Monday, September 08, 2003

Miscellaneous Musings on Fr. Pater and ST. PIUS X

The other day, Mark Shea wondered aloud about a case where a priest, Fr. Pater, started sleeping with a fourteen-year-old girl and went on to have a ten-year affair with her. A newspaper had written a story about how the priest, who went on to serve in the Vatican's diplomatic corps, is proof that the Vatican is itself protecting and harboring child rapists. Mark wondered whether that wasn't an overstatment, or a case of cultural disconnect, since an affair with a young girl might not be looked on with the same pejorative disgust which naturally attends the sexual abuse of a child. He got a lot of comments, and they got me thinking, so I wrote what follows. The first part is my response to some of the comments. The second part is just some things I've been thinking about regarding this scandal and others in the Catholic Church.

This part is a disclaimer. There were a lot of good Christian people, good Catholics, responding to Mark's observations. What I write below could be taken as a slam on them. That's not what I intend. I know, and I'll be first to say it, that I'm not taking context into account. Nobody who replied to Mark was trying to make some kind of great, complete, theory about the sex scandals in the Church or about a program of reform. I took some of their points and intentionally enlarged the context in order to make some points of my own. That wouldn't be fair if I were pretending to engage them in a discussion on the terms originally laid down by Mark's blog. That's why I left their names off quotations, and haven't provided a link, because I wanted the focus (if any) to be on my use of the points and not on the views of the person who made the original comment -- if that's a futile gesture, it's the only one I could think of and I hope it shows that my intentions are good even if my praxis is stupid.

I make a lot of generalizations in the second part, most of them having to do with Catholics who are bad parents, hypocrites, or aren't really trying to live their Catholicism. None of that applies to anyone who commented on Mark's post. None of it. If it applies to anyone, it applies to me. As I said, I took those comments and turned them into a kind of imaginary Greek chorus against which I was writing. The chorus was in my imagination. I do claim that it exists in fact, but I don't pretend that any of its members commented on Mark's blog. They were very upset at what appeared, to them, as a suggestion that the Vatican might not need to regard what Fr. Pater did as fundamentally immoral. That's not what Mark was suggesting, either, but I think it's a fair characterization of the consensus which actually emerged in the comments. In other words, the people who commented have good hearts and strong morals, and nothing I write below should be taken to suggest otherwise, however much I might disagree with them.


"He knew our cultural traditions here, which say you don't go around seducing 14 year old girls."

What cultural traditions? Here in the small-town Midwest the age of consent is 13 -- parents even supervise their daughters' "sleepovers" with boyfriends. In many states 14's old enough to get married with parental consent and I believe in New Hampshire a judge can lower the age to 13. We don't have a cultural tradition against seducing fourteen-year-old girls. We have a cultural tradition against men older than a certain variable range of years doing so -- we accept that 16-year-old boys will sleep with a 14-year-old girls (neither of them goes to jail, or is removed from the home). But if one half of the tryst is 5 years older, we send the Sheriff and demand prison time. What that says to me is that we let pubescent teenagers engage in what Huxley's Brave New World called "erotic play," and that we only punish people for stepping outside of the game's age bracket. That might be a tradition, but it's not intelligent enough to respect. Which is one reason why adults and teenagers aren't respecting it.

"[I]f the Vatican truly believes that the age of 14 is the age of maturity for sexual acts, that belief constitutes proof positive that a medieval mentality reinforced by isolation dominates the thinking of Vatican prelates. That, I believe, is the main issue here."

No, "that," proves MTV is dominated by a medieval mentality reinforced through, uh, the isolation of its management by, uh, what exactly? Managerial celibacy? Outdated Thomistic marketing theology? The prejudices of Rodeo Drive peasants which force women to conform to stereotypes drawn from the idealized asexuality of Madonna (the fake one) and St. Brittney?

"One other non-negotiable: whatever the age, it gets set by the legislature as a "bright line", with no judicial bypasses for special cases of "unusually mature" minors (at least not for sex . . ."

Nope. The "bright line" moves up and down, from 13 to 17 and eleven months, for all kinds of things like marriage, cohabitation (after emancipation), and abortion. Throw in prosecutorial discretion (the ability of prosecutors to charge, or not charge, as they see fit) and the line gets even more blurry.

"Mark, just substitute "NAMBLA" for "Vatican" in your analysis to see why it doesn't work. There is no excuse. Regardless of her age, it wasn't consensual. According to the article the priest admitted he gave her wine to reduce her defenses."

