Some more ideas on how the faithful can respond to the scandal can be found in: When Bishops Lose Their Authority. Read the whole thing here.
While on the scaffold awaiting his execution, St. Thomas More famously declared, “I die the king’s faithful servant, but God’s first.” Throughout the controversy surrounding King Henry’s divorce and remarriage, More was adamant about one thing: he was a servant of the king, and accepted the king’s authority over the land. Although he could not consent to Henry’s rejection of the Church, More still acknowledged that he was the rightful king, and that as such, Henry had authority given to him by God.
That was the genius of More: he was able to distinguish the office of the king from the personal failings of the man who held that office. He didn’t call for the abolishment of royal rule; instead, he refused to support the sinful actions of the current king.
While we don’t live under kings anymore, Catholics today are faced with a similar dilemma. Some who exercise spiritual authority over us—our bishops—have shown themselves to be unworthy of this authority. As Catholics, how are we to respond? Do we simply ignore their egregious sins and say nothing, fearful that any criticism might be disrespectful of the episcopal office? Do we see the profound failings of these men and decide that the office itself is flawed and should be jettisoned? Or is there a third path for Catholics in this time of crisis?
The Church’s hierarchy is in crisis. What has only been hinted in the shadows in previous years is now coming to the light of day. The Cardinal McCarrick scandal is likely only the tip of the iceberg. This crisis has led to a loss of the human authority of the bishops as a whole. Who, after all, takes them seriously anymore when they opine on political or economic matters? The USCCB belches forth document after document, grasping at relevance, while no one is listening. All the while too many bishops are keeping their heads in the sand about the rising indignation directed at them from the laity.
I would say that we’re in danger of another Protestant-style revolution happening, but the truth is that it’s already happened. The vast numbers of Catholics who have stopped practicing the faith in recent decades make the Reformation look like a warm-up act. All those fleeing Catholics didn’t leave simply because many bishops failed to live up to their office, but, if nothing else, they essentially put a doorstop in place to keep the exit doors open.
Opposing Bishops Without Undermining Their Office
So what can Catholics who want to remain in the Church do? Should we mentally reject the authority of bishops, yet attend Mass and receive the sacraments while keeping our distance from the hierarchy? I don’t think that’s the answer, for that way eventually leads to schism. It makes us no different than Henry VIII.
No, Catholics need to doggedly uphold the divine authority of the bishops. Yes, a Catholic can safely ignore the bureaucratic abomination known as the USCCB, for it has no divine authority. But we must always acknowledge—and submit to—a bishop’s legitimate authority in his diocese. While acknowledging this divine authority, we mustcall bishops to account for abusing their authority. Monsters like Cardinal McCarrick—as well as those who have enabled and promoted him over the years—must be exposed and removed from office. Although painful, the laity must continue to push to expose all the deep pink secrets the bishops have been hiding for so long. Only through shining the light of truth into these nasty crevices can the bishops hope to regain any semblance of credibility.
Ultimately, our goal is to replace the men, not the office. Cardinal McCarrick does no more to invalidate the divine authority of the hierarchy than any of the Borgia popes. Yet, in both cases, the scandal of their reigns must be opposed and brought to an end as quickly as possible, before countless souls are lost.
One practical way to do this is via the pocketbook. One of the primary concerns of a bishop is keeping the lights on in his diocese. He doesn’t want to be the bishop who had to declare bankruptcy. This underlying priority is behind many—if not most—of the decisions a bishop makes. Why do you think most bishops will assign liberal pastors to “liberal” parishes (and conservative pastors to conservative parishes)? Because to do otherwise would lighten the collection plate. This is not to accuse bishops of personal greed. It’s simply to state the obvious: it’s their responsibility to pay the considerable bills of the diocese, and to do so, they need a steady flow of donations.
So perhaps it’s time to dry up those donations. If bishops begin losing money, perhaps they will hear the cries of the laity to clean up their act. This doesn’t mean Catholics stop being charitable, of course. It means redirecting our contributions to non-diocesan apostolates. And it means we increase those donations to make those non-diocesan apostolates even stronger. So if you currently put $20 in the collection basket, consider giving $30 to the local pro-life pregnancy center or a solid religious order. Doing this has a two-fold impact: it lessons the power of the bishops to protect themselves from their misdeeds, and helps with the renewal of the Church going forward.