Friday, May 31

Detroit archbishop meets with his priests; says he's sorry he's not around more.

We've been on the front lines," Rev. John West, pastor of St. Rita Church in Holly, told reporters. "We're with the people seven days a week and we've been listening a lot to our people. And now I think the important thing is that we're coming together to listen to each other, to really try to understand."

Some attendees also called on Maida to spend more time with priests in his diocese. A member of many national church committees, Maida travels extensively as part of his duties and wasn't in Detroit while many allegations of abuse against priests were surfacing.

Good news. Richard Russo has a short story collection coming out in July. The title story, "The Whore's Child" was published in the Atlantic a few years ago - I clipped it and saved it. In case you don't know, Russo very deservedly won the Pulitzer this year for Empire Falls, which is an excellent book, although I must confess I liked Nobody's Fool and Straight Man better.

Speaking of writers I love, I'd wondered if Michael Malone, author of Handling Sin and a couple of literate mystery novels was ever going to return to books after his years writing for soaps (yes). Did a little search and found I was way behind the curve. He did - last summer. Here's the Amazon description of the book, First Lady:

Not quite so dramatically, Michael Malone apparently fell off the face of the earth. (He became a highly successful television writer, which is almost the same thing.) Today, even some sophisticated readers of mystery fiction have forgotten Malone, who wrote two masterpieces involving a pair of detectives in a small town in North Carolina, Justin Savile and Cuddy Mangum: Uncivil Seasons, one of the few nearly perfect novels in the history of detective fiction, published in 1983; and Time's Witness, in 1989. Unlike too many cops portrayed in detective fiction as stupid, corrupt, or both, Justin and Cuddy are fully developed as intelligent, honest cops who try to do their jobs as well as possible, even though they have their human flaws. Cuddy is arrogant and impatient; Justin drinks too much and likes the ladies a bit more than he should, seeing how he's married (just barely now, as his wife has moved out of the house). First Lady is the first volume about these terrific characters in more than decade. Thankfully, Malone's publisher is also releasing the first two books in trade paperback editions, which I can recommend as strongly as anything I've praised in's pages.

Very little is as it seems in this poetically written mystery novel. A serial killer seems to be on the loose, but is he really a serial killer? Justin discovers a pattern that seems brilliantly thought out and then, as in E.C. Bentley's Trent's Last Case, holes are punched through the theory by various members of the law enforcement community (including, in this case, two women from the FBI). First Lady is utterly contemporary, with some gruesomely described violence and a healthy dose of (very discreet) sex, but it's also a wonderfully constructed old-fashioned puzzler, with a cornucopia of clever clues, a near-surplus of suspicious suspects, and a boatful of red herrings guaranteed to fool the most assiduous armchair detective.

Well. I learned about two fascinating people tonight.

First is Athanasius Kircher, a 17th century Jesuit intellectual wonder, whose life and times are described in this article from the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Even a partial catalog of Kircher's accomplishments tends to make one's jaw drop. A German-born Jesuit priest, he served as a professor of mathematics at the Jesuit training institute in Rome. Nicknamed "the master of a hundred arts," Kircher also knew dozens of languages, including Chinese and Coptic. His scientific writings -- studied with rapt interest by scholars (Roman Catholic and otherwise) around the world -- included works on acoustics, astronomy, chemistry, mineralogy, and optics. He also published some of the earliest scholarship on ancient Egypt. His theories about the hieroglyphics turned out to be wrong, for the most part; but Kircher had enough insights and suggestive ideas to make him a recognized pioneer.

And for almost a century after his death, no learned traveler would consider his or her trip to Rome complete without a tour of Father Kircher's museum: a collection of ancient artifacts and stuffed beasts (including such exotic creatures as the aardvark) as well as the master's own inventions. There was, for example, a statue whose eyes and lips began to move in an uncannily lifelike way as it addressed visitors, who were momentarily startled out of their wits. (A concealed assistant operated the proto-robot.)