The article actually reads: ""Sometimes, she said, the encounters happened after he gave her wine at dinner." Thus every sexual interlude accomplished in the presence of cheap chablis and a Barry White album is rape? There is no excuse for the priest violating his vows of celibacy and his obligation to live charitably. Pointing out that his malicious sacrilege wasn't rape by any meaningful definition of the word isn't an application to NAMBLA membership. It's just simple accuracy, which is a requirement of justice.

"Nobody in the modern West would argue that 14 is a legitimate age for concent. That's the context in which we live. Not only are you forgetting that context, you're also forgetting the main issue: the statutory rape of a 14-year-old girl by someone who is essentially hiding in the Vatican diplomatic corps. As Sandra Miesel asked rhetorically on Amy's blog, "what is this, the Renaissance?"

Nobody that is, except the medieval throwbacks at MTV and the WB Network who, when they're not flogging themselves or arguing about how many angels can dance on the end of a fiber-optic line, are quite vocal about American teenagers having the age of consent which existed in the eleventh century. BTW, the offense is called statutory rape because it's punishable under statutes that enact a "don't ask, don't tell" policy about the minor's consent. Under the statutes, it doesn't matter if the girl's spent years seducing the perpetrator because he's proved guilty the moment her birth certificate's admitted into evidence; we have these statutes in part because the idea of aggressively sexualized teenagers is too repugnant to think about -- except when we're indulging ourselves in Dawson's Creek or similar anonymous titillations.

"Speaking as the father of three children, two boys and a girl, the idea of the age of consent being fourteen is ludicrous."

Why is it "ludicrous" for a fourteen year old to enter a novitiate because he or she is too young to make grave decisions about his or her sexuality? So much for St. Mary Magalene de Pazzi who made a vow of virginity at eleven. Or St. Therese of the Child Jesus, who entered a convent at fifteen. Or Pope Sixtus V, who became a novice at the age of twelve. Maybe St. Maria Goretti was really too immature to responsibly risk death on behalf of her chastity? Some authorities say Salome was only fourteen when she danced to satisfy Herod's lust and take John the Baptist's head. If young girls and boys can be glorified for freely consenting to do good with respect to their sexuality, why can't their free consent to do wrong be part of our moral judgments?

We're accustomed to reply by musing on the "prolonged childhood" of modern youth and comparing it with the harsher (or more realistic) mores of earlier centuries. But what does this mean? If it means anything, it seems to me, it also means we believe that culture dictates nature. So much for the natural (and even, perhaps, the revealed) law, which thus becomes a construct of whoever's controlling the culture. Now I do admit that our culture is dedicated to fostering sin among children by, among other things, encouraging them to do commit adult sins while rejecting adult consequences. One could therefore make an argument to condemn Fr. Pater by analogizing him to an attendant in a mental ward who accepts sexual advances from patients. That analogy, however, would no doubt be most vigorously opposed by Fr. Pater's lover and just about anyone else. It's counterintuitive to the "Chinquy paradigm" that attends all priestly sexual misbehavior, not just misbehavior with minors, and it also threatens the general (and unjustified) contentment American Catholics have with their orthodoxy and their parental abilities. And, too, there's not a lot of "umph" left in that argument once one realizes that Fr. Pater's conscience (like the consciences of many Catholics) was likely infantilized into oblivion by the same culture. Unmarried mental patients having sex is immoral, to be sure, but it's not very consistent with the idea of "rape."

One can safely assume that neither the "victim's" modesty nor the media's delicacy would keep us from hearing about a pregnancy or an abortion during this ten-year liason. Yet we've heard of no such thing. How is it that a morally naive, sexually innocent child spends ten years sleeping with a man without result? There are two answers, and only one of them is consistent with the "Chinquy paradigm." Fr. Pater might have spent ten years using solitary methods of contraception without the understanding or approval of his companion. Or, the young lady was more biologically fastidious and attentive to her reason than depictions of her "innocent childhood" have so far led us to believe possible. One can vote how one likes on that question, but I think it's more plausible that a lot of serious, mutual thought went into continuing the relationship without unwanted consequences.

