Why Did No One Stop Him?

(Homily for Twenty-Third Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A)

“You, son of man, I have appointed watchman,” the Lord says to Ezekiel in today’s first reading. A few days ago we witnessed someone humbly, joyfully assuming that role. He is the new “overseer” (episcopos) in Milwaukee. At his Installation Mass, Archbishop Timothy Dolan told about a journalist who asked him if, now that he was head of a major archdiocese, he had reached his goal in the Church.

“No," he replied. "My goal is to be a saint, and I've got a long way to go. And now my job is to challenge the people of southeastern Wisconsin to be saints!" (See Installation Homily)

In a few words he summed up a bishop’s task: to challenge those under him to become saints – by becoming one himself. Likewise that is the job of a priest, a teacher, a parent. While those roles usually involve the rewarding activity of nuturing they can at times require something less inviting: the correction of others.

To be a "watchman" is a thankless task - and the person who takes it seriously, becomes vulnerable to criticism. Ezekiel did not seek the post, but the Lord gave it to him and made him responsible if he did not warn those entrusted to him. In the Gospel Jesus places this same unwelcome task upon his disciples. “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault…”

Now, Jesus does not want us to become busybodies – or worse, gossips. In a previous homily, I explained the steps involved in fraternal correction – and when one should take them. What I want to emphasize today is that there may come a moment when you or I are called to such a task.

Let me illustrate by referring again to the Milwaukee Installation Mass. While it was so encouraging to see a man like Timothy Dolan installed as the nation’s youngest archbishop, the ceremony has a certain poignancy. Standing next to Archbishop Dolan was his predecessor – a man who had an extraordinary ecclesiastical career, but who fell into public disgrace shortly after his resignation at age 75.

As Fr. Richard John Neuhaus expressed it, “his resignation was swiftly accepted when it was revealed that he had paid $450,000 of archdiocesan funds to a blackmailer with whom he had an affair almost twenty years earlier, when the young creep was in his early thirties.”*

Reading about this debacle, a series of questions entered my mind: How could he have done something so foolhardy? Why did no one stop him? Among all those who knew about the 1998 payoff, could no one effectively challenge him? I don't ask these questions to exculpate Archbishop Weakland. Still, some folks in Milwaukee must be listening to this Gospel and asking themselves: When I learned about the transfer of diocesan funds to Paul Marcoux, why did I not follow the steps Jesus outlines?

I will leave that to their consciences. You and I will probably never face something so grave and so dramatic. Yet there may come a moment in which we must either correct a brother or share his disgrace. We cannot prepare for it by posturing. Those who brag about what they would have done if they lived in Nazi Germany (or if they were accountants in the Milwaukee chancery) are the ones who tremble and fall before a lesser challenge.

The only way to prepare is by daily prayer and personal integrity. In a word, become a saint because only a saint can effectively undertake such a task. So, along with Archbishop Dolan, we say, "My goal is to be a saint, and I've got a long way to go."

************

*"There was another development deserving of at least brief notice, the resignation of Archbishop Rembert Weakland of Milwaukee. Actually, he had resigned a little earlier at the mandatory age of seventy-five, but his resignation was swiftly accepted when it was revealed that he had paid $450,000 of archdiocesan funds to a blackmailer with whom he had an affair almost twenty years earlier, when the young creep was in his early thirties. Many conservatives indulged the sin of Schadenfreude (what in older moral manuals is known by the delightful phrase "morose delectation") upon Weakland’s downfall, for he was the most conspicuous of the decreasing minority of unabashedly liberal bishops. It was a sleazy affair, with the newspapers publishing Weakland’s long and maudlin love letter to the young man--a letter not untouched by poignant moments of contrition. Here was a man in his mid-fifties, once abbot of a prestigious monastery, then world leader of the Benedictine order, and for years head of a major archdiocese, a man of cultured achievement and exquisitely correct opinions who was long accustomed to being lionized by the liberal media, now exposed as besottedly in love with a hustler whom he begs to believe that he has no more money with which to buy him off. But, as it turned out, the archdiocese did have money. It was not an edifying spectacle.

"Reacting to the exposure, Margaret Steinfels, editor of the liberal Commonweal, complained about a "witch-hunt" and spoke glowingly of Weakland’s leadership in favored liberal causes. The public exposure of a long-past affair, and the publication of the painfully personal letter, would seem to violate journalistic boundaries, were they not unavoidably related to what is undeniably a story of legitimate public interest, namely, the Archbishop of Milwaukee was for eighteen years under the threat of blackmail, and paid off with $450,000 of archdiocesan funds. His humiliating exit was made the more humiliating by his claim that he had over the years given his income from honoraria and royalties to the archdiocese, and that amounted to more than the money paid in blackmail. It turned out that his gifts to the archdiocese were less than half the payout, but the more troubling thing is that he seemed to believe that what he had given was still his to use for his personal purposes, which suggests that he had not really given anything at all. It appears the man is terribly confused." See Scandal Time III (First Things)

Spanish Version

From Archives (for Twenty-third Ordinary Sunday, Year A):

2014: Finding Your Place Week 5
2011: Dissuade the Wicked
2008: He Died in the Trenches
2005: Love and Do What You Like
2002: Why Did No One Stop Him?
1999: How to Correct Others

Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C

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