Not merely erudite, Kircher was also a sort of intellectual daredevil. He entered the mouth of an active volcano, and published a vivid account of what he saw: "The whole area was lit up by the fires, and the glowing sulphur and bitumen produced an intolerable vapor. It was just like hell, only lacking the demons to complete the picture." Examining the blood of plague victims with a microscope, Kircher developed what must have seemed, at the time, like a bizarre theory: Disease might be caused by very tiny organisms entering the body from the outside. And while Kircher was the most respected intellectual in his church, with the full backing of the Pope, some of his intellectual explorations tested the very limits of acceptable thought. His cosmological theories, for example, appeared suspiciously compatible with the ideas of Copernicus and Galileo. The Inquisition prepared an internal document listing the worrisome passages, just in case.

The second, mentioned in the Kircher story, was one of his biggest fans and a tremendous intellectual in her own right: Sor Juana Inez de la Cruz, a 17th century Mexican nun who wrote poetry, plays, prose and music. Sort of the Hildegard von Bingen of her time, but without the herbs.

Ann Wilson helps us out on contemporary art.
Florida priest arrested in Michigan on sex abuse charges
See, this is just weird.

That African archbishop who got married in the Moonie ceremony is comin' back our way.

An African archbishop who embarrassed the Roman Catholic Church by marrying a South Korean acupuncturist last year is preparing to resume his ministry, a Vatican official told an Italian magazine.

Monsignor Tarciso Bertone declined to disclose the whereabouts of Zambian-born Archbishop Emmanuel Milingo, 71, but said he was expected to return to Italy by the end of the summer, according to 30 Days, a religious affairs monthly

I don't know the whole story. Anything but. But what I do know leads me to think that this Milingo guy isn't quite all there. You know? I'm just wondering what kind of "ministry" he might be fit for.

Reader Erik Keilholtz offers a useful art lesson:

I have seen the pile of candy piece. Let me set the stage:

It was on display with 8 other equally vacuous "pieces" at San Francisco Museum Of Modern Art. The show was highly praised by the local art critic. "Daring." "Deeply reflective." All of the usual adjectives.

I went to see it with two fellow artists.

[First aside: none of us are hostile to modern art. All of us have been profoundly influenced by modern painting and sculpture and music. We are long-time friends of good painterly abstraction, and even have been known to champion some "pretty out there" art and music. End aside.]

We did not know whether to laugh or to cry. All of the pieces were of the same sort: take a fairly juvenile idea and conflate it into a monument. Every single one of the ideas expressed could have been better expressed in writing. And that last sentence is the problem with conceptual art.

How did this situation arise? The common answer is to blame either Marcel Duchamp or Andy Warhol. Certainly they are tempting targets,especially Warhol. But when it came down to it, Duchamp was pretty much on the sidelines of serious art and Warhol rose when the problem already had been looming. The situation is complex, but there is a root cause: in addition to faddishness (which accounts for the museumspeak drivel that you wrote about), the teaching of art in Universities is mainly to blame.

The artists and art faculties lacked the education to defend the ideas of art as being uniquely suited to being expressed in the art itself and
looked to politics, literature and cultural theory for the sort of ideas that they could express in their art. They were also a little less than enthusiastic to be in a discipline that required so much physical craft skill (after all, the University is an idea place, not a training center for mechanics). So the skills and traditions of art were neglected and
the promotion of ideas (especially Marxist ones) was boosted. In short,these folks were trying to fit square pegs into round holes, and thought that hitting the poor thing harder and harder would resolve the problem.

Is there light at the end of the tunnel? I hope so, but I am not optimistic. The current caste of administrators has entrenched itself (they even have degree programs in "museum studies" where they practice this theory writing and drafting goofy codes of ethics (ones that would exclude 80% of the great works of the past due to the close relations between curators, critics and artists - relations that greatly helped art )), and is not going to admit that they are a bunch of hair-brained fools anytime soon (please note, there are some intelligent people in the business, but they are often eclipsed by these poor bunnies who think that the measure of success of a museum is the amount of controversy they can generate).

The other part of the problem is the dreadful condition of art education in this country. The average person (even with a so-called college education), simply cannot refute the nonsense that is plastered on the gallery walls next to the "pieces." They know, deep down, that it is balderdash, but they are overwhealmed by the cock-surity of the writer,
the two-bit Derrida-isms (if I see the word "simulacra" in the verbiage at a gallery once more I will scream), the arguments from authority(never mind that a Harvard degree should be a source of embarrassment these days,particularly for an art historian), and the average Giuseppe backs away and says nothing.

