Sunday, March 31

Well, here we are outside Harrisburg, PA

As Michael wrote in his blog, Easter Mass this morning was something else. I have literally never seen anything like it - and I've been going to Mass since 1965. Even during the 70's - I never saw anything even close.

The priest was a visitor, and I promise from the bottom of my heart I'll never complain about our pastor ever, ever again.

Actually, he's not a complete stranger to the area - apparently he taught at one of the local high schools for ten year a while back, and was popular. I guess.

How can I communicate what this liturgy was like? Egomania 2002? Would that do it? As Michael noted, this priest literally made up every prayer from the opening sign of the cross to the closing blessing, including much of the Eucharistic prayer. He eliminated every "negative" word - for example, replacing "with humble and contrite hearts" with "humble and blessed hearts." He waxed eloquent at the presentation of the gifts, relating how the various people in the parish made the money they had offered. During the Eucharistic prayer, he added the name of the choir-directing nun, but included no saints. He even did some extemporaneous work with the consecration, which he was sort of chanting, but not really chanting - jazzily ad-libbing would be more like it. He sang out "shed for you, shed for you, shed for you, shed - for - yooooooooou!" He sang during the homily. He had the children come, not around the altar for the Eucharistic Prayer, but in front of him, so that he was behind them during it, and kind of had to fight his way forward during the consecration, making for a bit of laughter. Hah. Hah. Hah.

Add to that his rather extraordinary story about how in a week of being depressed and sad about the Current Situation, Jesus surprised him in the form of a 6th grade altar server after Holy Thursday Mass, a boy with an "angelic face" who gave him a big hug....you have a Portrait of an Insane Priest.

It was simply awful. I was half praying for Joseph to act up so that I would have to leave, and half praying he wouldn't so I could remain and watch the train wreck.

Our pastor has been fretting over the past year about dropping Mass attendance and its companion, dropping offertory collection. I wonder if he thought this would help. I hope not. I hope he doesn't think this is what is going to help rev up his parish. God help us if he does!

We are heading to Philadelphia in the morning to see some interesting stuff, I hope.

Saturday, March 30

A blessed Easter to all of you.
So much for posting...

We've had a busy 24 hours. Last night we bought Joseph his brand-new, front-facing big boy car seat. Today we we fetched our rental car (cheaper for the company than all of us flying, with no wear on our car!), Michael worked out, Michael shopped for a new laptop computer, Michael got Office Depot to match Best Buy's price on a laptop, since neither Best Buy in town happened to have their featured laptop in stock, Amy got her hair cut, Amy did about six loads of laundry, finished her NCEA talk, made transparencies, did a bit of packing, Michael set up the new laptop, and Joseph followed us around, making this funny new face he has (scrunching up his nose and squinting his eyes), and picking up objects and putting them in places where they will never be found again.

We are leaving tomorrow after Mass, and hope to make it pretty far across Pennsylvania. I'd like to spend some time in Philadelphia on Monday, given I've never been there, and we'll get to Atlantic City late afternoon or early evening on Monday. Since we have the laptop, I can work on the columns I didn't write today in the car, Michael can do book revisions, and we can both blog away in the hotel when we get bored. So...perhaps if you check in late Sunday or early Monday morning, there will be something new and fascinating in this space. Or not.

A good piece from Michael Novak on the Current Situation.

His view is that a general culture of "dissent" that has marked the life of Catholicism from top to bottom since Vatican II has a role to play in this, and one can't really disagree with this at all.

Except to ask - if that is the case, why is that some vigorously non-dissenting bishops have covered-up behavior, shifted offenders around and protected them? Cardinal Law? Cardinal Egan? Dailey of Brooklyn? Not a dissenter in the bunch, but plenty of protectors of sexual predators there.

It would be very helpful if orthodox Catholics who have a good grasp of the theological and spiritual aspects of this crisis would honestly confront the nature of clerical culture, which is partly related to mandatory celibacy, and partly to the dynamics that engage any group of professionals and bureaucrats.

An interesting question, to those who can't see a leadership composed only of celibate males as having any impact on the shape of this culture: imagine that the members of some other profession - any profession - all followed an identical lifestyle (on paper). All lawyers were celibate women. All doctors were celibate males. All teachers were celibate, period. Would that impact the way those professions are practiced and the way they relate to their "clients?" Probably. Would it impact the members' relations to each other? Probably. Any profession is almost reflexively self-protective - hence, for example, the existence of professional associations, most of which came into existence as a way of defining who was and wasn't permitted to practice those skills. Hence the sense that there are some things, for example, that lawyers, doctors and teachers know about each other and the practice of their professions that the rest of us haven't a clue about. Church work is no different - and I mean all church work, whether it's engaged in by lay or ordained folk. But the impact of mandatory clerical celibacy really takes that sense to another level.

Yes, a culture of "dissent" undoubtedly contributed to the lax morals among many clergy, as described in Novak's piece, but it doesn't explain the episcopal protection of these guys. At all.

Friday, March 29

I will be posting on and off over the next few days, but..I have so much work to do, it's not even funny. We leave for Atlantic City and the National Catholic Education Association gathering on Sunday, and I have columns to do, a book review and...uh...a talk that I'm giving on Wednesday. And I really did want the house to be clean before we left, but I dunno...

Good Friday reflections later.

Went to Mass last night. Not in our normal parish, but in a smaller church up the road. (This is so different from the south. Catholic churches every mile). Started out ten rows from the front. Gave Joseph missalettes to examine. Tore one up. Started talking. I took him to the vestibule and let him just walk, walk, walk. Until he discovered the stairs to the choir loft, which were like an irresistable road to El Dorado. Back into the church, let Michael have his turn. Michael strolled over to the other side, where the darkened cry room awaited. He found the door and went in. I stealthily followed, and there we sat for the rest of Mass, with Joseph careening around the cry room, perfecting his walking skills with every step. In the cry room, there was this strange row of bassinettes - looked to date from the early 1960's when the church was built - it was a block of attached wooden little cribs, on top of a set of cabinets. It was kind of cool looking, but when I walked in, I immediately thought "Romanian orphanage."

What is the point of having visitors to a parish introduce themselves? To help them feel "welcome," I suppose. To "build community." Yech. What it does is disrupt and force a false enthusiasm into the liturgy: "Oh..you're from Butte? Fabulous! Over from Terre Haute? Welcome! Wow - from Orlando, huh? Did you bring any sunshine with you?"

Gag, gag, gag. And not just because I'm an introvert.

Do you know what binds us together at Mass and as Church in general? Christ in Eucharist. That's it. No matter what we say or do, He is the one who unites us. Not facile exchanges of greetings and forced expressions of delight at a visitor's place of origin.

A Q & A with Harry Crocker, the author of Triumph: The Power and the Glory of the Catholic Church. I haven't had time to post my review of the book here, but in a nutshell:

Crocker's successful in accomplishing what he sets out to do: produce a corrective to accounts of RC Church history that serve "liberal" agendas. In the process, however, he minimizes problems - for example, he sets the record straight on Martin Luther, who was no saint, as Catholic religious educators try to tell their students, but he seriously minimizes the very real corruption in the church of the time.

In short, he does what all apologists for Catholic sins do: he seeks to set all the questionable Catholic matters "in context", but then doesn't treat the church's opponents the same way.

It's an interesting and knotty problem, one about which I've started writing several times, but never been able to tie up: Honesty compels us to see the events of the past in their context - we can't condemn people in the past for not living up to modern standards. But then we have to ask...if the Inquisition is going to be "explained" and excused by all sorts of contextual factors related to culture, does that not leave us in the curious position of having to answer the question: Our contemporary culture says all sorts of things are correct, from artificial contraception to non-marital sex, and so on. Would not our acceptance of those behaviors as moral be nothing more than an appropriate reaction within the "context"?

In other words, if you want to excuse the Church's involvement in violence and coercion because, well..those were violent times... then what's to stop the Church from enshrining sexual irresponsiblity as moral since....well...these are sexually irresponsible times....

My other huge problem with Crocker's book is that it's primarily political - a history of the decision-makers in the institution. There's not a word about the sacramental life of the Church, very little about spirituality or anything else that's not related to guys in big robes standing up to other guys in big robes.

Thursday, March 28

You know, I certainly do appreciate the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights. They do important work, even if I do wish Bill Donohue could appear on television without immediately begining to SHOUT!

But alas, I can't agree with this one. The League has condemned a PETA anti-cow milk campaign that includes, as one of its components, a pro-breastfeeding poster featuring Mary nursing Jesus - you can see it here. It says "If it was good enough for Jesus....The human breast is best for human babies."

Okay? And? The problem exactly?

Here's the problem, according to the League: PETA CAN’T SELL ITS ANTI-DAIRY MESSAGE WITHOUT BASHING CATHOLICS Oh.

Sure, PETA does have a track-record of less-than reverent use of Christian imagery, but this one is really not a problem and for the life of me, I can't see how it "bashes Catholics." Read the press release in its entirety and tell me if you don't think that Donohue really missed the point of this one, and comes off looking like he thinks promotion of breast-feeding is a looney idea. Oh, that's nice. Maybe we'll just have to set the LaLeche League (founded by mostly, if not all Catholic women) on Bill so he'll see the error of his ways in this one.

For a different use of the same idea that PETA utilized, go here.

You may not be aware that there actually is a Catholic devotion to Our Lady of La Leche, and a shrine dedicated to her in St. Augustine, Florida. I have a reproduction of the statue pictured on that site above my desk. You also might not know that through the medieval and renaissance periods, one of the most common representations of the virtue of charity was a nursing mother - giving of herself and her body to sustain the life of another human being.

