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Bishop Thomas Daly: Standing against the Culture

Mar 25, 2024

I welcome this opportunity to be with Serra. I asked Mike Downey what he thinks you might need to hear, and he said, “Well, it’s up to you, Bishop, but you might want to address in your talk, in some way, how Serrans should respond to recent controversy in the church, how it affects our Serrans and young priests, and what we as Serrans can and should do about it.” 

It’s a delicate topic, but Serrans are very committed to their faith, and I’d like to address that within a certain context. Before I begin though, I would like to thank you for your fidelity to the mission of prayer and support and encouragement, and doing all you can as laymen and women in fostering vocations, especially to the priesthood and to consecrated life..

We live in a time when commitment is not valued, If you look to scripture, especially the relationship between God and the Jewish people, the Israelites, what did he ask of them? It was fidelity to the Covenant, and as we hear in the fourth Eucharistic paraphrasing, time and time again, “We broke your covenant.” So fidelity is the great gift that we give back to God, and so you have been faithful to your mission from the very foundation. 

I’d like to place the situation we’re in in a bit of context. First, the longer I’m a bishop, the more I observe that a lot of the problems we have had in the Church in the last 60 or 70 years, have come from a lack of leadership. I say that because when I look at schools, which is the area which I spent most of my time prior to becoming a bishop, and when I look at what happened to certain dioceses and religious congregations, it does seem to come down to leadership. The beauty of the church is that over 2,000 years there have never been “the best times” for the church, there never was. Now, there are better times for the church. And these are challenging times.

There have been better times for Catholic culture in the United States, but there has never been the best time. Nevertheless, we should always strive for excellence and strengthen our fidelity. 

When it comes to leadership, I believe that flaws typically manifest in three areas or for three reasons.

Firstly, there’s the fear of individuals. They are hesitant to take a stand or hold the line. This fear is evident in various aspects, including within Catholic schools and institutions concerning the issue of “wokeism.” For instance, the president of a private Catholic religious order-sponsored school approached me, urging me to endorse a woke curriculum on DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion), to which I declined.

He said, “Why?” I said, “Because what you’re offering is something that is found in the public school, not in the church. Racism is a sin founded on two primary pillars: we’re created in God’s image and likeness, and we’re beloved sons and daughters of God. That’s our foundation, and we don’t make any apologies for that. That allows us to pursue a path where everybody has dignity from conception to natural death. If it looks like something that is found in a secular or government document, it’s not of God. But people are afraid of being canceled, scared of what others will think.

I recall a couple who approached me, expressing their belief that I wasn’t sufficiently addressing certain matters. I responded by asking them, “Are you afraid?” They replied, “No.” So, I inquired further, “But are you afraid to join your Bishop in the Spokane Walk for Life?” There was a moment of silence from this upper-middle-class couple; the husband was a lawyer. I continued, “That would mean you might not receive an invitation to the New Year’s Eve cocktail party, because you participated in the Walk for Life in Spokane alongside your Bishop.” 

Thus, I understand and have compassion for those who hold leadership positions but act out of weakness, as it often stems from fear.

There’s a second group that has contributed to the situation we’re in, and that is those who want to compromise. Now, if you’ve heard me speak before, I often discuss my years growing up in Catholic San Francisco. I served on the board of Charities because I was the chaplain of St. Vincent’s School for Boys, an orphanage founded during the Gold Rush, which had been incorporated into Charities, a part of the Catholic Youth Organization. First and foremost, I emphasize that when it comes to these issues, we must always prioritize compassion; compassion always, compromise never. However, there is often a tendency to compromise in order to maintain harmony; to simply go along with the status quo. When it comes to seeking government funding, there’s a need to abide by a different set of rules. This is why I greatly value the work of the St. Vincent de Paul Society, as they serve with humility and care for people, often without relying on government funding. 

Those who advocate for compromise are part of this second group, and then there’s a third group contributing to the controversy we find ourselves in. And I don’t want to scandalize you, but sometimes I wonder, do these individuals really believe? Do they believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior? Do they believe in Jesus Christ who died on the cross for us? Anyway, the context in which we find ourselves today, which has led to this controversy, is because we have leaders who are scared, leaders who want to compromise, and leaders who are non-believers. 

How many of you have ever read C.S. Lewis’s book “The Great Divorce”? I taught that in school, and I used to tell the students, “This is not a book that you’ll be reading in the carpool driving from the upper part of the suburbs into the high school. You have to stay focused.”

I would encourage you to read chapter five. You have two spirits, and they’re two Anglican clerics. One is a bishop, and one is a priest. The bishop is described as the ghost with the cultured voice, who is talking to the spirit. He had gone on his path to heaven. Dick is his name. But this discussion really, I think, summarizes some of what we’re going through in the church and certainly in society. Dick, the one on his way to heaven, says to the bishop with the cultured voice, “Our opinions were not honestly come by. We simply found ourselves in contact with a certain current of ideas and plunged into it because it seemed modern and successful. We were playing with loaded dice.”