There will be no change unless more folks are ready to do their homework and vigorously join the debate. I generally recommend to people who want to grasp the problems, triumphs and failures of modern art Robert Hughes's book Shock of the New.

Speaking of LifeTeen....LifeTeen founder and vicar general of the Diocese of Phoenix settled a sexual-harrassment lawsuit a few years ago:

The Diocese of Phoenix quietly paid $45,000 to settle a sexual-harassment claim in 1995 against one of its most prominent priests, who has since been promoted to second-in-command in the diocese to Bishop Thomas O'Brien.

Monsignor Dale Fushek, pastor of St. Timothy Catholic Community in Mesa and the founder of Life Teen, the largest Catholic teen ministry program in the country, told parishioners of the claim during Good Friday services last month.

Fushek and church officials insist that he did nothing wrong, and that the payment, made to a former employee of St. Timothy's, was done simply to avoid the greater costs of fighting a lawsuit.

"Several years ago, I found myself in a situation where my own words and actions, which I considered to be words and actions of affection, were interpreted by an adult staff member as having sexual connotations," Fushek said from the pulpit in a recording obtained by The Republic. "This man complained about that to the diocese."

Fushek told parishioners the matter was quickly resolved through the diocese.

Gee...get a graduate of Notre Dame's summer liturgy program in, and she'll fix 'em:

In New York churches, icons compete for space. (NYTimes, link requires registration....did I tell you my husband got interviewed by the Times today? No? Well, he did.) Seems as if in some multi-ethnic parishes, everyone wants their own patron saints up on the wall.

Update: Someone takes exception to the Notre Dame slam. Please note that I didn't slam Notre Dame as an institution. I slammed the Notre Dame summer liturgy degree program. I've known and been exposed to numerous products of this program, and believe me, I know of what I speak. And all I said was that the hypothetical "she" would fix 'em. And I bet she would, too.

Let me hasten to add that one of my recent correspondents is a very smart lady who is a graduate student at Notre Dame, and is someone who seems to be on my wavelength, whatever that frequency might be. If she's a typical ND graduate student (in a religion-related field, no less), then we're in good shape...there are lots of good people at ND - the Maritain Center, Duncan Stroik, etc. I'm not a Notre Dame basher...but that summer liturgy program...sheesh.

The headline on this AP story stacks the deck from the start:"Abortion Foes Reveal Deceptive Tactic". Of course, the "deceptive tactic" was merely something that investigative journalists do all the time: posing as someone else in order to see what the reaction would be:

Life Dynamics, a Texas-based anti-abortion group, said one of its activists has called more than 800 abortion clinics nationwide in recent months, pretending to be a 13-year-old girl impregnated by her 22-year-old boyfriend.

Life Dynamics president Mark Crutcher said more than 90 percent of the clinic employees handling the calls indicated they would conceal the information provided by the caller — a possible violation of state laws requiring the reporting of sexual abuse of a minor.

So. The Life Dynamics group calls and finds out that 90 percent of clinics are willing to...break the law in terms of reporting abuse and statutory rape,'s the pro-life group that gets the bad rap? Where's the outcry? Where's the Boston Globe Spotlight coverage? Secrecy, failure to report crime...haven't we heard this before?

From the beginning of this mess, the fault lines have puzzled and frustrated observers.

For years, the press, as well as a good number of Catholics themselves, have seen disagreements within the Church in terms of “orthodox/progressive” or “conservative/liberal.” And don’t write me critiquing the terminology, hollering that I should just come out and call the “progressives” heretics or heterodox. I’m not committing, I’m just reporting.

We’ve seen it with every papal visit, every story about a bishop’s conference, every conflict about a Catholic university.

But then in late January, it all started to fall apart.

This is because the first major player in this story was Cardinal Law, the anti-Bernardin, upholder of orthodoxy (we thought), oppressor of nuns wearing stoles at baptism, now seemed to be way too sympathetic to priests whose views on sexual morality didn’t match his (we thought).