Harrumph. Watch what you say to a nursing mother, buddy.

A nice new Catholic blog.
Food for thought:

Even from the cross, when our Lord in his agony found perfection of his saintly humanity—even then he did not own himself a victim of injustice: They know not what they do.
Georges Bernanos, The Diary of a Country Priest

A truth to remember any time you hear a church bureaucrat set himself up as a besieged victim.

Another he said...uh...he said in St. Pete.

A former teacher is suing a priest and the St. Petersburg Diocese for sexual harrassment.

In the newest allegation, Zigmund, 32,[the teacher] says that soon after Swengros [ the priest ]arrived in Gulfport, he asked him to go on shopping trips to the mall. Later, he said, the priest arranged candlelight dinners for him at the rectory, offered him wine during work hours, touched him "in private places" and tried to kiss him. He also said the priest repeatedly called him at home, told him he was beautiful and that he loved him.

Okay, okay...let's hear the other side:

During Wednesday's news conference, Swengros, a tall, soft-spoken man, called the accusations "baseless." The priest, who has several important roles in the diocese, appeared eager to answer the charges and said that he had volunteered to take a polygraph test, which he said he passed. But responding could only lead to a "mud fight," said the priest, who added that "there has been no harassment, no sexual harassment."

It never ends. Ever.

Bishop does good.

In Boise, the Catholic bishop has refused to withdraw his support from a series of billboards challenging viewers to see the connection between abortion, the Holocaust, and racial oppression.

The 12 photographic murals, each 8 feet wide by 4 feet high, depict aborted fetuses alongside corpses in Nazi death camps and black lynching victims. Captions make such analogies as: "Ungentile, Unwhite, Unborn" and "Religious Choice, Racial Choice, Reproductive Choice."



The exhibit is scheduled for April 8-12 at Boise State University. A university official defended the school's decision to allow the exhibit


Got a note from my Playboy.com surfer. Seems like a nice fellow. Now if I could only hear from the Vatican, we might be able to work together (I mean me and the Vatican...oh never mind)..and get this whole mess straightened out...
Students cheat on ethics essay:

A group of Canadian engineering students took the art of cheating to its logical conclusion by plagiarizing an essay on ethics, embarrassed academics said on Wednesday.



Donald Russell, associate dean at Ottawa's Carleton University, said he would be dealing with 31 students who had been caught submitting essays cribbed from the Internet .



It reminds me of my teaching days, when frantic students would come into theology class complaining, "Ms. Welborn, someone stole my Bible out of my locker!"

Lileks on yesterday's suicide bombing. And the rest of life and death, where evil dwells and what must be done to stop it.
The fun part about a counter on a weblog isn't really watching the number of hits but seeing where people are coming from: Lots of universities (hey! get back to writing obtuse journal articles!), various companies from Disney to...yes...Enron (that was this morning), and then my favorite two surfers from yesterday: One came from Vatican City, and the other came from Playboy.com.

Hey. Welcome y'all. This is a (mostly) Big Tent Blog I've got going here.

As we begin the Triduum, I'll share with you once again the best antidote to Catholic Scandal Stress Syndrome that I can think of: Attend the Easter Vigil and see new Catholics be born. Scroll down to read the full post from a couple of days ago, or click here.
I didn't get to read my copy of Goodbye! Good Men last night because my husband absconded with it. But here's the good news: He has an excellent review and reflection on the book on his Blog this morning which is especially helpful because he speaks as an insider - a former seminary student and seminary faculty member.

I don't think humble priests or bishops commit these acts of indecency--it is the arrogant ones (liberals and conservatives) who do. Humble clergy will admit the sins that have and continue to be committed behind the sacred walls of seminaries. They will humbly acknowledge the mistakes and sins of the past and make restitution. They will turn to Jesus and follow his example. If they themselves are the cause of scandal they will resign. If their seminaries are filled with bad faculty and students they will ask them to leave.


Today is Holy Thursday. Tonight, we will hear the story of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples. One will protest arrogantly that he will not allow this--he will deny knowing Jesus a few hours later. Another who also is recorded as speaking out against Jesus when a woman washed Jesus' feet with precious oil--will also now step forward in betrayal. One apostle will repent unto Jesus and become the first Pope, the other apostle will repent unto himself and commit suicide.

I'm lucky, aren't I? Maybe "lucky" isn't the word: "Blessed" would cover it nicely, thanks.


The Polish Archbishop accused of mischief with seminarians has resigned. He maintains his innocence, says his actions were misinterpreted, is resigning for the sake of the church. Maybe, but yadda, yadda, yadda.

What we have here and in many other situations are reports of actions that are just on the edge of explicit, full-fledged, total sexual contact. We've heard it from O'Connell, we've heard it said of Fr. Gentile, we've heard it from Bishop Lynch and others.

Do you know who else we've heard it from? Think back - just a few years. That's it. It's coming back to you now, isn't it? A Certain Person arguing that he wasn't sure was "is" and "sex" meant?

Listen up. Read Matthew chapter 5. The whole thing. Words of Jesus about the relationship between thoughts and actions, leading us, if we're willing to listen, to a deeply holistic sense of morality. Stop asking, Jesus seems to be saying, "How far can you go?" Start looking within and seeing the beginnings of sin way down deep, in how you look at other people and think about them.

Now look at these accusations and weasle-words in that light, the light of Jesus' own words. Holiness is what we're after, not playing games and toying with boundaries. That bespeaks a total lack of seriousness about oneself and the dignity of other people.

Lyle Lovett is recovering after being trampled by a bull on his uncle's farm. I'm glad Lyle's okay. I'm taken aback by his uncle's name: Calvin Klein.
This little weblog had over 3000 hits yesterday, and for that I'm grateful to Rod Dreher at The Corner. The inundation has led to just a bit more email than I customarily get, so if you've written, give me a couple of days to respond, okay?
Aaaaaaaargh!!! More from the "how can this happen file:

It's the second part of the NY Daily News examination of Fr. Gentile, popular priest, children's author, and massager of adolescent boys at his lake house.

Go through the whole article. Feel your stomach churn. And then wake up and pay close attention to this part: In 1997, a new parishioner of was invited to go with her husband and 8-year old son to the priest's lake house. The husband couldn't go, the woman was uncomfortable, so the priest assuaged her by telling her he'd have other people present, too. The "other people" turned out to be some teenage boys, one of whom Gentile very publicly and intensely massaged in a way that made the woman uncomfortable. But

When she mentioned the incident to several parishioners, she said they told her to "‘Keep it quiet. Don't tell anybody. It will ruin his career.'" She took their advice.

But then when other allegations came forward, she realized that she should have trusted her instincts. So she contacted the director of priest personnel for the archdiocese:

"He was very cool," Ellsberg recalled. "‘Oh, I find it so hard to believe. Are you sure that is what you saw?'" she recalled him saying.


She said O'Donnell also wondered: "‘Isn't it simply the case that he is Italian?'" suggesting that Italians are physically demonstrative



"‘Monsignor,' I said, ‘I am Italian. And where I come from, if a man does this to a little boy, he gets shot.'"

Gentile was eventually removed from parish work (at the demand of parishioners at his newly assigned parish, God bless them) and now works in the Tribunal office.



Okay. Let's get started here.What is Anna Quindlen talking about?

After reading her Newsweek piece a few times, I've concluded this is what she's going for:

The sexual abuse cover-up has occurred because the Church teaches sexual morality.

And now all hell is going to break loose because all of the victims writhing under the unjust restraints of these teachings are rising up in judgment, thrilled at last to be able to turn tables on their oppressors.

Really.

I guess Anna's too subtle for me, but I have a hard time seeing this connection. I suppose what she's saying is that traditional Catholic sexual teaching "missed the point" by imposing erroneous teachings on Catholics for centuries, while allowing a sexually and emotionally stunted celibate clergy to fester.

Quindlen buys the traditional rap on traditional Catholic morality: that it was nothing but prohibition and a denial of something important about the human person.

For too many years, the church seemed to have a bizarre preoccupation with sins of the flesh so unrelenting that, to this day, people will ask if the nuns taught me that patent-leather shoes reflect up. (No.) The enforced celibacy of the male priesthood, an invention only of the faith’s second millennium, taught a clear lesson: eschewing human sexuality was the greatest glory of the highest calling. (“Our ideal is not to experience desire at all.”—Clement of Alexandria, saint.) The ban on contraception taught that sex could be countenanced only when it could lead to pregnancy. There was no passion or pleasure, only procreation and punishment.

What Quindlen misses, not surprisingly, is context. Sure, the strain of misogyny and idealized asceticism that runs through much of Christian history his disturbing and wrong, but do you know what? It was in the culture. Not only that, for the most part, the culture was worse, and what Christianity managed to squeeze out of it was actually a step up - for human dignity, and yes, Anna, even for women.

And despite the church’s antipathy toward homosexuality, it was inevitable that most of those victimized would be male. After all, the teachings about ordination and celibacy and the evils of desire had as their subtext a misogyny that would lead any reasonable person to conclude that sex with a female is the lowest form of sexual expression.

Huh? This is creative. Really creative. I mean, not everyone could make this move, taking a tradition that uniformly, from the Jewish Law onward, see homosexuality as a perversion and then pronounce that the misogyny of this tradition led the sexually supressed to pederasty because women were supposedly so gross? No, not just anyone could make that leap. Only Anna Quindlen.

