Monday, September 29, 2003

ACLU Refuses To Recognize Pope's Appointment of Cardinal . . .

. . . says Vatican refused to ask permission first.

Don't get it? Think about "liberalism." Now, think about "omega point."
Orthodoxy Comes for the Arch Bishop

Courtesy of Mark Shea's Catholic and Enjoying It we learned that Australian Archbishop George Pell has been raised to the Sacred College of Cardinals. Our group of reporters met recently with Pat Power, Bishop of Canberra, to interview him about Archbishop Pell. As background it should be noted that George Pell is already an Officially Bad Man, as proved by his own comments about the public's perception of what constitutes a scandal:
"I... mentioned that the church is being attacked for [sexually-abusive priests] sometimes by elements that are a bit anti-Christian ... I said there are other scandals, such as abortion which are under-reported and because abortion destroys innocent life you could say it´s a worse scandal."
The media pool story can be found here, but this story provides information omitted from the pool write-up.

We met with Bishop Power at his residence in Canberra which is locally known as the "Tower of Power" or simply "Pat's Place." After we had been seated and given huge, unwieldy cans of Foster's, Bishop Power began answering our questions . . .

Bishop Power said it was inevitable that Archbishop Pell be promoted to cardinal. . .

. . . . but he declined to answer questions about what he meant by referring to the "obstinacy" of the Holy Spirit, preferring to stay "on topic" about Archbishop Pell . . .

"I think for him it means it's a great personal honour and certainly I wouldn't want to be a party pooper and try and play that down". . .

. . . said Bishop Power, his eyes wet, lower lip trembling. Then, making a slight jutting motion with his chin, he added in a hoarse whisper. . .

"But in terms of what it means for the church, I think it further shows the church to be representing many elements that I think are not doing the church very much good at the moment.

We noticed that he kept repeating this thought, his hand never leaving a book titled ICEL Manual of Style. As he spoke, his visage became paler, even translucent . . .
. . . . But in terms of what it signifies for the church of which we are members, I think it additionally advances the picture of the church as containing and holding many elements, groups, and movements that I also think are not doing the church all that good that can be done for the church at this moment in time . . . .
. . . . and his voice took on a tinny quality, sounding more distant, as though he were going away . . . .
. . . . But in terms of what it signifies for the church of which we are members, I think it may additionally advance into our consciousness a picture and vision of the church as a church whose members make up and compose many elements, groups, trends, and movements that I also think and believe are doing the church not all the good which they might do for the church at this moment in time and in our lives . . . .
. . . . until he was barely visible, lost in the dust motes swirling by the nearby window, his voice faintly echoing from some unfathomably-distant place . . . .
But, speaking primarily in terms of what it shows us about the significance of the church community of which we ourselves are all members, I think it may have the potential to emphasize an aspect of the vision of the church in our consciousness as being a church community which represents and echoes many things, elements, trends, movements, and groups that I think are not entirely giving our church community very much, or any at all, good or benefit at this moment in time, in our lives, today for us as committed Catholics who are members of a church community which very much need goodness at the moment.
Then the pale, faint outline of his hand closed the ICEL Manual of Style. With a surprisingly-loud "pop," Bishop Power's appearance and voice returned, and he was fully with us again.

"I suppose what concerns me is that many of the values that I think are dear to Australian Catholics - such as the dignity of the human person, the primacy of conscience, the theology of communion, the need for dialogue in our church, reading the signs of the times - I don't think that they're values that are particularly clearly enunciated by Archbishop Pell.

. . . . as he spoke, Bishop Power took his hand off the ICEL Manual of Style to reach for a can of Foster's. He continued, "Look, mate, the bloke's just lost it. You think praysts at gay proid rellies don't have dignituy? I been to plenty of rellies, I tell ya, and there's more dignituy in one proid, bronzed Aussie man than in a whole bleedin' conclayve! We're Australians, mate, we can bloody well think for ourselves! Too right! We don't need any skurt-wearing dipstick tellin' us how to be true blue! He's not a real cobber like we are, mate! He's got no theology o' communion!" A puzzled look suddenly fell over Bishop Power's face and he quickly touched the ICEL Manual of Style again, saying . . . .

"I think for that reason, many people will be disappointed the church is going further in that direction."

Saturday, September 27, 2003

Musings on a Guitar Store

The Mighty Barrister has a really great story about the difference between smaller stores that serve customers and megachains that dispense SKUs. I enjoy reading stories like this, they make you realize that "nation of shopkeepers" isn't the slur it's usually taken to be. A nation of shopkeepers like the one in TMB's story is likely to be a nation that is helpful, values quality, the individual, and self-sacrifice. Those aren't negligible traits in a nation, IMHO, they're far more praiseworthy than being "the world's only superpower." What's the point of being a superpower if you're not helpful, value quality, the individual, and self-sacrifice?

I contrast that story with what happened to me at Borders last week. Ever since this Borders opened two years ago, in a town about 35 miles away where we go to church, I've been visiting it as frequently as I do the confessional, which is to say weekly. (No, confession and buying books at Borders aren't directly connected, although I bet my wife thinks they should be). I always pay by check. I don't carry cash (I'm not allowed), and I like credit cards only slightly more than my wife likes the idea of my having one, which is to say not very much at all. In two years, I've spent hundreds of dollars on books, music, and DVDs at this store. Mostly on books, because I rely on Borders to divert my reading away from religious subjects. (All theology and no historical fiction, sci-fi, or books like Fast Food Nation make Jack a dull Catholic).

I was poking around after going to confession and found some really neat books. There was a History of Food that looked really interesting (3 whole pages on salt cod!), Shelby Foote's book on Gettysburg, and some music by Kodaly and Prokofiev. I went up to the register and wrote a check. The assistant manager (he's about 50 years old) put it in a machine, and told me my check's been declined. Then he put it through again, and told me it was declined again. Then he went to the second register, and put my check through the machine. He told me it was declined. Then he put my check through the machine again, and told me it was declined again. Then he took my check to the third register and put my check through the machine. He told me it was declined again. This took about ten minutes. Meanwhile the head manager, who's just about old enough to buy cigarettes without an ID, has arrived.

So the assistant manager looks at me and says, "Gee, I don't know why it's doing that. I know you've been coming here for years, I recognize you, you're a good customer. You always pay by check. I'm really sorry about this." I figure there's nothing really wrong at this point, he'll just take the check and ring it up later when the machine is healthy. He knows me, I've been coming here for years. I'm a good customer! Nothing doing, says the chief manager. "I can't take that check. It's been declined." Now I can be a jerk, and at this point I start thumbing through my checkbook register for the chief manager's benefit, showing him the weekly checks I've written to his store for the past five months. I offer to come back in a week with cash if he's still having problems with the check. He can call me at the number on the check, I say, helpfully pointing to the
line right below ATTORNEY AT LAW underneath my name. (Look, I know America's unanimous in its agreement that lawyers are the scum of the earth, but no one's ever included check-bouncing in our list of sins). "I'm sorry," he says like he's not really sorry at all, eyes dulled with that unmistakable dullness that comes from having mentally moved on to the next thing on the list, "I can't take that check. It's been declined."

Then he moves the books and CDS back across the counter at me. I'm sorry, but if Borders doesn't think my credit's good I'm certainly not going to volunteer my time to restock their shelves. In fact, I'm so peeved at this point that I hoped the Prokofiev CD would be restocked by the chief manager himself, ignorantly stuck behind the "Miscellaneous P" divider where it would lie, unsold, until the day when Borders files for Chapter 11 because it's $14.99 short when Chase Manhattan calls in the loans. Rather than say anything (confession was over by then anyway), I walked out of the store without my History of Food (3 pages on salt cod!), my Kodaly, or my Prokofiev and drove home in the falling gloom, wondering what I would do that evening with only 673 unread books at home and not a single History of Food among them.

What makes the difference between the guitar store in TMB's story and Borders? The guitar store isn't infected with the modern illness that separates labor from management, and management from capital. At the guitar store, the owner really has all three roles -- he's the capitalist, the managerial class, and the righteous toiler all in one. At Borders, nobody really shares any of those roles, at least not enough to encourage a personal do-or-die attitude towards its success; they're all working there because employment with Borders is the economically-smart transaction at this point in their lives. Next week it might be different -- the chief manager could be selling Subarus, the assistant manager could be let go because his health insurance costs too much, and the stock-persons could be bartenders or hotel receptionists. The workers don't own or manage, and the owners and managers like it that way because workers who don't care passionately about the business aren't going to make problems about how it's run. The owners don't work or manage, and the managers like that because they don't need dumb owners interrupting the flow chart. Managers don't own, and the owners like that because they don't need a zealot treating the business like it was his own child and wrecking the scientific generation of dividends. Everybody's got an interest in making sure no one's interested, because common interests mean community and communities are very messy places that require initiative, self-sacrifice, and emotional/professional exposure to the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. They're also not as profitable on the margins as scientifically-run processes. I bet Applebees serves dinner a lot more cost-effectively than my mom or my wife.