Yes, we know Fr. Pater shared some of the perverted theology he no doubt learned from his Bishop's hand-picked seminary instructors with this girl, telling her that the Church didn't think their affair was immoral. But why would he do so? Had chastity (his and hers) become a topic of concern in the relationship? Men say all kinds of things they know their lovers want to hear, like "you won't get pregnant," or "I'll leave my wife." We're not so naive as to think the woman who hears these words is baptized into "innocence," absolved of any further responsibility to use her own conscience and her own common sense. We know that men say things to their lovers which aren't true, and that their lovers accept these things even when creation itself proves them false. Sin is, after all, the ultimate acceptance of unreality. If the Church didn't consider their relationship a sin, why were she and Fr. Pater obliged to hide their liasons? Or did they meet and kiss openly, in front of her family and parishioners? If we're really trying to judge justly, then it's not right of us to dismiss all these questions by shouting the number "fourteen" over and over and over again. We're obliged to admit that when the shouting dies down, there are enough questions left open for us to hesitate before characterizing this relationship as the perpetual corrupting beguilement of a naive waif.

"You know, this whole thread is beginning to sicken me. We have people debating over what the "age of concent" [sic] should be, in conjunction with "Biblical" and "Roman" notions, and we're completing [sic] forgetting that an innocent girl was seduced by a priest!"

The Chinquy Paradigm is indeed shocking, but how apt is it? This isn't a story about a priest who slept a few times with a fourteen-old-girl; it's also a story about a girl who spent ten years sleeping with a priest. What does "innocent girl" mean? I think, from the tenor of the comments, it means "girl who shouldn't have had that happen in her life." Of course that affair shouldn't have happened. It ruined and degraded what would otherwise have been a fine life of priestly service. It drove this young lady to a dependence on alcohol and an enormous amount of self-torment. That's generally the final answer against sin -- it makes people miserable, both in this life and in the next. But I don't think there's been sufficient indication that "innocent" means "raped," or that "innocent" actually means "the priest is as guilty as our outrage urges us to make him." Another commentator got a lot closer to the matter: "This is about power and sick pleasures. It stinks. Don't you think this is also about the thrill for a young woman of sleeping with padre - which Father understands all too well and exploits?" Yep, there's sin abounding in this story -- but none of it is rape. None of it requires us to rework an old Southern myth, substituting black cloth for black skin.

I also wonder about the apparent idea that we can't mitigate Pater's guilt (comparatively, as say, against Fr. Shanley) or assign any moral responsibility to his lover without advancing the idea that she's a a filthy Jezebel. Perhaps that idea arises from our knowing how unjustly vindictive our judgments are -- if we find blame, we excommunicate the offender from the human family. I see this happen quite often with criminals, especially ones who have committed heinous crimes. They're treated like brute beasts who want discourse of reason, Aristotle's "slaves by nature," quasi-human things who must be packaged, proceduralized, subjected to processes which operate on the assumption that there is no "inner man," no imago Dei within them. It's reminiscent of the old euphamism, sonderbehandlung -- "special handling" -- and while we abstain from inflicting the physical harm that phrase used to describe, we often indulge in the same denial of commonality which made that harm possible, logical, inevitable. If I claim God as my Father, then I claim Paul Shanley as my brother. It's that simple. It doesn't mean I have to treat him like brothers in the world's family treat one another. I don't have to hide him from justice, excuse him against all reason, refuse to punish him. If I did those things, I'd be denying the very fact that created our brotherhood, a common Father with a common will for us. But I have to remember that what I approve of doing to Paul Shanley delineates my own claim to brotherhood with him and, therefore, my own claim to sonship from his Father. If I excommunicate him from the human family, banish him from the realm of undeserved concern and solicitude, I can expect no better when it's time to hear my sins read out from the terrible book. So with the girl in Fr. Pater's case. She is my sister, though we have never met. It doesn't mean I have to treat her like siblings in the world's family treat one another. I don't have to hide her from justice, excuse her against all reason, refuse to censure or chide her wrongdoing. I don't have to excommunicate her from the human family just because I think the truth in her story isn't accurately summed up by saying she's an innocent victim of child rape.

"The Church seems to wants to have it both ways. On one hand seduction of a teenager is no big issue. On the other hand they ship priest off to the sexperts for treatment. What is being treated?"

Good point! Not episcopal sloth and disbelief, that's for sure! Fr. didn't need a shrink, he needed a few years of Rosaries in the company of a hermit who lives in a cave somewhere in Kentucky or Tennessee. But then, so do many bishops. Pater didn't want to mortify himself, and lust got the better of him. The Bishops don't want to mortify themslves for being lousy fathers to their priests -- something Fulton Sheen (may his canonization proceed quickly!) said was the first duty of a bishop. Like American bourgeois who think "treatment" and not parenting is what their theiving, lying, and violent children really need, American bishops can't stomach the fact that they've not only abandoned their priests to the world, the've also in many ways shoved their priests into the world's embrace.