.
The bishops gathered wood for this current conflagration every time they turned away from the human condition to emphasize wayward genitalia.

As if the "human condition" has nothing to do with genitalia, wayward or not. Quindlen approvingly quotes Eugene Kennedy, a man who's currently making a good living talking about the (again, supposed) dualism of the Christian tradition in regard to matters of the body (don't believe him, by the way). To separate the "human condition" from sexual matters, as Quindlen does, is nothing but dualism.

They must be amazed at how harshly they are now judged after all those years of deference, when they were allowed to make their own laws. As if, all along, Catholic sexual morality has sprung from a secret, centuries-old "Committee for Making Our Own Sex Rules So The Laity Will Be Miserable." You know, that's sort of what my high school students used to think, too. It was a challenge to help them see the truth - that these "laws" are the fruit of human wisdom and reflection on God's revelations about who we are, as creatures made in His image.

The judgment of divorced Catholics reborn in good marriages ordered not to go to communion.

I'm divorced. I'm remarried. I've never been ordered not to go to communion. Oh. That's right. I have an annulment. And as crazy and legalistic as Catholic marriage law is (and perhaps the Orthodox model is much better - I wouldn't be surprised if most Tribunal employees agreed), you (yes you, AQ) have to admit that its roots are not in the whims of bishops. Its roots are in the teachings of Jesus - pretty strict ones, as a matter of fact. Remember him? Jesus? The guy you're always appealing to? Oh. Not in this case, right?

The judgment of women up all night with sick babies lectured about the sanctity of life

Funny. I never got the impression - not once - that the Church's teaching on abortion took the form of lectures to mothers with sick babies. I always thought the intended audience was doctors who make fortunes from dismembering little human beings, lawmakers who are too gutless to do anything about it, and anyone - pregnant woman, man, parents of a pregnant teen - who have been deceived by opportunists to believe that killing that child is the best way out of a difficult situation.

I really can't be bothered to pick this piece apart any more, because it would just be deeply aggravating. But you know, there is actually a good point to be drawn from this, especially for Catholic leaders: Quindlen starts her piece by scoffing at the sight of Cardinal Egan testifying against mandatory contraceptive coverage for health plans in New York state. Her implication is that considering the moral crisis over which he presides in his own house, talking about such issues is presumptuous on his part.

This is what we call a collapse of moral authority, and it should surprise no one. Americans are going to have a mighty hard time taking the moral pronouncements of the Catholic hierarchy seriously after this farce, and you really can't blame them.

But you know, there's hope. No matter how you feel about it - if you share Quindlen's sense that two thousand years of Catholic moral teaching has been a farce and a classic case of "missing the point", or even if you just can't listen to another bishop talk about truth, justice and the Christian way of love one more second, knowing what some of them have been up to, take heart. There is another voice here, an alternative to this oppression and hypocrisy:

But you are the only person alive who has sole custody of your life. Your particular life. Your entire life. Not just your life at a desk, or your life on the bus, or in the car, or at the computer. Not just the life of your mind, but the life of your heart. Not just your bank account, but your soul.

From: A Short Guide to a Happy Life by Anna Quindlen.

Now that's some deep thinking there.

Wednesday, March 27

You know, Gary Wills is not everyone's favorite, but this (long) piece from the Boston Globe has some very good points, along with some weaker ones. I can't go as far as he does - maintaining that mandatory celibacy is totally to blame for the pattern of protection of abusers. But he makes an interesting point here:

There have been scandals involving Boy Scout leaders, teachers, athletic coaches, psychiatrists, and other counselors. But no profession had the easy access on a basis of trust that a priest enjoyed until recently. He was presumed to be disciplined by his code of sexual abstinence. He did not just help a boy at camp or in the gym but had the whole care of the child's soul as his province. He was not just a technician of one particular skill, but a man set apart from others by a spiritual mission, with important roles to play in church, at school, in homes, and in various kinds of Catholic activities. There was no obvious way to delimit his activities. (One does not normally invite the athletic coach over for dinner, nor do one's children go to his home.) Parents - especially devout Catholics - relied on the priests, and the priests recognized targets of opportunity

This sounds reasonable, but if you think about it long enough, it's really not. Why? There's been plenty of sexual abuse in Protestant denominations and in Judaism - of all kinds, and the reasons parents trust their children with those ministers, youth ministers, music directors and Sunday School teachers has nothing to do with celibacy. It has to do with a trust that if the person is working with youth in a church setting they must be essentially moral people, who have nothing but the good of the child at heart.

And although good people of faith differ, I really would recommend to you the way in which Wills assesses the effect of a celibate culture on the second page of this article. There is much truth in what he says, truth that you really only know if you've ever seen how all of this works from up close:

This puts priests in a situation of mutual blackmail. A gay bishop who is innocent of pedophilia may be hesitant to push for punishment of a fellow priest if that could expose him and his own partners to unwanted scrutiny. The gays can rightly say that church authorities have been very protective in the past of priests having affairs, long-standing or briefly exploitative, with women. Speaking to this subject at a 1972 synod of bishops in Rome, Cardinal Franjo Seper, the former head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, said, "I am not at all optimistic that celibacy is being observed."

Given this weave of mutual vulnerabilities in the "celibate" priesthood and the perceived duty to maintain a comparatively holy aura around their work, it is no wonder that bishops are anxious to look the other way or to make others do so. The whole celibacy structure is really a house of cards, and honesty about any one problem can make the structure of pretense come toppling down. The priesthood itself has become an esoteric school of pretense. Treating pedophilia as a separate problem is impossible, since it thrives by its place in a compromised network of evasions.

I'm not willing, as I said, to go the whole way with Wills on this. The issue of the culture produced by mandatory celibacy is important, but in a way it's a diversion. We have to deal with what we have at the moment and where we are.


I've mentioned this site before, but I thought it would be nice to share it again:

TextWeek is an astonishingly comprehensive collection of liturgical resources for churches that use the shared lectionary. The focus is on helping preachers by having Scripture commentary and other resources (art, film) all in one place, but even if the only preaching you do is to your kids or your dog, you still might find something helpful, especially if you're looking for a bit of an extra prayer resource for these holiest days of Holy Week.

From Carl Olson, soon to be of Envoy Magazine:

....

I am continually stunned at how absolutely relativistic and indifferent (theologically speaking) so many Catholics are. This Easter will be our fifth as Catholics. In five short years I've heard more muddled, inane, and culturally conditioned mumblings and bumblings than I had ever heard in twenty-five years as a Protestant. But they have also been the best five years of our lives, for we have seen and experienced the reality of Christ in His Church in ways I never could have as a Protestant. The combination of spineless, mindless blatherings and holy, humble dedication is disconcerting, but very real. It calls to mind St. Paul's epistles to the Corinthians. Like the Apostle to the Gentiles, we need to call sin by its name, condemn it, and expose those who are, like a bunch of clueless junior-high kids, playing footsies with this evil.


Secondly, I think this crisis will be--just like so many other crises in the history of the Church--a necessary time of cleansing and challenge. There's been much talk of how our leaders have let us down--and many have. But every Catholic who has failed to live the Faith, has not learned the basics of Church doctrine, who has not sought to be a disciple, bears some (albeit not direct) responsibility. For too long the average Catholic has not been willing to question Church leaders, to ask the tough questions, to demand a Church that is holy, catholic, apostolic. The time for being a cultural Catholic or nominal Catholic is over. People will be forced to choose, to contemplate why they are "Catholic," and reconsider who they really are.

Carl's got a book coming out in the fall on the whole Left Behind/Rapture thing. It's obvious it will be well worth reading.

Give the girl an hour with Andrew Greeley.

My father gave me the news that Anna Quindlen has spoken. I'll have to give this masterpiece more thought later, but for now I'll leave you with her assesment of post-Vatican II Catholicism's attitude toward sex:

But no birth control, they said, no divorce. No self-abuse, no petting, no impure thoughts. The church of a Jesus who let Mary Magdalene caress his feet threatened to be swamped by an icy sea of sexual prohibition.

Well first, it wasn't Mary Magdalen. It was "a woman" - a sinful woman according to Luke, but not identified so in either Matthew or Mark. But not Mary Magdalen. Unless you get your exegesis from Jesus Christ, Superstar. So, maybe.

Further, this whole "Catholics hate sex" gig is really old and tired. Like I said, give Anna an hour of conversation with Andrew Greeley, aka Fr. I'm a celibate, but lemme tell you Catholic sex is really hot so she has a better sense of just where her own tradition is at with this.

But that's just a start. More later - on Anna, Eve, and Andrew (Sullivan, not Greeley).

Just got my review copy of Goodbye! Good Men in the mail today. I really should read the simple, helpful spiritual musings of Johann Christoph Arnold tonight, but somehow, I don't think that's going to happen.
Dowd, redux

See, this is what I think about when I think about Maureen's vision of a Church that bows to the desires of its members to "change" its "medieval" teachings:

I think about hundreds of people applauding Bishop Lynch at Mass, a man who's clearly engaged in some untoward behavior. I think about story after story about these abuse cases in which I've read of congregations standing in "support" of their admitted sexual predator priests...tale after tale of well-meaning people who just don't get it.

At the moment, that seems to be one strong thread of the sensus fidelium (pardon my Latin - I have a baby on my lap and am not exactly in a position to check sources), on that issue at least - professed outrage at the protectors, and what amounts to a sick sort of sympathy for the perps, because, you know, "everyone's human." (explain that to me, would ya?)

