“Bishops vs. everyone else” overshadows right-left Catholic split

The decades-long split between liberal and conservative Catholics may be giving way to a stronger division between Catholic laity and their bishops in the wake of reports that members of the hierarchy covered up for priests and fellow bishops engaging in sexual abuse, writes John Allen on the Catholic website Crux (September 30). He asks: “are we seeing a redefinition of the traditional left/right divides in the Church because the focus of popular complaint is no longer really teaching, one of the three traditional duties of a bishop, but rather governing?” He acknowledges that it is simplistic to suggest that left-right conflicts are dissipating; the election of Pope Francis has served to intensify controversy and polarization on questions of sexuality, marriage, capital punishment and Church teachings in general. It is also the case that conservatives and liberals tend to differ on how to approach matters of priestly sexual abuse, with the former arguing for a tougher line on homosexuality in the priesthood.

But Allen adds that there has been a shift in emphasis, as the “questions that matter today are why it should be exclusively up to a bishop where a priest serves, and whether he should remain in ministry; whether bishops can be truly trusted to exercise sound fiscal oversight; why bishops get to decide which church records are made public…; and, in general, whether the practice of styling bishops as the ultimate decision-makers has served the Church well.” Another reason for the fading of liberal and conservative divisions is that the abuse crisis has affected both camps; offenders have been found to be both staunch upholders of Catholic doctrine and those arguing for a more relaxed approach to Church teachings. Allen notes that this is bad news for the bishops, since with the left-right divisions on politics they could at least count on one side supporting them; today, with the shift to “bishops v. everybody else on governance, it’s hard to know who, exactly, their natural allies might be.” Even as bishops have increasingly delegated Church management to competent administrators, they see their right of governance “as a red-line issue, and they can be expected to defend it. As the saying goes, now they may just find out who their real friends are.”

(Crux, https://cruxnow.com)