Chapter 17: Press
Robert Blair Kaiser's summary of last week's chapter: In Chapter Sixteen, we saw the most influential Curial cardinals lamenting their threat to put Califoria under interdict. Cardinal Grandeur, visiting from Philadelphia, insisted that California's Catholics had already excommunicated themelves—automatically—by participating in these outlaw Masses. Other cardinals demur. Grandeur stalked off to take his case directly to the pope. He told Benedict XVI that he couldn't stand by and watch Mahony try to overturn "the divinely instituted hierarchical constitution of the Church." Benedict snapped at him. "There was no hierarchy in the early Church. There was no hierarchy at Pentecost. Hierarchy came later. Men set it up, not God." Grandeur was stunned. This was not the man he knew as Cardinal Ratzinger. Grandeur could see this is a man who had undergone a conversion, especially when he heard the pope tell him, "We have enjoyed a royal papacy for a thousand years. The question is, can we afford to keep running the Church like this for another thousand years? Or even another ten years?" And Grandeur is totally confused when he heard the pope say he would not suppress the upcoming national synod in the U.S., set for July 4, 2009, as Grandeur has demanded, nor discipline Cardinal Mahony. Now here's Chapter Seventeen...
Chapter 17: Press
ON FEBRUARY 2, BILL MOYERS AIRED a public television special on "A People's Church in America." It was a panel show that featured two principal guests, Roger Mahony and Cardinal Ted McCarrick, retired archbishop of Washington, D.C., along with four Catholic commentators, two sitting on Mahony's side of the podium, and two sitting on McCarrick's side.
After Moyers' introductions, Mahony seized the first word. "Bill, I have to take issue with the title of this show. This isn't a people's Church yet. The people—and the bishops—will have to decide on a lot of things before this becomes a people's Church."
"When have the people ever decided?" demanded Moyers. "I thought Catholics always did what they were told." He winked at Mahony, then invited McCarrick to respond.
McCarrick was there because Grandeur wasn't. Moyers had invited Grandeur to appear on this show, but Grandeur declined without an explanation—though he confided to his aides and to Monsignor Jeremiah Hawkslaw, his spy in Los Angeles, that he didn't want to engage Mahony in public debate. That would only give his cause more publicity. No, Grandeur was going to operate like an incumbent governor with a big lead in the polls; why debate the challenger when there was nothing to gain, and everything to lose? Grandeur couldn't help citing a principle from canon law as well: possessio juris, which, roughly translated, meant that rules governing the American Church were "in place." To him, that meant that anyone who wanted to change the rules had to prove they needed changing.
Grandeur was quite sure Mahony couldn't do that. His side could knock down whatever arguments the Mahony forces could muster, simply by referring the faithful to "the way things have been in the Church for more than a thousand years." No arguments necessary, except one: people who didn't like the ancient rules could simply leave the Church. And if arguments were eventually needed, Grandeur had the money behind him to buy a good deal of p.r.—everything from subway advertising in New York to television commercials in Los Angeles. Grandeur knew he could bury all this talk (that's all it was at this point, nothing but talk, and a Time cover story) about a people's Church.
Getting turned down by Grandeur hadn't bothered Moyers' producers. They knew they could always get the affable Ted McCarrick. McCarrick, who never met a TV producer he didn't like, said he'd be happy to come on the Moyers show and explain "where the Church stands on this idea of 'a people's Church.'" So now, with a honey voice and a winning smile, McCarrick told Moyers and his national TV audience, "The Church, as you know, Bill, is not a democracy. But the American bishops are also Americans. They cannot help thinking about better ways to serve their Catholic constituents. It is no accident that we have chosen the Fourth of July to begin our national synod in Baltimore."
"The Fourth of July!" exclaimed Moyers.
"Exactly," said McCarrick. "It will be a time when we all come together to do what we have to do to create a more faithful Church."
Moyers asked McCarrick, "Do you mean all the bishops? Or will we see some laypeople there?"
McCarrick said he expected every bishop-delegate to bring a lay representative with him to Baltimore.
"How will those representatives be chosen?" asked Moyers.
"That will be up to each bishop," said McCarrick. "The bishops know who their good loyal Catholics are."
"Loyal to whom?" asked Sister Joan Chittister, who was sitting at the Mahony table.
