Just Good Company
A Cyberjournal of Religion and Culture
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A Letter from the Editor

Robert Blair Kaiser

In the world of cyberspace, it doesn't seem to matter where editors edit. We see globally, we think globally, we grieve globally, and this issue of our (too long delayed) journal cannot help but reflect what we are seeing, thinking and saddened by. We cry for our country. We cry for our American Church. But we do not despair. Being Christians, we hope (praying as if everything depended on God) for better times. But we must act as if everything depended on ourselves.

We do that, we act as editors, by presenting a collection of takes on the world in this issue that cross over the line between objectivity and advocacy. We believe in fairness, but we think objectivity is a shibboleth, as unnecessary as it is impossible. In fact, for the sake of the common good, we feel compelled to take a stand against corruption when we see it, as do the best American newspapers who win Pulitzer Prizes for publishing the kinds of interpretive journalism that exposes various elected and non-elected scoundrels who make a great pretense of serving the common good, but secretly serve themselves. Richard Nixon was an elected scoundrel; the corporate leaders of Enron were not, but they both ended up as targets for some very good, prize-winning journalism.

Now Just Good Company is urging our readers to do what they can to force out two new sets of scoundrels: 1) the entire Bush administration, 2) the entire U.S. episcopacy.

We would like to do all we can do to stop our supposedly elected president before he launches his weapons of mass destruction against other enemies of his own creation, kills more innocent women and children and does further damage to our nation's honor in the name of God. After 9/11, President Bush talked easily about America's "divinely guided mission." During his September 20, 2001, speech to Congress, he said, "Freedom and fear, justice and cruelty, have always been at war, and we know that God is not neutral between them." Not so incredibly, Osama bin Laden was then using the same kind of God-talk. "Fight the agents of the devil," he said in videotape distributed in late February 2003 asking Muslims throughout the world to unite behind Iraq. "God will give us victory."

With little protest from the people or the press and only one dissenting vote in Congress (who can object to a divinely guided mission?), President Bush poured billions of American tax dollars into the destruction of Iraq. Now, he is pouring billions more of those American tax dollars into its re-construction by his friends in corporate America. We do not see how, in November, the American people can elect a man who has tried to turn the United States from a democracy into a dictatorship -- for what else do you call a non-accountable presidency? No law or presidential directive has ever established the legal status of the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq, which now looks like nothing so much as an American gulag. Its warden, says Paul Krugman of The New York Times, "answers to nobody except Mr. Bush, which makes Iraq a sort of personal fief. In that fief, there has been nothing that Americans would recognize as the rule of law."

Two and a half years into the clergy sexual abuse crisis, we have learned that there is little in the fiefdom of the Church that American Catholics can recognize as the rule of law, unless it be canon law, which is nothing more than a codification of the kind of absolute power that corrupts absolutely. In June 2002, the U.S. bishops wrote a charter to deal with their miscreant priests, exempting themselves from scrutiny in the process, and appointed a National Review Board to monitor their progress. But they gave that board no authority, claiming that canon law forbids such a move. In June 2004, they plan a private meeting, no public or press allowed, not even the members of their own NRB, to decide whether and how to proceed with their charter. The canon lawyers among the bishops, led by Edward Egan, the cardinal-archbishop of New York, will no doubt derail the charter (unless the Vatican vetoes it first). They have no argument in their favor, unless it be their divinely-guided mission to rule over the faithful as kings rule over their subjects, but they have the power, which is to say they have the votes. A majority of the U.S. bishops have risen to the top because they earned their graduate degrees not in scripture or patristics or the sacraments or even in Church history, but in canon law, which is to theology as military music is to music. Canon law is a sacred cow, a time-bound expedient introduced into the Roman Church in the eleventh century. A thousand years later, it has no relevance in an updated, acculturated Church. In fact, with its elaborate secret protocols and its across the board deference to the absolute power of the pope who has no checks or balances on his power, canon law is the only reasonable excuse the bishops have for not following the entirely reasonable proposition that they work for us.

Leon Panetta, the president of the National Review Board, told those attending a conference on "Sins Against the Innocents" at Santa Clara University on May 14 that he feared many Catholics would just fade away from the Church because of "a crisis of trust." He didn't say who couldn't be trusted. But another panelist at the conference, the Dominican whistle-blower and Air Force chaplain Tom Doyle (whose telling critique of the NRB's first audit appears in this issue of Just Good Company), told us in a hallway encounter after Panetta spoke, "The bishops are the guys we do not trust. The only thing they're interested in is their own power." (For candor like this, often expressed in open court cases on behalf of victims of clergy-abuse who are seeking legal redress, Archbishop Edwin O'Brien, the man in charge of all Catholic chaplains in the U.S. Armed Forces, had Doyle thrown out of the Air Force on a technicality, a year short of his twenty-year hitch -- which will make some considerable difference in the size of Doyle's monthly retirement paycheck.)

