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'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 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!


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