If you're going to take on that kind of suffering, you're going to do it for something you love. Like guitars. Or the mom-and-pop used bookstore in another town, 50 miles away. Once I found all kinds of neat books there. There were biographies of Robert Bellarmine and Junipero Serra and two hardback Robert Graves novels. I went up to pay for them and realized I'd left my checkbook at home. The owner said that was fine, he knew me. He took my address and wrote a teeny promissory note for the purchase amount, had me sign it, and told me to mail him the check within a week. Yes, there's a clear-headed, self-interested reason for what he did -- he wants the business, and is hungry enough to put himself out for it. But only love allows people to truly put themselves out, because people in love want everyone to be happy. That man is love with books, the idea of buying and selling books, and the people who buy and sell books. I bet his blood pressure decreases when he enters his store, that his soul gives a little sigh of energetic comfort, just like you do when you smell your beloved's perfume or come into your own house, or are reminded of experiences when you were your best "you." The fellow's not permanently enraptured. I'm sure he has his good days and his bad ones. But he's fundamentally happy, while the temps at Borders are fundamentally on the lookout for another economically-smart transaction at this point in their lives. I don't blame them, that's what their world is, but it is that way.

Fortunately for us, people who go out into business on their own are forced to be small-time entrepreneurs, and many of them say "hey, if I'm gonna suffer this much, I'm gonna have fun with it and sell Harleys." That's probably why a lot of small businesses fail after five years or so -- the owners are simply having too much fun having fun to do all the things good business requires. But the ones who survive will get you your guitar, or write teeny-eensy promissory notes for four used books, instead of mindlessly bleating "I'm sorry, but your check was declined. I'm sorry, but your check was declined. I'm sorry . . . . . ."
Lane Core Does Us All a Favor

From the estimable View from the Core comes reference to a brilliant article about sexuality, anthropology, and public policy which you can find here. Among the more interesting parts of the article are these bold statements:
The anthropological evidence is overwhelmingly on the side of those who argue that large social consequences follow from a society's decisions about which sexual practices are legitimate. The rules that govern marriage and sexual relations are, directly and indirectly, the basis of family life and have enormous influence over the formation of good (or bad) character . . . . The sexual privatizers imagine a society in which adults can seek their pleasures without interference and somehow children will get born and properly raised. It is a sheer illusion. . . . . Forms of "sexual expression" are, at a deeper level, modalities of social relationships that do have very real public consequences. Whatever a society accepts as legitimate "in the bedroom" inevitably becomes a choice affecting the status of husbands, wives, children, and many others. . . .
I say "bold" because an even-handed application of Weaver's dictum (paraphrased here as "sexuality has consequences") is anathema to believers in MTV's dogmas about unfettered sexuality. The only consequences we're permitted to think about are the consequences of not using the law to institutionalize MTV's view of human sexuality. We're permitted to think about unhappy gay and lesbian people who can't enjoy the social benefits of marriage; the false shame and emotional torment of being forced to live a life of surreptitious or at least unapproved sexuality; or about violence and bigotry against homosexuals in our streets and schools. Contemplation of those consequences is permitted, but thinking about unapproved types of consequences is strictly forbidden. Decent people aren't supposed to think about the shape society will acquire if we approve of gay marriage, polygamy, and the MTV way of looking at sex. Appropriately, the message seems to be "Just do it."

But suppose the media aristocracy wasn't really in charge of the debate. Suppose we could look at over 100 years of research and data which suggest that the list of "permissible thoughts" is too limited? The author of this article has been bold enough to tell us about these other forbidden thoughts: "[I]f you want to see where these social trends are leading, anthropology has some answers. Humanity has been experimenting with ways to organize itself into viable social groups for many millennia. Almost any combination of sexual partners has been institutionalized somewhere and often in multiple places. We can and should read that record as a realistic check against the dreams of consequence-free sexual liberation that have seized the imaginations of so many of our fellow citizens." The rest is worth reading, and frightening, not least because it shows us that the stakes are much, much higher than whether Friends or Will & Grace go into daytime syndication.

Upon being confronted with these facts, the liberal mind would probably respond by trying to encyst the entire issue, dusting off the researches of that famous liar Margaret Mead to create that most American of paralyses -- The Antinomy. You know The Antinomy -- the shades-of-gray moral fog created by the very fact of argument, a fog so thick and dense and reasonable that only a Hitler would try to cut through it. Better to stop thinking, draw no lines, and enter the Promised Land of Bipartisan Consensus where everybody gets what they want, nobody loses, and -- hopefully -- it will be quick and kind and you won't feel much pain at all.

That's why the author of this article is so truly bold. He insists that we think about all the consequences of the MTV lifestyle, not just the ones on the Approved List. He reminds us that ignorance is not strength; whatever blankness and sterility might characterize their minds, lemmings still end up getting wet. That notion, so closely related to the idea of Hell, is the only heresy possible among men who've embraced all heresies.

Friday, September 26, 2003

Novarum, Indeed.

My buddy I. Shawn McElhinney at Rerum Novarum has, via Fr. Greeley, offered the strangest idea I've heard all month: My own solution to the celibacy problem is a limited-term priesthood, a "Priest Corps," not unlike the Peace Corps. Go read the blog, it's pretty interesting. I say it's a "strange" idea because I've never heard it before, and because "strange" in this context means (to me) "really interesting and full of potential." Three questions come immediately to mind. First, how do we keep these guys from becoming Mormon Missionaries, e.g. "uberCatholics" who are such prime candidates for marriage and future lay leadership roles that every Catholic male hungers to be one (and is that a bad thing?). Second, what will these priests' relationship with people be like in Years 9 & 10? Three, what Bishop in his right mind would agree to the creation of a corps of priests who are much less under his control (because susceptible to only temporary "informal" sanctions) than his lifelong fellows?

Wednesday, September 24, 2003

Tricky John Spong and the Vatican Website

From time to time, the Blog people like to play jokes. One of them is the ad that sometimes appears on the top of my blog. It says "Vatican Website -- Explore the Church's issues in Bishop Spong's weekly essay series." Hah hah -- the Bishop Spong in question isn't in the Vatican, nor Catholic, nor a Bishop, nor really a Christian. He's the Right Reverend John Shelby Spong, former (retired) bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Newark, New Jersey, and a fellow who puts a new "spin" on Semper Reformanda. The Diocese of Newark has a whole section of its website devoted to plugging Spong. Among his deeper theological propositions are that "Theism, as a way of defining God, is dead," and that the "view of the cross as the sacrifice for the sins of the world is a barbarian idea based on primitive concepts of God and must be dismissed." But don't worry, we can still go to Heaven -- if we realize that "the hope for life after death must be separated forever from the behavior control mentality of reward and punishment."

A reader mentioned this fact to me, and it made me curious to see what John Spong thinks he's doing, sneaking around in the Vatican like that, peeking from behind the Baldacchino and scaring the night janitors. Is he slumming? It's hard for me to believe that a man who once held the ancient and apostolic see of Newark would find anything attractive in a backwater like Rome. I could understand the fake teaser if Spong was a theological nonentity with a dwindling fame, who needed to get attention with this bit of "see the bearded lady" hucksterism. (I wonder, if he's that desperate, does he have other ads that say "Daytona Website -- Explore NASCAR's issues in Billy Bob Spong's weekly trackside reports"?) Hmm, but surely that can't be -- maybe Spong really is in the Vatican. Maybe he's papabile or something and I didn't realize it. So I clicked on the link and, as required, entered my email address for FUTURE UPDATES! With no turning back, the email addy -- "" -- already in Spong's luminous database, I trembled, waiting, waiting . . . BAM! as Emeril would say, there I was face-to-face with the titanic genius of the era, a man bold enough to say what the European intelligentsia's already been saying for 100 years -- John. Shelby. Spong. As promised, I was allowed a glimpse into the gnosis, partial access to the Eleusinian mysteries of Spongism, and all I had to do was enter my credit-card information to be fully initiated! But perhaps I eat too much meat, and have too many dark motes fighting my teensy weensy snippet of the Aeon. Or perhaps, like Apuleius, I am easily jaded. Or maybe I'm just too cheap for FUTURE UPDATE. Whatever my flaw, I decided to just read the free stuff, which is in blue. My musings are in black.

