A Hillarian lesson for Church leaders

George Weigel

Perhaps it was being “overcome with Paschal joy” (as the Prefaces for Easter put it). Maybe it was my guardian angel whispering in my ear. Perhaps I’m just getting older and thus less crotchety. But for a brief moment, at around 0730 EDT on the morning of May 3, I felt a blush of sympathy for Hillary Clinton for the first time in twenty-five years.

The material cause of this unprecedented emotion was that day’s Washington Post where, on p. A4 below the fold, I read this headline: “Clinton blames Russia, FBI chief for election loss.” As for the frisson of sympathy, it went something like this: “The poor woman. She still doesn’t get it.”

Get what? Get that she was the reason she lost.

The case for that judgment is made at length in Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton’s Doomed Campaign, by Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes (Crown), which I had just read on a long flight and which has had tout le Washington in a tizzy for weeks. Political junkies will relish the book’s story of the infighting between data-driven analysts on the Clinton campaign staff and the on-the-ground pols in the field; the latter sensed that something seismic was shifting in the electorate, which the former refused to believe because of their “models.” But according to Shattered, the fundamental reasons for one of the greatest upsets in American presidential history were that Hillary Clinton was unable to articulate a compelling reason for her candidacy; her staff couldn’t come up with a reason that resonated with voters; and no one on that staff had the nerve to tell her that she was the basic problem.

In choosing senior campaign workers, Hillary Clinton evidently valued loyalty above all other virtues, and defined loyalty as never being critical of the boss. Shattered’s most lurid revelation is that, after her 2008 loss to Barack Obama, Mrs. Clinton and her husband devised a loyalty scale by which they measured Democratic members of Congress – and then took systematic revenge against those who were either not supportive in the 2008 primary contest with Obama or insufficiently supportive. Thus the word got out: if you want to work for HRC, check your critical faculties at the door. Or as Allen and Parnes put it, while a lot of insiders knew last year that the Clinton campaign’s biggest liability was the candidate, “no one who drew a salary from the campaign would tell her that. It was a self-signed death warrant to raise a question about Hillary’s competence – to her or anyone else – in loyalty-obsessed Clintonworld.”

In all of which, I suggest, may be found a cautionary tale for Church leaders, especially bishops.

An old wheeze of Catholic black humor has it that, after a man is ordained a bishop, he’ll never again eat a bad meal or get a straightforward answer. It’s not true, of course, but there’s enough truth lurking inside the clerical cynicism to bear reflection.

The Church’s unique, Christ-given structure invests great authority in bishops. And that, in turn, puts a high premium on the ability of the bishop to know his weaknesses and learn from his mistakes. But to know and learn from his weaknesses and mistakes, the bishop has to recognize them – or be invited to recognize them, if one of a number of vices prevents him from seeing himself making mistakes. Wives and children do this charitable correction for husbands and fathers. But Catholic bishops don’t get that form of correction because they don’t have wives and children. So it has to come from somewhere else.

“Fraternal correction” among bishops is an ancient and honorable tradition in the Church. Patristic-era bishops practiced it with some vigor, the most famous case being the controversy between Cyprian of Carthage and Stephen, Bishop of Rome. Today, bishops’ respect for each other’s autonomy tends to mitigate against the practice of fraternal correction. Still, if “affective collegiality” means anything, it ought to mean having enough care for a brother-bishop, no matter his position in the episcopal college, to suggest to him that he is off-course, if that is one’s conscientious judgment, tempered by prayer.

Fraternal correction is a delicate instrument, to be used with care. If its use completely atrophies, however, the Church risks becoming an ecclesiastical version of Clintonworld.

Featured image by Astrid Stawiarz | Getty Images

COMING UP: Love St. Thérèse? Here are 3 events for her feast around the Archdiocese

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St. Thérèse of Lisieux is, according to Pope Pius X, “the greatest saint of modern times” — so much so that St. John Paul II declared her a Doctor of the Church, the youngest so far.

If you love her, there are a few events around the Archdiocese of Denver where you can celebrate her feast day, which is Oct. 1.

“Rose Petal Evening” with Community of the Beatitudes
Celebrate the feast of St. Thérèse with an evening of praising the Lord with poems and songs from the saint and asking her intercession. Bring a rose and a self-addressed and stamped envelope (optional).
Sept. 29: St. Catherine of Siena Parish, 7 p.m.
Oct. 5: St. Frances Cabrini Parish, 7 p.m.

Feast Day Celebration with St. Thérèse of Lisieux
Mass to celebrate the feast of St. Thérèse will be held at the Carmelite Monastary. Mass will be celebrated by Fr. Nicholas Larkin with a blessing and distribution of roses.
Oct. 3: Carmelite Monastary, 6138 S Gallup St., 80120
Cost: Free

FOCUS Presents: “An Evening with Thérèse”
The Fellowship of Catholic University Students at CU Boulder present a unique fundraiser. Keynote speaker is Bishop Jorge Rodriguez. Enjoy wine, hors d’oeuvres, a silent auction and delectable dinner.
Oct. 6: Sacred Heart of Mary Church, 6739 S. Boulder Rd.
Cost: Individual ticket if before Sept. 18, discounts available online.
Contact: Janet Driscoll, 303-898-8865 or jmdriscoll7@comcast.net.