Thursday, July 11
Is it just me, or does anyone else find it disturbing that in the Diocese of Toledo, a priest who had served jail time (in 1988 - not too long ago) for sexually abusing a 14-year old girl was serving in a parish, with the full knowledge and approval of his parishioners?
Wadsworth,Ohio: What is really the condition of the Pope's health?
John Allen, Jr.: Better than it may appear to you on TV, which has a habit of always showing his worst moments. I had a few moments of "face time" with him a week ago, and yesterday went up to Castel Gondolfo to follow the general audience. He is weak and obviously declining physically, but he remains quite lucid. That said, his growing infirmity means that his "time on task" is not what it once was, and hence a growing share of the work of running the church is being done by others. But on core issues that matter to him, John Paul is still very much in charge.
Call me a bit dense, Amy, but re: "what people knew and but did nothing" in this article - the media admits that it WAS guilty, it points out that police and elected officials WERE guilty, and submits that it is hard to "divine" just what the church knew, yet the only ones the media thinks culpable is the hierarchy in a church that had removed itself from (or he was allowed to remove himself from) Fr. Shanley.
The reader makes a good point. As grateful as we are to the secular media for its role in revealing the truth in this story, a bit of cautious cynicism is in order, always.
The media that (rightly) excoriates the Church for those who sexually abuse and exploit children and youth is the same media that, for example, runs sympathetic "balanced" stories on Judith Levine's book Harmful to Minors, a book which espouses the idea, among others, that sexual contact between children and adults is not necessarily harmful.
The media that will (rightly) expend resources in rooting out patterns of deceit in the church's pattern of dealing (or not) with this issue is the same media, that is, for the most part, disinterested in the plague of educational professional and paraprofessionals sexually abusing children, and is, by the way, also profoundly disinterested in the clear connection between abuse of children and the presence of adult men in their home to who are neither married to nor related to those children's mother. Nor are they particularly interested in the numbers of teen girls sexually involved with and impregnated by older men.
Our problems deserve every bit of attention they've received - and more, I believe - but so do all incidents of harm to children, all social trends and cultural movements that aid and abet the exploitation of children and youth, and all institutions that cover up the harm done to children by any adult.
First off, I’m not going to take the easy way out in dealing with these books. I’m not going to blow off Wills, call him a heretic and wonder why he simply doesn’t become an Episcopalian.
There are several reasons I can’t go down that road. First, Wills makes some important points in both books, points that are worth considering, points that are routinely ignored by many traditionally-minded Catholic apologists.
Secondly, Wills does consider himself a Catholic. To some of us, his claims of reciting the rosary daily may seem like a cynical ploy to overlay his liberal moral and theological views with the veneer of piety and good conscience, as well as a good PR tactic, but the fact is, that’s what he says, and it’s only fair to deal with his thought on the level on which he presents it.
Finally, Wills is not the only self-proclaimed Catholic in the world who turns his back on Church teaching on sexual issues and has fuzzy interpretations of doctrinal issues. Parishes are full of ‘em. Wills is simply a more intellectual version of a very common kind of Catholics who has sold out to the culture. To be fair, all of us sell out to some degree. All of us have fallen short. Very few of us embody the call of Jesus in our lives to the degree we know we should. But a lot of us know it, too, and are committed, at some feeble level, to remake our lives in the light of truth, rather than try to remake truth in the light of our own needs and desires.
That said, let’s move on.
First off, Why I Am A Catholic is not a book you want to share with the favorite catechumen in your life, and not because of Wills’ perspective on the issues. Despite what the title indicates, this is not, truth be told, a very personal book. It is really more like two books: a long continuation of the anti-papal rant of Papal Sin bracketed by Wills’ recollection of his formation as a Catholic on the front end and his own interpretation of the Apostles’ Creed at the back end.
In other words, it’s not exactly an engaging piece of work. It’s almost as if Wills had more to say about the Pope, but his publisher didn’t want More Papal Sin, so they used the personal apologia angle as a way to package what’s mostly more of the same old stuff.
What confounds Wills’ critics is that he has nothing but good to say about his Catholic childhood and even mostly good to say about his Jesuit education, and what criticisms he has of the latter are certainly sound. He says that he was once invited by Daniel Callahan to contribute a piece to a collection dedicated to the proposition that pre-Vatican II life and formation was a horror show. He declined, because that wasn’t his experience.
Here’s what Wills is basically about:
His faith is predominately intellectual, not surprising, since that seems to be his basic prism for experience. His concerns are primarily intellectual. His solutions are intellectual. I put this book down with the impression, fairly or not, of a profoundly impersonal faith, one bereft of passion or relationship or trust. It is a faith in which the central issue is what Garry makes of the world and how he can squeeze God into that in an intellectually satisfying way, rather than a faith in which God as God is front and center, as source and root and end and ultimate standard. Wills speaks of prayer, and says he does it, and who am I to doubt him or cast aspersions on his claims? But nonetheless, there is a certain distance between Wills and the object of his prayer. Augustine is, of course, one of his heroes, but there is none of the passion of Augustine here, none of the “heart” so central to Augustine’s account of his own faith, none of Augustine’s recognition that as important as the struggle to understand is, in the end, we are asked to answer only one question, and it’s not: Did you understand? Rather, it’s Do you love me?