Now, the fact that Law seemed to be guilty of over-protection of his clerical charges didn’t surprise observers comfortable in The Paradigm, but something else did: the fact that the primary voices raging against the sins of Law were not from Call to Action. They were William Donohue of the Catholic League. Rod Dreher of the National Review. And over time, voices which perhaps did not rage, but indeed suggested politely that Cardinal Law might do the church much good if he stepped down were not the progressives. It was Buckley, Bennett, Noonan and so on.

What to make of this? How does this fit into the paradigm?

It obviously doesn’t. We’ve seen the vastness of this problem, and we’ve seen that “orthodoxy” or “progressivism” have little to do with it. As I’ve said before, what lay Catholics are seeing, for the very first time, spread out for them in the papers, with hard facts that are hard to deny, is that with much of the clergy, the needs of the brotherhood trump ideology and theology. Every time.

And so you have the rage. We’re told to focus on Christ. To put the gospel above the call of the world and the flesh. What’s the use of even trying if our leaders obviously aren’t?

I have thought long and hard about Andrew Sullivan’s contention that the rage is somehow related to the Catholic laity’s dislike of traditional moral precepts, but it simply doesn’t make any sense, not any way you look at it. Even as a side issue, it doesn’t compute, especially since the most vociferous public ragers seem to be Catholics who take Catholic moral teaching seriously and try to live it.

A side note: I have been fascinated, by contrast, with the relative reticence of the usual Catholic progressive voices on this issue. Call to Action has come out against zero tolerance. The pages of America and Commonweal should be tinted yellow, they’re so full of caution. It’s been especially noticeable as the scandal has spread beyond child sexual predators, has bishops have been revealed to be paying off ex-lovers and being fascinated with male triathletes. You’d think that when the sins of the hierarchy are being revealed, the progressives would be at the forefront, protesting, putting ads in the New York Times and planning out their next banner.

I think I have an answer. They know. They know that this cycle of revelations is nowhere near over, and as the child abuse issues fade, the press, motivated by nothing but a desire to keep a fruitful story going, will start poking around for more clerical sins. What Bishop Lynch is up to down in St. Pete with his triathletes and his boat has nothing directly to do with child sexual abuse, but you can be sure if this interest in the sex lives of clerics and Bishops Who Protect Them hadn’t been in the papers every day since January, the reporters at the St. Pete Times and the Tampa Tribune (especially – they are too often the LA Times of that area, too worried about their sources drying up if bad stuff is reported) wouldn’t have been inquiring about Lynch and his friends.

So yes, the progressives know. They know what bishops and prominent clerics, especially those on “their side” have dark pasts and …uh…interesting present lives. They are deathly worried that in this tornado that’s a brewing, that’s enveloping any story that has the terms “priest” and “sex” on the same page, many, many of their heroes will be taken down. It’s already started to happen, and they’re already whining, “witch hunt.”

(It’s worth noting what a reader pointed out to me. The term “witch hunt” is entirely inappropriate in this context. There were, indeed, no witches. There are, indeed, bishops and clerics who are exploiting their positions, living lies, and making the rest of us pay for it.)

So in the end, there are a number of reasons Catholics are angry – as varied as the types of Catholics that exist and sit in the pews. Some are angry because they see this as a slap in the face: we’re trying to live serious, committed Catholic lives here. We’re raising our kids, giving of our time and resources to good causes, trying to live out our lay apostolate in the world, and doing it all as we struggle with finances and the more negative temptations American life has to offer. And there you are, bishop, in your big house, with your secretaries and servants, writing letters about the importance of following Christ, making us feel vaguely guilty that maybe we’re not doing all we could, and you’re using our good will to hide the sins of your priests and our money to pay settlements.

And yes, some are angry because they see it as one part of the piece of the post-Vatican II decline of the church. And others are angry because they think the whole thing would be fixed if women were ordained.