No. I know that the Church's expression of the Gospel is complex and in many ways just as expressive of the culture in which it grows as it is of the mind of Christ . It can be very difficult to figure out. Like the Incarnation, which is sort of what it is.

But given what I've seen - congregations giving standing ovations to Bishops who harrass an employee - I think I'll take the weight of the Church's traditional teaching above what they - or I - happen to think it should be on any given day.

(This also relates to Andrew Sullivan and Eve Tushnet's current cross-blog conversation, into which I'll throw my unasked-for two cents later tonight or tomorrow.)

How Palm Beach is coping with its unwelcome reputation as a place to send episcopal abusers:

— The Bishop's Cup annual charity golf tournament, with its local celebrities and big-money buzz, is one of the brightest events on the Palm Beach social calendar.

But this year, after Bishop Anthony J. O'Connell admitted to sexually abusing a seminarian in Missouri 25 years ago and then resigned in disgrace, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Palm Beach thought it wise to give the April 5 fund-raiser a new name, calling it simply the Catholic Charities golf tournament.

I guess so.

Here's what we're talking about. The New York Daily News has a long examination of accused predator Rev. Gennaro Gentile. You really need to read this piece to get a handle on how these guys work: Nurture close relationships with families, do a great job with the parish (in terms of the externals at least) - get popular, popular, popular. And then on the weekends traipse off with cars full of teenage boys for camping trips, with full knowledge of their parents because, you know...you're so popular. And you've done such a great job. And you would "never, ever do anything like that." Right.

So the question is - who in the diocese is protecting this guy and why?

Okay, okay. Welcome to my blog. Again. A lot of you are probably interested in Catholic Stuff, with a major in Unholy Messes. I have quite a bit of reflection on the situation on this Blog - just keep going through the archives to see. I also have a column up on what form a parent's concern should take here. -it's called Wolves in Shepherd's Clothing.
Warning to new visitors: This Blog is hosted by Blogspot, which is generally wonderful, but also tends to go down at least once a day. If that happens, don't give up on me. Come back in an hour, and I'll probably be here.
Sister Maureen Dowd Explains It All To You:

Here we go.All the other Catholic pundits have weighed in, from Bill O'Reilly to Michael Kelly to Maggie Gallagher and more (boy, there are a lot of Catholic pundits. Why is that?). But one has been silent, and the world has mourned. Grieve no more. Dawn creeps over the horizon. Last Sunday and today, Maureen Dowd speaks to Scandal-o-Rama.

It's hard to know where to start with today's column. but let's plunge in and address something distressing that has absolutely nothing to do with Dowd, and is not her fault:

After a Passion Play, with kids as Roman soldiers in gold plastic helmets re-enacting Jesus' crucifixion, the Bombay-born priest launched into a poignant and gutsy sermon that snapped even the least latte-ed congregants to attention.

Do not wonder, any longer, why Catholics don't take their faith seriously. All you need to do to understand why this is so is to reread that first sentence about what happened during the Gospel on Passion Sunday in Dowd's parish:

After a Passion Play, with kids as Roman soldiers in gold plastic helmets re-enacting Jesus' crucifixion...

Do you think, at the Greek or Russian Orthodox church down the street, the liturgical observance of Passion Sunday will feature

...kids as Roman soldiers in gold plastic helmets re-enacting Jesus' crucifixion...

I just have to type it over and over. I can't quite get a grasp of why a parish would even think, for one second, to mark the beginning of the holiest week of the year, a time in which we enter into the mysterious, brutal and horrific events that even more mysteriously redeem us.....with kids in gold plastic helmets....

Oh, never mind. Onward.

Well then, Dowd continues by relating her pastor's homily, one which made a few headlines because in it, he called for Cardinal Law's resignation. Then comes the transition:

The resonance of the sermon underscores the dilemma for American Catholics: Will they continue to pick and choose privately among the Vatican's antiquated dictums on divorce, birth control and homosexuality, and suppress doubts about a celibate, all-male priesthood?

Or is it finally time for a public reckoning? Should they demand that the Vatican, which has been shrugging off the pedophilia crisis and rejecting reforms that could alleviate it, admit its failings and step into the modern world?

Okay. I'm trying here. Trying pretty darn hard. But for the life of me I can't quite see the connection Dowd is making here:

There's an institutional problem involving too many losers being ordained, and being protected by the hierarchy when their loser-hood victimizes others.

As a result, American Catholics are ready to storm the Vatican and demand that the parish gift shop stock Curial Condoms, Papal Pills and Dogmatic Diaphragms right next to to rosaries?

To be sure, there are vexing issues here that stretch beyond the priesthood and extend to the issue of severely damaged moral authority. But not even twelve-year old, drunk on his own burgeoning rational mind, and with his radar for Adult Hypocrisy firmly extended believes that because he caught his parents in a lie, honesty is no longer a value. That seems to be what Dowd is getting at: a big chunk of Church hierarchy has been caught in a web of lies, therefore every moral standard it holds to must be a lie, too.

Like I said. Even a twelve-year old....

She's right, of course, about one thing: lots of American Catholics have a definitely skeptical mind in regard to Catholic moral teaching. But there's nothing new about that. Anyone with any sense of history can tell you that the struggle to define moral standards and apply them with both compassion and fidelity to the truth is a two-thousand year old one, and one that Catholics and their confessors have managed in different ways. But do you know what else? Dowd says that American Catholics are dissenting from Catholic teaching on divorce, etc...yada yada. Therefore the teaching should be changed. Of course, that's pretty dumb just on its face, but take it another step further. Most American Catholics, perhaps even including Maureen Dowd, pay scant attention to what Jesus, the saints, the current Holy Father, and the weight of Catholic tradition has said about material possessions and wealth. Given a choice between the ideals of Western Materialism and the ideals of Jesus of Nazareth, I'm sure the majority would choose the former.

So should we change it, you think?


And what does any of this have to do with the problem at hand?

Hey. If you want me to, I can pull quotes off of Nexis and string them together with illogical transitions, too. Where's my Pulitzer?

School's in session, so I'm busy making lunches and driving kiddos to school. But I'll be back in a bit to take down Maureen Dowd's column.
Okay. I go to bed on Tuesday night all miffed and put out that Andrew Sullivan has mentioned almost every Major Catholic Blog on the block on his site, from Relapsed Catholic to Fr. Shawn to Eve Tushnet. But not me. What's up, Andrew? I fumed, as I lay down for my first two-hour sleeping shift (I know, I know. He's almost a year old. Shouldn't he be sleeping through the night? By heaven, he should. But apparently doesn't know that yet). Why am I not good enough for you? Too unabashed and open a breeder for ya, huh?

Then I wake up and see about forty million hits on this Blog. What's up? Did Andrew come through?

No, no no-- much better. Rod Dreher came through in The Corner. Gee, thanks Rod!

Tuesday, March 26

Part the Sixth of How to Cope (with The Scandal):

Go to the Easter Vigil Mass on Saturday evening.

Watch the fire bringing light to the darkness. Listen to the chant "Christ our Light." Listen to the Exultet. Yes, listen to the words:

The power of this holy night dispels all evil, washes guilt away, restores lost innocence, brings mourners joy; it casts out hatred, brings us peace, and humbles earthly pride.

And after the constancy of God's love and mercy is proclaimed through the Scriptures, watch.

Some men and women, and maybe some children will come forth. They will stand in front of the rest of us, a little nervous, but resolute and starting to overflow with what is called joy. They will answer questions about what they believe with a firm "I do." They will willingly plunge into cleansing waters or they will gladly present their heads for anointing. And a bit later, barely able to believe that the gift and the privilege is theirs, they will move with the rest of us, hands outstretched, hearts open, newly clad in faith, to receive Him. To be joined with Him and with the rest of us.

They will be Catholics.

Brand new, happy Catholics, with no regrets or anger, only hope. Freshly-minted Catholics who do not have time to gripe or seethe, even with righteous anger, not here, not now, because they are so blessed and they know it. Blessed to be part of the Body of Christ. Blessed to belong. Blessed to be.

Catholic.

Yes. At this moment, I can think of no better antitode to our weariness and our wariness, our shattered trust, our doubts about the future, our arguments about solutions, and our suspicions.

Go to the Easter Vigil. See happy, grateful Catholics. And try to make their joy yours. Again.

Did I mention that there was no school again today? After going through practically the whole winter with no days off and no delays, here we are, almost a week into spring, with six inches of snow on the ground and kids at home.

It's okay. Katie's gotten some good sledding in (with Joseph on her lap a couple of those times), David shoveled, not only the driveway, but his closet as well. They've already announced a two-hour delay for tomorrow, but I suspect that will be the extent of it - there's no new snow predicted to fall, so the school day will probably proceed apace from there, and Joseph and I will have the house to ourselves again.

Quick. What's this coming Friday called? Do you know? Of course you do. It's called Good Friday.

Not if you work for Tampa Bay city government, though. Oh, no. This announcement (look to the left of the page) helpfully lets the public know that city offices will be closed on Friday, but not because it's Good Friday -

It's Spring Friday.

Here's what I say. If you object to Good Friday being a holiday of sorts, then go on in to work. Be my guest. In the same way, perhaps we should set up alternative schedules for those who object to references to Christmas or Easter breaks - let them go to school and work if they're so offended. If you're offended by the name, then you're probably deeply offended by the whole concept as well, so maybe you just go ahead and stay at the office.

