This week the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) held its annual meeting in Baltimore. The bishops gathered at the four-star Marriott near the city’s inner harbor, a mark of the event’s spiritual unseriousness. The bishops could save the faithful millions of dollars by holding it at one of the Church’s many empty retreat centers. But no, “we have to be close to the people,” Church leaders said in the decades after Vatican II — a hilarious conceit given that the bishops spend much of these meetings cowering behind security guards and cops.
The shepherds beefed up security from last year, as they increasingly fear a flock fed up with their heterodoxy and misrule of the Church. Security officials roamed the Marriott, eyeing any potential protesters warily. While the bishops upstairs were calling for “virtual zero access” among citizens to guns, they made sure to have cops downstairs bearing them.
The meeting was marked by the usual tone-deaf leftist politics — a lot of babbling about gun control, amnesty, and racism and almost no talk of the Church’s collapse in faith and morals. “The meeting was a mess,” said one observer. The bishops much prefer to talk about society’s failures over their own. And they would rather pontificate about “justice” than enforce any on wayward priests and bishops. As one attendee put it to me, “Why should anyone take their thoughts on social justice seriously when they can’t even hold molesters in their midst accountable?”
The cluelessness of some of the bishops about the various elephants in the room can’t be overstated. I got a taste of that after I asked the recently appointed bishop of Wheeling-Charleston, Mark Brennan, about the Monsignor Walter Rossi investigation, which is now almost three months old. “I am not aware of that investigation,” he replied.
Brennan was selected to take over the Wheeling-Charleston diocese in the wake of the Bishop Michael Bransfield scandal — a move orchestrated, I’m told, by the disgraced Cardinal Donald Wuerl to ensure that the gay mafia had someone “controllable” in that position, lest all of Bransfield’s secrets spill out. Bransfield, by the way, was officially disinvited to the Baltimore event — the USCCB’s idea of a “brave” stance. Never mind that Bransfield had no intention of coming. (In the past, when he did come, he would stay not at the Marriott but at the even swankier Four Seasons a block away.)
While Bransfield wasn’t welcome, the molester Theodore McCarrick’s other cronies and enablers certainly were. Wuerl, who knew of McCarrick’s predatory behavior for at least 14 years before he got popped, continues to cast his sinister shadow over the USCCB proceedings. One of Wuerl’s protégés, Bishop George Murry, became the chair of the USCCB’s Religious Liberty committee.
I saw Wuerl and the equally subversive Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago join Michael Sean Winters of the openly heretical National Catholic Reporter for lunch at Fleming’s Steakhouse. (Wuerl hit Ruth’s Chris for dinner later that day.) One protester, holding a sign that called McCarrick’s enablers “a disgrace,” told me Wuerl physically flinched upon seeing it.
It was announced at the meeting that the supposed Vatican report on how the scandal-plagued McCarrick rose to the top of the Church still isn’t complete. Boston Cardinal Seán O’Malley said that the report is undergoing an Italian translation and may not appear until early next year.
Meanwhile, outside the meeting, it was reported that Brooklyn’s bishop, Nicholas DiMarzio, the very official Pope Francis recently dispatched to Buffalo to investigate the botched handling of sex abuse claims there, has now been accused of molestation himself. I am told that the news sent shock waves through the conference.
“You can’t make this stuff up,” said one attendee, who laughed about the bishops’ plans to institute a phone line for people to complain about episcopal misconduct. “Do these guys understand what a joke they have become and how no one is listening to them anymore?”
One of the few good votes from the conference was to freeze funding for the USCCB. Several bishops complained that they can’t afford to give it any more money given all the sex abuse-related debts with which they have been saddled. But a better question for them to debate is, Why does the USCCB need to meet at all? It is a colossal waste of money and simply an occasion for left-wing blowhards to opine on political matters beyond their authority and competence.
For all their blather about playing a “prophetic role,” the U.S. bishops are a portrait of timidity. They have been reduced to quibbles about documents that no one bothers to read. One of the few flash points of the conference came on Tuesday, when Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego and the soon-to-retire Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia sparred briefly over the wording in a document on forming consciences. McElroy, citing the pope’s liberalism, wanted a line removed from a USCCB document saying that abortion is the bishops’ “preeminent priority.” Chaput wanted the line to stay in the document. Chaput’s side prevailed, though almost a third of the bishops voted in support of McElroy’s view. The media portrayed the difference as greater than it actually was. Chaput insisted his view didn’t represent any break with the pope; McElroy said it did, arguing that the pope wants a greater balancing of issues. Nowhere represented in the discussion was anyone questioning the pope’s liberal emphases.
“They are terrified of the pope,” said one observer. “They are all company men.” But behind the scenes, apparently, some of them do fret over the damage the pope is doing to the Church. In this regard, it is notable that Cupich, Joseph Tobin, and McElroy didn’t put their names into the hat for any leadership positions. “They were afraid they might lose,” said a source close to the bishops.
The new president of the USCCB is the archbishop of Los Angeles, José Gomez, for whom amnesty is the burning issue. One conference session resembled a La Raza meeting, as one bishop after another called for open borders in the most sophistical and emotionally manipulative language. That was followed by a report on racism and how priests need to devote more homilies to the subject.
While the bishops gave plenty of time to that nonsense, they had none for the pro-life rosaries held outside the Marriott. (Yesterday, I saw a grand total of two bishops at the rosary: Bishop Joseph Strickland, who led it, and Bishop Joseph Coffey of the archdiocese of military services.) Catholic spirituality simply doesn’t interest them. The USCCB used to be called the DNC at prayer, but even that presupposition of prayer seems passé.
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