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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