ranks of disenfranchized and marginalized Catholics.

How dare Bishop Geoffrey Robinson add to his list of woes by confusing and scandalizing us laity. Of course now Burke has the power to get together with Stafford and Levada and do something about bishops like Robinson and Gumbleton, and I'm sure they will put their heads together and come up with something. Makes me proud to be an American Catholic. Just as proud as Australian Catholics will be when Cardinal Pell is given his own palatial appointment in Rome.

I don't imagine Tom Doyle will be far from their thoughts either. His entire commentary is well worth reading, but this last part I have excerpted is brilliant. His short description of the official Catholic teaching about sex is wonderful. If you can't maintain your virginity, then I guess you'll just have to give up your shot at sanctity and get married and make babies. Every time I make this exact point with Holy Married Catholics, they ignore it. It's like they can't compute that their Holy Married state is a second class status. That no matter how many times they engage in sexual activity designed strictly to procreate they are further from the path walked by Jesus as officially taught by the Church they love. I hope someday they can see that the battle for sanity being waged by Bishops Robinson and Gumbleton is about freeing them as well. That they too are victims of a form of sexual abuse perpetrated on them by men who have self determined they are the Voice of God. Maybe the time is coming when they find out they aren't the Voice of God.


  1. Matthew 7 :

    "Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but underneath are ravenous wolves. By their fruits you will know them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Just so, every good tree bears good fruit, and a rotten tree bears bad fruit.
    A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a rotten tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire. So by their fruits you will know them...

    "When Jesus finished these words, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as their scribes."

    This is the Good News of the Lord !
    Praise to you,Lord Jesus Christ.

    -- John K

  2. Colleen, looks like Burke is going out (of St. Louis) with guns blazing, casting excommunications and condemnations in all directions.

    I suspect this is one of those Vatican maneuvers called prometur ut admovetur: let him be moved up to get him out of the way. He has made such a mess in St. Louis that they have to get rid of him. So they promote him!

    These moves give signals to the loyal foot soldiers that no matter how badly they abuse their power, the system will protect and reward them, even in "punishing" them.

    If that doesn't speak to the heart of the corruption that good folks like T. Doyle, G. Robinson, and T. Gumbleton are trying to address--in the name of the Lord--I don't know what does.

    Like you, I wonder how so many people can watch this go on and on and not get thoroughly fed up with it. I thought the recent discussion on Catholica Australia of the lack of anger in the graying masses of the Catholic laity was a good dissection of this.

    Because we are not demanding more of our church and its leaders, we're bequeathing a mess to the next generation--most of whom have simply shrugged their shoulders and walked away. And who can blame them?

    The church can spend millions on big glitzy shows like World Youth Day and fancy Eucharistic processions. These won't bring any youth back but the true believers who see no problems in how Burke and Law have behaved--in fact, who would actually reward them more for their meanness and mendacity!

  3. William, I believe we as a whole are demanding more of the church and the leadership. The difficulty we face is that the bishops essentially have free run to do whatever they wish, with very little threat of censure from the Vatican.

    My sense is that the reason for Burke's transfer was failure: his failure to obtain the assets of St. Stanislaus, his failure to control the media, and the damage to papal authority that his failure created not only in his diocese, but throughout the US.
    The Vatican seems to willingly tolerate abuse and corruption, but has little tolerance for failure/ loss of control.

    What can we expect? I expect that the next archbishop to St. Louis will be a short term appointment to do damage control. Since forcing them into submission failed, I expect an attempt now to stroke them into submission.

    On a side thought, does anyone know how much couples typically spend to get an annulement? I have heard it is frequently upwards of $5000.

  4. I agree with both Carl and Bill, that this is not a promotion so much as it is damage control. Burke won't have to worry about being pastoral in his new job. He can interpret canon law to his hearts content. I do still think something like a censure will come form Rome for Geoffrey Robinson. Especially if there is a dip in donations in the US and Australia.

    As far as the cost of an annulment, I know it cost my exhusban over 1200.00 twenty years ago. Based on that I would guess that 5K is in the ball park---without any guarantees.

    There was a time when I had a lot of difficulty explaining to my daughter that she wasn't a bastard in the eyes of the Church. One of the reasons I think the whole concept is a joke. Give it up and let people move on. In too many respects the annulment process just reopens old wounds.