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When the Bishop is Wrong

5 options – though most might not work

Carnival season usually begins with festive Twelfth Night celebrations. This year there was also something else: a raid by police, initiated by the archdiocese, of people praying in their church.

What happened on Twelfth Night as the archdiocese moved to squelch attempts to save two churches – Our Lady of Good Counsel and St. Henry – was one of the sorriest days in the history of the local Catholic church. The action wasn’t as personally damaging as some of the scandals that have drained the church nationwide, but certainly demoralizing to local Catholics.

For the sake of perspective it should be mentioned that there have been some glorious moments in local church history:

  • There were the early Ursuline nuns who provided education to girls long before females were commonly sent to school.
  • There were the clerics who risked their lives providing for Yellow Fever victims, including the beatified Fr. Francis Seelos.
  • There was Mother Cabrini (America’s first canonized saint) working diligently to establish schools.
  • There were the many nuns, priests and brothers whose vocations made high-quality, low-cost parochial education possible.
  • There were the Catholic charities providing for needs throughout the city.
  • There was the effort to comfort immigrants, including Vietnamese, who sought shelter in this country.
  • There was Archbishop Philip Hannan successfully appealing to Pope John Paul II to visit New Orleans.
  • And there was the late Pope John Paul using a speech at Xavier University to urge multicultural celebration within the church.

But then there was Twelfth Night 2009 – the day of the raids. Those churches could have been saved had the bishop, and his advisors, not be so obstinate. Now the question is what to do in response. There are few choices, but here are some considerations:

1. Hope for a new bishop with a different attitude. Archbishop Alfred Hughes is beyond the retirement age but it’s unlikely that a new bishop will make any difference. This isn’t like in democratic politics where power might shift from one party to another. Unless the Pope gives the new bishop a directive to clean up the mess in New Orleans (and we suspect the Pope has other things to worry about), don’t expect change.

2. Appeal to the Vatican. If you think New Orleans has been poorly represented in Congress lately, imagine what little stroke we have in Rome. New Orleans has had no authority there since Lindy Boggs was the ambassador and she’s living in Washington now. Plus, the hierarchy will always back one of its own.

3. Give Up. That, of course, is what the archdiocese wants, but to do so would betray the spirit of the laity who have fought for and reformed Catholicism through the centuries. There will be a fatigue factor – the protesters have to get on with their lives and Archbishop Hughes wins by doing nothing – but the message needs to be kept alive.

4. Pray. Praying, we assume, has been tried already. Nevertheless, it’s never too late for, well, a Hail Mary play. If there are to be no miracles, at least pray that what happened in New Orleans will make other archdioceses more responsible in dealing with similar problems, though no city needed to maintain it neighborhoods’ endearing institutions more than recovering New Orleans.

5. Remember the Epiphany. Because the archdiocese’s raid took place on the Feast of the Epiphany, that date can always have an extra meaning – a time for celebrating the passion of parishioners – true rocks of the church. The Feast of the Epiphany, which by tradition recognizes the arrival of the Magi, is supposed to represent insight and awareness. While the archdiocese officials who asked for the raid can hardly be confused for wise men, those who witnessed the spectacle can be reminded that the church is ultimately about its people.

At the archdiocese office the mantra, we suspect, is “this too shall pass.” But it won’t. Not as long as the faithful remember Twelfth Night.

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