Take for example what is coming from the church in Germany. The German Church, basically, I wonder, is wanting to compromise fundamental church teaching because of that mandated state tax. It has a huge untold bureaucracy of chancellor offices with lay employees. But do people go to Mass? And if the reason to compromise church teaching is about money, that strikes me as not of God. Again, chapter five of “The Great Divorce.” The ghost says to the young priest, “You became rather narrow-minded toward the end of your life, believing in a little heaven and hell.” And he said, “You know, I questioned the doctrine of the Resurrection because it ceased to commend itself to the critical faculties which God had given me.” And then he proceeds to tell Dick, the one who’s in heaven, “You know, I took risks.” And he said, “What risks? What came of it? Popularity, the sale of books, invitation, being a bishop?”

Sometimes I wonder if the problems, the struggles we have in the church today come from this desire to compromise with society, not to be canceled, and maybe being pushed forward by people who really don’t believe. And so you, as Serrans, and the vast majority of the faithful and of priests and bishops and religious and lay faithful and deacons, you’re trying to be faithful, you’re trying to exercise fidelity, trying to live the Gospel each day.

Part of the controversy that you and all of us are dealing with is that we have institutions of the church that have undermined the Church’s mission. When you have the secular exercising its ministry with the mandate and mission of God and Jesus — “what you’ve done for the least of you, you’ve done for me” — that shapes why we teach in education, why we care in healthcare, in hospitals, and why in social services and charities, we reach out to the needy. The “why” is more important than what we do. It’s a response to the gospel. But when you have the secular running parallel with the sacred, the secular, if it has money, if we don’t watch out, will overcome the sacred. And I think that’s part of the problem we are facing today in the controversy within the church.

Now, you all are expecting me to say something about the document that came before Christmas on blessings. And for my response to that, you have to go on the Diocese of Spokane website. But that said, I think legitimately you’ve seen the response of various bishops’ conferences. I read today, or yesterday, that Holland, of all places, has taken a very strong stand on this. And I think, again, with the comments that Mike Downey had asked me to speak about, how do we respond to controversies? These are controversial topics. And the way for us, I think, to respond is, well, you may have heard me use this before: when it comes to the teaching of Jesus Christ, which has to be in season and out, we think of John 6, the teaching on the Eucharist, where we’re told that people found it hard and difficult, and they left. They returned to their former way of life. So, there has always been controversy in the church. There have been the best times. Never have there been better times. But when you look at some of this controversy, how do we respond? Well, we look to the Gospel, to Mark and Jesus and the rich, especially Mark’s version of it.

As Christians we wish for the salvation of souls. That’s why the church exists, the mandate for the salvation of souls. Jesus wants what is best, which is the salvation of souls. But Jesus respects freedom; he doesn’t impose. Now this is where we get into problems, and this is when we lead to controversy: Jesus did not compromise. I think a lot of what we see in the church that has caused controversy is a desire to compromise.

Now, how do we deal with good, traditional, young priests leaving the priesthood? First, we have to acknowledge the work of the devil. My experience has been that the devil divides, distracts, discourages, deceives, and if not stopped, will destroy. We see people getting discouraged and giving up. We see people being divided. We see people getting distracted. And if we don’t watch out, we have destruction in our hands. Well, how then do we combat that? Well, I think we combat that with something you would predictively expect me to talk about, and that is humility.

Saint Vincent de Paul was a smart young man, but he wanted a better life for himself and for the family, and maybe his motives were not as devoted to the heart of Christ as they could have been. But he did undergo conversion. And one of the most successful things he helped do was to implement the directives of Trent on priestly formation. And he took the men that were already ordained priests and, through what was called the Tuesday Conferences, gave them instructions in theology and in prayer. 

And he wrote a lot about humility. He said, “The most powerful way to conquer the devil is humility, for as he does not know at all how to employ it, neither does he know how to defend himself from it.” 

And of course, another very simple phrase that St. Paul said is, “Humility is truth; pride is a lie.” 

So, in many ways, the trouble we have in society is dishonesty. The trouble we have in the Church, at times, is a desire to compromise with truth, which then becomes a lie. So, we have to approach all of this in the spirit of prayer. The model of humility, Jesus, who is the Word made flesh committed the ultimate act of humility. Our Blessed Mother always leads us to her son Jesus in the spirit of humility. So we have to be committed to truth. We have to be zealous without being zealots, and we have to realize that there are no easy answers. 

When I do confirmations, I really encourage our young people in all the gifts of the Holy Spirit that they really ask for wisdom, because what is wisdom? Wisdom is intelligence and education with humility. When it lacks humility, it becomes arrogance, and arrogance is not of God. 

Arrogance is what got the church into trouble when we did not do what was right on the abuse crisis. As I say, it’s not the best times of the Church. Sometimes in talking to seminarians or younger priests, I speak of the priests rounded up during the French Revolution. The jailed priests could see through the window as their brother priests were killed. That could be the alternative we have, but we’re all still alive. We still are living hopefully in a free country. And that’s what men and women endured for the faith. So we approach this with gratitude to almighty God for our Faith. Faith that comes to us from baptism. But we do so always with humility.

So how then to summarize it? How do we deal with all of this? We live for truth. We speak the truth. We do so with humility, and I believe we will navigate ourselves through these troubled times, knowing those words of Jesus at the end of Matthew’s gospel, “Know that I’m with you to the end of the age.” 

We are never alone. God bless you.

~Most Reverend Thomas Daly, Bishop of Spokane
January 20, 2024, Serra Rally Miami