One day not long ago I was letting the lice-ridden drunk who lives in my family room entertain me. As I flipped through the channels I came across some kind of cheerleading contest sponsored by Walt Disney and Tampax. There were the girls, fifteen, sixteen years old, thrusting their hips rhythmically at the audience, excited smiles on their lips, grinding to the thumping music in just-below-crotch-length skirts. Each one of them wore a skin-tight top that accentuated their breasts, across which was emlazoned in huge letters:


As the saint's name swayed and jiggled on the girls' bodies, while their friends and families screamed encouragement, I wondered at the justice of huffy parishioners who go into dudgeon mode whenever a priest, whose celibacy they regard as a medieval nuerosis, finally throws in the towel and treats their daughters as their parents have treated them -- as beings whose most important attributes include an unstoppable, irrepressable, omnipresent sexuality. I wondered about the Bishop who'd let his flock see that it's joyful and good to ogle the gyrating flesh of a pubescent girl, yet think himself a shepherd when he prescribes throwaway therapy and degrades his priests after the vision has borne its likely fruit.

Why are we unable to discuss this priestly catastrophe without using the language of "rape" and the paradigms of secular law? Is that really enough for the Church? It posits an age after which anything goes, when a woman's grown old enough that we recognize her "right" to control her body, her "right" to choose any possible use of her sexuality. But we speak here of adultery against the Bride of Christ; how can secularist ideas of "rights," "autonomy" and "consent" be the triune basis of our judgment? There is talk here about the immorality of the bishops and the crimes of priests; it is warranted, but is it the sum of our justice? Are we really supposed to regard the Church as the world regards its institutions, as "constituents" evaluating the services provided, grading the performance of others, counting our victories by the harshness of our procedures, by statistical measures of crime and punishment? When it's time to condemn we say they are our priests, and our bishops, ours to judge, but when it's time to speak about causes we become their parishioners, their flock, without a hand in the mess ourselves.

We're the parents and dancing girls of ST. PIUS X -- we've either forgotten who we are or never knew to begin with. We've let the world form our perspectives about what ST. PIUS X means, what the Church means. We cry out against bishops who run their Dioceses like unethical corporate executives, ignoring our role as shareholders who sit back when the dividends roll in but who've reserved the right to go head-hunting when the SEC pries open the books. We're shocked to see obscenity and piety schizophrenically combined in the Church, but our domestic churches offer both Rosaries and "Road Rules." We're outraged over criminal laws that invade the confessional, but we've consigned our moral judgments to statutes about "rape." And we want it all fixed, right now, by them, without costs or cares ourselves, and fixed on any terms that will get our Church out of the headlines -- for however much we bourgeois claim to hate sin, we hate scandal more.

No wonder the Vatican dissatisfies when it fails to be as hysterically perfect, as secularly vindictive, as we are. The Vatican, where the real St. Pius X lies buried, doesn't share our amnesaic delusions. Men have been lying and fornicating since the world began, and there's been tares among the wheat since Christ accepted Peter and Judas. The Vatican doesn't (and I pray it never shall) undertake the Great Protestant Project of eliminating sin and perfecting the visible society of the Church. Yes, it lets fornicators and adulterers serve in the diplomatic service. It lets us continue to read Holy Scripture aloud in the very presence of Christ at Mass. Which is the greater sacrilege, the more outrageous scandal? Who should we hang first? The priests who sleep with the exotic dancers at ST. PIUS X, or parishioners whose bovine indifference to Church teaching makes a mockery of the saint's name? The solution, unfortunately, isn't going to be found by hanging the "bad ones." There are just too many of us to hang.