Moyers beamed. He'd brought Chittister onto his show because he knew this Benedictine sister—widely known as America's super-nun—wasn't afraid of McCarrick, or of any other American bishop. And she asked good, feisty questions.
"Well," stammered McCarrick. "Loyal to the Church."
"Which Church?" said Chittister. "The people's Church or the hierarchical Church?"
"There's only one Church," said McCarrick.
"The pray, pay, and obey Church?" prompted Chittister.
While McCarrick considered how he could offer a courtly response to Chittister's hostile question, Moyers recognized Nick Pike, introducing him as "a leading Catholic lawyer in California who has been working with Cardinal Mahony." Before Pike could speak, Richard John Neuhaus, the priest-editor of a conservative monthly called First Things, challenged Moyers. "Bill," he said to Moyers, "you don't give Mr. Pike enough credit. He is, in fact, working for Cardinal Mahony as his campaign manager, is he not?"
"I don't know," said Moyers. "Is he?"
"He's right here," said Neuhaus. "you can ask him."
Pike bristled. "I'm not working for Cardinal Mahony."
"But you are managing his campaign, are you not? A frankly political campaign?"
Pike counterattacked. "Let me ask you a question, Father Neuhaus. Do you think there's something shady, maybe even something sinful, in trying to overturn the Church's old pyramidal structure?"
"You mean," asked Neuhaus, "what John Paul II called 'the divinely instituted hierarchical constitution of the Church?' Yes, I'd say there's something wrong with that. Something fairly heretical."
"'Divine institution,'"said Pike,"means it was founded by Christ. But if Jesus founded our Church, he certainly didn't found the hierarchical Church that we know today. Claiming Jesus founded the kind of authoritarian, unaccountable Church we have today can have only one purpose: to keep us in our place."
Neuhaus didn't try to answer that. Instead, he launched a personal attack on Pike. "I find it very curious, Mr. Pike, that you, a founder of Para los otros, the terrorist organization that kidnapped Cardinal Mahony in November and put him on trial in Chiapas, should end up in Cardinal Mahony's camp. I am surprised that he should want you to be a spokesman on this show for his 'people's Church in America.' I am even more surprised to see Cardinal Mahony running a frankly political campaign to advance this so-called 'people's Church.'"
"And you're not part of a political campaign against it?" This from Mahony himself.
"Only out of self-defense," said Neuhaus. "Only out of loyalty to the Holy See."
"Gentlemen!" said Moyers. "Let's get back on track here. We were talking about the upcoming Fourth Council of Baltimore. Will it help make a more accountable Church in America or won't it?"
Neuhaus said, "It will as long as that Council remains loyal to Rome."
Pike countered. "I'd say accountability, not loyalty, is the big issue in the American Church today. We're all loyal Catholics. All loyal to the pope, too. But if delegates are appointed by the bishops, who can say they will come to the convention as anything but yes-men to the bishops? Or yes-women?"
Sister Joan Chittister said, "I don't think many bishops would bring a woman to Baltimore."
Pike said, "They might if their people elected women delegates. They'd have to."
"What do you think of that, Mr. Novak?" said Moyers, who knew that Novak had once written tellingly about the need for more democracy in the American Church. "Should delegates to Baltimore be appointed by their bishops or elected by the people?"
Trying to come across as a voice of reason, Novak said, "There's no need for a battle here, between the priests on one side and the laity on the other."
"Right, Michael," agreed Pike. "In their battle to have a voice and a vote in their own Church, the people are learning that a good many priests are on their side. Many of those priests could well win a delegate's spot in Baltimore. In a free and open election, the people of Erie, Pennsylvania, could vote to send Sister Joan. Or the people of Brooklyn could send Father Neuhaus."
Neuhaus and Chittister both smiled, happy to think they might be elected delegates to the convention in Baltimore.
Moyers asked Cardinal Mahony, "Does canon law say we have to have a vote?"
Mahony tried to clarify the process. "Canon law doesn't say how delegates must be chosen. It does say up to 50 percent of the delegates can be non-bishops." He said he hoped to see some outstanding laypeople at the meeting—especially history professors who had an understanding of the primitive Church (which operated like a commune), and of the early Church in America (where the churches were owned by lay trustees). He also expected to see some priest-delegates in Baltimore—theologians, major religious superiors, even some canon lawyers.
