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With Cautious Optimism

The NOR has long been trenchant in its criticism and pugilistic in tone when it comes to facing down the deceit and buffoonery of bishops, priests, nuns, and theologians in the Church — whether they are of a liberal or conservative bent. Let’s face it: There’s never any shortage of grist for the mill. From feminist nuns to philandering neocons, from light-in-the loafer liturgists to Holocaust-denying “trad” bishops, the NOR has tackled a generous sampling of silliness in the Church and in the world — and we’ll continue to do so. That’s what we do!

At this juncture, however, we would certainly be remiss not to recognize some very promising developments in the life of the Church — developments which would have been unthinkable just a decade ago. In the recent past, signs of a recovery from the ecclesiastical silly season have typically come by way of some small pockets in relatively obscure corners of Christendom — obscure, yes, but still mightily important. Thomas Aquinas College in the realm of Catholic higher education; the School of Architecture at, of all places, the University of Notre Dame, representing the renaissance of traditional church design; burgeoning young religious orders like the Dominican Sisters of Mary and the Society of St. John Cantius; and the staunch witness of Catholic prolife activists like Joe Scheidler and Judie Brown, who have accomplished so much through prayer and activism amid unrelenting adversity — these are just a few of the promising people, places, and movements that spring immediately to mind.

What’s new and noteworthy over the past year or two is that many of the new positive developments in the life of the Church are not only coming from the obscure corners of Christendom, but are now emanating from the words and actions of the Church’s hierarchy — from Pope Benedict XVI (think of the Holy Father’s universal indult for the Tridentine Mass) and his bishops. Even the trend of new bishop appointments is cause for optimism. Cautious optimism, yes, but optimism nonetheless. The Cardinal Bernardins and Archbishop Weaklands of the U.S. Church have given way to the promising likes of American prelates such as Timothy Dolan (New York), Samuel Aquila (Fargo), Robert Carlson (St. Louis), Raymond Burke (Vatican), Charles Chaput (Denver), Thomas Olmsted (Phoenix), Robert Finn (Kansas City-St. Joseph) — well, you get the idea.

It used to be that Lincoln’s Bishop Fabian Brus­kewitz was the lone voice of ecclesiastical orthodoxy in the U.S. Thankfully, he seems to have a growing cohort. The fact is that, with more regularity, certain American bishops are turning heads — and for the right reason: by acting as courageous defenders of the faith, even when they must swim against the tide of their lazier and more liberal episcopal brethren. Archbishop Burke, for example, is known for his advocacy of denying Holy Communion to Catholics who are public sinners — like politicians who support abortion. Not so long ago, such outspoken views would have been rewarded with alienation and pillory. It is instructive to note then that Archbishop Burke’s outspoken stance on an unpopular subject among his fellow bishops was rewarded with a “promotion” — from archbishop of St. Louis (one of the most influential American sees) to prefect of the Vatican’s Apostolic Signatura, the highest judicial body in the Church, second in authority in judicial matters only to the Pope himself.

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