Saturday, May 09, 2020

Dogging the bishops and the governor

The past few weeks of our country being locked down, and of lots of us being locked out of Mass, of work, of our normal lives has been accompanied by a rising and falling level of complaining, conspiracy-mongering and anger over the decisions made by higher-ups.

A more thoughtful and nuanced commentary will follow, but if you want the TL;DR* summary, here it is: Knock it off!

Now for nuance.

Am I saying every decision was correct? Made by the President, his advisors, Congress, the federal bureaucrats, the governors and local officials and their advisors, or the bishops and their advisors -- or, for that matter, parish priests and their advisors?

Oh, assuredly not. Guaranteed not. Even the pope is only infallible in matters of faith and morals, and only then when he is actually proposing teaching to the Church (as opposed to musing about this or that over a cup of mate).

So, first, if you don't agree with every decision these folks have made, that's fine. And your ideas may indeed be better. Voice your opinion.

But stop making everything about good versus evil. I mean: when various higher ups made the decisions they made, they acted on the information they had at the time. No one has a road map for this -- or, at least, few of us have such a thing. Even those in public health didn't really, because they didn't have all the facts about the virus itself at first, and even now, we still don't. How many people have been exposed? We don't know. How lethal is it? Don't know. Why does this group react one way, those folks another way? Don't know. But what about...don't know that either.

Now, I do think it's true that this experience has brought to the surface the basic instincts and mindsets of various leaders. Some people have tended to opt for top-down, micromanaging approaches. Others have opted for lots and lots of communication, while others have said rather little. So it goes. It is certainly fair to consider what we've learned about different folks in this...

As well as what we're learning about how the world works. People are surprised when something becomes more scarce or uncertain, it's price goes up. And it tends to disappear from the marketplace.

Or they are surprised -- or angry -- when various public edicts and policies don't seem to be consistent or entirely logical, or -- every teenager's favorite word -- "fair."

None of this should surprise any of us. Of course the relief efforts enacted by Congress end up with surprising and even stupid details. Of course the bureaucracy messes up its implementation. Of course this public order regarding Home Depot and Wal Mart doesn't seem to make sense in light of what went out regarding churches or backyard barbeques.

Decision-making in this sort of environment is going to be chaotic and urgent and thus with too little reflection. I'm betting assignments were handed out like this:

"You three -- you work something up for the sports leagues. You two -- you handle restaurants and pubs. Bill, Jake? Your job is grocery stores and gas stations. Here, take movie theaters too. It's 11:30 pm. The legal guys need it by 2 am so we can get it to the media shop by 5 am. Everyone get going!"

Of course they don't all line up with each other logically and consistently.

Those of us who dislike big government don't take that view because we expect devils to run things; we do it because we know for a fact that omniscient, all-benevolent angels will not be running things. Who will? Ordinary people, even earnest, caring people; but they will have all their human limits and it will get to be a mess because that's just the nature of the thing. It's not about malice (mostly; sometimes you get a joker in the deck), it's about things and people being what they are, and the better or worse ways to make it all work.

Edit 5/10/20: Let me add also that one other problem with big government is that as it becomes pushier, it will attract people who like to push people around. That's who will tend to step forward, and that's who will tend to be promoted, while those who really don't want to boss others around will avoid government jobs. The problem will tend to feed on itself.

Let's talk about Archbishop Schnurr. He's been the whipping boy for a lot of Catholics in the archdiocese through all this. Initially it was, why did he suspend the obligation to attend Mass. Then gasps everywhere when he said, we're suspending all public Masses. Then when that order was extended until near the end of May, even more anger.

Is he a bad guy? Is he lazy or uncaring? For example, does he not want people to go to Mass? Does he really think that the Mass, and the Eucharist, are "not essential"?

Well, look, I obviously can't peer into his soul, but that all sounds pretty ridiculous. There was a day when being a bishop meant a lot of perks and luxuries, but those days are gone. You get a few perks; and you get a lot of grief. He started out as a priest, and I can tell you, few priests really want to be a bishop, and those that do, I bet they have more than a few moments of regret for that desire.

Let's try some more likely explanations:

- He suspended the Mass obligation (along with other bishops) to relieve people's consciences in a difficult time. It spared a LOT of people agonizing over whether to go to Mass, because they don't feel that bad, and it saved a lot of time from phone calls to parish priests about these matters. Not so parish priests could watch baseball, but so they could attend to other things quickly coming down the Covid-19 pike.

- Schnurr suspended public Masses (and did a lot of other things) because the governor asked him to, and the governor was asking everyone to do these things, and how would it look if those Catholics (the governor's Catholic, by the way) thought they were better than the rest of us? Do you really expect the Archbishop to have known, with moral certainty, back in March, that churches full of Catholics wouldn't spread the virus? Imagine you're him. You don't know; and you are thinking about what happens when a few weeks later, the virus is reported to be spreading from Catholic churches. Think about how that sits with the rest of the state. How wonderful to be remembered for decades to come for helping to spread a deadly illness!

Oh, and let's dispense with this argument that if you have enough faith, bad things won't happen to you. So let's apply that argument to Catholics like Saint Jose Sanchez del Rio, who were executed during the Mexican Revolution: if only he'd had more faith! The bullets would not have killed him! Because this argument is exactly the same: if you have enough faith, you won't spread the virus, you won't catch the virus -- natural laws regarding viruses will not apply to you.

I'm not saying miracles can't happen or don't happen. But what do we call it when you do something reason tells you is dangerous, expecting God to deliver you? Presumption; tempting God.

More recently, I've heard folks say that the bishops should have just taken their own path, regardless of the governor, because the data pointed the way. Even assuming that's right, and the facts we have available are as clear as that, I think folks are underestimating the negative consequences that go with defying the governor, as well as -- to a lesser extent -- the bishops breaking ranks with each other. Making decisions as a group always entails negative consequences, which is why you don't want to do it all the time; but sometimes it's necessary. So the bishops decided to go together on these matters.

Just an aside -- I was reading over the directives we priests got yesterday from the Archdiocese, and it's all classic Schnurr; and I mean that in a good way. I was concerned that we would get fairly restrictive guidance; and, happily, it has much more flexibility. One thing I appreciate about the Archbishop is that he is willing to trust priests and parishes to work things out. He doesn't micromanage. (FWIW, neither did his predecessor, at least in my experience.)

Anyway, maybe all this is going to recede now that the bishops have announced we can soon start having Mass together again (starting Monday, May 25). But I think there are some things we learned about ourselves through all this. Times like this bring both virtue and vices to the surface. It would be far more fruitful (and unpleasant) to examine our own choices in all this, rather than looking around for people to blame and criticize.

* "too long; didn't read"


Anonymous said...

Absolutely100% the truth! I’m printing this to send to some folks...
Thank you p, Father, and God bless you as we all try to reinvent the wheel!

Unknown said...

Thanks for your insights on this whole situation. We go with the flow!