Cardinal McCarrick confirmed Mahony's guess. "Canon 443, paragraph three, says "up to 50 percent non-bishops." Doesn't say up to 50 percent laypeople. This could still turn out to be a very clerical gathering." He couldn't resist a dig. "In which case, I'd doubt the Fourth Council of Baltimore will endorse a people's Church."
"So," demanded Chittister, "the Fourth Council of Baltimore will give us more of the same-old, same-old, a new kind of clerical Church? That's just what I was afraid of. That's been the root of our sex scandals in the American Church—priests covering up for their clerical buddies. The root of our financial scandals, too, priests helping themselves to the collection. We need lay people there in Baltimore. lots of them."
Mahony interjected. "Sister, it all depends on what laypeople we're talking about. Do we want yes-men and yes-women there? I don't think so. Why not some thoughtful people of all kinds? Scholars and thinkers and mothers and fathers of families. Nuns are laypeople. I'd like to see some nuns there. I'd like to see some college kids there as well."
"Any chance of that?" asked Moyers,
Pike said, "So far, we don't even know if there will be an election of delegates."
McCarrick agreed with Pike. "I don't think we will have enough time for an election campaign. I think we just have to rely on the bishops to appoint good people."
"Who makes that decision?" asked Moyers.
McCarrick said, "The American bishops. They'll come together for their quadrennial retreat in March. In Phoenix. They'll decide then."
"Do you have any idea—now—what they'll decide?" asked Moyers.
"My guess," said Mahony, "is that some bishops will want to pick their own delegates, and some will want their people to do that. I should tell you I already have an election commission at work in Los Angeles to set up some voting protocols. Before people can vote, for instance, they have to register to vote."
"Where will they do that?"
"The easiest way? Through their parishes. If they're registered in their parishes, they can vote in their parishes."
"But half of the Catholics in America are not registered," said Michael Novak. "How will they cast a ballot? Will they even want to?"
Mahony laughed. "I didn't plan it this way, but I predict a lot of pastors will start smiling—when the currently unchurched start showing up to sign on to the parish rolls."
"Just so they can vote?" Neuhaus sneered.
Mahony smiled. "I would hope they might stick around for Mass, too, and drop some folding money in the basket."
Pike said, "Cardinal Mahony may not have planned this. But I don't see how it can not happen. Give the people a voice and a vote, and they will have a sense of ownership."
Moyers challenged. "A sense of ownership, Mr. Pike? What about real ownership? When will they have that?"
"That," said Pike, "is one of the things the delegates will have to work out at the Fourth Council of Baltimore. If the Council gives real legal title to the laypeople—I am talking about the churches and schools and hospitals they've already built—then the bishops will have to listen to their people."
"Wow!" said Moyers. "Then you'll be just like the Baptists."
"Or," said Neuhaus, "like the Episcopalians. What a mess they've got, with everyone voting on everything."
"Yes," said Chittister. "Just like one big, unhappy family. But they do know they are part of a family. What's wrong with that? It's real. And it's human. In many of our Catholic parishes these days, we've lost our humanity."
Moyers asked, "What happens if, say, the bishop of Buffalo Tooth, Nebraska, decides to bring his own yes-man to Baltimore?"
The panel—and the small studio audience—laughed. Every one seemed sure that Bishop Dreedle of Buffalo Tooth would bring his own lackey to Baltimore. "Some bishops," said Mahony, "will no doubt do that. In which case, we might end up with a few delegates at the convention who will vote as their bishops tell them to. We'd have to learn to live with that. That's part of being human, too."
"What if the people of Buffalo Tooth got together—somehow—and elected their own delegate? What then?"
"If that happened," said Pike, "we could end up with a fight before the credentials committee."
Chittister rubbed her hands gleefully. "A good political convention always has a credentials committee, doesn't it?"
Pike said, "Yes, and a rules committee, too. We don't want an unwieldy convention. There are 193 dioceses in this country. If we had one delegate from every diocese, we'd have 193 non-bishop delegates and 193 bishops. A body like that needs some rules of order. Quite a crowd. Exactly 386 delegates."
"But not as big as the House of Representatives," said Moyers. "Could this convention handle 386 delegates?"
Pike said, "I'd expect the delegates would try to form a rules committee right from the start."
"Who'd be on this rules committee?" asked Moyers.
Pike said, "I should think the pro tem chairman—or chairwoman— would call for nominations from the floor. Then the delegates would adjourn and caucus together with their friends."
