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The U.S. Bishops gather for Mass at their Spring meeting in June 2018. Lisa Bourne / LifeSiteNews
Jason Scott Jones Jason Scott Jones

Opinion

Enough: It’s time to disband the US Bishops’ Conference

Jason Scott Jones Jason Scott Jones

August 20, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) – It is time to disband the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). Instead of wasting time on inane policy pronouncements about prudential issues like immigration, global warming, and unions, the bishops need to be focused on three things:

  1. Making readily available the sacraments (especially Confession);
  2. Rebuilding crumbling Catholic education; and
  3. Making sure our children aren’t being sexually abused.

The Bishops are responsible for the spiritual order, and the laity are responsible for Christianizing the temporal order.  Don’t take my word for it.  The Catechism makes both quite clear.  On the hierarchy, it states:

In order to shepherd the People of God and to increase its numbers without cease, Christ the Lord set up in his Church a variety of offices which aim at the good of the whole body. The holders of office, who are invested with a sacred power, are, in fact, dedicated to promoting the interests of their brethren, so that all who belong to the People of God…may attain to salvation.

The Catechism, likewise, makes the role of the laity clear:

By reason of their special vocation it belongs to the laity to seek the kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and directing them according to God’s will…It pertains to them in a special way so to illuminate and order all temporal things with which they are closely associated that these may always be effected and grow according to Christ and maybe to the glory of the Creator and Redeemer.

This basic difference between the hierarchy and the laity has been completely forgotten as the USCCB has become hopelessly embroiled in countless prudential issues. The bishops need to take a strong, prophetic stand in the secular sphere on non-negotiable issues such as abortion, same-sex “marriage,” and the protection of our children’s innocence. The USCCB’s over focus on promoting leftist liberal causes does nothing but pit the faithful against each other, and weaken the Church’s defense of life and family. Beyond the non-negotiables, the bishops are just another group with an opinion. In their focus on the prudential issues, far too many bishops have been corrupted, and all of our bishops have been distracted from their vital responsibilities.

In the meantime, Catholic education has disintegrated, the Sacraments are being abused, or becoming extinct (how many American Catholic receive the Eucharist, but rarely, if ever, go to Confession?), and our children have been at risk among those with whom they should be safest.  And top American cardinals and bishops, such as Cardinal Wuerl, have even tried to use the USCCB to prevent fellow-Bishops from speaking out on politically sensitive topics.  Why should that be a surprise, when upwards of 40% of the bishops’ money is coming from the United States federal government?  When you’re sustained by a gravy train, keeping it going becomes priority number one.

A little USCCB history

This wasn’t an accident, either.  The USCCB was formed in 2001 as a result of the merger of two organizations, the NCCB (National Conference of Catholic Bishops), and the USCC (United States Catholic Conference), both of which were founded in 1966.  The NCCB was dedicated to internal ecclesial issues, while the USCC was focused on various secular issues.

And combining the two is exactly what should not have been done.  It brought a fundamental confusion to the distinction between ecclesial and temporal matters.  Additionally, by centralizing more and more under the USCCB, the Catholic hierarchy has violated the principle of subsidiarity, making it more difficult for bishops to be true shepherds of their flocks, while the laity themselves give up on their various apostolates, erroneously thinking it’s all being done by the bishops.

In turn, the Church has suffered scandal after scandal, and the forming of the consciences of the laity in both the Sacraments and Catholic education, have suffered catastrophic losses.  At best, Catholic schools have become prep schools for upper middle-class children of ex-Catholics to get into college.  We need a revitalization of Catholic education to focus the schools on getting our children into heaven.  

This can’t be achieved if American Catholics are ignorant of, and disengaged from the Sacraments, which astonishing numbers are.  A healthy Church would never have long lines for the Eucharist, and non-existent ones for the Confessional. 

To top it off, the USCCB has been its own source of scandal, as several of its own agencies have been caught funding groups that promote heinous evils like abortion and contraception. Look no further than Catholic Relief Services and the Catholic Campaign for Human Development.

Thus, I say “USCCB delenda est”—“the USCCB should be destroyed” (as I recently heard from Catholic professor, Anthony Esolen).

In its place, we must reaffirm the shepherding role of the bishops over the people of God and re-establish the NCCB as a body by which the bishops focus on exclusively ecclesial matters, which in turn will help re-establish the laity in their proper role in the Church, as the Christianizers of the temporal order.  Viva subsidiarity.

In the meantime, the USCCB must take proper steps to re-establish the credibility of the American hierarchy, even if such steps lead to immense pain in the short term.  Only radical actions will re-establish confidence in the laity, and in American society at large.

In the process of disbanding the USCCB, we need to take the following steps:

First, all the programs and apostolates that have been formed under the auspices of the USCCB must be audited.  

Second, following the audit, they should be either spun-off into separate non-profits under lay leadership, or scrapped entirely.

Third, the re-established NCCB should receive no federal funds, and focus exclusively on ecclesial concerns. Federal funds inevitably require the Church to compromise on its moral and spiritual mission.

Finally, in spinning off all programs and apostolates, no one receiving critical services should be impacted.  If need be, the salary or benefit packages of the hierarchy should be reduced before the innocent poor and vulnerable suffer further.

The USCCB is a non-profit created in 2001.  It is not essential to the functioning of the Church, and has obviously detracted from it.  The USCCB should no longer matter.  It should have never been created in the first place.

A warning from Church history

Saint Catherine of Siena was one of the Church’s greatest saints of the 14th century.  She is most famous for helping end the Western Schism by her chastisement of the hierarchy of the Church.  Her warnings ring as true today as they did 700 years ago:

I want to grieve with you over the three pillars of vice I showed you at another time: impurity, bloated pride, and greed…What is the cause of this?  And what is the cause of the many other miserable evils you know so well that I have no need to tell you about them?  Their wretched dishonorable lives!…You do not see, for  if you did see the punishments that will be yours unless your change your ways, you would not behave as you do.  No, you would repent of what you have done in the past and correct the present.

The bishops are not administrators, nor are they activists. They are shepherds.  They exist for one purpose: to help Christians reach Heaven.  Period.  End of story.  If they fail at that, they fail at everything.  And that is precisely what they are doing by increasingly tying themselves up in temporal concerns, and making the Church into a bureaucracy rather than a hospital for sinners, and a boot camp for saints.

And the reality is that with a decline in the sacramental life comes a decline in an awareness of eternal things.  Could the American hierarchy conduct itself in this way if it had before its eyes the rewards of Heaven, and the pains of Hell?

“It is time for the judgment to begin with the household of God; if it begins with us, how will it end for those who fail to obey the gospel of God?”

So said the first Pope of the Church in his first epistle.

Are the bishops listening?

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