Will money talk? A big- time fundraiser in the Palm Beach Diocese threatens to put his checkbook away unless the diocese gets its act together -for real - not just on paper.
The limits of treatment for clerical sexual predators. See, it just doesn't work when a) the clients aren't honest about their past offenses b) the dioceses or religious orders are eager to get the bodies back in albs n' chasubles, saying Mass and c) the treatment facility doesn't want to cross the Church and lose income.
Reformed Protestant Blogger Mark Byron has invited Catholic bloggers to defend their faith as Christian. I'd love to, but you know, there is someone out there who says what I have to say much better than I ever could - the smartest Catholic apologist I know of - Dave Armstrong. Dave has a page devoted to issues of justification and salvation on his Biblical Evidence for Catholicism website,and it covers just about everything you can think of.
Massive snowflakes are falling. Huge puffs of whiteness showering down on us. It would be even more gorgeous if it weren't almost April.
See what I mean? In an article about the reaction of NY's religious community to a proposed child-abuse reporting bill, Bill Donohue of the Catholic League says:

"It's Lent, and Christ is giving the Church a big cross to bear - one that it has earned," said Bill Donohue, the president of the Catholic League.


Unlovely details of the accusations against Bishop O'Connell. (NY Times, requires registration, blah blah blah)
"How can this kind of thing happen? part 164:

Parishioners stand by their pastor after revelations of sexual misconduct. Yes, the incident occurred many years ago, but they also happened to involve (at the time) a girl whom the priest started molesting when she was 10.The priest denies the allegations, but the diocese reached a settlement with the alleged victim, which we are safe to assume implies some truth to the accusations. And If dioceses are going to start settling false accusations, we're in worse trouble than we thought.

So what do parishioners say?

I'm kind of angry because the media has made it into an overblown situation," said churchgoer Bill Tinges, who lives at Sun City Lincoln Hills. "As far as the father is concerned, I can't believe it for one thing and don't want to believe it for another."
Other parishioners accused Hoey Lees of trying to capitalize on a string of scandals nationwide that recently has rocked the Catholic Church.

She came forth with the accusations in 1999 - late, to be sure, not exactlly capitalizing on the current situation.

My husband Michael has some fascinating insights into Matthew's account of the Passion today in his weblog.
Part the Fifth of How to Cope:

Offer it up. Do penance. Yeah, I know. Lent's almost over, and you thought your penitential stance was about to end as well. Maybe not. We've got until Friday. There's still time.

Do some penance. It's what all the saints did. And do - probably right now, there's someone out there - some Poor Clare in singing Lauds in the Phillipines, a Third Order Franciscan in North Dakota, or maybe even the Holy Father himself - offering up a bit of suffering for the sins of the world, and that means us. Our world. Our sins. Us.

Perhaps we could join them. A bit of Lenten-ending penance for the times the Church (hey - that means us, too) fails to live out the Gospel.

Monday, March 25

Michael Medved phones it in with a column on "Catholic-bashing" and the coverage of the Current Situation.

He begins by quoting a researcher who says

"The best data we have is that approximately 5 percent of priests have a predilection toward minors," which is lower than the 8 percent in the general population.

Do you believe that? I don't. I don't believe that a whopping 8 percent of the population is "sexually attracted to children." Current estimates tell us that about five percent of the population is homosexual. Are you trying to tell me that the percentage of child predators in the population is higher than the percentage of homosexuals? No way. And no way is almost TEN percent of the population leaning towards child sexual predation.

Which takes us to the second point. We're supposed to feel good that 5 percent of priests have this prediliction? That's supposed to soothe us? Shouldn't it be like....I don't know...ZERO PERCENT????????

So, Medved continues, if the problem is widespread, and exists in other religious groups besides the Catholic Church, why the focus on the Catholic Church?

Gotta be bias. It's because the Church is big, and a powerful voice for traditional morality. And so on. In the face of that, he maintains, the "media" is going to do what it can to tear the Church down, and with great glee.

Well. I do know that sexual crimes and sins aren't limited to Catholic clergy. But I also know that the stories we are hearing are not being created by the media. Sure, media attention plays a part in the timing of these events, and this, like anything else, is subject to the media's pack mentality in pursuing the Flavor of the Month, but the fact is, cases are coming to light, sometimes because the media digs them up, but more often because dioceses themselves have been forced to finally take action against priests and victims have felt safety in numbers - that now it's finally okay to go public with their pain and anger.

And I'm sorry. There is a legitimate story here about hypocrisy. And of course anti-Catholics enjoy it all very much, but that doesn't make the story less true. It is hypocritical for an institution to preach morality in public and practice and protect immorality in private. It is hypocritical for an institution to punish some who violate norms like the non-annulled divorced and remarried or the priests who leave openly and honestly, to marry, and then to coddle others who also violate norms and worse. Yes, it is hypocritical.

And do you know what I say? If Bill Donohue of the Catholic League isn't bleating about it, it's probably okay. and so far, with the exception of a couple of very specific complaints about a cartoon here and a column here. Donohue and the League have stayed quiet as the media has done its unpleasant, but necessary work.

The last thing we need now is whiny complaints about media bias and smear campaigns, from columnist like Medved (who's not Catholic, I know) or from parties within the Church. Wrong has been done. The best way to avoid negative press is to try mighty hard to avoid doing negative things. Clean house, do penance, and live out the Gospel. But don't, for heaven's sake, start striking a victim pose. Leave that role to the people who earned it: the real victims. Remember them?

Spring in Indiana. Snow. Lots of it. Kids home from school. Work? We'll try, but....

Sunday, March 24

Part the Fourth of How to Cope.

Refocus.

I'm very much a We-are-the-Church kind of person, not in a tediously arrogant lay-people-are-pure Call to Action kind of way, but just as a matter of fact. We are the Body of Christ. He lives through us, and nourished by Him in Eucharist, we are joined, we move, we have our being through Him - it is, after all, called "Communion."

But as I contemplate the Sins of the Fathers, coming at us in a steady, rather putrid stream these days, I find myself reflexively thinking, "That b*****! He's messing us up again! Another "leader" doing nothing but leading people away from the Church."

Like I'm a poster child for Power Evangelization myself or something. Oh yes, that's me.

Me with my own lengthy list of flaws, failings and sins. Why do I assume that I leave nothing but the pure love of Christ behind as I drag myself and my little shadow through our day?

Not to minimize or to excuse. Not to be one of those shockingly dull-witted parishioners or bishop's subjects who, when asked, offers a meaningless speech that begins with "It's too bad this happened" (as if human actions are akin to bad weather), is punctuated with "but" and ends with "we're all human."

Sidebar rant: If you, like I, have been wondering pretty much constantly, "How could this happen? How can this be tolerated?" listen to those very people. Read about the parishioners in Maine rallying 'round their admitted child-predator priests. See the walls of black gathered behind Bishops O'Connell and Lynch. Read the positive, "supportive" comments about Bishop Lynch on the Tampa Tribune website. Then you'll understand "how it happens" and "why it's tolerated."

Anyway. When I suggest refocusing, I don't mean to refrain from "judging," even though I know that's a really bad word these days and your ears are burning even just from reading it, and that is a really good trick in and of itself - ears burning from reading, that is. But the fact is, we've spent a lot of the past three decades really misunderstanding Jesus' warnings about judgment. He never meant for us to refrain from being the means through which God corrects sinners. That's one of the Spiritual Works of Mercy, after all. Jesus very specifically tells the apostles how to "judge" fellow Christians in Matthew 18:15-20, and don't thrown Matthew 7 at me until you've read every word of it, right up until verse 5. Yeah. See what I mean?

It's not that we're not to "judge" at all, it's that we're to judge in the right spirit - knowing we're not God and fully, deeply and continually aware of our own faults - those beams sticking out of our own eyes.

Which brings us (finally!) back around to the point.

No doubt you, like I, have watched the events of the past months in dismay and worried about their impact on the way the Church is in the world - who's going to ever take us seriously as voices for truth when so much of our leadership seems so riddled with liars? Who's going to listen to us speak of the need to care for the defenseless, the poor, the voiceless, when so much of our institutional structure seems to have seen vicitms as the enemy in so many of these cases?

But do you know what? I can't do anything about any of that. I can't do anything about the structure and attitudes in the Archdiocese of Boston. I can't have any impact on the appointment of bishops. I can't insist that all seminarians now be vetted through me and subjected to my great wisdom. I can't personally assist the victims of these crimes, unless I happen to know one.

But I can do two things: I can pray about the whole wretched mess. And I can put a little more of my energy into that beam in my own eye. I can deepen my own relationship with Christ and pray for more openness to His love working through me. I can evaluate my own responses to others throughout the day and reflect on how Christlike they are. I can look at what I'm doing - or not - to build up the Body of Christ.

Refocus.

I'll be on the radio Monday morning from around 9:45 to 10:00 EST on Dr. Greg Popcak's program that airs on Ave Maria Radio. I think you can listen through the Internet, starting here.
Went to see Ice Age with Katie. And Michael. And Joseph. Yawn. Except for the little cartoon ice-age baby human, who was just learning to walk and play peek-a-boo, which is exactly what Joseph is doing, so seeing that was cute. But otherwise, it was just the same old cartoon everyone's been making for the past fifteen years or so: Dissimilar, even inimical creatures are forced to bond together for a common cause, involving either a) a damsel in distress or b) a child. A journey ensues, wisecracks are exchanged, hearts are warmed, and in the end everything's restored.
Part the Third of How to Cope:

Read Chaucer. Read Boccacio. Read my favorite, Erasmus.