"Two caucuses? Maybe a liberal caucus and a conservative caucus?" asked Moyers.
"Probably," said Pike. "Maybe we'd even see a two-party system emerge before our very eyes."
Moyers smiled. "This could be fun."
Michael Novak raised his hand. Novak, a young liberal at Vatican II, and an aging conservative during the reign of John Paul II. "How will you know, Bill?"
"How will I know it's fun?"
"No. I mean, what makes you think you will be privy to the proceedings?"
"I don't understand."
With some exasperation, Novak demanded, "What makes you think this Fourth Council of Baltimore will even be open to the press?"
"Why wouldn't it be?"
"I should think Rome will have something to say about that," said Novak. "There was no press at the First, Second, or Third Councils of Baltimore. For all of its openness, Vatican II wasn't open to the press."
"And maybe you didn't know this," Neuhaus chimed in, agreeing with Novak's point."The Founding Fathers kept the press out of the Constitutional Convention of 1787."
Moyers said he had always assumed members of the press in colonial America reported on the progress of the Constitutional Convention from inside Philadelphia's Independence Hall—simply because it was American. "But now that you bring it up, I do recall that press freedom in America came gradually, and not without a fight. The editor John Peter Zenger spent some time in jail for things he'd written in colonial New York." Moyers turned to his right, then his left and addressed both cardinals. "Where would you stand on that issue, your Eminences? Press or no press in Baltimore?"
"I'm all for giving the delegates some freedom here," said McCarrick.
"The bishops," said McCarrick, "will be freer to speak their minds if they know they won't be quoted in the Times." Laughter from the audience.
"Or seen on television?" said Moyers. "I'd expect the networks might want to be there. Or at least C-SPAN."
McCarrick shuddered. "Television would kill any serious deliberations. I can see a lot of delegates trying to grandstand."
"Bishop delegates, your Eminence," joshed Pike, "trying to grandstand? Horrors!"
"I didn't mean the bishop-delegates," said McCarrick, blushing.
"Who then?" asked Pike. "The elected laymen and laywomen?"
McCarrick squirmed. "I withdraw my comment," he said.
Moyers turned to Mahony. "you've been silent on this, your Eminence."
Mahony laughed. "I'd expect everyone of the delegates at Baltimore— clerics and non-clerics—to behave at Baltimore."
Moyers asked him, "So, do you want to see the press there, or not?"
Mahony said, "I don't see how the Fourth Council of Baltimore can have any credibility with the people of the twenty-first century if it proceeds in secret."
"It needn't be secret forever," said McCarrick. "We could present the people with complete reports after the council is over." Groans from the audience.
"I'm sure that's what you'd like," snapped Chittister. "After the meeting's over? No way. The people will want to know what's happening while it is happening. So they can express their opinions on the issues."
"But the Church isn't a democracy!" insisted Neuhaus.
"Are you saying, Father, that the delegates shouldn't care what the people-at-large think?" demanded Pike.
Neuhaus set his jaw. "Catholic doctrine," he said, "is not determined by a popular vote."
"Who said anything about Catholic doctrine?" demanded Chittister. "We're talking about changes in the way we govern ourselves, so we can create a more accountable Church. In the beginning, bishops were not lords. They needn't be now."
"That's only a liberal assumption!" shouted Neuhaus. "If I am not mistaken, the bishops have already set an agenda for the Fourth Council of Baltimore. It'll be about restoring the priesthood, making it holy, putting it back on the Jesus track. Nothing in that agenda about changing the Church's governance in the United States. That's why we still call our Church the Roman Catholic Church."
"We have to stop calling it that," said Mahony. "That's been a major part of the problem. The Church is too Roman and not nearly enough Catholic. Catholic with a small 'c,' huh?"
"What about that agenda, your Eminence?" asked Moyers. "Does it deal with governance issues?"
"An agenda has already been drafted," Mahony conceded, "and it does center on 'restoring the priesthood, and making it holy' again. But they didn't set that agenda in stone. At Vatican II, the bishops-at-large objected to the council's conservative agenda, the one that was drafted in advance by the forces of no-change inside the Roman Curia. The bishops from outside the Curia opened up that agenda, and the rest is history. I'd expect the same kind of group dynamics to take hold in Baltimore. Especially when the people-at-large have a chance to study the agenda in advance."
