The following letter is fiction.
This letter comes from both Joe and me, but he knows you and I were close in college and thought I should write it because I’m more “sensitive.” We haven’t seen you in several years, but we three were best friends when we graduated from Georgeham in 1980. Your ordination was a high point in our lives, and the following year we picked you to celebrate our wedding. We still love you. But we follow your career and sometimes wonder if you are the same person we knew 30 years ago.
It crystallized with last year’s Christmas card. You posed—still handsome, though a bit thick around the middle—in bishop’s robes as if you were a Renaissance prince! As if Christmas were about you. Do you remember our college immersion trip to Latin America, when you were so appalled by the lavishly decorated cathedral next to a slum full of poor people, and how upset you were by that overweight monsignor who sneered at liberation theology? You said he was a “pompous so-and-so,” and you swore that would never happen to you.
What has happened to you, Josh? Joe and I used to say the priesthood needed fearless men like you. But instead of building on your political science education, you went to Rome and did a degree in canon law. Then you came home to be a bishop’s secretary and were made a bishop, with no more than a few summers’ parish experience.
You cut your diocesan newspaper down to a monthly. It doesn’t allow letters to the editor, never covers social issues, prints only right-wing columnists and runs way too many pictures of you. Your own column never deals with war, race, poverty, capital punishment or labor and reads as if contraception and gay marriage were the biggest problems facing the world.
Finally, we are most disturbed about your role in the reprimand issued by your Bishops’ Committee on Orthodoxy to our old theology professor at Georgeham, Bill Worthy, because of his new book Jesus and the World. I’m sure you remember his Jesus and Ourselves, which we used in the course we took with him.
You loved that man. He took you to dinner, visited you in jail when you were arrested in that demonstration, talked you out of quitting school when you broke up with Sally and presided at your father’s funeral. But you were on that committee and signed the report accusing him of “heterodoxy.” In his rebuttal Bill asked whether all the committee members actually read the book. Did you read it? Did you defend him? Why didn’t you let him testify? What has happened to you?
You can’t be deaf and blind to what has happened to the church, the alienation and empty pews. Joe and I receive the Eucharist and pray for leadership that will remind us of Jesus curing the sick and slamming the rich who hog their wealth and the Pharisees who love titles and fame.
Joe suggests that now that you’re a bishop you want to be a cardinal; and once you’re a cardinal you will think you can be pope. So you keep your mouth shut. Joe has a cynical streak. I can’t believe that your mind actually works that way. But a lot can happen in 30 years.
My Irish mother told me that people don’t change. I remember the evening in 1980 when you and I went out for a few beers after finals, and you told me you were going to be a priest who would fight for the weak and the poor, and you asked me to pray for you. Then you reached across the table and kissed me. I haven’t given up.
Mary and Joe