TWENTY YEARS AGO this month, I found myself seriously double-booked, so to speak.
“Father, We Thank Thee, Who Hast Planted” has long been one of my favorite hymns. Its tune, taken from the 16th century Genevan Psalter, is eminently singable. The hymn text – when not corrupted by that politically correct scoundrel, “alt.,” – is even better. For Francis Bland Tucker’s lyrics put 21st-century congregations in touch with the second generation of Christians, and perhaps even the first, by combining various phrases from an ancient Christian prayer book and catechism, the Didache.
As the U.S. bishops gathered in Baltimore on the weekend of Nov. 10-11, it seemed certain that, after a day of prayer, penance and reflection on the Church’s sexual abuse crisis, they would take two important steps toward reform. An episcopal code of conduct, holding bishops accountable to the standards applied to priests in the 2002 Dallas Charter, would be adopted. And the bishops would authorize a lay-led mechanism to receive complaints about episcopal misbehavior, malfeasance, or corruption; allegations found credible would be sent to the appropriate authorities, including those in Rome.
I’m just old enough to remember when my elders still called Nov.11 “Armistice Day:” the armistice in question that which stopped the shooting in the Great War. As a military matter, World War I may have ended a century ago, on November 11, 1918, allowing my Grandfather Weigel and millions of other doughboys to be demobilized. The devastating cultural effects of the Great War are still being felt today, though.
After a month out of the country, working in Rome at Synod-2018 and helping mark the 40th anniversary of John Paul II’s election at events in Brussels and Warsaw, I came home to find Catholic anger over the latest phase of the abuse crisis unabated and intensified in some quarters. That this crisis is not acknowledged for what it is by the highest authorities in Rome is a subject for another reflection at another time. The question today is: What are the roots of today’s Catholic anger and disgust?
The recent decision by the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople to grant autocephaly to a unified Ukrainian Orthodox Church – which would mean its independence from the Russian Orthodox Moscow patriarchate — would be precisely such a dramatic, tectonic shift; perhaps the greatest in Eastern Christianity since Constantinople and Rome formally severed full communion in 1054.
The temptation to ally the Church with a particular political party and its program is a perennial one, it seems. When that temptation is not resisted, it invariably leads to trouble – politically, and more importantly, evangelically.
POLE THAT HE WAS, Karol Wojtyla had a well-developed sense of historical irony. So from his present position in the Communion of Saints, he might be struck by the ironic fact that the Synod on “Youth, Faith, and Vocational Discernment,” currently underway in Rome, coincides with the 40th anniversary of his election as pope.
I NEVER TOOK a class from historian Frank Orlando, but the motto he placed in the faculty section of my college yearbook — “History is an antidote for despair” —has stuck with me for 45 years. It also seems quite appropriate at this disturbing moment in the life of the Church, so perhaps a history lesson is in order.
WHILE CATHOLICISM HAS been embroiled in a crisis of sexual abuse and episcopal malfeasance reaching to the highest levels of the Church, Eastern Orthodoxy may be on the verge of an epic crack-up with major ecumenical and geopolitical consequences.