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When schadenfreude turns into demonic delight

May 7, 2013

The glee being expressed in open comboxes (modern near occasions of sin, if you ask me) over Bp. Robert McManus’ (Worcester, MA) arrest for drunk driving goes far beyond the schadenfreude that one has come to expect in the wake of a Catholic bishop’s fall. Much, nay most, of the public commentary on this matter is pure, unadulterated hatred of the Catholic Church. But let’s try not to allow what is little less than demonic delight at the disgrace of a prelate cloud our observations of the event itself. For the event itself is very, very serious.

Folks recall from several months ago San Francisco Abp. Salvatore Cordileone’s arrest for drunk driving; I think the parallels between that case and McManus’ are thin.

Cordileone was stopped at a check point (not at the scene of an accident, and certainly not after fleeing the scene) and he cooperated fully with officers (instead of refusing a breathalyzer). If Cordileone was surprised to learn that he was driving under the influence, McManus’ flight from an accident and refusal to submit to alcohol testing seems, in the court of common sense, clear evidence that he knew he was driving drunk and fleeing responsibility for his actions. McManus’ legal problems are much worse than Cordileone’s and whatever personal slack folks might cut a Cordileone are not likely to be extended to one in McManus’ situation. The cases seem just too disparate.

Which brings us back to the schadenfreude-qua-demonic-delight erupting around McManus: the Devil knows that Catholic bishops teach with the authority of Christ, but that they rule largely by dint of their personal reputation for integrity. When that reputation is stained, as it was for Cordileone, it takes time to wash clean; but when that reputation is actually and gravely damaged, as it seems to be for McManus, the recovery process is much slower in coming and the pastoral costs incurred along the way tend to be much higher. Those costs might not, in the end, be payable.

I can hear it now: if the principal of a diocesan Catholic high school drove drunk one Saturday night, crashed into a car, fled the scene, and refused an officer’s breath test, his resignation would be on the bishop’s desk by Monday morning; if not, a termination notice from the bishop would be on the principal’s desk by Monday afternoon. So what’s the difference between a principal and a bishop?

Well, the relevant difference would not be that the principal was a layman and the bishop was a cleric. Recall, episcopacy is both a sacrament (which can never be lost, and which is a source of sanctification even for those who might disgrace themselves but later repent of it in Jesus) and an office which, like all offices in the Church, can be resigned from or taken away. Canon law, for many sound reasons, protects bishops from being hounded out of office; but something deeper than canon law helps bishops reflect on whether their retention of an office is really the best way they can serve the Church from here on out.

So, may Catholics offer reparations to Jesus for the cruel insults being hurled at his Church over this event, and may we all pray for Bp. McManus who, no matter what decision he makes, has hard times ahead.

Update, 20 May 2013: The criminal cases are resolved here.

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