But mostly, people are angry and shocked because no matter what the particular issue: protection of a pedophile, pay-offs to an ex-lover, belligerence towards victims in legal proceedings, secrecy, misuse of diocesan funds…whatever the specifics, the general issue is the same: You call us to follow Christ and put Him first. You’re not. You’re not listening to Christ. You’re listening to accountants, lawyers, psychologists, and the threats of those who are blackmailing you with their knowledge of your own sins. We’re supposed to believe that the Church is the Body of Christ, His presence embodied in the world, in Word and Sacrament and love. How are we supposed to believe this anymore?...that's what I'm sensing lies at the core of most of the anger. The world turns, indifferent to all that is good, and the one place we thought we knew we could find and understand Christ was this place – this Church. Where is He?

That, I think, is the source of the rage. We are lost enough. We are surrounded by enough uncertainty. We are enveloped by enough counter-signs and enough challenges to the very notion of Truth, the very value of Love. When we think of our Church, we want to be able to think of Christ, clearly and unequivocally. And of course, we’re reasonable people. We know that leaders are human, make mistakes and sin. We’re not wanting to place anyone on pedestals. But we want to know that this Christ of whom we sing, preach and to whom we pray is real and is what He says he is, and that as difficult as it is, casting our lot in with Him is the best way, the real way, the only way. Catholics are angry because, in the end, their own leaders have shown that fidelity to Christ is the least of their worries, the least of their concerns. And the sight of a systemic disregard for the Gospel in this area naturally leads to the question: What else? What else has this infected? What is real here and what is just one more protection racket for those who lay burdens on us, but are absolutely unwilling to bear those burdens themselves?

More on modern art.

Seinfeld was a "show about nothing" and much ink has been spilled analyzing that slogan, trying to figure out if it's emblematic of contemporary life in any way. You could say the same of much contemporary art, the examples of which you see in museums are marked mostly by vacuity and pretention - vacuity because there, is, quite often literally nothing there - and pretention because of the bizarre lengths the wall cards must go to explain what the artist is up to. It usually involves phrases like "uncover the connection between" or "confronts the viewer with" or "examines the boundaries between". The most astonishing pieces were, as my husband notes, the string of lightbulbs on the floor (part of a twenty piece series, as I recall.) and the pile of candy in the corner. Here's the idea behind the candy: It originally weighed 175 pounds, the ideal weight of the artist's partner, before the fellow unfortunately died of AIDS. The viewers are welcome to take pieces of the candy, and in the process, they become the AIDS virus, slowly eating away at the body of the victim.

Now, that's kind of an arresting idea, and would be kind of interesting, in my view, as part of something else - I don't know -a performance art installation, a memorial to AIDS victims or something. But does it even between the same walls as El Greco's Assumption of the Virgin or Hopper's Nighthawks or anything else that requires a modicum of what we'd traditionally call artistic skill, rather than simply ideas? Of course, this gets to the heart of the question of what art is - which is not something I'm qualified to debate.

But I had to wonder as I left the Art Institute - surely this isn't it. Surely there is other contemporary art being created today, art that is more than piles of candy, strings of light bulbs and canvases with nothing but a date painted on it. Is there? I'm not a full-time art maven or anything, so I'm not scouring the globe, but my casual interest in art has revealed to me only one really consistent source of contemporary art that's actually about something, and that's Image: A Journal of the Arts and Religion. I don't think they post the art they feature in most issues online, but I'm sure the journal is in your local university library or even in your better bookstores.

MIchael gets busy and shares details of the Chicago trip - but ha - only I have pictures!
Episcopal appointments - unusual because, according to my husband, episcopal appointments, like new CD releases, usually come down on Tuesdays. But a reader alerted me to:

Fr. Daniel Conlon of Cincinnati (53) goes to Steubenville; Msgr. Roger Foys (56), vicar general of Steubenville diocese, goes to Covington. A little reversal play there - Covington's right across the river from Cincinnati.

Andrew Sullivan leads this morning with a paean to Voice of the Faithful.

There's been some debate about this group, which claims to be trans-ideological, that is, not in anyway pushing for the liberal agenda we'd naturally expect a group of lay Catholics from Boston. I don't know. What I do know is that NY Times writer who penned the story on this clearly doesn't understand the demographics of the contemporary Church:

Most of those joining are hardly habitual rabble-rousers. They are devout, mostly middle-aged or older, and many are eucharistic ministers, parish council members, Sunday school teachers. Some nuns attend meetings, a former archdiocesan spokesman is involved, and some priests are quietly supporting chapters forming in their parishes.