God is in trouble.

Woooooo . . . . . woooooooo . . . . scared yet, God?

At least the God who is worshiped inside that part of Christianity known as the Anglican Communion which includes the Episcopal Church-one of the largest here in the United States.

And which definitely trains people to use ICEL as a pattern for writing things people want to be printed for people to read - here in the United States.

How do I know? Because the highest ranking bishops of the Anglican Communion,

Who aren't enthralled with Spong, because even mediocrity must draw the line somewhere.

under the chairmanship of the Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey (retiring at the end of this month),

Oh, gee, and here you are all signed up on and everything. The mysteries of providence, eh?

. . . have just issued a statement in which they have "reaffirmed the fundamental teachings of the faith as we have received them from Holy Scripture and the Catholic Creeds." It is a well-known fact that people reaffirm only those things which are passing away.

. . . like mindless cliches such as, "it is a well-known fact that people reaffirm only those things which are passing away."

It is not unlike baseball owners who issue a statement backing the manager just before he is dismissed.

I bet it's similar, as well. By the way, do you still have the "we're behind you John Spong" plaque from your pre-retirement days?

In 1988 the Southern Baptist Convention in the United States re-affirmed their traditional condemnation of homosexuality as sinful and evil.

Y'know, somehow I don't think this is right. I think it's far more likely that the Southern Baptist Convention re-affirmed their belief that homosexuality was sinful and evil. No, no, that's not it either. Ah, yep! They probably re-affirmed their belief that homosexuality was sinful -- the SBC is known to be a tribe of pickup-driving neanderthals, and so I doubt very much that they've evolved to the point where sin and evil separate into different categories. This is your brain. That is your brain on ICEL.

I remember shouting "Hooray" when I heard that news.

Just like that, too: "Hooray." I even woke my dog.

That means that the battle is over. Even in the conservative fundamentalist Christian tradition, the once unanimous and unspoken condemnation of homosexuality is no longer holding. That is what reaffirmation always means.

Is that why we're seeing all these gay Baptist preachers swishing around Oklahoma and Texas, pinkies high in the air, decorating their Churches with Ricky Martin posters and scheduling Church activities around Queer Eye for the Straight Guy? Or is that why we can be confident that Spong's theology is dying, since he has to reaffirm it by shouting "Hooray" and writing crap? This is your brain. That is your brain on ICEL.

The reaffirmation of the Anglican bishops is similarly necessary because the traditional way of affirming God is dying everywhere. One sign of this death is the growth of evangelical fundamentalism.

Yes, growth is the sure sign of death. Ommmmmmmm . . . . . must clean belly lint . . . . . ommmmmm . . . . .

Another is the attempt on the part of Vatican authorities to suppress new ideas inside Roman Catholicism.

Articles and prepositions comprise one fourth of that sentence. This is the picture of the brain inside you. That is the picture of the brain inside you on the ICEL. Anyhow, this suggests that Roman Catholicism is dead because it's suppressing new ideas. As Churchill said, "Some chicken. Some neck." John, we've been supressing new ideas since your former communion was a twinkle in Henry VIII's eye. And we're gonna be suppressing them long after antiquarians start getting confused about whether "Spong" denotes a minor heretic of the 20th century or a character in something that was called a "television show."

One rushes to a kind of hysterical authority of either an inerrant Bible or an infallible papacy when reason no longer holds back the tide of doubt. A third sign of this death is the growth of a secular society where the Church Alumni Association is growing much faster than the right wing Christian revival.

It's not the faith of Christianity that's dying, John. It's the life-giving faith of men. And you're helping men die, John, you're urging men to die, because you think growth is a sign of death and, no doubt, think death is a sign of growth. You're a sadly-smiling member of a cultural Sonderkommando, passing out rhetorical towels and philosophical soap to the naked men and women who shuffle, cowed and shivering, past your demonically-assigned station. May God have mercy on you, John, may God have mercy, for otherwise it will have been better for you to have had a millstone fastened around your neck and been cast into the sea.

What I mean is that there is a growing and significant number of people who have decided that the God they meet in church is simply not big enough to be God for the world they inhabit.

And, being bigger than God, why should they bother with Him? He's such a puny being compared to the vastness of their own selves. May God have mercy on you, John, may God have mercy. Let Him send St. Michael the Archangel to help you in battle, to be your protection against the malice and snares of the Devil. May God rebuke Satan, we humbly pray, and please St. Michael, by the divine power, thrust into Hell Satan and all the other evil spirits who roam through the world, whispering through men like John Spong. Amen.

They just sort of drop out. They become what I call believers in exile and members of the fastest growing religious organization in the West: the Church Alumni Association.

A/K/A and D/B/A the Antichurch, which needs an Antichrist, who will tell us that Christ isn't big enough to rule a world peopled by wonderful, superior beings like himself and those who follow him. May God have mercy on you, John Spong, may God have mercy.

Christianity was born in the first century.

Unless, of course, you're a Christian. Then you think it started in Eden, if not before. (Genesis 3:15).

Traditional Christian sources of authority assume first century ideas like the earth being the center of the three-tiered universe. When the Gospel of Matthew writer says that the wise men followed a star, the assumption is that God or one of God's angles [sic] could drag that star across the floor of heaven which would be the roof of the earth at a pace slow enough to allow these wise men to keep up with it.

Read the Gospel of Matthew. Nothing in there about God or an "angle" dragging a star across a floor or a ceiling. "Lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was." How beautiful that is, John, how perfect a marriage of poetry and fact, the poetry fact, the fact poetic, recounting something wonderful, a God who draws men to Himself. You don't know what's required to make Matthew's Gospel true, John. You only know what a lot of other men who wrote a lot of books think should be required to make the Gospel true. Fine, let us hear from sages and scholars about the cosmology of the first century. We believe God is greater than we are, John, and we see the perfect marriage of fact and poetry, inspired by God to overcome human limitations without obliterating the men who might have them. But you believe that God is too small, too unworthy, to rule your world, and end up worshiping men and books instead. It's very sad. May God have mercy, may God have mercy.

When the Gospel of Luke writer tells the story of Jesus ascending into heaven, the assumption is that heaven is just above the sky and the way to get there is to rise up. Neither Matthew nor Luke had any idea that the sun was one star in a galaxy called the Milky Way in which there were more than 100,000,000,000 other stars, or that the Milky Way was one galaxy in a visible universe that included more then 125,000,000,000 other galaxies.

And where will you be, John, when we discover something about the universe you don't know? Will you release your grip on the hysterical authority of reason? Should men decide that Spong is too small for their world and turn to other things, like the Bible and the papacy? If they shouldn't make the limitations of human knowledge into criteria for God, why should you? When your theology can't even pass its own tests, you're in what St. Thomas called "deepus doodoous."

The traditional idea of God as a Being, supernatural in power, dwelling somewhere above the sky, keeping record books and periodically invading this tiny planet earth in miraculous ways to affect the divine will become inoperative in our space age.

Why? Because our space age has discovered things the steam age never knew? Then men should have abandoned God long ago, when steam replaced oxen, when iron replaced bronze. It's not God who's too small to rule your universe, John, it's your universe which is too small to accommodate God. Your grasp on the universe can't grow one bit without letting God slip right out through your fingers.

God's location has been destroyed and God's invasive nature has been cast into serious doubt.

You know, I think one of the reasons God didn't require the Evangelists to write detailed scientific explanations is that He knew they'd have enough on their minds with the much bigger idea of Him becoming man. It sufficed that they write nothing which compels men to believe falsely about facts. Stars do move, John, they move all the time. Didn't you know that? It's sad to see your faith running aground on a few million extra galaxies, succumbing to a much smaller mental challenge than God gave the Evangelists. You're a pygmie who can't even climb onto the shoulder of a giant, and who'd therefore prefer to ignore the whole giant business altogether. Yours is the smaller world, not ours.

No wonder religious leaders have to reaffirm the old ideas. They are dying and the power of these religious leaders is at stake. No traditional theistic God means no hierarchy set up to interpret God and to proclaim God's will.

Oh this is so shabby, John, so small and impotent. Every page of your essay is displayed next to a box that screams out for my credit-card information so I can pay you money in exchange for blather hot off the keyboard, and you want to call them crass and self-interested? And just how have you concluded that an ineffable and impersonal God will need less interpreting and proclaiming?

If one takes the time to check into history, one discovers that texts from the source we call Holy Scripture have been used in the past to defend the divine right of kings and to oppose the Magna Carta; to condemn Galileo and to assert that the sun does indeed rotate around the earth; to justify slavery, segregation and apartheid; to keep women from being educated, entering the professions, voting or being ordained; to justify war, to persecute and kill Jews; to condemn other world religions; and to continue the oppression and rejection of gay and lesbian people. The Bible has lost every one of those battles and has been demonstrably wrong in each of those conflicts. Surely this record is sufficient to demonstrate that a faith system "received from Holy Scripture" is built on a very weak reed.