In other words, Garry Wills is too smart for his britches. Or, to put it another way, Wills has not yet learned the lesson of his heroes: Augustine, Newman and Chesterton, a lesson which is about submission of will and intellect and trust in the mystery.
So, let’s get back to our points. Wills makes some good ones, although his books should both be read in concert with other views and critiques. By saying he has “points” I don’t mean to say he’s right about everything. I’m surely not saying that his books, especially Papal Sin, aren’t a mess of selective use of sources and even egregious mistakes (see the Amazon reader reviews of Papal Sin for several gleeful accounts of those mistakes. The one I caught that was a real disaster was in his discussion of the Infancy Narratives in which he starts out fine, speaking of Matthew and Luke, but then forgets Luke and continues to discuss the genealogy found in Mark. Uh…no.)
No, what Wills says that should be taken seriously are the following:
First, the shape of the Petrine office has developed over the years. Wills resolutely (and surprisingly) maintains the importance of the Petrine office. He says:
“So when people ask why I do not go in search of a popeless church, I answer sincerely that I want the papacy. It is a blessing, a necessity – it is a requirement for the mystical body of Christ to remain one body…The papacy, as I said, did not formulate the creed containing these truths; but it has been essential in preserving them, while heretics “selected” this or that item from the creed.”
However, his problem is mostly in the modern shape of the papacy, especially (as one might expect) since Vatican I. He says that those who exaggerate the role of the Pope in the formation of faith claims and church practice are ignoring the historical realities of first, the minimal role the Bishop of Rome played in the doctrinal struggles of the first four centuries, and secondly, the ongoing historical struggles regarding the function of the Petrine Office in relation to councils and bishops and finally, the political motives of popes.
Yes, Wills is often guilty of a skewed and selective use of sources, but his general point is correct – the role of the papacy has developed over the years. Wills however, then proceeds to draw the conclusion that because of this, the papacy need not be taken seriously as a teacher. Here’s the problem:
His argument is not with the Petrine office as a sign of unity, but with what he sees as inappropriate power claims which, in his view, have functioned as obstacles to the working of the Spirit through the rest of the Church, laity and other bishops included. I guess it’s a sort of High Anglican/Orthodox view of the papacy.
But the odd thing about Wills is that in the end, he ends up being just as guilty of the sin of “papalotry” as are those he identifies as his opponents. Wills claims that papal apologists conflate all teaching authority to the Pope (not true, of course), but that’s exactly what Wills does himself.
In disputed areas – contraception, for example or abortion – Wills in this book, as he did in Papal Sin, sees every orthodox position as the product of papal fiat, usually motivated by power. He offers no sense of the roots of such teaching in Scripture and tradition, thereby quite conveniently rendering those teachings unworthy of serious engagement.
Last night, we watched a documentary on St. Maria Goretti on EWTN. Her canonization in 1950 was the first held outside, and half a million people attended. What you could sense, even in film that was half a century old, was the sensus fidelium surging through that crowd. Pius wasn’t canonizing Maria Goretti because he wanted to or because it served an agenda. He was canonizing her because the People of God experienced her as a saint, and his act was a recognition of that.
To be sure, less than ideal motivations have marked papal pronouncements over the centuries. Accidents of history have played their part as well. But for much of his book, Wills seriously overestimates the power of the papacy himself. He views every contentious issue through the prism of papal power, which may tell a tiny part of the story, but ignores the bulk of it and leaves Garry Wills in the very nice position of not having to engage any theological argument with any seriousness.
I couldn’t help but feel, as I finished up these books, that Wills lives in an astonishingly small intellectual world for a famous guy. He expresses surprise in his latest book at the response to Papal Sin in “right wing” Catholic organs and internet sites, saying that gosh, he didn’t know there were so darn many of them. His theological processing is all – every bit of it – in the context of liberal modern Scripture scholarship and theology. He says he believes in the Divinity of Christ, but his account of the Virginal Conception is marked by some definite fudging – if pressed, I’d have to say I don’t think he believes it. He speaks of Jesus’ conception and formation being “overshadowed” by the Holy Spirit, but nothing specifically about a virginal conception. He also doesn’t believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist apart from the community (using Augustine as his evidence, and I am still looking for another view of the passages he cites as evidence). He accepts all the claims of liberal scholarship uncritically, evidently unaware that these men and women are not infallible and that there is a vigorous orthodox intellectual community out here beyond the walls of Northwestern University. Isn’t it odd that so often those who insist on the necessity of having “critical views” of Church teaching suspend those same powers of criticism when reading..say…Schussler-Fiorenza or Crossan?
Let’s look at Wills’ method of evaluating the value of various practices and teachings. As I said above, his process is basically: this is what I think, so let’s find evidence to support it. His evidence is rooted in three sources: first, as I said above, liberal scholarship.
Secondly, Wills uses historical figures, including his heroes (Augustine, Newman, Chesterton and Acton) in vigorous support of his views. No, even Wills can’t come right out and use, say, Chesterton who wrote against artificial contraception as a support for his view on the matter, but his general appeal is to these men’s realistic views of the Church as a flawed institution which is not beyond criticism.
