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“A Regime of Hypocrisy & Indifference”

Can the sorry performance of many of our U.S. bishops with regard to the priestly sex scandals be traced to a “culture of silence”? Michael Sean Winters, a Catholic writing in The New Republic (May 6), thinks so.

He also says that the Church’s sexual teachings are not “persuasive in today’s culture” and “lack credibility.” His solution is “honest discussion” of Church teachings. Yes, that’s the standard liberal line, but, in passing, Winters makes two very telling points. The first one: “There is a reason the Church hierarchy fears honest discussion. It fears it will expose a crisis of belief. There is a pervasive sense within the Church that no one really believes its teachings on sexuality anymore — not the laity, [not] even the clergy.” To say “no one really believes” is an exaggeration — it’s between 40 and 90 percent, depending on the particular issue and what polls you consult — but otherwise he’s on the mark here. And what he deduces is exactly right: “a regime of hypocrisy and indifference arises.”

Yes, there is a “crisis of belief” in the Church. While the Church’s moral teachings are on the books, with few exceptions they aren’t taught on the local level — not from the pulpit, not in CCD or RCIA, not in Catholic schools or institutions of higher learning, not at retreat centers, etc. And if they are presented, often they’re only given lip service, and the final word is given to convenience: “just follow your conscience.” As even Winters realizes, the results are “morally and spiritually corrupting.”

Most of our bishops have let this situation persist for decades, and probably think that after the dust from the sex scandals settles they can get back to business as usual. Ah, but the Holy Spirit may have other ideas at the next Conclave.

Actually, the “honest discussion” Winters calls for has been going on for decades — in dissenting Catholic periodicals, behind the closed doors of many seminaries and chancery offices, in the theology classes of many Catholic colleges and universities, in many Catholic high schools, in many religious communities, in certain diocesan papers, in many “small faith communities” for the laity (small faith indeed!). Prevarication and carping and crossed fingers and dissent are the order of the day.

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