"They won't have a chance to do that," said Neuhaus. "The agenda will be sub secreto, you can count on that."
"Not after it's leaked," said Mahony. That created a stir at both tables. "And Father Neuhaus, you can count on that."
"You'd leak the agenda? That's outrageous!" shouted Neuhaus.
Mahony laughed. "Father Neuhaus, didn't you just do that?"
"I did not!"
"A minute ago, didn't you give us the first leak? I think you said the synod would center on 'restoring the priesthood, and making it holy' again. And I commented on it. There'll be other leaks."
"Well mea culpa!" said Neuhaus. "Mea maxima culpa!"
Mahony smiled. "If Ted McCarrick will absolve you, Father, so will I."
McCarrick laughed and made a generous sign of the cross in Neuhaus's direction. "Ego te absolvo, Ricardus."
Mahony said, "I'll absolve you after the show, Father Neuhaus, after I hear your confession."
Neuhaus snorted, and Mahony continued. "Earlier tonight, there was some discussion about which Church will show up in Baltimore—the people's Church or the clerical Church? I say that for the health of the American Church, whether the delegates are elected or appointed, the people of God have to be there. That's why we have to let the TV cameras in, so everyone in America can be there, virtually at least. And if C-SPAN is there, the people can have gavel-to-gavel coverage."
Hullabaloo. Everyone talking at once. Moyers finally calmed everyone down and turned to Mahony. "You're not serious, are you? you want to see gavel-to-gavel television coverage of the convention in Baltimore?"
Mahony said, "TV is part of the press, Bill, and the very future of the American Church will depend on the press being there. Not because it is the press (the press in itself has no special privileges here) but because the press will make it possible for the people to be there. If the people are there, and if the people like what they see happening, they will say, 'Yes, this is my Church.' They will want to own it. When they do, many of those folks who left it in disgust will come back, and, I hope, attract a great many new people, too, who will want to be a part of a people's Church in America, fully American, and fully Catholic, too."
"That's an optimistic view," said Novak. "What if the people out there don't like what's happening on the Council floor?"
"What do you mean?" asked Mahony.
"In the Constitutional Convention of 1787, members were at each other's throats. They battled over the slavery issue. And never did solve it. We're going to have battles, too."
Neuhaus said, "And do we really want to put those battles on display?"
Pike's retort dripped with sarcasm. "No. let our holy bishops cover 'em up."
McCarrick tried to mediate the battle that was going on right here with a joke. "Whoever said the bishops were holy?" He chortled, and gave Mahony a friendly wink. Murmurs from the audience, not knowing whether to laugh or cry.
Moyers tapped his microphone. "We'll have to wind this down, gentlemen."
"And 'lady,' said Mahony. "We do have one woman on this side of the room. We should have more of them."
Moyers apologized for slighting Sister Joan Chittister, then tried to proceed. "By way of summary," he said, "let me ask Cardinal Mahony a question about the pope. What place will he have in your people's Church? Will Americans just forget about him?"
"Hardly," said Mahony. "An autochthonous American Church will need a pope more than ever. He will still be the Vicar of Peter, still someone we can rally around on a host of international issues, and still the first among the bishops of the whole world. We'll also continue to support him financially—as well as, or better than ever."
"How do you figure that?" demanded Neuhaus.
Mahony laughed. "Because there will be more Catholics in the pews."
"So you want to have it both ways?" asked Moyers. "You want an American Catholic Church that is also loyal to the pope?"
Mahony said, "Bill, I don't think you understand autochthony."
Mahony pronounced the word very carefully. "Aw-TOCK-thu-nee. It doesn't mean autonomy. It means homegrown, homespun, homemade. An autochthonous American Church would be Catholic. And it would also be American. Just like an autochthonous Chinese Church. It would be Catholic. And it would also be Chinese."
Neuhaus and Novak responded together. "You mean communist?" they demanded. Murmurs from the audience.
"That's unfair!" cried Pike. "How rotten is that?"
"It's not unfair," retorted Neuhaus. "A people's Church in America? Unfortunate phrase. Sounds to me like the People's Republic of China."
More uproar—from the panel, from the audience.
"Gentlemen, gentlemen," chided Moyers. He turned to Mahony. "I'm intrigued with this thing you call autochthony. How do you spell it?"
"CARDINAL MAHONY – A NOVEL" now serialised in Spanish HERE
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©2009Robert Blair Kaiser