Why should most Catholic citizens care about untrammeled episcopal power? Because, in this election year, they're trying to use their putative power to intimidate every American Catholic voter. A number of U.S. bishops (though not all of them) have dared to tell us we cannot receive Communion if we vote for candidates who fail to listen to their simplistic views on abortion. The Jesuit editors of America magazine (who are certainly not pro-abortion) have judged the bishops' move "pastorally offensive and politically inept" -- the first because good pastors just do not use the Eucharist as a club, and the second because the bishops' ukase won't deter intelligent Catholic adults from voting for Sen. Kerry. Many voters weren't even born when John F. Kennedy won election as president in 1960, but they should know that Candidate Kennedy wouldn't have remained a candidate for long if he had not assured some 5,000 Protestant ministers at a meeting in Texas that, in his presidency, the pope would have no official or unofficial place in the American government. If the bishops want to insist now that John Kerry, a Catholic and the presumed candidate of the Democratic Party, reverse that settled stance, they will lose whatever minimal Catholic citizen support they still enjoy, even from many Catholics who are members of the Republican Party.

During May, when we learned how President Bush's Secretary of Defense approved the secret torture of Iraqi prisoners at the Abu Ghraib Prison, we have been struck by the similarity between the Bush administration and the U.S. bishops. Both groups of men (few women and, in the case of the bishops, no women) have shown by their actions that they're not accountable to the people. They claim, moreover, that they're justified in their actions on the grounds of some divine mission. For us, this is a patent self-delusion. If the bishops have a divine mission, it's embodied in Jesus' words to the Apostles, when he told them they were not to exercise dominion over people as kings lord it over their subjects, but to serve the people as stewards to their masters. If the bishops fall back on that old mantra, that Church is not a democracy, we must admit that, sad to say, it is not. But it used to be before it was highjacked by the hierarchy, and we hope we live long enough to see the democratic machinery of free elections, accountability and transparence that has been urged on civil society by a number of twentieth-century popes be adopted inside the family of the Church as well.

No one seems to dispute the fact that the United State of America is a democracy, or, to be more exact, a representative republic. When its elected leaders say they have a divine mandate that gives them a right to take any means, even pre-emptive war, to transfer their ire from the terrorist they cannot find to the nearest available villain occupying a place along their imagined axis of evil, they fall into an idolatry. That may sound like an unnecessarily archaic word to describe what Bush and his handlers have been doing, But, in order to show that it is exactly the right word, we need some 12,000 words to explain ourselves. We do so in this issue with a piece called "Holy Words, Holy War." We'd like to know what you think about "Holy Words, Holy War."

For that matter, we'd like to hear from you on any of a number of other articles that we are proud to present. Months ago, Sen. Edward F. Kennedy spoke about the war in Iraq, long before it was so obvious the U.S. had no business there. We hand it on to you, especially those readers from other nations who may be tempted to think that every one in power has lost their minds. We hope you will agree that Sen. Kennedy, now a senior member of the U.S. Senate, has not lost his.

We also direct your special attention to Paul Kelly, a former Jesuit from the New England Province and a past contributor to Just Good Company, whose apoplexy over the shenanigans of the American bishops drips out of a remarkably acid pen. To draw you into our Kelly Kollection, we give you a little sip of his acid here, in a column written for us on May 13. Warning: Kelly is a retired member of the Massachusetts bar. You may be able to detect his legal cunning when he starts to ask some embarrassing questions of the U.S. hierarchy. His cunning, we believe, is all in a good cause.


There is a lurking suspicion that bishops do not like or approve of lay people. In general. As a class. Makes no difference whether the lay persons be children, women or men. Tens of thousands of the children have been sexually abused. All of the women are despised and excluded. Most of the men are demeaned and ignored.

There are, however, some on the fringes way over to the far right of humanity who seem to have earned a grudging approval, excluding, of course, those right-wingers from Islam, Buddhism, Judaism, any of the so-called Christian or schismatic sects, and all atheists and agnostics. To gain a semblance of favoritism, one must be Roman Catholic, ultra-conservative with a track record of sufficient length and absolutely, unconditionally obedient, reverent and subserviently ready, willing and able to grant every whim, fancy, preference, real or imagined, that a prelate requires to bolster his image of the man in charge.

The headlines tell us that the National Review Board suspects that the bishops were stonewalling and are now foot-dragging, while the assembly of bishops, known as the USCCB suspects that the NRB is acting like an overseer of episcopal conduct. "Overseer" is the English word for "Bishop", which is traced back to the Greek "Episcopos", which is "Over - Epi" plus "Scopos -See-er." Or to put it into plain English, the bishops accuse the members of the NRB of acting like bishops and therefore, are stepping on their toes, which, in turn, leads to foot-dragging. Presumably, that's why they need crosiers.