Why? First, to remind yourself, as you really should do on a daily basis, that there is nothing new under the sun. Just as there have been good and holy ministers of the Lord since the beginning, there's been trouble as well. Since the beginning. And in the face of that trouble, we are not obliged to excuse or let the offenders off the hook in the name of "forgiveness." We're always naturally obliged to be primarily concerned about our own sins, not those of others, and to be acutely aware of the beams jutting out of our own eyes, but you know, since it's our Church, since (as we like to say) we are the Church, if there's deeply flawed leadership, we can't depend on miraculous Acts of God to fix it. We have to do it, in any way we can. And if that involves a bit of mockery that some might call harsh, you know what I say? So be it.They're big men with nice big purple hats. They can take it.

Our popes, cardinals and bishops have, for a long while now, diligently followed the example of the state and the practices of the princes, and have come near to beating these noblemen at their own game. If our bishops would but stop and consider what their white albs signify -- namely, sincereity and a pure life in every way untainted; what is signified by their two-horned miter, the peaks of which are joined by a common knot -- a perfect knowledge and understanding of the Old and New Testaments; what is meant by their wearing of gloves -- the immaculate administration of the sacraments, untainted by any selfishness or self-concern; what their crozier symbolizes -- their diligent and protective watch of the flock that they are charged with; and what is signified by the cross that is carried before them in processions -- the victory of spiritual charity over carnal affections. If they would but contemplate these and other virutes, I am sure that it would be safe to say that they would not lead such troubled and shameful lives. But as it is they are kept too busy feeding themselves to think on these things....

From In Praise of Folly, Erasmus.(1517)

New Blog on the Block from Fr. Shawn O'Neal.

Saturday, March 23

Like I've been saying...

There are already married Catholic priests, like the grandfather, great-grandfather, and great-great grandfather of the Ukrainian Catholic writer of this illuminating piece from the Washington Post

Part the Second of Our Series, "How to Cope."

Try really, really hard to erase the picture of the bishop snapping photos of his Speedo-clad employee from your mind. Holy Week is good for that. Gives you plenty of other things to think about.

Feeling bummed about Scandal-o-rama? Here's Part The First of my antitode: (besides watching a baby toddle around the house, arms, as they say, akimbo, turning only to crinkle his nose or show his dimples as he checks to see if you're watching him as he searches for Trouble, the sight of which seems to cure most my ills, at least.)

1) Read what St. Augustine has to say about the nature of the Church:

If you do not wish to be deceived and if you want to continue loving one another, be aware that each way of life in the church has hypocrites in her ranks…There are bad Christians, but there are also good ones. At first glance you see a great number of bad Christians, who as a thick layer of chaff prevent you from reaching the good grains of corn. Believe me, under the chaff there are also good grains of corn.(Discourse on Psalm 99)

In other words, we’re a mixed lot, and we always have been. Meditate on Matthew 13:24-30 and 13:47-49 for more insight into this frustrating reality.

I was saying before, if those of you, dearest brethren, who were present at yesterday's discourse remember, that the greatest persecutors of the Church are those Christians who refuse to live upright lives. For it is through these men that the Church is given a bad name, and from these men that she encounters hostility....(Fourth Discourse on Psalm 30)

So what does this tell us? Nothing changes. Which can be depressing, or heartening, depending on your mood at the time.

:Good God in Heaven.

In times in which human dignity is under attack from almost every direction, and the war-threatened world is in such need of a strong proclamation of the Gospel and aching hearts yearn for the healing that Christ offers, this is the leadership of the Catholic Church in America:

Among the claims, Urbanski alleged that the bishop: rubbed down Urbanski's legs and upper body after he had competed in a triathlon, booked only one hotel room for the two of them when they traveled together on a couple of occasions, frequently invited Urbanski to his house after work to swim in his pool, and took pictures of Urbanski in his Speedo bathing suit.

In retrospect, the bishop said, he had regrets about some of his behavior. But he is adamant that he never made any sexual advances toward Urbanski.


``Do I wish I didn't feel his biceps? Yes,'' he said. ``Do I understand the confusion? Of course. But I know what I did do, and what I didn't do. It's in the eye of the beholder

Here's the article from the Tampa Tribune.

And then, More from the St. Pete Times:

Urbanski complained that he was forced to share a room with Lynch when they traveled and that Lynch had made inappropriate advances toward him. Urbanski resisted going on a trip to Santa Fe last year unless he could get his own room, he said. He changed his mind when Lynch promised he had booked a suite for the two of them.

But when they arrived, Urbanski was disappointed to find a small room with a kingsize bed and a sleeper sofa. He took the bed while Lynch took the couch. Then, he said, Lynch shocked him by asking if he could take photos of a shirtless Urbanski so that Lynch could create Christmas cards with his head superimposed above Urbanski's muscular physique.

Urbanski did as he was asked without complaint. Then, he said, he excused himself and vomited in the lobby.

Reading all of this, one is struck by a tone of pure triviality, of people in serious positions just playing games and acting out a soap opera, and you just have to ask...this is how the institutional Church spends its time? This is how the institutional Church spends the people's money? The bishop snapping photos of the diocesan spokesperson in his Speedos after work? Yeah. True. Who has time for preaching the Gospel when you've got to give massages and consult with lawyers?


Friday, March 22

Tomorrow, we will begin a series. It will be called (I think) "How to Cope with the Present Calamities: For Catholics and People who Don't Despise Them Yet." Return early and often.
My oldest son asked for my prayers tonight. That the Lady Vols basketball team not go to the Final Four, for if they win, he has to go with them to shoot video - him "and a lot of really tall scary girls" in San Antonio for almost a week.
Bad news in Tampa/St. Petersburg about their Bishop Lynch. A strange story, this one, and I'll be interested to see more of the details as they slowly reveal themselves. By the way, followers of churchy news just might remember Bishop Lynch for a slight flap of a couple of years ago, when he put restrictions on the practice of Eucharistic Adoration in his diocese - restrictions many felt amounted to a ban, for all practical purposes. I wrote about it here. Bishop Lynch also made a few waves when he removed the popular Catholic Answers show from the local Catholic radio station.
I have no Oscar predictions. I've only seen 1 1/2 of the movies in question: I saw all of The Lord of the Rings and probably less than half of In the Bedroom, based on a story by Andre Dubus, about whom I wrote here. I wish I'd seen more of the latter, although even what I saw didn't quite live up to the greatness I'd been led to expect. (Inside moment - I did see at one point, the character of the father reading a J.F. Powers book in bed - J.F. Powers being another great Catholic writer).

So, I have no opinion, except let it be a LOTR Juggernaut, for the sake of my son, who's seen it five times and just might put a hole through the floor if it doesn't win all he thinks it deserves.

Because of some mysterious confluence of unknown forces, this site is getting a lot more visitors than it used to. You're coming from all over: from other blogs, from Google, searching for things like "Jeff + Gordon + gay" and "Rusty +Yates +Oprah", searches which pull together various entries from this blog into a riotous pop culture goulash. Welcome. I hope you come back,even if you didn't find exactly what you were looking for.

For more information about who I am, go to my home page or go here to learn the True Facts about me.

A good article about the accusations of impropriety being leveled against a Polish Archbishop.
St. Ignatius, call your office.

Loyola University's decision to allow an outspoken proponent of abortion rights to give a speech at the school Wednesday drew criticism from pro-life advocates as well as the local Catholic community.

The speaker? NOW president Kim Gandy. And one other thing - she's an alumna of the school.

I suppose that it would not have surprised me in Lubbock, Texas, or Missoula, Mont.," Gandy said.[of the protests] "But it did surprise me coming to my hometown and coming to my alma mater, to a place where I lived and worked and served the community for so many years."

To his credit, the Archbishop of New Orleans did release a statement in regard to the matter:

"I have voiced my serious concerns directly to University President Rev. Bernard P. Knoth, and will continue the conversation about the meaning of Loyola's claim to a Catholic identity and mission."

Daniel Henninger on the mondo bizarro Rusty Yates:

For me the Yates story landed on another planet Monday evening when, while surfing the cable waves, what should roll in but Larry King interviewing Rusty Yates. Isn't he supposed to be in mourning, or something similar?


Larry was leaning on his elbows, sleeves rolled up on a lime-green shirt, the way he'd look if he were interviewing Liza Minelli on her new marriage (that would be Wednesday night's show). Rusty Yates was sitting really upright, in a very smooth, blue shirt and shiny tie. Bright blue eyes, brown hair that is nice and neat, and a smooth face. It doesn't move much.

There are moments--and watching Rusty, Larry and Katie was one of them--when one wants to go out to the street, stare up at the stars in the dark sky and admit, I don't get it anymore.

Neither do I.

Peggy Noonan on the Pope's statement. She gets it mostly right, as one would expect, but here and there are points with which I'd respectfully disagree.

For the first time in my lifetime ardent Catholics, or perhaps I should say orthodox Catholics, no longer trust their cardinals and bishops to do what's right.

Phew. I know lots and lots of ardent, orthodox Catholics who wouldn't trust one bishop in a thousand to carry their wallet across the street, much less renovate their church, design their child's religious education curriculum or bury their granddad.

Ever since these events broke in late January, I've felt that the outrage Catholics feel about the behavior of their leaders has been exacerbated by a deep sense of

This is the last straw.

