I have not been unmoved by the unspeakable scandal that happened in the Diocese of Metuchen, New Jersey. You have undoubtedly heard of the teacher at a Catholic High School who was fired by the Diocese for posting on her Facebook Page that she believed marriage is the union of one man and one woman, blessed by the Church. It is bad that Christians should be targeted by the government and by activists for trying to live their faith with fidelity, but to have officials of the Church join with the wolves in the attack is shocking. When such a shocking thing occurs, I like to give it a few days, to let people get their sea legs. I have had to do crisis management for a few officials in front of the media, and I know how confused things can get the first few days – and how people can say things they regret.
But when Bishop Paul Bootkoski finally spoke on it, he made it worse. He mutilated the words of Pope Francis to make it seem the teacher had committed an offense rather than his diocese.
He dissembled, making it seem as if they had not fired her before agreeing they had – and arguing they were right to do so. If her lawyer is telling the truth, at the time he was dissembling, school officials were angrily telling her she would, under no circumstances, be allowed to return. That would mean the Bishop was baldly lying when he first dissembled. Finally, he smeared those who defended the woman as just trying to get media attention. Bishop Bootkoski hit a grand slam of maliciousness here – attacking the faithful, betraying the faith, bearing false witness against Pope Francis, and maliciously smearing any who dared ask for justice.
I did a little research to see if there had been similar instances in the Bishop’s past or whether he had performed any notable service for the faith. I like to get a sense of a man…to see his entire career to get an idea of how much benefit of the doubt there should be. As many recall, I was – and am – a defender of Cardinal Timothy Dolan. Yes, he acted clumsily in dealing with the homosexual movement. Many thought he should have quit the field of New York’s St. Patrick Day Parade. Some made a good case, but others condemned him for not forbidding homosexual entries – not bothering to find out that neither he nor the Catholic Church have ever had control of the parade. His only choice was to march or to abandon it. While sympathizing in some measure with some of his critics, I did not forget that as head of the USCCB, he DID have the steel to hold the line and not buckle under to the administration’s efforts to foist phony “compromises” to force Catholics to swallow the mandatory abortion and contraception portions of Obamacare. It was a sustained effort I have not been accustomed to seeing from the assembled American Bishops. My point is that I am not quick to pile on to one who has shown past fortitude and courage, even if they fumble and stumble a little.
Bishop Bootkoski appears to be a journeyman ecclesial administrator. There is nothing strikingly negative or positive in his previous history. But now a time of decision has come. He made a bad decision to attack the faithful and betray the faith. Given a chance to clarify, he doubled down and smeared both Pope Francis and his critics in the process. His behavior in this matter has been utterly contemptible – and he deserves the contempt of the faithful unless he repents and lives his duty. If not, he must be removed.
I am thinking hard about this. I do not just want to note the wolves who have crawled among us in shepherd’s garb. We have absolutely heroic Bishops – like Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco, Cardinal Francis George, Archbishop Emeritus of Chicago, and Bishop X. I had one good man who should know better speak of leaving the entire Church because of Bishop Bootkoski’s actions, arguing that the Church has betrayed us. The Church most assuredly has not betrayed us, but does it surprise anyone that there are traitors in the ranks? I have spoken, admittedly sometimes obliquely, of this since I started this website. It is not just among the laity that betrayal comes. I have always known that betrayal would come from some among the princes of the Church, just as it has since the beginning. But our faithful Bishops have the right to expect the faithful not just to condemn betrayal, but to support fortitude. All too often we are long on the former and short on the latter. Meanwhile, those of us in the laity have the right to expect our Bishops to defend both the faith and the faithful. The key for both clergy and laity is to stay with the Barque of Peter, defending it from all assaults, both from without and within. To quit your post is not to do what is right, but to abandon the Church in the hour of its greatest need. I will have more to say on this next week. I am gathering names to which letters must be sent, for if this Bishop does not repent of the ill he has done or is not removed from the post he has disgraced, it will be a scandal that will jeopardize the faith and the faithful.
Do not be surprised. This is among the things that must come. Pope Paul VI knew several generations ago that the smoke of satan had infiltrated the Church. There will be more things this year that will shock and dismay all of us. It is not enough to condemn, not enough to despair, not enough to protest. We must act in a way that builds up the faithful, that builds up the Church, and that supports the worthy Shepherds who are standing their post with fidelity. Contrary to what some think, that is the majority…and they will be significantly enervated to see that the faithful will rise with them.
So for now, I consider how to act in a manner that builds up the Church while removing the rotten timber.
By Charlie Johnston