Did you know there were women professors at medieval universities? Anyhow, it's never been the Catholic answer that Scripture is a weak reed. It's the Catholic answer that men are. "The Bible" never lost anything. Men, however, can lose the Bible even as they hold it in their hands, just as you lose God while trying to grasp the universe. They need the Bible, but they need more, a lot more, and God has been good enough to give it to them. Men did those things even when they had the thundering, invasive and judgmental God, John -- do you think they'll do better once they realize how much bigger and more powerful they are than that God?

All human beings can do is tell other human beings how they believe they have experienced God. We can only talk with meaning about our experiences of God, not about the being of God.

I thought we didn't need interpreters and proclaimers at all, John. You seem rather convinced that you, and fellows like you, would do well at that task. My Church offers its teachings free to anyone who asks. Get that big, John, and you can talk without looking like a fool.

So when these Anglican leaders state that "Our God is a Triune God," they are being rather sloppy with the English language. What they mean is that they explain their experience of God using trinitarian symbols. They fall into the sin of idolatry when they assume that the way they understand God is therefore the way God is.

Not unless the way they understand God isn't the way God is. And you're here to tell us that, and that the way you understand God is really the way God is, ineffable and unknowable. OK, John, but where does that score you on the idol-O-meter? When your theology can't pass its own tests, you're up what Duns Scotus called "effluvia creekus."

Perhaps they should remember the Apostle Paul's admonition that all we can do now is to "see through a glass darkly."

Or his descriptions of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit -- I thought we didn't need interpreters anymore, John? But we seem to need you to sort out what parts of Paul are worth paying attention to -- after we give you our credit card numbers, of course.

The fact is that Christianity must escape the traditional understandings in which it has been captured or it will die.

The fact is that a sinking rhetorician will say "the fact is" when what he means is "just give me pass on this one, okay?"

Though the experience of God is real,

Now how would you know that, John? If everything we say about Him isn't true, how is saying we've "experienced God" true? All we're really saying is that we've had an experience which, if real, isn't true.

the explanation of that experience is always time bound, time warped and inevitably doomed as knowledge expands.

Here it is, folks, the infamous spirit of negation come home to roost in the unfortunate soul of John Spong. You know, the guys who think it's important that "nobody said ‘papal infallibility' in the third century" are doing this same thing, thinking that truth is destroyed or disproved by any noticeable change. They just go in the other direction, back to a time when no one was saying very much. Spong wants to go forward to a time when anyone can say anything.

Yes, it may be that universal and abiding truth exists as these Anglican Bishops claim.

But that doesn't mean Spong has to suspend his judgment, because the existence of alternatives negates the possibilty of a correct choice. It's just like the papacy, you know. God could have decreed that the Church be ruled by Councils. Many people thought and think that He did. Conciliarism is an alternative, and therefore the papacy must be something God didn't do.

However, the mistake they make is to assume that either they or the Church they represent possesses that universal and abiding truth.

Well, yes that's true, but only because they (like you) don't have valid orders.

That is sheer fantasy.

No, it's Leo XIII -- Apostolicae Curae.

It also opens the door to the kind of religious bigotry for which the Christian Church has become infamous.

Oh I do love this old chestnut! It's so much fun to play around with!

If one collection of human beings possesses the ultimate and abiding truth of God, then they are justified in their condemnation of anyone who disagrees with them.

Would that be similar to your thinking you're justified in judging the Anglican Bishops or the Catholic Church? Oh no, no, it's not similar at all. John Spong's version of truth can't be the basis of religious bigotry, nosir. He'll never be found mouthing bigoted claims that the leaders of a "world religion" manipulate their faith for power and prestige, nooooooo . . . . a Spongist can't possibly indulge in bigotry because, well, he's just better than everybody else!

They can, by force, impose their truth on others "for their own good."

Quite so, just like the Christian bigots who forced desegregation and the end of slavery! You tell ‘em, John! No more bigotry for us! We're totally unbigoted! Now, how much am I bid for this lovely octaroon?

They can protect their truth by excommunicating doubters and by burning heretics.

Unlike the rest of us decent people, who only want to punish hate crimes.

To the leaders of my Church I want to say - "my brothers (and they are all brothers. No sisters are yet allowed) the day has passed. You live in the 21st century. You need to embrace that reality. The task facing Christianity today is not served by reaffirming the traditional faith worked out in a world that no longer exists. Your task is to engage the world that exists today and to rethink the experience of God in creation, in Christ and in the life of the Church in the light of our time.

. . . and, upon doing that, become Roman Catholics, because you'll realize that your tradition's been breeding John Spongs, "Ma" Fergusons, and Elmer Gantries like a petri dish and only a double-barrelled and repressing, nitrous-injected and excommunicating, supercharged and heretic-burning Church can save you now! Sure, we're a bit flabby just at the moment, but we're in training, see . . . . .

All else is childlike, fearful, defensive prattle."

And we're only saying this because we're not judgmental and we certainly don't think we have the truth and you don't, so there. Phhhft! Who'll go to $500 for the octaroon?

-- Bishop Spong (and Wormwood)

Oh, BTW, I did find John Spong (us SecretAgents have our methods, you know). Spong was not in the Vatican. He was in an internet cafe somewhere near Bayonne being menaced by teenagers who thought he'd had the computer for, like, way too long. I didn't help him, because I wouldn't want to impose my bigoted morality on anyone.
Slowly I turn, step by step . . . .

I was pretty good about not saying anything. I saw it with my wife, and I didn't bore her with it. I watched the DVD with my Dad, and didn't say anything about it. But now that Ridley Scott himself has, thanks to Mark Shea, provoked me beyond all human endurance, I'm gonna say something about it. Scott describes his cinematic and historical work of genius, the movie Gladiator: "And really just leaning into the reality of it. We went heavily on the German front, seeing the troops in battle. Once you have the Roman centurions in muddy trenches, suddenly there's a contemporary connection. If you always lean in the reality, it's going to be more interesting than any fantasy you could create. The reality of it? That battle scene, where the Roman legions square off against German barbarians in Marcus Aurelius' day, features war chants by the German barbarians. The war chants are lifted straight from the soundtrack of Zulu, a 1960s production about the defense of Rourke's Drift by Her Brittanic Majesty's army against the African tribe of the same name during the 19th century. "Leaning into the reality of it" apparently means German barbarians screaming "Zulu! Zulu!" at the Romans, who probably ought to have been shown standing behind their fortifications singing "That's Amore!" with Dean Martin.
Schroeder Addresses UN, Damages Podium

New York -- In his speech to the U.N. General Assembly a day after U.S. President George W. Bush urged other nations to help in Iraq, German Chancellor Gerhardt Schroeder said the Reich was prepared to provide humanitarian, technical and economic aid for cash on the barrelhead, and to train an Iraqi Security Services. Berlin has ruled out sending its own troops, preferring that Americans die instead. "Ze det benefits ist too expensiv," Schroeder said, "for de velt's most advanced sozialistiche nation to afford."

"Only de United Nations can guarantee ze legitimatzi zat ist needed vor Iraqi population to rapidly rebuild dat country under an independent, representative reich," he declared, "Ve know zis because only de United Nations could guarantee ze existence of Saddam Hussein's forceful rule over dem volk. It ist a welt-historische syllogismus."

President Bush ruled out a swift transfer of sovereignty to an Iraqi authority capable of spending money like a drunken sailor, as advocated notably by France. Bush wants to limit the U.N. role to helping draft a constitution and supervise elections.

Schroeder, in the tradition of Europe's effective diplomacy, did not sully himself by referring directly to the U.S. President's remarks. But he was even more worldly, sophisticated and nuanced than the brilliant French President Jacques "Lil' Boney" Chirac in criticizing the U.S. decision to invade Iraq and topple Saddam Hussein.

Schroeder warned against states acting as though they didn't need Europe's approval, and said the United Nations' monopoly on the use of U.S. force must be strengthened.

Schroeder also said the International Criminal Court, which the United States strongly opposes, was an important instrument of global justice against war crimes committed by U.S. officials and troops involved in the decision to invade Iraq and topple Saddam Hussein.

As the first chancellor to address the General Assembly since Willy Brandt when West Germany, which was created by the United States and which existed under U.S. protection, Schroeder spelled out Germany's ambition to win a permanent seat on the Security Council.

