In Luckiest Man, the magnificant biography of baseball legend Lou Gehrig, author Jonathan Eig relates a story about Gehrig that leads us to another aspect of the current unpleasantness in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. Gehrig's leadership was unquestioned among the Yankees, Eig tells us:
"Lou was the perfect team man," [teammate] Tommy Henrich once wrote. "He did what he was told, and in so doing, he set an example for the rest of us. If this towering star was willing to obey his manager and approach the sport with the same deadly seriousness that [manager Joe] McCarthy did, then who were we to do any less?"
In submitting himself to the authority of Archbishop Flynn, Fr. Altier plays the role of Gehrig, setting the model for the rest of the congregation. But how does the archbishop fare in the role of Joe McCarthy, manager of the team?
One of the reasons Gehrig so admired McCarthy was that they shared the same passion for winning. Both Gehrig and McCarthy were there for a purpose: to capture the World Series. Anything less was to fall short.
And I think here we have come to the crux of the problem with the archbishop. He has a flock here that is ready, willing and eager to follow him - loyal members of the Church, faithful to the magisterium, believers in the eternal truths of Catholicism. And yet we hold back, because we can't be sure what he believes, or where he wants to take us. We just can't be entirely sure that we all share the same goals; and because we don't know what direction he wants to lead us, we hold back. We don't know if he shares our passion for winning.
How can that be, you might ask. Granting that the archbishop is a good and holy man himself, how could one possibly entertain any doubts about the direction in which he wants to go? Well, when you look at the archbishop's history of leadership in this archdiocese, the answer becomes apparent.
As Judie put it in her post yesterday, the archbishop often appears to be led around by Lay Liturgy Loonies, remnants from the groovy post-Vatican II days. And let's face it: these are not the people who will be boldly leading the Church into the depth of the 21st Century. They represent the past, not the future. They are not staying in the Church, they are not following her teachings, they are not having children. They are, literally, dying off.
Hopes for the revival of the Church lie in the bold leadership of young orthodox men and women who believe in the centuries of tradition associated with the Church, who subscribe to the teachings of the ancient Church Fathers, who aren't afraid to carry the message of Christ's saving touch into every corner of the world. These are the people on whom the future of the Church rests, and these are the very people the archbishop and his staff seem most determined to alienate.
And when the archbishop seems so determined to cast his lot with a group to whom history will issue a decisive judgement, then the rest of us have reason to call into question his own judgement. When we lack confidence in our leader, we lack the confidence to follow him.
There are things which Archbishop Flynn can do to aleviate this mistrust. One of the first acts he can take is to stop playing this ridiculous cat-and-mouse game with his flock, and publicly come clean as to the reasons for his actions regarding Fr. Altier. Granted, he is under no legal requirement to do so; I would submit that the requirement is a moral one. An effective leader does not keep his followers in the dark, nor does he treat them with distain and contempt. So far, the archbishop fails on both counts.
Should it be that the VIRTUS sex-education plan is the reason for Fr. Altier's silencing, then Archbishop Flynn owes it to us to tell us this. Furthermore, if this program, the source of such controversy around the country, has been misrepresented and misunderstood (as the archbishop would seem to claim), then it is up to him to take a page from President Bush's gameplan and sell this unpopular program to the archdiocese.
Archbishop Flynn should take it upon himself to campaign for this program personally, appearing in each and every school in the archdiocese, openly and without rancor speaking to the merits of the program, and demonstrating to parents and parishioners that there is nothing to fear, that the widely-held concerns are groundless. He must realize that the era of the Divine Right of Kings is over, at least when it comes to bishops - he must become a politician, a salesman, a persuader. This cannot be left to the liberal lackeys in the archdiocesan staff - it must be done by the archbishop personally.
And if he cannot, or chooses not, to do this - then we are left with only one alternative. It is that the archbishop himself lacks conviction on the matter. We can only surmise that he intends to implement the program simply because he can, and that anyone who dares to speak out against it, or to even offer concerns, becomes the enemy.
It is a sad state of affairs when we come to this point with our bishops. As Judie said to me last night, the time was that in a case of this sort, most people would immediately side with their bishop and assume that the priest was guilty of some wrongdoing. Not any more. The bishops, collectively if not individually, have lied, deceived, misled, and otherwise mismanaged their precious trust for too many years. They too often have misrepresented the authentic teachings of the Church, and have failed to follow instructions from Rome. They have allowed subversive or misguided groups (Rainbow Sashers? Voice of the Faithful?) to gain a foothold, defining for the public at large what the Catholic Church stands for. They have assisted in driving who knows how many good and decent people away from the Church, and in keeping many more from approaching.
Archbishop Flynn must realize that times have changed, and the leadership of the Church must change as well. He must communicate with his flock in a way which he might find distasteful, but necessary. He has to come clean on what's going on here, and why.
Speak to us, Archbishop Flynn. Like the Yankess of old, we're ready to listen. We want to win, and we want a leader who can help take us to the Promised Land, the one that outweighs any World Series championship. The question is, do you share that goal? Do you want to lead us in the same direction?
Only you can prove it to us. What are you afraid of?