It was, I believe, Monsignor Ronald Knox who quipped that it is best to stay away from the engine room if one wants to enjoy life’s voyage on the Barque of Peter. He meant, of course, that politics is an unsavory business, even Church politics, and that corruption is always to be found wherever politicians ply their miserable trade. One senses, for instance, that it’s difficult to delve too deeply into the inner-workings of the Roman Curia without needing to hold one’s nose. One can be sure that the Vatican Bank’s inner circle is not an inner sanctum. It takes a good and courageous man, a saint even, to venture into those corridors of power in order to uncover and expose the dark things to be found there. Such a saint is sorely needed in today’s Vatican.
And yet there are other leaders in the Church, working in smaller engine rooms, who are not wicked or corrupt and who are in need of our support. These are the bishops of the Church in the United States who have sought to protect the Church but find themselves and their dioceses beholden to the protection racket which is the insurance industry. This was made manifest to the present writer when he was informed recently that an invitation to speak at a meeting of Legatus, an organization of Catholic business leaders, would be withdrawn were he not to provide proof that he had participated in an approved “safe environment training.” This was mandated by the local bishop for any speaker addressing any Catholic organization within the diocese, presumably at the insistence of lawyers and insurance companies offering to “protect” the diocese from further lawsuits in the wake of the abuse crisis. This might make sense for those in teaching or care-giving positions who would have access to minors or vulnerable adults, but why would it make sense for someone coming to speak to a group of Catholic business leaders, at which no children or vulnerable adults would be present?
It makes no sense and it stifles and strangles the Church’s evangelical mission. One wonders whether those advising the local bishop have either lost their presence of mind, or at least their common sense, but, be that as it may, they are clearly beholden to the threats of the insurance industry, the protection racket which one suspects is now calling the shots in too many dioceses around the country.
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When I discussed this situation with a priest friend of mine, he expressed sympathy for the very difficult position in which the bishops find themselves, as well as expressing exasperation at the way that his own bishop and diocese are beholden to this protection racket. He informed me that anyone who did any driving for the parish, not only employees but volunteers, had to take a driver-training course before they could continue to do so. This meant, in practice, that it was no longer possible for him, as a priest, to ask volunteers to pick up elderly or disabled parishioners to bring them to church. “We spend thousands of dollars for the insurance companies to protect us,” my priest friend told me, “then we spend thousands of hours implementing protocols to protect the insurance companies.” How on earth or in heaven can this be justified, especially by those who are supposed to be shepherds of their flocks?
The best way to support the bishops in their difficult predicament is to help them find ways to extricate themselves from it. So, what needs to be done to unshackle the Church and its ministers from the grip of the protection racket?
The answer would seem to be that the Church should practice what it preaches in its social teaching. The bishops should seek to practice “insurance-share,” akin to the “health-share” movement which is cutting medical costs for families while at the same time breaking the vice-like grip of the multi-billion dollar health insurance industry. This movement, which includes Solidarity Healthshare, Medi-Share, and Samaritan Ministries, among others, is an avowedly Christian movement which is blazing a trail that is revolutionizing the way that tens of thousands of families are paying their medical bills, enabling them to do so more cheaply and without buying into the health insurance protection racket. Adapting this model to the needs of the dioceses would lower insurance costs for every diocese, while simultaneously liberating the dioceses themselves from the evangelism-stifling demands of the insurance industry. It’s a veritable win-win scenario.
What is more, the Church will be seen to be practicing the principles she teaches in terms of solidarity (“I am my brother’s keeper”) and in terms of subsidiarity, in seeking solutions at the lowest and most local level possible.
Each diocese would pay an agreed-upon monthly sum, commensurate to its respective size and budget, into a general insurance-share fund. This fund would be employed to meet the needs of each diocese. No middlemen. No diocesan funding for the maintenance and building of insurance company skyscrapers, paid for by the hard-earned money of ordinary Catholics. And the bishops could meet with Catholic business leaders in the fields of healthshare and insurance, such as Chris Fadden, founder of Solidarity Healthshare, and Carl Anderson, of the Knights of Columbus, to work out the practical details.
There is no need for the engine room of the Church in America to be running so inefficiently or, which is worse, for it to be left in the hands of secular agencies which are holding the bishops and dioceses to ransom. Even those who prefer to steer clear of the engine room are aware that the engine room is needed for the good of the Church as a whole. Those in charge of the engine room need to have the courage and tenacity to break the grip of the protection racket so that it is they, the bishops, who are once more steering the ship, not the insurance companies. And we, as loyal children of the Church, need to do whatever we can to help them.