"It is unmoglich dat ze Reich ist verboten to haff a place in de Zun," Schroeder screamed, "ze cowboys haff it, ze effeminate French haff it, ze Bolsheviks haff it, und ze devious und zyphilitic Britische haff it! Ve vill not stand by vile dose who profited from destroying us control die Welt!" Schroeder, weeping and visibly shaking at the end of his speech, also said that Security Council membership was Germany's last diplomatic demand on the world community.

Tuesday, September 23, 2003

"Extra, Extra! Read All About It!! Americans Oppose Gay Marriages
To Be Legalized Soon! Extra, Extra . . . ."

Mr. Andrew Sullivan* takes heart from a recent ABC News poll which, he contends, sounds the death knell for a Constitutional amendment recognizing the fact that marriages can only exist between men and women. Both he and ABC News are touting the poll as a really honest look, because it supposedly doesn't "conflate" issues like earlier polls that lumped the advisability of an amendment into questions about homosexual marriages. Fair enough, I suppose, but still Mr. Sullivan and ABC end up with some inaccuracies of their own.

The ABC poll asked "Do you think it should be legal or illegal for homosexual couples to get married?" That question, however, was preceded by this one:
"Do you think homosexual couples should or should not be allowed to form legally recognized civil unions, giving them the legal rights of married couples in areas such as health insurance, inheritance and pension coverage"?
I'm sure it was entirely unintentional, but the poll was priming respondents to answer as though marriage was a civil union that gives people legal rights to health insurance, inheritance, and pensions. Why didn't ABC's list of "rights" include having and raising children? Even then, out of a 92% opinion rate (7% had no opinion), only 37% favored gay marriage. If 92 people are going to vote yes or no to "X," and only 37 of them vote yes, the "nays" do something which trained pollsters call "win."

Mr. Sullivan also takes comfort in the fact that 60% of the "nay" respondents think it's "not worth it" to have a constitutional amendment recognizing marriage as being possible only between men and women. Now some of these respondents live in states where finding a constitutional right to gay marriage is harder than finding an open liquor store on Sunday. And I also wonder what the overall response rate might have been to something like this question:
"Do you think your state should be required by law to give homosexuals who live in your state, but who go to another state for a few days to have a wedding ceremony, the rights of lawfully-married couples?"
This refers to what's called the "full faith and credit" clause of the Constitution, wherein the legal actions of one state (like marriages) must be honored by another. There are exceptions (no state has to recognize judgments in lawsuits for unpaid whorehouse bills in Nevada), but whether those exceptions apply to gay marriage depends on whether judges think the "full faith and credit" clause extends to them. ABC was very conscientious to word its questions to, as it says, "invit[e] consideration of the amendment process." I guess ABC conscientiousness didn't extend to inviting consideration of other constitutional issues. I wonder why.

Another interesting thing about the ABC poll is that among persons eighteen to thirty-four, who may be fairly said to have been most relentlessly and recently subjected to the tolerance message of public education and hip media, 46% still think gay marriage ought to be illegal. Moreover, 45% of the Democrats responding (and 47% of Independents) also agreed that gay marriages ought to be illegal. If a pollster were to describe these results to Ted Kennedy, he might say something like, "don't look down, Ted, because the chair you're standin' on has only got two legs."

Even more interesting is that responses to the "legal/illegal" questions were evenly split among single people (48% legal, 47% illegal) but amazingly lopsided among married people (28% legal, 63% illegal). One easily associates "gay bashing" and "hate crimes"** with some kind of folks, but "married people" just doesn't fit into the list of usual suspects. What do married men and women know that the single people don't? Maybe FoxNews will have the guts to ask them.

Still and all, I don't think Mr. Sullivan's confidence is misplaced. The Republican Party will soon realize that it can simultaneously scream bloody murder over gay marriage while crying crocodile tears about being unable to get an amendment (or a judge) through the Senate, all while a guerilla legal war in state and federal courts ends up legalizing gay marriage across the country. The Republicans have used a similar dodge on the abortion issue for the past quarter-century; they've milked four presidential victories, as well as control of the House and Senate, out of what the Left (for some strange reason) calls "the easily led" Christian voter. The Republican Party will scream bloody murder about gay marriage and get what it really wants, a gust under its wings for the next election cycle, and then it's back to crocodile tears about how terribly awfully impossible it is to have principles that mean something.

Perhaps it's meet that Mr. Sullivan and I expect a similar outcome, since we're somewhat alike. We're both Catholic, of course, but that's not the similarity I had in mind. Mr. Sullivan, you see, is a homosexual. I'm a pro-life Catholic*** who thinks Church teaching ought to shape our laws on marriage and abortion. That makes me the Republican version of a homosexual -- a captive, easily-led constituent, predictably marking up the "R" column on my ballot because I'm realistic, and can't see any alternative.

*I use the honorific simply because Mr. Sullivan and I have never met, and I like to be polite.

**Anticipating a misunderstanding, I put those terms in quotes because "gay bashing" is often used to describe opposing legal homosexual unions, and because "hate crime" is often used for regarding the Bible as something more than a cultural anthropologist's primary source material.

***I haven't had occasion to research Mr. Sullivan's position on abortion, and this isn't meant to suggest that I know what it is.
Vatican Holds First Annual Feline Rodeo

Pope attempts to herd cats.

Monday, September 22, 2003

Please Pray for the Liturgy

Please pray the Novena for the Renewal of the Sacred Liturgy. Cardinal Arinze will address the Federation of Diocesan Liturgical Commissions on October 7 in San Antonio. He has also asked for a meeting of the presidents of English-speaking bishops' conferences on October 21 to discuss the sacred liturgy. Also, in Ecclesia de Eucharistica Pope John Paul II promised us all a document giving "disciplinary norms" for the liturgy and this, at present, planned to be issued before the end of this year. If you can't pray the Novena, please pray for the furthering of unity and reverence through the liturgy.

Sunday, September 21, 2003

Note for Christmas Shoppers

If, like me, you think a normal boyhood should involve a serious amount of time spent in the company of toy soldiers, you may be pleased to know that the world of toy soldiery is not past and gone. Whether it's going on safari, journeying with Rogers' Rangers, defending Fort Zinderneuf, exploring a new planet, or protecting the good monks at the abbey from marauding Vikings, you can find all the necessary troops and equipment at: Classic Toy Soldiers

This is good. This is really neat. In fact, it's better than just about anything you could give your kids for Christmas. Unlike Nintendo, Playstation and "action figure" toys, your boys won't have to memorize what's practically a new (and New Age) religion in order to play. No mystical gaia goddesses are going to pop up and explain the universe, and problems aren't going to be solved painlessly and easily by pushing the right button or reciting the right spell. No, they'll get to use their imaginations on real things about the real world -- things which, by the way, you also know. ("Daddy, why can't you breathe on Mars?" "Who were the Conquistadors?") You could give your kids hours of intellectual development and imaginative fun with these wonderful toys, or let ‘em watch another brainless, breathless television program about lesbians, serial killers, or goodness triumphing over stupid and uncaring adults.

You get to let God teach your children lots of things, too. When I was very young, my dad bought me a whole medieval playset complete with Vikings and a Bishop. (Yes, the toys of old had priests, monks, and bishops. I still have some of them. A tonsured monk holding a cross aloft in blessing or curse, a bishop with his crozier, and a Viking with his sword cut off). We set up the Castle and dad's figure charged in with the alarm -- the Vikings have landed!! So I picked the Bishop character and said we ought to go see if they're hostile first. My dad's knight said no, it was too dangerous, we had to attack now. I looked up at Dad and said "what can I do now?" He said, "well, bishops' powers are spiritual, so you could excommunicate me." So I did. Suddenly, none of the knights could go out and fight. We made peace with the Vikings, and ended up on a joint mission to kill a particularly nasty dragon. Now my Dad, bless him, was just playing around, using bits and peices of half-forgotten history lessons to help the story. But I think, from over 30 years' distance, that someone else was playing with us, teaching a very young boy about the reality of supernatural life and Christianity's powerful role in it. (Not to mention the facts that you don't mess around with bishops and you've got to kill some dragons occasionally).

You can't do that with modern tie-in "advertainment." The tele-toy industry doesn't want anyone thinking for himself, and the toys they give your children are intended to keep them fixated on the marketing message. You can't just have Pooh, Barney or Thomas the Toy Train. You've also got to have all the Pooh, Barney, and Thomas "stuff" -- the real message to your kids is finding a lifestyle they enjoy and then buying all the stuff that makes it possible. The guys and gals who run television networks are sneaky, very sneaky indeed. Besides, I've noticed that kids who play with advertainment tend to just repeat the plots and activities of the characters in some kind of stultified kabuki ritual. Does SuperPowerMan[TM] ever get frightened? No, ‘cause he doesn't get frightened in the TV shows. That's not play, it's mimicry. The television folk think that talent will come in handy some day, when our Fuhrer wants your grown-up kids to mimic him.

