The real message that rises above the din of condemnations is one that all of us in leadership positions in the Church and Catholic organizations must carefully consider. Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco is being castigated not only by the usual suspects in the media, and not only by a city council whose open hostility to the Church has been a matter of record for some time. He is being opposed by 80% of the teachers of Catholic schools in his archdiocese – a group that, bizarrely, think they have a right to both receive payment from the archdiocese for their work, and to oppose the archdiocese’s mission to evangelize as the archbishop sees fit to do.
A question for anyone who thinks the teachers are justified in their position: How many employers would tolerate their employees refusal to endorse the company’s statement of mission and principles? Or to put it another way, why is the Catholic Church the one institution that is not allowed to hold its employees and members to account?
I’ve never understood this. But in this unjust persecution of a very good man we are seeing an answer. The reason that so many think the Catholic Church has a unique obligation to set aside its own identity and teaching is because of the unique authority of this identity and teaching, these being of the Church that Christ established. Many resent legitimate authority. And the sense of entitlement we see from her critics, even from her own baptized members, comes from an expectation created by the Church’s own decision to set aside her less convenient teaching in order to get along with a society that becomes more self-destructive by the day.
So when a faithful bishop and strong pastor – looking around at the confusion of a society that has rejected the truth, mostly because it hasn’t heard the truth – decides it is time to at least begin to eliminate the confusion within his direct authority, all Hell breaks loose.
The evidence of the folly of compromising with this culture is overwhelming. Compare the numbers of young people joining religious orders whose priority is the whole Gospel and who are faithful to the Magisterium with the numbers of those joining orders whose priority seems to be some kind of justice that ignores the eternal dimension of the human person. Compare the priestly vocations of dioceses with a tradition of uncompromising fidelity to the Church with those dioceses whose priorities have traditionally seemed to have to do with political dialogue. Consider the state of those Catholic agencies that think they can be both authentically Catholic and primarily funded by a government that also funds evils opposed by the Church. Look at the family sizes and marital status of those who embrace the Church’s call to be open to life, versus those who were misled into thinking that contraception was a validly moral choice for Catholic families.
The evidence is overwhelming. We must not fall into the trap of making such comparisons out of spite; we rather look clearly in genuine compassion, in an effort to understand and to embrace the challenge that grows clearer by the day.
In the world, not of it. Yes, San Francisco is a reductio ad absurdum of our society: a concentration of what follows when sin is not only welcomed, but glorified. But this is a difference of degree, not of kind: most of our cities are in various stages of the same slouch toward Gomorrah, and we await the first empirical evidence that the Church’s option for compromise with the culture will yield anything positive beyond today’s handshake from the smirking cultural leader who just saw the Church cave.
It will not be easier tomorrow, my brothers and sisters. Many of those who called us friends while we decided not to offend – out of a perhaps well-intentioned but ultimately misguided compassion or hope for a moment of true dialogue that never seems to arrive – will hate us. For those Catholics who some time ago decided to remain true to the Gospel and the Magisterium both in their hearts and in how they lived their lives, this is no time to retreat into cliques of the pious and righteous.
We have to be “out there,” in ways that are appropriate to our vocation and place in life. Archbishop Cordileone may not have chosen his current post “behind enemy lines,” but the faithful are there as well, and he has chosen, in courage and love after some time of discovery and outreach, that this was the moment to clarify for those in his employ who we are as Catholics. For so many of them who either had no idea what it means to be Catholic or who have no willingness to identify with a Church that actually has the integrity to defend what it believes, this is a tough moment. But it is overdue, not unjust.
This is the message to consider: It is time. All of us in leadership positions need to cinch up our belts and step forward in faith. We need to pray for guidance and prepare to face the attacks that the faithful shepherd of San Francisco is now suffering. We need to embrace the Cross, repent for our own and others’ sins, and get on with telling the truth in love.
I’ve met the archbishop on a few different occasions, and he is not the caricature of the cruel authoritarian that is being painted by his critics. He is strong, but I doubt he relishes the taunts and attacks. He is a pastor who cares enough about the souls given him to lead to gently lead them toward heaven.
We should all express our solidarity with Archbishop Cordileone, and perhaps send him a personal note of support, and not run from his via dolorosa. Most of us will be in similar positions if we haven’t been already, if we stay true to Christ.