Over the past thirty years, Catholics have witnessed as many, many bishops have consistently failed to protect the interests of the Church. They've wondered why their bishops have allowed Catholic education, from kindergarten to graduate school, lose its Catholic identity right in their diocese, under their noses. They've wondered why their bishops have allowed liturgists, most of whom seem to be nothing more than frustrated beauty-pageant planners with a certificate from Notre Dame, to deconstruct the Mass into a cross between a Kiwanas lunch meeting and a Girl Scout campfire singalong. They've wondered why their bishops have given support or at the very least not silenced dissidents within their dioceses who speak and act against the church's teachings on sexuality and abortion, while failing to give support to those who are committed to living with the truth the Church teaches about homosexuality, artificial contraception and abortion. They've wondered why their bishops have all but personally wielded pickaxes in the "renovations" of their churches. And, through it all, they've wondered where their own hard earned, graciously donated money has gone.

And now they know.

No, the pattern of "decision" making that's coming to light actually confirms what most Catholics have believed about their bishops for a while. What's shocking is that we're seeing that even with many of the "orthodox" bishops we thought we could trust, the needs of the Brotherhood trump the Gospel, almost every time.

The church turned a blind eye, not institutionally but in case after case, instance after instance, until it might as well have been institutional policy. And for a long time the church got away with it.
Why? Part of the answer is that so many of the serial seducer priests preyed on the powerless. They moved on adolescent boys in families in turmoil, teenage boys in families that had no connections, no status, no one to look out for them. They preyed on families without fathers. In fact, in some of the grimmer cases they were asked in by overwhelmed mothers who were trying to hold to the church in a rocky and dangerous world. The mothers wanted their sons to know a man they could look up to.


One wonders if those who run the American church fear that if they remove all the sex-abuser priests the church, which has a shortage of priests as it is, simply won't be able to operate anymore. Local churches would close; schools would be understaffed. And this is perhaps the central reason--not the only reason but the biggest one--the cardinals have reassigned abusive priests, and sent serial seducers for psychotherapy, sending them back to parish work when they'd been "cured."

This is absolutely correct, and Noonan puts it clearly and beautifully. But she, like so many others who publicly comment on this, miss an undercurrent, or perhaps are understandably reluctant to voice what they feel or are even begining to know. She implies, not surprisingly, that this situation is one part surprise to those in charge and another part grudgingly acknowledged out of a desperate need to keep the chuch staffed. Partly. But the more horrifying thing we have to face is that in some cases a few bishops and even more of their underlings - diocesan and religious order vocation directors, seminary rectors, and so on - this situation was no accident. (The upcoming Good-Bye Good Men will undoubtedly have a few stories to tell along that line.) For some, the priesthood functioned as a wickedly convenient cover for a few pedophiles and more than a few active homosexuals, the latter of whom knew about each other and protected each other. There. And, I think we'll see, even those not directly involved in this kind of behavior were constrained in their ability to deal with it because almost everyone of them - just like every one of us - has something, somewhere in their past that they dearly want to remain unknown to the wider public. So the silence remained. Call it blackmail if you like. And so the desperate silence, the urgent settlements ruled the day. Until the courts and the lawyers came calling. And maybe we'd want to thank God for that.

Thursday, March 21

Rex Reed's account of Liza Minelli's wedding will have you spellbound in a combination of awe, disbelief and even twinges of horror:

11:20 p.m. Clearly, the evening should be called “When Worlds Collide.” Mickey Rooney was seated with Anthony Hopkins. Broadway producers bellied up to the bar with set designers. Reggae kings in dreadlocks boogied with the amazing Joan Collins and her 22-inch waist. Andy Williams sang “Our Love Is Here to Stay” while the newlyweds danced, stuck in each other’s arms like Cling Wrap. Phoebe Snow was up next, then Queen, Pablo Cruise, Freda Payne knocking out “Band of Gold,” Billy Paul rocking “Me and Mrs. Jones” as Liza hopped across the stage, slinging her feathers.

Would you believe Topol singing “If I Were a Rich Man”? Deborah Cox, Snazzy, Michael McDonald, people I had never heard of. Ray Conniff, looking like Moe Howard, conducted his corny choir in “Lara’s Theme” from Doctor Zhivago while globe lights filled the ballroom in a Russian storm of swirling snowflakes.

Luke Timothy Johnson is a bright light in the current crop of Catholic intellectuals. He's the author of a couple of good, brief useful books that function as helpful answers to the highly self-impressed and risible Jesus Seminar: The Real Jesus and Living Jesus: Learning the Heart of the Gospel.(As well as many other works on the New Testament).

In the current issue of Commonweal, Johnson offers some thoughts on the current state of Catholicism and the Holocaust discussions, prompted, of course, by Goldhagen's screed in The New Republic. He calls for calm, honest scholarship, and whatever degree of objectivity that can be achieved in regard to such a painful era of history. And he calls for this with some rather direct words to all the most recent participants in the discussions, from Goldhagen to Andrew Sullivan, James Carroll and Leon Wieseltier. And the Pope. And Cardinal Ratzinger:

Letter to Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger: Be quiet for a while. Your recent statements (Dominus Iesus, for example) have only made things worse, as Wieseltier's response makes clear. Don't make any more proclamations...Certainly Jews don't need a Vatican functionary explaining their place in God's plan...


Letter to James Carroll and Andrew Sullivan and Leon Wieseltier: Gentlemen, get over yourselves. James, get over your mother, get over your father, get over Vietnam, get over the way everyone kept the truth from you for so long. This is not about you. Andrew and Leon, get over the bad things people said to you when you were kids. This is not about you, either....

Letter to Daniel Jonah Goldhagen: Try to tone it down. Making yourself responsible for a "historical moral reckoning" leads to shrillness. You've taken on too big a task for an ordinary mortal, or any collection of mortals. As I remember, both our traditions insist that God is judge....
Another thing: don't lean too heavily on James Carroll. He's not much of a historian, and he is even less of a theologian.

Heh.

Commonweal trucks in that wicked thing called "frames", so it's a trick to get to this piece. Go to the Commonweal site and click on the cover of the current issue. You'll see it.

Correction: Thanks to Eve Tushnet for giving me (and you) a more direct link: here.

Well,that was exciting.

With neither Tennessee nor Florida in the NCAA tournament, I haven't been able to rouse up much interest in the thing - until tonight when I watched the last seven minutes of the Indiana-Duke game. Yay. The Duke coach (dare me to spell his last name without checking? Sorry.) is creepy - he belongs on Six Feet Under as an evil undertaker. Besides, we live in Indiana, and what's more - ta-da! I was actually born in Bloomington, during the short time my father was teaching at IU.

Some Protestants digging confession.
Ah. Cultural diversity.

Christians in India fight female feticide and illegal prenatal testing

The advent of high-tech ultrasound equipment in India has encouraged a boom in female feticide, despite a 1994 law that bans using the technology to determine the sex of unborn children. Many Indians see girls as an excessive financial burden because of the dowry system. Although the system has been illegal for 40 years, many families of girls must still pay dowries ranging from $500 to $50,000, depending on social status, to marry into good families.


The statistics tell a grim story. Among children up to 6 years old, there were only 945 girls for every 1,000 boys in 1991. Last year, the ratio slipped to 933 per 1,000. Many physicians provide the illegal tests and abort female babies for hefty bribes.



Louder Fenn has a blog. Louder Fenn has kindly linked to my posts here a couple of times. For the life of me, I can't find an email address on Louder Fenn's page. So I guess I'll just have to say thanks for the links right out here in public.

Thanks!

Read a pretty good book yesterday: American Exorcism:Expelling Demons in the Land of Plenty by Michael Cuneo, a sociologist from Fordham, who also wrote an excellent book about the Traditionalist end of American Catholicism in Smoke of Satan : Conservative and Traditionalist Dissent in Contemporary American Catholicism .

Both books are objectively written, very balanced, which makes any nuttiness he reports stand out all the more clearly.

Peer Pressure

Everyone else is linking to it, so I guess I will, too:

James Lilek's takedown of Michael Moore. There's nothing more delightful than the sight of a cretinous hypocrite's pretentions being dismembered, bit by self-important bit.

Oh,it's the now-daily Andrew Sullivan Blog:

Most of what he has to say today is of the let's-not-be-so-obssessed-about-sex variety (which leads one to conclude at the end of his entry on this...is he saying we should just get over this supposed "scandal?" I don't think that's what he means, but it's the clear impression he leaves), which certainly has something to say for it - I've written about this before myself, and the need for us to see sexual sin as an equivalent of all other types of sin. But where he goes wrong is in embracing that old mantra concerning what Jesus did or didn't say about sex:

And the striking thing is how, when you read the Gospels, you hear so little about this subject. Jesus seems utterly uninterested in it.

The argument from silence can go both ways, though. Sullivan interprets Jesus' silence to mean that Jesus was "neutral" on sexual sins. One could also infer, probably more legitimately, that Jesus' silence indicated a fundamental agreement with Jewish teaching on the issue. Jesus spoke about matters that need reformation and clarification.


Given what Jesus said about divorce, I think it's highly unlikely that he wasn't concerned about sex. More likely was that his silence (in the Gospels, at least...) indicates an essential agreement with the Jewish traditional morality on the matter. The words we hear Jesus speak in the gospels are words that clarify what's been misunderstood and clearly state what's been hidden and point out what's been ignored. I've always assumed that Jesus' silence on sex was an indication he (therefore..uh..God) believed that Jewish thinking was fine on this. After all, Jewish sexual morality was fairly strict - certainly not tainted with the ascetic ideal that came to infect later Christianity, but it was strict, nonetheless. Jesus was never hesitant about telling those bound by useless accretions of the Law not to worry about certain things - perhaps sex was not mentioned because the Jewish teaching on it was just fine, with the exception of the need for a greater respect for the personhood of women (which was the specific twist of his words on divorce).