Television is a lice-ridden drunk. Why do I keep saying that? Because if you watch television long enough, you'll see the kind of things you'd see if you hung out with a lice-ridden drunk. It's constant, ever-present -- there is no "safe program," there is no "safe time." Yesterday afternoon I was making the drunk's glowing eyeball blink with my remote, and saw teenaged boys giving a prostitute whiskey and simulating intercourse with her to impress their friends. That episode was at 2:00 o'clock in the afternoon. The other night, the drunk slipped a mystery about homosexual and/or promiscuous kissing into a documentary about WWII airplanes. An old-time Western on AMC let me see a woman slathering herself with soap and climaxing in the shower. This is day-time, early-evening TV, folks -- kid-time TV. The television folks know it, and they like it. Why let people like that choose the childhood your kids will have? Might as well hire a wino to redecorate your playroom. Unplug your kids, and start setting up that castle on the living room floor. Who knows, you just might end up killing a dragon.

Wednesday, September 17, 2003

Liturgical Guide for Confused Catholics

You have got to read this!!!

Monday, September 15, 2003

Orwell Finds a Metaphor for the Middle Class

I've been reading books about food and cooking recently. I finished Eric Schlosser's Fast Food Nation the other week. For a description of what's wrong with modern America (but not of how to fix it), Schlosser's book is unbeatable. You learn why you shouldn't get your hamburger at Kroger's as well. After that, I read Anthony Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential. If you don't mind profanity and scatological references, Bourdain writes a magnificent and hilarious book which is also dead-serious about the world of professional cooking and dining. (Among other things, I learned why I must stop fantasizing about starting a restaurant). On Bourdain's recommendation, I'm reading Orwell's Down and Out In Paris and London. My only prior acquaintance with Orwell was the obligatory reading of Animal Farm and 1984, as well as a chance reading of his essay on Ghandi. But I was so impressed with the prose and insight that I went back to Borders (a/k/a "my real home") and picked up a huge collection of his essays. Anyhow, I thought I'd share this selection from Down and Out, because I think it's a perfect explanation of the attitudes and life of the middle class. The context is Orwell's experiences as an impoverished expatriate in Paris, compelled by hunger to take a job as a plongeur (generally, a kitchen slave) in a fancy hotel's restaurant. He's describing the different kinds of people in the kitchen, cooks, plongeurs, and -- waiters:
The waiter's outlook is quite different. He too is proud in a way of his skill, but his skill is chiefly in being servile. His work gives him the mentality, not of a workman, but of a snob. He lives perpetually in sight of rich people, stands at their tables, listens to their conversation, sucks up to them with smiles and discreet little jokes. He has the pleasure of spending money by proxy. Moreover, there is always the chance that he may become rich himself, for, though most waiters die poor, they have long runs of luck occasionally. At some cafes on the Grand Boulevard there is so much money to be made that the waiters actually pay the patron for their employment. The result is that between constantly seeing money, and hoping to get it, the waiter comes to identify himself to some extent with his employers. He will take pains to serve a meal in style, because he feels that he is participating in the meal himself.

I remember Valenti telling me of some banquet at Nice at which he had once served, and of how it cost two hundred thousand francs and was talked of for months afterwards. ‘It was splendid, mon p'tit, mais magnifique! Jesus Christ! The champagne, the silver, the orchids — I have never seen anything like them, and I have seen some things. Ah, it was glorious!'

"But,' Isaid, ‘you were only there to wait?'

‘Oh, of course. But still, it was splendid.'

The moral is, never be sorry for a waiter. Sometimes when you sit in a restaurant, still stuffing yourself half an hour after closing time, you feel that the tired waiter at your side must surely be despising you. But he is not. He is not thinking as he looks at you, ‘What an overfed lout'; he is thinking, ‘One day, when I have saved enough money, I shall be able to imitate that man.' He is ministering to a kind of pleasure he thoroughly understands and admires. And that is why waiters are seldom Socialists, have no effective trade union, and will work twelve hours a day — they work fifteen hours, seven days a week, in many cafes. They are snobs, and they find the servile nature of their work rather congenial.
Of course, not everyone with a five-figure income matches this metaphor. But most of us do. We don't question or complain about the rich, the owners of capital and investment, because we imagine that deep down, they are us, and that someday we will be them. We ape their lifestyle, burdening ourselves with debt beyond our ability to repay, ogling a material banquet we can never really enjoy. We think we're better than the "working classes," the men and women who live just as far from Palm Beach and Palm Springs as we do, because they don't believe that hard work and playing by the rules are all you really need to get a mansion. We are seldom Socialists, would think trade-union membership embarassing, and we work twelve, fifteen hours a day, seven days a week, in law firms, insurance companies, brokerages, and dentist's offices across America. Our careers, professions and degrees don't create one dime of wealth, but they do serve the wealth of others. And we find that rather congenial.

Saturday, September 13, 2003

Uncomfortable Questions

Maureen McHugh at A Religion of Sanity gives us a timely reminder that the stakes are much higher than we're accustomed to thinking they are:
One of the things that I like to keep in mind is that the American Catholic Civil War is a major front in a global conflict between the Culture of Life and the culture of death. It should be viewed in this light rather than as a discrete power struggle for control of the Church in America. The culture of death would love to enlist the American Church on its side of this larger war...much as they have now enlisted the American Episcopal Church. . . . If this is not possible, the servants of death want to destroy the Catholic Church in America or at least sideline Her.
I wonder how coincidental it might be that the "erosion" of American Catholicism began accelerating just as the United States became a super-power. And on the principle that the devil never provides a temptation without also conveniently providing a ruinous "solution," Maureen offers some thoughts of great value for conservative Catholics:
. . .the servants of death want to destroy the Catholic Church in America or at least sideline Her. It seems to me that far too many American Catholics are playing into their hands . . .

. . . When the left shifted the discourse to the issue of "abuse of power", most conservatives jumped on the liberal bandwagon. Most are still riding that bandwagon. In doing so, they are accepting liberal premises, structures, definitions and tactics. . . .

. . . It is an article of our Catholic faith that you don't have to be Catholic to agree with the teachings of the Church on these issues. To be Catholic is to do more than this. It includes submission to the authority of the Church. . . .

In the period prior to the Vatican Council, the Church in America exercised a similar authority over Her people. Bishop Hughes was able to threaten the mayor of New York with a 1000 unruly Irishmen guarding his churches. He had called on his people and he was sure of their response. These men weren't saints. Some may have been scoundrels. But, they were Catholic; they held to the Church; they responded to Her call. I would be surprised to find an American bishop today who would have the audacity of Bishop Hughes. Our bishops are not fools. They know that their people can no longer be counted upon in this manner.

Before arguing that the Bishops are responsible for the current state of affairs, you might consider whether you yourself would be welcoming of such stringent discipline. . . . .
Her whole essay is well worth reading. Especially the last question. If your bishop called you on the phone at 2:00 o'clock in the morning and told you to go to a streetcorner 150 miles away, what would you do?

I think this "obedience issue" has the potential to rip the heart out of the movement to restore/preserve the Church in the United States. Maybe the current blogosphere discussion about obedience, parts of which can be found at Disputations, Dappled Things, Dyspeptic Mutterings and Bettnet is one of the most useful things "orthodox activists" can be doing right now.

Wednesday, September 10, 2003

Dead Ritualistic Catholicism: Report from the Trenches

I just received a letter from a young man who was confirmed this past Sunday. For the benefit of our friends, who are constantly telling us how our dead and lifeless ritualism won't bring us closer to Jesus, I thought I'd share it after "anonymizing" it:
It was like the time you said you were praying the sorrowful mysteries and you remembered that stuff about the Roman army. . . I was meditating on the [fourth joyful] mystery [of the Rosary], then it just hit me, it is kind of cool how when our Lord was born he was brought to a Simeon, and then another Simeon was the "rock" for his church, and his head apostle: the first Pope. Anyway, I have never felt so moved before, I just want to pray alot, and go to mass every breathing second. When I went to bed last night, I felt so secure, as if I was surrounded by angels, or even the Lord himself. If I am boring you with this, then I am sorry, I have never felt this much joy, love, and urge to pray before in my life. By the way, I am up to about page 120 in the book. It is really starting to get good, I can barely put it down, I think it was a good first book to use with our little Catholic novel club.
Boring? That's probably the most touching thing in the letter, the idea that anyone would find this boring! Please pray for this young man, he has a great future in the Church, in the love of Jesus Christ.

