Catholic Bishops: Corporate Executives or Prophets? by Dawn Morais Webster

Dawn Morais Webster, the Pope off to his summer palace, Castel Gandolfo. He tells the world he will now become just a “humble pilgrim.”

This is a moment to drive the merchants of hate out of the Temple, as Jesus did.  But will the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) bear prophetic witness? Do they have it in them to proclaim the Gospel?

I am a Catholic from Malaysia who has lived in the United States for nearly two decades. I became an American citizen two years ago.  Every day I look for two of the Big Ideas –Catholicism and American democracy—to which I am forever tethered, to be rearticulated by new, principled leaders. And they are: not by those who command the pulpit or political power but by those who live the Gospel through their faith-inspired service to the community.  People like Sister Erica Jordan who asked House Speaker, the conspicuously Catholic Paul Ryan to explain how he translates Church teaching into health care and tax policy. He could not.

 In the wake of Charlottesville the bishops said they “stand with all who are oppressed by evil ideology.” But there were no Catholic bishops out in the streets standing with anyone. Instead, from the safety of their corporate offices, they issued calls for prayer and conversation. Bishop Francis X. DiLorenzo of the Diocese of Richmond urged “men and women on both sides to talk and to “seek solutions to their differences respectfully.” I mean no disrespect to the bishop who passed away shortly thereafter, but I have to ask:

“Talk and seek solutions to their differences?”  What planet are the bishops on?  

After their abysmal decades-long mismanagement of pedophile priests, this was a moment of potential redemption for the bishops.  An opportunity to speak out forcefully, disavow the false prophets and bear witness to what being Catholic means. But once again they passed up the opportunity to shine the light of Christ on sin.

Will the bishops publicly disavow conspicuous, so-called Catholics like Steve Bannon, Kellyanne Conway, Paul Ryan, Mike Pence, and others, including apologists for the manifestly un-Christian Trump administration like Newt Catholic Gingrich and his wife, Callista, Trump’s would-be ambassador to the Vatican?

Will the bishops show the kind of public outrage and deliver some measure of the shaming they dished out to nuns for their “feminist” theology? Will they launch a Fortnight of Freedom from alt-right, Nazi behavior that clearly some people in the pews seem to think is compatible with the Creed they recite on Sundays?  Will they urge pastors to speak out from the pulpit against racism and white supremacy?

As George Will wrote recently, “grotesque” has become the new normal for the GOP. It should not become the new normal for Catholics too, whatever their political affiliation.

I grew up as a Vatican II Catholic, empowered by the affirmation that my conscience should be my guide.

What guides the bishops as they mince their words and their actions in the face of flagrant violations of Christ’s call to love your neighbor?

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops is set up as a corporation.  Perhaps that is why the bishops, with a few brave exceptions, sound more often like corporate executives, taking steps to protect their assets before they protect people. Perhaps they think this is the way to control their “brand?”

If that is indeed the case, perhaps they can at least follow the example of business leaders who made clear that they want nothing to do with President Trump’s accommodation of white supremacist violence and hate.   Most CEOs are loath to become warriors for social justice or to call out politicians on whom they depend to create a climate that bulks up their bottom line. But an unusual number of them felt compelled–and repelled enough—to forsake their usual silence for a public renunciation of the President’s accommodation of the Nazi, white supremacist behavior at Charlottesville.

But the USCCB still hung back.

The USCCB needs to say unequivocally that they too disavow the Trump administration’s brand of so-called Christianity. A few bishops, like Bishop Wenski, Seitz, Gomez and others, have spoken out independently but clearly the Conference is not ready to do so with the same clarity and moral force.

It isn’t enough in these times to simply “stand ready to work with all people of goodwill for an end to racial violence and for the building of peace in our communities.”  We need the bishops to abandon pablum and drive out the grotesque with the same clear anger that Christ displayed in the Temple. We need the bishops to at least try to match Sister Erica Jordan in holding political leaders, the White House, and those who enable and serve it, accountable for the Christian faith they claim to possess—and the Christians they continue to mislead.

In this time of national crisis, will the bishops lead by example, publicly and fearlessly? Will they answer the prophetic call of the Gospels, or will they continue to mind their corporate assets first? How they respond will hasten the exodus of Catholics from the institutional church –or make it possible for laypersons to stay and work at reform from within.


Dawn Morais Webster was born in Kerala. She is the mother of two young adults, and wife of a man with Quaker and Episcopalian roots. She was raised Catholic in largely Muslim, cosmopolitan Malaysia and had her schooling with Franciscan nuns who remain an inspiration. Her blog at http://freecatholic808 is a small voice–but she believes she is part of a much larger community of faith-filled dissenters. Hawaii has been her home for more than a decade. The islands’ mindfulness of its past and the wisdom of those who have gone before, as well as its attention to place and people, help the soul to sing.

10 thoughts on “Catholic Bishops: Corporate Executives or Prophets? by Dawn Morais Webster”

  1. Reminds me of the poem:

    First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
    Because I was not a Socialist.

    Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
    Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

    Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
    Because I was not a Jew.

    Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

    We are Catholic Christians. We believe in solidarity. We should use our meager voices although our leaders do not. We can propel the change. Thank you for using your voice.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you, Dawn. As you note, “We need the bishops to abandon pablum and drive out the grotesque with the same clear anger that Christ displayed in the Temple.” I believe the only way to accomplish this is through civil disobedience. Where are the modern-day equivalents of the Berrigan brothers?


    1. I ask that everyday, Esther! There are the Sisters–like Sr. Carol Keehan, CEO of the Catholic Health Association. Sr. Simone Campbell of Network Lobby and others. And there are principled priests like Fr.Tony Flannery who is leading the rebellion in Ireland and Fr. Roy Bourgeois who has been essentially hounded out of the priesthood. They do not get the attention they deserve from the Trump-twitter obsessed media. Platforms like FAR are so very important when so much of the corporate media has sold out to their owners and overseers. Dawn

      Liked by 2 people

    1. Don’t see it yet! – did it go for screening? Will they ever question how they ‘rule from the corporate office’ while Jesus walks the streets?


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