“One senior bishop compared Biden -- unfavorably -- with New York Governor Andrew Cuomo,” he said. “Cuomo makes no claim to being a good Catholic, and thus in some ways is more honest and easier to work with because of it. The problem with Biden is precisely the appearance -- highlighted by the media -- of his piety.”
Maier argued that “Biden’s rosary beads, his public nods to saints, and his attendance at Mass all serve to normalize his administration’s policies and actions that directly attack key Catholic beliefs on abortion, sex, family, and marriage. This has the effect of marginalizing bishops as ‘doctrinaire,’ out of touch, and seemingly aligned against the message of mercy preached by Pope Francis.”
“To the degree this is a conscious strategy, it works,” he continued. “It works, as several of the interviewees noted, because bishops may have the mandate to teach and lead, but in practice, in our current environment, they’re generals without armies.”
“We also need to remember that the civil war inside the Church over what Vatican II really meant, and which issues should have priority in working for the common good, is not over,” he said. “Quite the opposite: During the current pontificate, with its perceived ambiguities, the frictions have taken on new heat. Some of those frictions exist both among the bishops themselves and also within their staffs. And of course, civil authority and Catholic elected officials are happy to exploit that.”
Maier said that in his 43 years of working for the Catholic Church, “some bishops are mediocre or incompetent,” while “a few are bad guys with serious moral flaws, or toxic ambition, or simply a lack of real faith. But most -- and I mean the great majority -- are good and decent men doing the best they can for their people, and doing it pretty well, in a very difficult job.”
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So he argued that “before we accuse our bishops of collaboration or cowardice in dealing with a Joe Biden or a Donald Trump, we’d do well to show them the same understanding we expect for ourselves. The idea that America’s bishops are in the pocket of the political right or anyone else, which seems to be a favorite theme of some commentators, is simply ignorant nonsense. And frankly the real concern we should have about any ‘Biden effect’ and its impact on the Church in the coming decades is us -- those of us who are laypeople.”
Maier said that some of the Catholic bleed-out in the last 20 years can be attributed to the clergy abuse crisis, which “quite rightly shocked and angered a lot of people.”
“But it’s also too convenient an alibi, because the exodus started well before the crisis,” he said.