Tuesday, September 09, 2003

The Numbers Look Good

There are at least 600 priests in America.

There is at least one Bishop in America.

That's not counting the priests and bishops who weren't included in this "census."

One bishop, 600 priests -- the Church has conquered continents with less.
Random Thoughts

One of the things an understanding of God's will produces is the realization that, in any situation, the only dangerous element is oneself.


"O Lord Jesus Christ, do what you must to me in order to make me a saint. Slash, destroy, cut, burn, uproot, imprison, hide, and terrify me. Take anything from me. My mind, my life, my eyesight, and the things too frightening for me to think of offering you. Put anything on me. Illness, paralysis, disfigurement, and the things too frightening for me to think of accepting. Thwart my ambitions, bring my plans and hopes to nothing, impoverish me in every way, if my plans, hopes, and riches would lead me away from You. Take away my books, make me unable to read, make me utterly stupid, if that would let me please You. Give my sins their fullest, most shameful, most public consequences if that is what must be to make me stop offending You. Make me a figure of deserved disgust and mockery among all men, if thereby I might be hailed by Your good angels. Grant me a mediocre, ordinary, and quotidian life, if any other life would distract me from You. Make me realize that my offering is ordinary, a plain and unexceptional duty called forth by what You endured to enable me to make it. Make me desire You above everything, to excel myself in doing Your will for me and those You have entrusted to my acquaintance. Make me love You with every aspect and fiber of my being -- not in spite of what You must do to me, but because of it. Do anything, please do anything to me to make me Your own. Even to granting my entreaties more seriousness, more foreknowledge, more honesty than I could ever bring to them."

Monday, September 08, 2003

He Can Dish It Out, But Can He Take It?

One day, Mark Shea posted an article about a San Francisco priest lending his apparent blessing to gay activists as they mocked the pope and engaged in lewd behavior during a gay pride parade. A Catholic layman read the article, and wrote a polite letter to the Archdiocese of San Francisco asking if the story were true. In reply, he got a snotty, juvenile email from the Archdiocese's very own director of communications, a Mr. Maurice Healy. You can find the polite request, and Mr. Healy's sarcastic and catty reply, here. Another reader of Catholic and Enjoying It also wrote Mr. Healy, pointing out that an Archdiocesan Director of Communications should be expected to answer a polite request with something besides personal insults and patronizing dismissals; Mr. Healy snippily replied "Thanks for your input."

No doubt Mr. Healy thought he was dealing with more of the people who, after receiving one of his verbal beatings, act like the characters in Chekhov's Three Sisters -- "If only we could go to Rome." But they can't, and Mr. Healy knows it. They can't even get to see the Archbishop. That's why Archbishops employ chancery rats like Healy -- to keep the riffraff from meddling in the Big Picture. Most of the time it works. Complaints about liturgical abuse get sloughed off with form letters. Questions about the Diocese's stand on sodomy get shot down with accusations of Klan membership and butchered quotes from Scripture. Polite people get treated like dirt, and eat it, thinking they must have done something wrong, been uppity, or don't realize how well the Healys of the world have everything under control.

After barrages of emails from readers of Catholic and Enjoying It, Mr. Healy was forced to keep his tongue clean, avoid insults, and squeak out an actual saran-wrapped press release. That's not good enough, particularly after Healy spent so much time hissing and showing his teeth to anyone who dared to ask a question touching on Diocesan policy. So I thought I'd try out a new word, "fisk," and dissect the chancery rat's vapid dismissal. Mr. Healy's words to Mr. Shea are in blue. Mine are in black.

Fr. Phelan did not ask permission nor did he receive permission to participate in the gay pride parade.

Right. "He didn't ask us, so we didn't have to give him permission. We might, purely as a pastoral matter, have approved of his limited participation to show solidarity with faithful Catholics who dress up in leather outfits and bare their buttocks at passersby. Or we might have, purely as a pastoral matter, regretfully asked that Fr. Phelan not wear his clericals while marching along with people carrying signs saying "Sodomize me, it's legal!" But we didn't have to make that decision, because Fr. Phelan was kind enough not to act like we're in charge of a Diocese. Now go away, you baptized bumpkin."

The Archdiocese had no knowlwdge that he planned to participate.

Don't ask, don't tell. It's the safest way. Any lawyer on a five-figure retainer will tell you that. Got to keep that "knowlwdge" confined, otherwise it bursts out and tars people with accountability. Now go away, you Tridentine neanderthal.

Fr. Phelan is administrator of Most Holy Redeemer parish, which is located in the Castro area of San Francisco.

A little background is needed to appreciate Mr. Healy's dismissive words. According to San Francisco Hotel Directory Dot Com
San Francisco is a mecca for the gay and lesbian community, and there are numerous accommodations, bars, tour operators, and merchants that cater to gay tourists from around the world.

Gay visitors will most definitely want to stay in the beautiful and hopping Castro area. Lesbian travelers will enjoy the Castro or a bed & breakfast in Noe Valley, a quiet women-centered community. Either of these parts of town will make you feel part of the gay community,and situate you close to bars, clubs, and shops of interest to gay and lesbian travelers. The Castro offers thumping nightlife every night of the week, and isn't too far from the dance clubs and hardcore South of Market club scene. . . . .
And San Francisco Guide lists the Castro area's many attractions:
This section of Upper Market Street, renovated by its affluent [-because-childless], primarily gay residents, is a collection of clothing, gift, and specialty stores interspersed with colorful Victorians, restaurants, and pubs. The Castro Theater, 429 Castro Street, is a great old movie palace that screens classic and art films.

[The] Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Historical Society Museum, 973 Market Street, Suite 400, maintains information to preserve and promote an active knowledge of the history, art and culture of sexually diverse communities in Northern California and beyond. Open Tuesday-Saturday, 1-5pm. 415-777-5455.

The newly opened Lesbian Gay Bisexual Trans-gender Center, 1800 Market Street at Octavia, houses a number of groups and programs. 415-865-5555. . . . .
Given that, it's easy to see why a guy like Healy would be asking what he's asking without explicitly asking it: "Hey, moron, whaddaya expect a priest in this area to do? Not encourage homosexuality? Not march in a parade that's got a float showing John Paul II locked up in a cage, ready to be impaled by a "Weapon of Ass Destruction?" Not smile when he sees "black-winged, bare-chested devils in leathers, dancing on a float decorated with hell fire"? Why, if we had a priest who refused to encourage that sort of thing, us chancery rats would be working uncompensated overtime!!!!" Yeah, Mr. Healy -- got you loud and clear "Shut up you knuckle-dragging laymen and let us rot in peace."

The Archdiocese does not condone the activities of the gay parade and it has spoken out before on these matters.

Well, I've got some knowlwdge for Mr. Healy. If the Archdiocese doesn't condone the activities of the gay parade, and if it's spoken out against the gay parade, then why don't chancery rats like him give two hoots in a basket whether its priests approve of and participate in the gay parade? Why do they reserve their haughty, arrogant derision for lay Catholics who write honest, thoughtful, and polite inquiries about this contradiction? Why does it take a minor internet crisis before they start talking like what they get paid to be?

And BTW, I don't want to lynch Mr. Healy. It's enough fun just watching Shea hit the lights and seeing guys like Healy scurrying out of the nave as quickly as their little legs can carry them.
Oh, for the Days When Maidens Were Fair and Heresiarchs Bold!

Courtesy of Maureen McHugh at A Religion of Sanity comes this article about another witless Catholic bishop. The article's words are in blue, my replies are in black.


Women should be allowed to hear confessions and absolve sinners, a Roman Catholic bishop has suggested. Bishop Vincent Malone, auxiliary bishop in Liverpool, said that the Church should consider choosing lay women to be confessors because some people might prefer disclosing their sins to a woman rather than a man.

And some people, like Bishop Vincent "Deep Thinker" Malone, prefer disclosing their sins by writing books. Perhaps we could all write books? I'd certainly prefer to write a book about my sins than confess them. Lots of people do it - Madonna, Bill Clinton, the Unibomber . . . .

Bishop Malone said he was merely raising questions rather than "starting a revolution", and stressed that any reforms would have to be agreed by the whole Church before they could be implemented.

. . . . bootlicking suck up . . . .

But his radical views will challenge the traditional image of the male priest hearing confessions and reignite the debate over the role of women in the Church.

Oh gag. Don't these people realize how ridiculous they look, putting on their tattered radical boas and faded inflammatory lipstick to go sashaying around in reform drag? The Bong of Reform is flickering! We must reignite the debate with a shattering, radical book, perhaps titled, The Catholic Church Should Kill Itself Because No One Else Can Get the Job Done.

