None of us needs to be reminded of just how homophobic the U.S. Catholic bishops are. But the bishops clearly feel a refresher is in order for Pope Francis. In what is close to becoming an open revolt, the U.S. bishops are letting the pope know in no uncertain terms that they believe homophobia = Catholicism and that they are more Catholic than the pope.
And the pope is letting them know who’s the boss.
The bishops are gathering in Baltimore for their annual jamboree, and while their ostensible agenda is, in the words of one journalist, “sleep inducing,” the actual agenda is the battle brewing between the bishops and Pope Francis. Following the Vatican synod last month, many of the bishops are fuming that the pope is abandoning the hardcore homophobia that has been their bread and butter.
“Many of the U.S. bishops have been disoriented by what this new pope is saying and I don’t see them really as embracing the pope’s agenda,” said John Thavis, a former Rome bureau chief for Catholic News Service, told the Associated Press.
And they’re not trying to hide their displeasure. Bishop Thomas Tobin of Providence, RI, said that the synod was “rather Protestant.” Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia, who won his position through homophobia, said that the synod created confusion about Church teaching and “I think confusion is of the devil.”
No one has been more hard core than Cardinal Raymond Burke, formerly the flame-throwing archbishop of St. Louis, whom Pope Benedict appointed the equivalent of chief justice of the Vatican court system. Burke has gone to far as to say that the Church is risking a schism by moving “contrary to the constant teaching and practice of the Church.” What he’s really talking about is softening the Church’s stance on LGBT issues, even if actual policies don’t change.
Pope Francis sent the bishops a strong signal about where he stands by formally demoting Burke just two days before the bishops met. The pope busted Burke to the ceremonial position of protectorate of the Knights of Malta. The move was a brutal reminder of just who holds the power in the Church.
Some of the bishops have been trying to paper over the differences by madly spinning the press.
“What I heard and read, the real synod was divisive, confrontational, partisan, and dwelt only on same sex-marriage, cohabitation and divorce,” New York’s Timothy Dolan said Monday. “In fact it was plodding, even at times tedious, but it was a synod of consensus.”
Dolan is going to have to revisit that statement in the confessional, because it’s clearly untrue. The document that the synod originally floated was much more pro-gay. It was watered down because the conservative bishops, many of them from the U.S., blew a gasket. That’s not the definition of consensus.
The fact is, the landscape for the U.S. bishops has changed, and they don’t know how to deal with it.
“It used to be your career in the church could be advanced if you took a hard stance on issues,” the Rev. James Bretzke, a professor of moral theology at Boston College, told the Boston Herald. “Pope Francis wants people who are more bridge builders instead of bridge burners.”
That won’t stop the hard-core homophobes from taking a few more bridges with them before they go. They’re probably hoping that the pope is standing on one of them.