That part of the Church which is in schism with America knows that action against priestly adultery and pedophilia isn't worth taking on terms which do not further the Gospel. "For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?" Matthew 16:26 (KJV). Yes, there must be punishments for priests who violate the Church by offending her people. But punishment, if it's to be condign, must be consistent with the idea that both offender and victim are infintely priceless and mundanely like ourselves. An environment which seizes on proven sin as a license for unbridled accusations and retribution inflicted without regard to an unflinching and consistent moral appreciation of facts isn't about justice, or the Gospel, or even children. The facts are that Fr. Pater seduced a young girl, playing on the emotional naivete common to young girls, sacrificing the trust we have in Christ's priests on the altar of his own lust. The facts are also that his paramour accepted his embraces for more than a decade, even when she was nineteen, twenty, twenty-four years old. Perhaps, therefore, our first act of justice is to stop thinking that this is a unique, shattering appearance of evil. It's just the repetition of a very old story; you can read it in Genesis, and it will happen again and again until He comes in glory. Because we have a Christian heritage, we find in sin an eschatological metaphor, a figure of the world's ending and the need for a miraculous resurrection. Because we're modern, we completely externalize the metaphor, projecting it onto social arrangements and institutions. We chase a myth, a visible Church where things like this affair are part of a past that has been miraculously shorn away, a past which reappears only in the form of an immoral (or even satanic) abnormality. We stand the whole world on its head, because Christ did not come to protect normality. He came because in this world sin is normality; it's only because of Him that the real abnormality of holiness ever appears in the tired guilty pattern of human existence.

When Fr. Pater's lover took her story to Church authorities, she says they asked questions that "made it seem like it wasn't his fault." We know that America's ecclesiastical authorities have behaved like pharisees, indifferent to corruption so long as their institutional sepulchres remained white. But we also know that even pharisees can speak the truth. Perhaps some of these questions dissatisfied the woman because they touched on some things that didn't match her self-imagined stainlessness as a victim of "child rape." She wouldn't be uniquely arrogant if that were true. No doubt the parents, teachers, and students at ST. PIUS X claim the same kind of stainlessness for the school's exotic dancers, innocent houris, to be openly and fully enjoyed, until the invitation is taken too far and a line is crosssed into consequences that "really matter," like sex, costly lawsuits and embarassing scandals. There are words for what Fr. Pater did, and for what his lover allowed. "Rape" isn't one of them. There are words for the girls, parents, and teachers of ST. PIUS X -- "innocence" isn't one of them, either.

One of the words which do fit, however, is "normal." It's normal for people to follow their fondest lusts and make excuses for themselves. It's normal for people to set their morals to the lowest available standard. It's normal for people to regard God's commandments as things to be parsed and pared to the minimum -- to regard Him in effect, as the enemy of one's real happiness. It's normal for people to place responsibility on others and not themselves. It's normal to wink and giggle over initial immodesties, cute flirtations with a darker world that is both desirable and frightening. It's normal for people to ignore the interior movements of their hearts and minds, to think that deeds are always worse than thoughts. It's normal to prefer satisfaction to justice, sympathy over truth. To me, one of the really frightening things about the ecclesiastical and lay reaction to these scandals is its insistence on imposing normality, on restoring a usual state. Cardinal Law, Paul Shanley, and Fr. Pater are the usual state, the normal condition. A reform movement that doesn't appreciate how abnormal its goals really are isn't going to approve of the evil those clerics represent. But it is going to ignore a great deal about how to remedy and thwart that evil.

I'm not trying to advance a "we're all a little guilty so no one's really guilty" point of view. Pater is guilty, Shanley is guilty, Law is guilty, O'Brien is guilty. They're all guilty, and some of them are likely damned. Their crimes are not ours, most of us are innocent of most of their offenses. We have a right to judge, and a right to condemn, because we're Catholics and we have consciences too. But to paraphrase Robert Conquest, to congratulate oneself on a heated commitment to a noble idea and think no more is a profound moral fault. Sins are committed by men, and therefore sin has a kind of communal dimension. Not a communal nature -- men sin from their own free will -- but still a communal aspect. Great, scandalous sins, and whole courses of sin, are like tornados. They're frightening to behold, undeniable intruders that score and shatter everything around them. But they come from winds, cross currents which collide and form terrible vortices of destruction. The cheers and happy shouts of the families at ST. PIUS X are part of that wind. So, I worry, are many cries for reform. Most of them are so normal. Cardinals are scribbling out personnel policies to gratify the media, Bishops are cutting deals with state's attorneys, priests are undergoing sensitivity training and therapy or being put through the criminal justice system, and unsatisfied constituencies of laymen are forming pressure groups and threatening boycotts. It seems as though they're all busy chasing that myth, the visible Church where sins and scandals have been miraculously thrust into the past by an externalized, institutional crucifixion, a cathartic scourging meted out as though our embarassment was the measure of justice. Meanwhile, the teachers at ST. PIUS X are probably buying newer, skimpier dancing outfits and trying to decide which Aguilera/Spears/Puff Daddy song has the right "umph" for this year's chipper, seductive "school spirit" routine.