Given the deep and lasting pain that results from the misuse of sexuality, I sincerely hope Jesus wasn't neutral on sexual morality. Don't you?

Wednesday, March 20

I hope he doesn't read this Blog.

Archbishop Curtiss of Omaha gives two Catholics penance for writing letters to the editor.

"You should be ashamed of yourself!" Curtiss wrote to Jeanne Bast, an 80-year-old mother of 11 and retired Catholic grade-school teacher from west Omaha.

Curtiss told Frank Ayers of Ralston that someone who criticized church leadership as Ayers did was "a disgrace to the church."

The archbishop instructed Bast and Ayers, 58, to say one "Hail Mary" for him as penance. He sent copies of the letters to the writers' pastors...

Letters by Bast and Ayers were published this month in the Omaha World-Herald's editorial pages. They criticized Curtiss' decision to assign the Rev. Robert Allgaier to a parish in Ralston in June, after Allgaier admitted to Curtiss in February 2001 that he had viewed child pornography on the Internet while at a parish in Norfolk.

Just so you know that the market on hypersensitivity isn't cornered by the ordained....

Several years ago, when I was teaching in a Catholic high school in Florida, we were subjected to a particularly ridiculous in-service day. We had to drive an hour both ways to get to the place, and the only real substance of the day was a one-hour talk on the educational fad of the moment. Probably learning styles. We were asked to write an evaluation. I wrote a negative one. A few days later I was called into my principal's office. The Superintendent (a lay woman), had FAXED my evaluation to the principal and told him that he needed to deal with this negative force in his midst.

At one point in the conversation, the principal asked me, "How would you feel if someone had negatively evaluated a program you put on?" I was almost speechless. For four years, I'd been a Director of Religious Education, so that meant I was constantly dealing with dissatisfied parents who thought the program was either too lax or too demanding. I was an adult professional. I could handle it.

But at least I wasn't assigned a penance.

All Scandal, All The Time at Yahoo's new Full Coverage area.
Great Mark Steyn column on Liza's wedding, even if you might be convinced that he must have made some of it up. Maybe not. But for sure, his conclusions are right on:

One of the great advantages of a celebrity culture is the way it siphons off so many of the narcissistic and dysfunctional into areas where they can do the least societal damage. Occasionally, the system goes awry and one of them winds up in a serious job (William Jefferson Clinton), but generally things work pretty well. One cannot say the same of Saudi Arabia, whose 7,000 princes are en masse at least as risible and in many cases more tastelessly accessorized than Liza's guests. But the crucial difference is that their subjects are obliged to pretend they're useful and intelligent: If they laugh at them, they'll wind up laughing their heads off. Likewise, Iraq, where the only celebrity author and musical-comedy star is Saddam himself: his romantic allegorical novel, Zabibah and the King, got great reviews -- there's a surprise -- and has been turned into a lavish stage production, which is doing sell-out business -- there's another surprise. The tragedy of Iraq is that in order to make it big in showbiz Saddam had to make it big in mass murder first. Under the American system, his book would have been picked by Oprah, he'd have sold the Broadway rights to Liza's husband, and they'd have signed Petula Clark and Mickey Rooney for the title roles. No matter how you look at it, that's a massively superior system.

Andrew Sullivan prophecizes this morning about the future of the Church:

This is big. The horror any decent person should feel at the brutal exploitation of children in the Church’s charge has turned into something even deeper in the collective Catholic soul. We wonder whether there really is something rotten at the heart of this institution

It is big. True. But I don't know if the "collective Catholic soul" is a'groaning as much as Sullivan thinks it is. Out here in the Red States, the collective Catholic soul is mostly getting ready for Friday night fish dinners, picking out First Communion dresses and halfway listening -as it always has - to Father's half-hearted homilies, knowing that through it all - the mundane, the distracting and even the sinful - God's at work.

Don't get me wrong. I think this does reveal something gravely deficient in contemporary Church structures. But I think the collective Catholic soul is , in most of the world, as parochially-focused as it always has been.

We wonder whether its continued indefensible subjugation of women, its cruelty and condescension toward gay people, its reflexive hostility to inspection or openness, even in defending and shrouding the abuse of children, doesn’t bespeak something that isn’t the antithesis of the Gospels.

I've discussed this before, but no matter what you think about the ordination of women in the RC church, it really is extraordinarily dishonest and short-sighted to describe Catholic women as "subjugated." They're not. We just heard a horror story about unveiled girls being sent back into a burning building to die by Saudi Arabian virtue police.That's subjugation. Let's not define subjugation down. Or up. Or whatever. You get my point.

But the evil that we have discovered in our church these past few months is not simply incidental. It is structural. It comes from a hierarchical structure that, far from reflecting the truth of the Gospels, has become its own rationale.

Absolutely correct. But remember - it's very hard for any institution to avoid such an evolution, simply because it's an institution. It's been a problem almost since the beginning, and in some ways, it really is unavoidable. But what that means is that as we recognize the temptation to turn the living Body of Christ into a self-referential, defensive, naval-gazing institution, we must continually be open to renewal, to admitting our flaws and putting Christ at the center once again, instead of ourselves.

I am sick of belonging to a church where even its own priests do not believe some of the tenets they are supposed to uphold, where most of the laity cannot understand the reasons behind some of the doctrines we are supposed to adhere to, where reasoned dissent is dismissed or ignored, where the dignity of the human person is denied in the very rules by which the institution is governed.

Okay. Here's where things start to fall apart a little. How can Sullivan say, in one sentence, that he's sick of a Church in which "even its own priests do not believe some of the tenets they are supposed to uphold" and that he's also sick of a Church in which "reasoned dissent is dismissed or ignored." Wouldn't the tenet-denying priests maintain that theirs is "reasoned dissent?" Or is Sullivan saying that he's sick of a Church in which there are priests who deny tenets he thinks they should accept and there's no tolerance of the dissent from tenets that he thinks should be ditched? See where this gets us? Whose tenets should be upheld? Andrew Sullivan's favorites? Mine? Francis Kissling's? Madonna's? Whose dissent is "reasoned" and whose isn't?

I agree, though. I'd love it if more priests taught vigorously and strongly on the Church's teaching on sexuality, artificial contraception, abortion and materialism. Oh. Isn't that what you're talking about Andrew?

Further, Andrew, God love him, hasn't been in a Catholic chancery committee or commission meeting lately. Those places really are full of "reasoned dissent." That might explain why "most of the laity cannot understand the reasons behind some of the doctrines we are supposed to adhere to, ", ya think?

I think the hierarchy believes it can ride this out. I think they believe that with a few more apologies and a few more appointments and re-shuffles, the faithful will return as we were before and behave as we have before He's right. I'm sure this is, indeed, what the hierarchy believes. And they're probably right. Unless...

Sullivan goes on to talk about the stuff he thinks must change and that the current scandals will prompt people to call for: an end to mandatory celibacy and the ordination of women. I don't think so. What I mean is that the mere fact of these horrors isn't going to bring any of those, or other changes about. This is what will do it:

Money and the civil law.

In case you don't know it, the Anglican Church in Canada has been afflicted with similar scandals, related to abuse of mostly Native children in church-run institutions. In many places, the Anglican Church in Canada is bankrupt. I have no doubt a similar situation is on the horizon for many RC dioceses as well.

Sullivan's right. Change is in the offing, but it's going to painful, and it's going to be brought about by mostly exterior forces, and it's not going to result the ordination of women.

(a side note - sexual abuse is a problem in all denominations, most of which ordain women and have much more open structures than RC's do. There are no simple solutions. Further, I really have to point out that this "openness" to including laity and women in decision-making regarding clergy placement and so on would help, but again, it's not a panacea. We really have to remember the countless cases in which laity - including parents, including women - have come to the vigorous defense of accused child predators, striving to keep them in ministry (see my post below on this), being totally suckered by the predators' deceptions or their own faulty understanding of what "forgiveness" entails

No. These are the changes - an end to mandatory celibacy might happen, but it's not going to be for noble reasons. It's because the numbers of active priests is just going to keep declining, and I really think the next Pope will have no choice but to turn, for example, to laicized priests who've left ministry in good standing and stayed faithful Catholics, and say, "Well? Are you free Sunday morning at 10:30? Think you could say Mass?"

The changes towards structural transparency and accountability will not happen because someone with high ideals chooses to implement them. It will come, like pulling teeth, because prosecutors and state attorney generals will be hauling bishops into court. This will, I predict, be preceded, however, by a conflict regarding church-state relations that we've not seen since Henry IV stood barefoot in Canossa and Henry II growled, "who will rid me of this troublesome priest?" Both of those famous conflicts concerned the power of the state over clergy, and this one will probably take its place right next to it, although I think this time, the results might be a little different.

A long, diffuse screed this morning. Here's the point: Sullivan's right. This is a crucial time for the church, and change will come as a result of it. But the problems have little to do with Sullivan's pet issues, and so the changes probably won't impact those issues much, either. We can only hope and pray that the whole process is profitably purgative for all of us: that through it all, we see the absolute need to hold firmly to Christ, to put him first and our own issues, needs and desires - whether that be the desire to hold onto power, to save oneself from exposure, to fulfill one's sexual desires or see one's pet causes enshrined as a tenet (but will there be dissent???) - to put them all under the merciful Lordship of Christ.

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