First, she doesn't understand that Catholic "rabble-rousers" with a more liberal agenda are, generally, middle-aged and older. In fact, it's just a fact of organizational dynamics, I believe, that most people with an interest in this issue with the time to come to meetings and vent, no matter what their perspective, are going to be middle-aged and older. Younger people with an interest in church politics are few and far between, mercifully. (For their own sake. There are better things to do, you know)

Secondly - if VOF was an explicitly liberal group, she thinks that nuns wouldn't be involved? I'd say, with an uncharitable snicker, that the fact that the room isn't filled with nuns is a point of evidence in favor of the non-ideological stance of the group.

But as I said, I don't know. I welcome your knowledgeable comments.

One thing I do know is what I think of Sullivan's assessment:

I profoundly believe that this sex abuse scandal is not the real crisis. It's a symptom of the deeper one of a Church without leadership in America, without confidence in its own doctrines, and credibility among its own people.

Of course Andrew's spot-on here. But he's way off in the rest of his analysis, for he sees the problem lying in the disconnect between the way Catholics supposedly live or would like to live their lives - free from sexual constraints, I guess, merrily contracepting, and so on - and the doctrines they're supposedly hearing preached. Change the teaching - become Episcopalians, I guess - and watch all the Catholics get happy once again.

I don't think so. I mean, look at the Episcopalians. The ones that remain, are happy, I guess - all ten of them, but it's not a model I'm looking for.

Yes, there's a crisis of leadership. I have to go get the baby ready for the sitter right now, but I'll respond in more detail a bit later. Promise. It's on my mind.

A Boston (of course) priest was removed for sexually abusing minors. A few years later, he was put in charge of reassigning "problem" priests, including those implicated in sexual abuse. Oh. And we wonder why Boston has had a problem?
Catholic Church in England considering closing half of its seminaries. That's two out of four, in case you were wondering.
Defining Abuse Down by Michele Cottle in the New Republic. She makes the valid point that the Weakland case was not one of abuse and shouldn't be described as such.

This is not to suggest that Weakland shouldn't have been driven from office or, at least, required to do heavy public penance. He should have been--but for his financial sins, not his sexual ones. In a stupid, self-serving attempt to hide his affair, Weakland handed over nearly a half million dollars of the archdiocese's money (money that Marcoux reportedly managed to blow through in less than four years). For that abuse of power and trust, Weakland deserves to be excoriated.

But such fine distinctions seem to be getting obscured in the current climate of sexual hysteria. The New York Times reports that, at Sunday mass at Milwaukee's Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist (formerly presided over by Weakland), the Reverend Carl Last, referencing Weakland's sins along with the tidal wave of other abuse cases, noted: "Sexual abuse in any form, especially of the young, is a terrible violation. And cover-ups and payment of hush money make it worse."

Similarly, while the secular press has noted how increasingly confusing this case has become for Catholics to process--what with the love letter and all--Marcoux has been treated with kid gloves. Which is much better than he deserves. Because while all those priests for whom child molestation became the hobby of choice are utterly contemptible, so is someone who poses as a victim in order to extort money from a church. And barring new revelations, it certainly seems as though that's what Marcoux has done. If so, someone needs to go after him for it--and not just for the sake of the $450,000 that he pocketed. You can bet that there are scores of morally flexible opportunists out there, watching to see how easy it would be to wring a bit of cash out of an embattled diocese.

Well, I don't see Marcoux's actions as being tied to the current crisis, even in his own mind. After all, the settlement was paid out several years ago. No, this was clearly an embittered, grasping opportunist who decided that his opportunity was to blackmail the Archbishop of Milwaukee, knowing, evidently, that the man was too weak to stand up to him.

Back in business this morning, but slowly. I think I'm catching the cold Joseph's had, although I will fill myself up with echinacea in an attempt ot thwart it. Haven't had time to catch up on the Blogs, so pardon me if I'm repeating any discussions that have already been worn to the ground.


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