Governor Frank Keating and the United States Catholic Bishops

by Robert Waldrop, Oscar Romero Catholic Worker House in Oklahoma City

The controversy between Governor Keating and the bishops over his advice to boycott parishes and dioceses has been front page news here in Oklahoma City and our local conservative commentariat is loudly defending the governor. The Daily Oklahoman has featured many letters to the editor about the situation. Much of this seems to be from Protestants, and the rhetoric is very harsh. Many of his defenders don't know much about how the Catholic Church works and what we believe, and there's been too much slander directed at priests. If I was Frank Keating, I would be deeply ashamed of some of the things people were saying in my defense, especially the vicious accusation that the members of the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City's Council of Priests all have "something to hide."

The proximate cause of the present scandal was priests and bishops not living up to their moral duty to teach and practice the Catholic faith, full strength, without compromise. And thus, the answer to the problem of "bishops who don't do their job" is not for more bishops to not do their jobs. The responses of the archbishop and the council of priests to Keating's remarks were required by their calling and vocation. Advising Oklahoma Catholics to attend mass in another diocese is just not very helpful, and the archbishop had a duty to publicly correct the Governor. Besides being spiritually dangerous, the Governor's advice was absurd. What are we all supposed to do, drive to Wichita, Kansas or Wichita Falls, Texas to go to church?

Mr. Keating's response, and that of his political cronies, to criticism of his remarks suggests that the governor is the one who can't accept criticism. Further, he has never passed up a chance to grind the face of the poor into the dust, and that indeed is a mortal sin according to the Catechism. He is the most notorious and public cafeteria Catholic in the state, and the decision to appoint him president of the review panel was about par for the course for the bishops these past few years.

It bears repeating that the present scandal is not only that priests were disobedient to their vows, but also that the US Catholic bishops failed to do their moral duty as bishops with responsibilities for governance, discipline, and catechesis, and thus more innocent people were gravely harmed. Everything thus far addresses the situation with the priests; there's nothing on the table to deal with the bishops' own corruption.

In fact, the primary actor in the correction of bishops, which is the Vatican Curia, has apparently abdicated its responsibilities to the Church in America. It is self evident from this situation that their system of selecting bishops has completely broken down and needs attention, from both Rome and the US bishops, but there seems to be no evidence that this is happening. Rome owes American Catholics duties of governance and collegiality; the See of Peter is supposed to be the visible sign of unity and orthodoxy of faith and practice. The bishops who have been countenancing and enabling sexual predators have by their own deeds separated themselves from the unity and orthodoxy of the Catholic faith. The Vatican should replace them with holy pastors who are orthodox in faith and practice. The refusal to do so brings this scandal to Rome.

What's to be done? Catholics believe in the virtue of prayer coupled with "works of reparation." These are good, beautiful, and merciful actions we can do to repair and bring healing to situations caused and/or complicated by evil. The more wicked the bishop, the more we should pray and the more acts of beauty, mercy, and reparation lay Catholics are called to commit.

That's what we the laity can contribute to the resolution of this crisis. We are Catholics, we do believe in miracles, and the dangerous amount of radical evil, violence, and sin in the world can be nothing but a call to equally radical faith, hope, love, mercy, goodness, and beauty. Our vocation is to live our faith with greater and deeper intensity and meaning, not (as Governor Keating suggests) to commit spiritual suicide. If anybody wants to "get even" with any Catholic bishops or priests, they should do so by doing good to others in their homes, schools, parishes, neighborhoods, businesses, factories, farms, communities, state, nation, and world. The more radical the good they do, and the more faithful the prayer, and the more hopeful the heart, the better and sweeter will be the "revenge".

Bishops and governors come and go, the Catholic Church remains, a faith which teaches that the future does not belong to the wealthy and powerful, but rather to the humble, the faithful, and the poor. It was Jesus who said, "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to be saved." And as the saying goes around these parts, "God said it, I believe it, that settles it." RMW

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