If you look at the brief biography that accompanies this site, you'll notice that I have been blessed to be a Catholic my whole life, and from an early age I knew I had a vocation to ordained ministry. For eight years I attended high school and college seminary preparing for diocesan priesthood. Although I discerned that I did not have a vocation to the priesthood, I remained active in ministry throughout the years as a lay person. I pursued graduate education in Theology during my off-duty time throughout my Navy career. Eventually, I was ordained a deacon by Cardinal James Hickey for the Archdiocese of Washington, DC in 1990. From that time to this I remain an incardinated deacon of that Archdiocese although ministry has taken me frequently to other dioceses for service. My Ph.D. is in Theology from the Catholic University of America, with a special emphasis on Ecclesiology and Sacramental Theology. Since 1989, I have been associated with the USCCB headquarters variously as a consultant and later as director of two of the Secretariats there.
Against that background I wish to respond to a couple of recent comments made on this blog. Here's what the readers wrote.
The first reader stated:
While I am fiercely loyal to the Church, I also accept the reality that She has been gravely harmed by some members in the USCCB who have championed a liberal/progressive agenda in place of Gospel values.
A second reader then wrote:
And there in lies the problem...with the USCCB and their progressive/liberal ALINSKY tactics in order to protect their agenda. I hear nothing about the PRO-ABORT-CATHOLICS in Congress [http://www.canon915.org/list_people.php?figure_ind=P] because they, too, are 'progressive/liberal' .... I see what's happening to Father Corapi as "Rule 13" in Alinsky's Rules for Radicals. And it takes the focus off of the USCCB's failures to uphold the Church's Pro-Life teaching and their refusal to own up to their own guilt and complicity in failing to promote and uphold the Teachings of the Magisterium.
The USCCB fails to take today's Gospel to heart. They're too busy allowing sin to run rampant in their diocese and across this nation.
PS this is not an indictment against every member of the USCCB. There are some truly godly men doing their best against the tide of those 'progressive/liberals' who would silence them.
God have mercy on The Catholic Church in America.
The first reader at least qualified his criticism by saying the "some members" of the USCCB were involved in pursuing a liberal/progressive agenda. The second goes much, much further, eventually only qualifying the indictment in a postscriptum to her remarks.
It is precisely this kind of broad brush and imprecise language which does much damage to the Body of Christ. I am not saying that all bishops, their staffs, including the national staff in Washington, DC are perfect. They (we) are not. And people SHOULD criticize the bishops and their staffs when that criticism is warranted, by all means! We have, under canon law, an OBLIGATION to do so. I am not suggesting otherwise. What I am pleading for, however, is precision in language, temperance and charity in tone, and accuracy in reporting. Here's one example.
With both writers above: What do THEY mean by the term "USCCB"? Do they mean the bishops as a body? Or do they mean just the staff of priests, deacons, religious and lay persons who staff the headquarters in Washington? Or do they mean both, the body of bishops AND their staff collectively?
Then, we need to ask: How is this language understood by the READERS of the posting? Do they understand what these terms mean? Do they understand the term in the same way as the writer does?
We need answers to all of this before we can even begin to assess the validity of the claims being made about whatever this "USCCB" is in the minds of the writers! As this language now stands, it is clearly based on emotion, is grossly over-generalized, and, frankly, designed to incite to fear and anger. It appears to be rhetorical, not factual.
Well, let's get to some actual FACTS here. The USCCB is the assembly of all ordained bishops (and for some matters, this includes priests who are administering dioceses while the diocese is sede vacante awaiting the appointment of a new diocesan bishop) of the United States, and it includes bishops and eparchs of both the Latin and the Eastern Catholic Churches. Once a priest is ordained a bishop, he is automatically a member of the USCCB (prior to Vatican II, membership in the predecessor organization was purely a voluntary matter). While the majority of the bishops are serving as diocesan bishops, others are auxiliary bishops, and still others are "retired" bishops (although the preferred term is to refer to them as the "seniores"). As you can well imagine, such a diverse group would be very difficult to characterize as "liberal", "progressive," "conservative" or "traditional," or any other adjective you care to apply. In fact, even if you tried to do this, you would find that in many cases, the same bishop might -- on one issue -- adopt a progressive stance, while on another issue, he will be conservative. These broad generalizations about bishops are just as inaccurate as they are about most of us who are NOT bishops!
The same applies to the national staff. The staff is also a part of the "USCCB" and the job of the staff is to implement the policies SET BY THE BISHOPS. No staff member sets his or her own agenda; even if they tried to do so, they wouldn't be around long. The bishops alone staff the various Committees (some years ago, this was different, but not now), and the Committees set the policies, directions and priorities that they desire, and the staff carries them out. Let's talk more about the staff. I will share with you that during my time on the senior staff, we sometimes would find it almost amusing to hear ourselves referred to by some folks as "progressive-liberal"! After all, here we ALL were, serving the institutional church through her bishops -- not really where you'd expect to find a nest of progressive liberals! And, as a matter of fact, there weren't. Did some among us have more progressive views than others? Of course! But as diverse as the staff was on the "theo-political" spectrum, we were all there to serve the needs of the bishops; the staff is a professional organization, made up of priests, deacons, religious and lay persons, ALL of whom have extensive diocesan, national and international experience in their areas of expertise. One of the great joys for me when I worked on the staff was the ability to walk down the hall and have a conversation with such exceptional and dedicated professionals.
All of that is "the USCCB" to me. To read a comment that somehow there is a cabal trying to implement some "Saul Alinsky" plot is, frankly, just ludicrous. It would humorous if it were not so tragically inaccurate and, bluntly, libelous.
God bless all here, and let us pray for each other!