Why Cardinal George can say such outrageous things

In the wake of Chicago Cardinal Francis George’s heinous comments comparing LGBT people to the Ku Klux Klan after a change to the city’s Pride Parade route meant it would pass by a Catholic parish as a morning Mass would have been starting, Truth Wins Out (TWO) initiated a petition calling for him to resign. As much as I agree that someone who espouses and even reiterates such a perspective has no business leading one of the largest Catholic communities in the country, I also know that this petition will not achieve the intended result. There will be many important positive outcomes from such an effort, including allowing thousands of LGBT-supportive Catholics to take a public stand on our behalf, and putting Archdiocesan officials on notice that their actions and statements are being scrutinized. But structural issues within Catholicism that are nearly incomprehensible to most Americans–Catholic or not–mean that public accountability tools such as the TWO petition are essentially meaningless to the Catholic hierarchy.

To put it simply, Catholic bishops and cardinals are accountable only to the Vatican. They have absolutely no accountability to anyone in their Diocese. They are appointed by Papal decree, and terminated from their positions only by the Pope. The people whom Church hierarchs supposedly shepherd have no say in whether they are suitable for their jobs, or the length of their tenure.

In addition, the lives and work of these officials provide little if any opportunity for ongoing interaction with “regular people” on a day-to-day basis, so they often have a much distorted sense of our hopes, dreams, struggles, concerns, relationships and spirituality. In my own conversations with an admittedly small number of bishops and cardinals, I’ve found that they begin from an assumption of authority, rather than from an acknowledgment of our shared Baptism. They believe they have the unquestioned right to set the terms of our discussion. They make pronouncements that belie fact and expect to go unchallenged. When they do this in the public square, as did Cardinal George, the degree to which they are out of touch with their flock becomes glaringly apparent.

The Huffington Post, January 8, 2012

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