Bishop Malone's comments will carry particular weight because he is the liaison between the English and Welsh Bishops' Conference and the National Board of Catholic Women.

Yeah, and lemme tell you, those are two world-shattering organizations. Get control of the Welsh Bishops' Conference and you've got theopolitical domination of Christendom. Every morning John Paul II gets up and says, in whispered tones of terror, "do we have any news from Wales?" And Ratzinger can't even bring himself to say the words, he has to scribble it down on paper in a trembling hand, "Are we still safe? Has the NBCW moved against us?" It's why Philip II launched the Armada, and Hitler the Kanalkampf -- they knew they had to gain control of the the Welsh Bishops' Conference and the National Board of Catholic Women or watch their evil empires wither and die. Fortunately the Welsh Bishops met them, wearing rainbow-colored stoles in authentic African designs, while NBCW Valkyries strafed the invader from organically-safe broomsticks . . . . . . never have so many heretics owed so much lunacy to so few . . . .

In his contribution to Healing Priesthood: Women's Voices Worldwide,

Yep, that's how you can tell heresies nowadays -- Satan's addicted to colons. We'll have none of those colon-less titles, thank you, like The Interior Castle, City of God or Lives of the Saints. The only task left for the Holy Office is to determine whether the title is a single-bore heresy (one piece of trendy blather ante-colon, followed by serious-sounding explanatory title) or a double-bore heresy (pieces of trendy blather appended to each side of the colon). A Rejoicing People: Male Castration in the Writings of Hildegard of Bingen is a single-bore heresy. A Church of Love Unbounded: Necrophiliac Priests Tell Their Stories is a double-bore blast of heterodoxy. These bouts of scholarly possession, however, need not be tedious to the layman. Often, playful demons cause theologians to insert oxymorons on one or both sides of the colon. So you get single-barrelled oxymoronic heresies (A Scriptural Garden: Lesbian Exegesis of the Song of Songs), and double-barrelled oxymoronic heresies, like The Church of Peter: Dissenting Catholics Claim their Faith. That's why Bishop Malone's no-doubt self-published autobiography will be titled Vincent Malone: A Shepherd Reflects.

he said the Church's tradition "may sometimes seem only to inhibit the freedom to engage with difficult questions".

Caiaphas prophecies! That a man can rise to Bishop and utter such things as though he's revealing a profound and little-known insight is a perfect one-sentence summary of what's wrong with the Church.

But some practices could be varied. Although the Pope had ruled out women priests, the Church had "not so ruled in other areas which might yield surprising fruit".

Oh, sorry, I can't -- it's too rich, too covered in ironic chocolate syrup, topped with a sarcastic maraschino nestling in its own whipped mound of sardonicism. . . .

He added: "It is not difficult to conceive circumstances in which a female minister could more appropriately than a man be the receiver of the humble confession that opens a soul to hear the glad words of the Lord's forgiveness.

D'ja get that? "Receiver?" -- why, hearing confession is an inherently-feminine act! ‘Boy's got his presuppositional jargon down, give him that. But if womyn are receivers, then who's going to perform the generative act of confessing? Oh, man, I'm onto something here. Where's my colon? Quick, have you seen my colon?

"Common practice in our society today would expect equal access in many professions to either a man or a woman at the client's choice. It would be an unusual medical practice that did not have both male and female practitioners. Similarly with a firm of solicitors or a team of counsellors.

Which isn't any different from Catholicism, er, I mean the firm of Pater, Spiritu & Son. Maureen's right -- the only thing this Bishop knows about the priesthood is that, whatever it is, it shouldn't exist.

"Has the time come to expect a similar availability in even more sacred areas of our lives - without thinking that this is impossible without the ordination of women?"

Well sure! Confessions, last rights, the Mass -- none of that is essential to the priesthood, which is really only about priestly things. Perhaps the time has come to expect laymen to run Dioceses, even without episcopal consecration, which is really only about episcopal things. Sorry, Bishop, was that a grimace I saw? Is there something amiss with the proposal to destroy the last bastion of clerical elitism and run the Church on rational chartered-accountancy principles? Sure there is -- seminaries are already full to the gills with bucket-heads like this fellow, and "visiting lecturer" is too great a fall from "auxiliary heresiarch."

The bishop argued that the Church broadly decreed that only priests could administer the sacraments, and yet lay people were involved in the sacrament of marriage and, in cases of necessity, the sacrament of baptism.

Well, I'd bet an old sock that the Bishop already has plans to involve more than lay people in the sacrament of marriage. As to baptism, yes, on the strength of St. John the Baptist's example and a concern for holy mercy the Church allows not only laymen, but even nonbelievers to administer the sacrament in cases of necessity. Which, when you think about it, is a good thing for all the babies born in this Diocese.

He told The Catholic Herald that he was "not banging a drum" or trying to prompt disobedience among Catholics, but was merely issuing a "gentle invitation to reflect".

On what? On the need to bang a drum and be disobedient, that's what. If there's anything I can't stand more than a clerical weevil it's a coat-holding clerical weevil. Ever notice how these guys don't risk their necks by, say, just going ahead and authorizing womyn to "receive" humble confessions? If their heretical babble isn't good enough for them, why the heck should we bother to reflect on it? Vince, go resign your position and eat hot-plate spam for a few years, then tell me I ought to risk excommunication by gently blunting my mind on your wack-job theology.

Such reforms might "in part answer the complaint that women can't do anything" in the Church.

Except go to Heaven, and who'll accept that outmoded excuse any more? It really astounds me that the careers of Janet Black or Mother Theresa are counted as "doing nothing in the Church." Makes me wonder who the real misogynists are, yessir it does. Reminds me of Ruth Bader Ginsburg publicly dumping crap on her mother at her nomination ceremony. "I want to thank my mother, who lived her life as a subhuman but who still managed, in her illiterate and drooling way, to produce me, the epitome of feminist achievement." It also sounds like a lot of teenaged angst is still sloshing around inside our radicals' old wineskins, "Mom, I'm like, so bored, there's nothing to do!!" I can tell you one thing women can do in the Church, which is bang guys like Vince upside the head with briefcases or hot irons (I'm tolerant of diversity, you see).

But while liberals, including fellow bishops, will welcome his ideas, the newspaper said in an editorial: "The simple answer is that the time has not come for such a thing."

Wrong! The time came on November 11, 1992. It just came in another stockbrokerage, uh, church, is all.

The bishop's comments follow the decision by some churches and cathedrals to introduce glass-fronted confessionals after a series of sex scandals in the Church. The aim is to allow others to see what is happening, protecting children and adults from any risk of abuse by priests and to protect priests from false allegations.

Perfect response by this real estate agen-- , uh, church. Cure the self-induced problem by wrecking the sacrament! Let people see who's sinning, read their lips, watch them cry and be fearful or demoralized! Yeah, baby! That'll get the parishioners flocking to the sacrament -- make it as embarassing and uncomfortable as possible. Require the rite to be done in esperanto in order to prevent the exchange of lewd solicitations! Have witnesses and videocameras! Or install laymyn who don't think the ability to keep the seal of the confessional can be proven by lifelong adherence to silly customs like celibacy or obedience to Church teaching.

Is it just me, or has anybody else noticed a distinct decline in the quality of heresy produced by the Catholic Church? We used to pump out really juicy ones, like Montanism or Jansenism, big wacking gouts of nonsense that had serious and major consequences for human life. Our heresies were Wagnerian affairs, prodigious stupidities punctuated by instances of brilliant manipulation. We had giant fireworky schisms, blood-spangled wars, persecutions and counter-persecutions. Now all we have is a bunch of comfy, overstuffed yupsters mouthing to the muzak of pop culture and acting like bratty, passive-aggresive teenagers. Back in the days of Eusebius we had veritable Dark Towers of theological perversion -- now all we get are theological lawn jockeys like Vinnie's backhanded misogyny -- womyn need to be empowered to confess in the only way they know how, chatting over coffee with "the girls." Doggone it, Vince, why don't you drum up a couple of the NBCW gals and make them prophetesses. Let ‘em follow you around, speaking in tongues about how the "whole church" is just you, Vince Malone, and those perfecti who reject the Evil God of the Old Testament, and the Even More Evil God of the New Testament, in favor of the Good God of the Vince Testament! Consecrate chicklets! Build a compound! But for crying out loud, get a sense of style! So that when your fellow tormented beings ask, "What did you do topside?" You won't have to say, "Well, I shoveled zeitgeist in Liverpool . . . Alright now. That's all . . . . .."
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.