Do Jason and the Callers concede what George Weigel admits, namely, that despite all the authority that they boast for their communion it turns out they have no episcopal oversight unless they are ordained. In comments about the media’s coverage of the sex abuse scandal, Weigel says:
Another fact that was missed is that reducing a man, an abuser, to the lay state persistently and, if you will permit me, mindlessly dubbed “defrocking,” a word which has absolutely no meaning in any known Catholic vocabulary, is often worse for both the Church and society. It’s worse for the Church because the Church has no way to control the man who has been laicized or reduced to the lay state, and it’s worse for society because that man cut loose from any possibility of institutional control by the institution in which he had spent some considerable part of his life might, therefore, pose a future risk because of what we know to be a high rate of recidivism in some of these cases.
How is this any different from a Protestant denomination or congregation except that Protestant apologists don’t go around boasting about the authority of their pastors and bishops?
In the same setting, Weigel raised yet another question about the gap between Jason and the Callers theory and Roman Catholic practice — in this case, whether the charism of apostolic succession can make up for ineptitude:
The second point that I would make is that if you are interested in doing real reporting among serious Catholics throughout the world, I think you will find something quite striking, and that is while there remains enormous, strong, emotional, and affective and personal support for priests, there are real questions about the competence of bishops throughout the Church.
No matter where I go in the world Church, North America, Europe, Latin America, the single biggest complaint I hear from engaged and intelligent Catholics is about the competence of the local bishop. Some of that is unfair, but a lot of it isn’t, and it speaks to a serious problem that the abuse crisis has brought to the fore.
Let me put that problem in historical terms. In the early 19th Century when the first Catholic bishops were being appointed in the then nascent United States of America, Pope Pius VII had a free right of appointment in perhaps 50 of the then some 600 dioceses in the world. The rest were controlled by governments, by cathedral chapters or other ecclesiastical organizations, but the Church did not have — the Church as embodied by its leadership in Rome — simply did not have control over the most crucial appointments in its ordained leadership.
One of the great untold stories of the success of Vatican diplomacy over the past 200 years has been to change that situation such that now with what is it, more than 5,000 bishops in the world —
. . . Five thousand and twelve bishops in the world, and with the sole exceptions of Vietnam and China, the Church has essentially a free right of appointment. So the Church has gathered back to itself after what some of us would consider this period of Babylonian captivity to state power in the appointment of bishops. It has regained the capacity to order its own house according to its own criteria.
And, in fact, this has been imbedded in the new code of cannon law, which says that no rights of appointment are to be given in the future to state authorities.
However, if you were going to claim the right to appoint, then you must also in my view own the right to dismiss, and this is perhaps the single biggest management problem in the Catholic Church today, is that we do not have a mechanism in place for dealing with instances of manifest incompetence or worse in the exercise of the local Episcopal office, and that problem in turn explains a large amount, I think, of the dissatisfaction of not marginal Catholics, but serious Catholics, regular Church-going Catholics, major donor Catholics, with local bishops, with the quality of the Episcopate throughout the world Church.
So here is another huge problem that has got to be addressed presumably in the next pontificate. How does the Church get the quality of leadership that the people of the Church deserve, and how does the Church deal with the problem of, frankly, failed appointments? When we get it wrong, how do we deal with this?
This has got to be addressed. I addressed it actually a bit in The Courage to be Catholic, and it’s perhaps a shining example of how little influence I have over things that none of this has had the slightest dent that I can tell on the way things are done.
But it’s a big, big problem, and it’s perhaps in the abuse crisis, if one is thinking about this over the long term, it’s the biggest problem that has come to the surface that will have real effect on the life of the Church and the life of the people of the Church for the next 50 to 100 years.
Do Jason and the Callers listen to other voices in their own communion — “we do not have a mechanism in place for dealing with instances of manifest incompetence or worse in the exercise of the local Episcopal office, and that problem in turn explains a large amount, I think, of the dissatisfaction of not marginal Catholics, but serious Catholics, regular Church-going Catholics, major donor Catholics, with local bishops, with the quality of the Episcopate throughout the world Church.”
They keep telling us they have a mechanism in place and regular Roman Catholics like Weigel say the mechanism doesn’t exist.
The fine print of Jason and the Callers’ call is that they raise the stakes of conversion. If you convert to mother church, they argue, you get so much more than a possibly subjectivized relationship with Jesus. But what happens if you don’t get all that? What happens if the church isn’t all that your theory says it is? What happens if the church isn’t the mechanism you say it is? Doesn’t that make conversion to Jesus in a setting where the church tells you that having Jesus is all you need — not worrying about whether the church’s claims for itself are audaciously true — a call that is much more compelling?