Over at the Deacon’s Bench, Deacon Greg Kandra has posted the latest public challenge to Cardinal Donald Wuerl to resign as Archbishop of Washington, DC [read it all here]. It comes from one of the deacons assigned to St. Matthew Cathedral who also serves as one of the Cardinal’s masters of liturgical ceremonies. For those keeping track, this is the second time a deacon has publicly called for his bishop’s resignation; the other took place in the Diocese of Buffalo. In confronting the horrific mess we face in the church right now, these men have chosen to take a public stand; while I don’t know either deacon personally, I believe it is safe to say that neither one of them relished doing so.
In speaking to parishioners and fellow clergy, we are all going through very similar emotions right now, and we all want things to be done — and done quickly and concretely — to purify, to heal, to nurture, and to move forward. So whether one agrees with these deacons in their actions or not, all of us can certainly understand the feelings that led them to make their decisions.
Perhaps this is a good opportunity for all of us to consider how we Catholics might exercise the prophetic role we are given at Baptism, particularly those of us who serve in ministry in the Church. Let me emphasize that what follows is NOT a criticism of my brother deacons. That’s between them and their respective consciences and their bishops. What I’m proposing is something for all of us to keep in mind going forward.
Deacon Greg does a masterful job of reviewing briefly the notion of “fraternal correction” so I won’t repeat that here. But I would like to offer as a fundamental reference point Chapter 18 of the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (Lumen gentium):
For the nurturing and constant growth of the People of God, Christ the Lord instituted in His Church a variety of ministries, which work for the good of the whole body. For those ministers, who are endowed with sacred power, serve their brethren, so that all who are of the People of God, and therefore enjoy a true Christian dignity, working toward a common goal freely and in an orderly way, may arrive at salvation.
The reason that any of us in ministry exist, therefore, is “for the nurturing and constant growth” of the Church. This is the ultimate “test” for us to ponder as we move into the future. How will my action — or inaction — serve to nurture and assist the People of God? Will I tear down or build up? Let me be clear: sometimes “building up” demands powerful, prophetic and public witness. At other times the better course of action is quiet, behind-the-scenes diplomacy. Still, I think that this text gives us a very helpful source for reflection and for an examination of conscience. We must always be about the building up of the Mystical Body of Christ.
Let me be completely clear here. As I already said above, I am NOT offering this as a critique or a judgment on the actions taken by my brother deacons. None of us knows what went into their particular decisions or what other steps they attempted in light of the situation. We must all struggle for balance on the moral tightropes we have to negotiate. It is the tradition of the Christian people and enshrined in scripture, that when we find a brother or sister in error we attempt private, fraternal correction first; if that is ineffective, we move gradually outward in attempting to resolve the matter. Certainly Lumen gentium 18 can serve as a foundational element in the formation of our own consciences as we ponder our own future actions.
May we all serve to build up the People of God, the Mystical Body of Christ, the Temple of the Holy Spirit!