The resolution of the dispute, obviously, is to get the lay members of the NRB to act as if they, too, are secret members of Roman Catholic Fundamentalism, a/k/a bishops carefully selected by pope and curia, which somehow seems to be the same problem we started with. How does one resolve a dispute between two equally committed rightwing groups? Well, one way is to go back to the beginning and see how the whole silly mess got started in the first place.

When the news broke that some priests were finding young children particularly attractive as sex slaves, parents and friends of the abused children thought that something should be done about it. They approached law enforcement officials to determine, under the American rule of law, whether or not crimes had been committed, only to discover that the bishops in America were aghast at such licentious activity by mere lay persons. "We are not a democracy!" was the bishops' automatic reaction.

"OK, sorry, please forgive us for our effrontery and disrespect. " said the lay people, "Would you, please, your Eminences and Excellencies, in the wise and holy authority which you are ordained to exercise over the salvation of our souls, kindly look into it at your next meeting in Dallas?"

With great relief, on both sides, the answer was "Yes, perhaps, in due course." And the NRB was created to "oversee" the performance of the bishops of America in the implementation of the Charter and Norms. In other words, the bishops themselves sort of elevated NRB members to their level as bishops. They are, therefore, equals in fraternal correction.


Well, not exactly. Lay people, you see, are easily confused, just as they were when Jesus walked the earth and for the first hundred years or so after he left, when everybody was lay, there having been no priestly or episcopal castes yet separated out like, say, wheat from chaff. Once an elder was elected by the people as a presbyter and got joined by a couple of more of her brethren and sistern, they picked a charismatic one to be the Epi-scopus, sort of an over-seer or chairman of the committee, to head things up. In time, the men got rid of the women, and about a thousand years later, excluded them completely from mid-level and upper-management on the floors above the glass ceiling.

Church history shows us that the exercise of power is an enticing thing, a quality to lust for, often stronger than, though not necessarily interchangeable with, plain lust, the one restricted to sex, both of which can become absolute within a relatively short period of time. Once absolute, such lusts corrupt, absolutely. And therein lies the problem.

Make a mere man a bishop and there is created a little monster, prone to developing crippling debilitations like promising the moon, stonewalling and ultimately footdragging, to such an extent that should he be stripped naked of episcopal power, he, in effect, returns whence he came. He is laicized. He is cast down a caste.

The opposite has never happened in the history of the Roman Catholic Church. There is no record of a lay person ever having been clericized, whether in disapproval or as a punishment. When a layman enters the clerical state, he moves upwards. Which is what the NRB thought the bishops had done when it was created and its members appointed. Governor Keating, the chairman, was the first one to learn that he had misunderstood his status. The others hung in there. And now Justice Anne M. Burke, interim chair, is learning the same lesson. She and three other challengers of absolute power will soon be retired, but not laicized, for the most evident fact is that they were never ever elevated from such a lowly state, no matter what the bishops promised. They are doomed forever to be the footstools for the footdraggers, the bishops of the Roman Catholic Church in America, the nation that allows them to act as they do because it has a Bill of Rights, while their institution does not.

Questions: How come Bishops get away with the exercise of Absolute Power by claiming that they are Americans, when they don't allow freedoms and rights inside the Roman Catholic Church they have created and continue to operate in opposition to the American way of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness?

Can they really commit libel and slander against candidates for public office, even against elected Governors and Senators, with impunity?

Is it a common practice to keep changing the "official teachings of the Church" with new Instructions on liturgy or Sunday collections, whenever they want to divert attention from the real issues of absolute power and their own crimes?

Should they be the overseers, to coin a word, of the crimes against humanity committed by a few terribly evil priests whose lust was for sex rather than power, without accountability for their own complicity and involvement?

How come Bishops decide matters of delay and deception and procrastination by majority vote among themselves, when they disdain democracy?

Can one lead by dragging his foot, or feet, should both be affected?

As lay people, aren't we and the NRB a bit contradictory, walking, breathing paradoxes in our beliefs which are Catholic and those other beliefs which are American?

Perhaps, being an American Catholic is an intrinsic impossibility, almost as impossible as being a follower of Jesus Christ. Perhaps, slavery is still with us and cannot be abolished, because the truth did not set us free. Perhaps, we do not believe what Our Lord told us.

Perhaps, our bishops are not our leaders at all. Perhaps, they are the problem.

Paul Kelly

You can email Kelly at pkelly04@maine.rr.com

And you can email us at editors@JustGoodCompany.com

Robert Blair Kaiser

Editor, Just Good Company