Catholic parents who let MTV into their homes and give their children the chance to watch Madonna and Britnney Spears in a lesbian tryst don't share responsibility for what Fr. Pater did. Catholics who conduct business as though the secular law, not the teachings of the Church, is the allowable standard for their actions don't share responsibility for what the bishops are doing (or not doing) regarding the present crisis. Catholic lawyers and judges who duck the clear meaning of Church teaching on issues like abortion, the role of the state, or the death penalty don't share responsibility for episcopal lies and obstructions of justice. Catholic educators who mouth anti-Christian slogans in public (or Catholic) schools don't share responsibility for the lousy state of seminaries which provide the Geoghans and Paters of the Church with the theological claptrap they used to rationalize their behavior. Catholics who insist that the morality of human action must be evaluated strictly in terms of the secular law don't share responsibility for the gross and immoral assaults by secular authorities on the Church's God-ordained independence. In a way, it would be nice if we did have only a shared responsibility. Then we could get clean by cleaning something else.

But Catholic parents who let MTV into their homes and give their children the chance to watch Madonna and Britnney Spears in a lesbian tryst are doing what Pater did -- exposing morally-responsible people to immoral and seductive influences. Catholics who conduct business as though the secular law, not the teachings of the Church, is the allowable standard for their actions are doing what the Bishops do when they shamelessly rely on the miserly tactics of corporate hygiene instead of charitably and courageously shepherding their people. Catholic lawyers and judges who duck the clear meaning of Church teaching on issues like abortion, the role of the state, or the death penalty are doing the same thing as Bishops who cherish the fine loopholes of secular law over the consuming power of divine law. Catholic educators who mouth anti-Christian slogans in public (or Catholic) schools are doing what the lousy seminaries in Goodbye, Good Men do -- creating intellectual embolisms in the Body of Christ. Catholics who insist that the morality of human action must be evaluated strictly in terms of the secular law and culture are doing what state's attorneys and vote-hungry legislators are doing -- treating the Church of Christ as one institution among many, to be regulated and incentivized just like every other human institution. There's no shared responsiblity for a single wrong in all this. There's just a lot of people doing the same things, each of them drying out the wood, sewing the wind, carrying their own personal load of rocks to the worksite at Babel.

I said that a reform movement which doesn't appreciate how abnormal its goals really are is going to overlook and ignore a lot of things about how to remedy and thwart the evil it wants to fight. One of the biggest things it's going to overlook is the reformers themselves. There are Paters, Shanleys, and Laws inside us, peeping out from our eyes, urging us to let them loose on the world. Anyone who says otherwise is a fool, or a liar, and either way he's not going to reform very much. Oh, he might achieve a temporary sort of self-interested tidiness, but his normality's going to get in the way of anything more. An abnormal reform movement, the one with a real chance at success, is going to pursue the most elusive, most unprogrammatic, most unlegislatable thing in the world. It's going to pursue holiness, and it's going to scare the wits out of people because nothing's more threatening to the sloth of normality. Holiness makes everything that's not holy look unquestionably shabby, weak, and degenerate. Holiness makes enemies, always powerful ones, because it's fundamentally irrepressable and uncontrollable. It can't be incentivized, regulated, externalized, proceduralized or packaged. When it comes, the exotic dancers at ST. PIUS X are going to put away their costumes and ask some painful, vanity-stabbing questions about the circular pill dispensers in their mothers' bathroom cabinets. A lot of bishops are going to find themselves in the uncomfortable position of reacting to leadership instead of ruling by memo. Catholics will find themselves inexplicably making visits to the Tabernacle, and they're going to irritate some priests by demanding the removal of architectural obstacle courses between it and them. Other unsightly and anxiety-producing Catholic practices we've marginalized with the term "distinctives" -- eucharistic processions, public rosaries, the veneration of relics -- will be roaring back into parishes. "Confessions by appointment" won't cut it any more. The whole Psychoanalytic, Lowest-Common-Denominator, Antonin-Scalia-and-Olympia-Snowe, Xeroxing American Church is going to get knocked on its ear while God waits to see if it has enough love and enough guts to stand up, dust itself off, and get with a program that doesn't need a single committee, certified "ist," or bulletin insert to change the world.

I hope I'm the first guy who gets flattened and pounded into dirt by all that. Hopefully, I'll have enough guts and love to stand up and go on to better things afterwards.

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