And he’s right. Except for the fact that Wills proceeds to claim that his liberal views on say, abortion and homosexuality, can be understood as legitimate expressions of this kind of loving, principled critique. Somehow, I don’t buy it. Somehow, I don’t think permission to dismember preborn children was on Augustine’s mind when he defended his own actions against heretics against what he saw as the incorrect stance of the Bishop of Rome. In other words, Wills uses his authorities when it suits him, ignores them when they don’t.
Which is what he does with the sensus fidelium as well. This is such a common tactic, it’s almost not worth mentioning, but I suppose I must. Wills sites the reality of Catholics buying into contemporary cultural mores yet staying Catholic as evidence for the correctness of these mores. Except, we might notice, when it comes to say, capital punishment. Most American Catholics are supportive of the use of capital punishment. The pope most definitely is not. Why doesn’t Wills make that an issue? Most American Catholics seem to have no trouble at all with American consumerist culture and have a merry old time telling themselves that Jesus didn’t really mean any of the stuff he said about the poor and that whole dependence on God thing. Again, not a cause I hear Wills espousing. Millions of Catholics, regardless of what Wills sees from that ivory tower, make pilgrimages to traditional devotional shrine and , venerate traditional role models like Saint Padre Pio.
Does this stop Wills from turning up his nose at this kind of Catholicism? No.
In the end, Wills’ answer is the typical modern answer, which is no answer at all. True, when it comes to the Church, history must be fully and honestly dealt with, and sometimes traditional apologists get wacky in their own interpretations and gloss over historical issues. But what we’re left with, is not a Catholic Church. In fact, it doesn’t seem to be a Church at all. Garry Wills leaves us with the impression that to him the Catholic faith is constructed, not out of flesh, blood, mystics, saints and sinners, artists, musicians, missionaries, mothers and fathers, children and the elderly, all joined as a living, vibrant, pilgrim Body formed and put here to serve God and love in His name, but rather is a collection of words in a book that don’t violate his intellectual or cultural sensibilities. It is a lifeless spot, animated by the desire to prove that the smart little boy from Michigan isn’t wrong rather than be profound gratitude that the boy exists at all.
Clarification:My critique is not about a lack of "emotion" as some commentators are saying. It's about the proper place of intellect in faith. It has a role. We are called to use our God-given minds to understand, to clarify, to present the Good News to the world in a way it can receive it. No, the problem is with me, as an individual believer, one of billions over two thousand years, letting my intellectual interests, priorities and (yes) limitations lead the way in defining faith for me, rather than using my intellect in the context of a holistic faith relationship with God. It is not a call to deny our intellects or to fall into fideism or quietism. Not at all. All I'm saying is that Wills' use of intellect is incomplete and dishonest. He refuses to engage counter-arguments seriously, reverting always to accusations of misuse of power. He treats contemporary theological perspectives as beyond criticism. He leaves the impression that faith is all about an acceptably-ordered mental universe. Let's put it this way: this is not a book in which you will find active, vigorous mytics like Teresa of Avila or passionate servants like Vincent de Paul. You will not find Fr. Damiens, Mother Cabrinis or Mother Theresas.
Now, listen. The reason I can be so focused on this is that I understand Wills. I understand the need to have faith make sense, and I have been stymied in my own faith growth by intellectual questions more than I care to say. That, then, is the reason, I am so keen on pointing out the inadequacies of the approach. I understand why Wills' heroes are his heroes - they are some of mine as well, because they were all possessed of keen minds who would not take faith claims for granted, and who sought to understand them and clarify them, not only for themselves, but for the rest of us as well. But just for myself, as important as those figures are, they may bring my mind closer to God and confidence in the truth of the Christian claim, but I can't say that they (with the exception of Augustine) move my whole faith as related to my whole self. The people who do that for me are the people I cited above. These were all people who grappled with church authority, who even defied it at times. They are people who were not, to say the least, dumb. They were also people who had choices to make and made them. Free, intelligent souls who contemplated their options but in the end, chose to follow Christ, not because they'd worked it all out or because they'd constructed a faith that fit what they saw as their needs at the time, but because they listened, and they said yes, and they followed.
In other words, it was a Person to whom they responded, not an idea.
That's what I couldn't sense in Wills' book.
It was not until the 20th century that Protestant churches endorsed birth control. Martin Luther and other early Protestant reformers "believed in abundant fertility," says Allan Carlson, president of the Howard Center for the Family, Religion and Society in Rockford, Ill. "He condemned contraception and abortion in the strongest possible terms. Specifically, he thought [God's blessing for Adam and Eve in Genesis 1:28] to 'be fruitful and multiply' was a divine command." Prior to the 1900s, Mr. Torode says, most Protestants opposed birth control for the same reasons expressed by Pope Paul VI in his July 1968 encyclical "Humanae Vitae.""They believed contraception would increase promiscuity and encourage adultery by separating sex from procreation," he says. But after the Church of England approved birth control at its 1930 Lambeth Conference, "all Protestant denominations went on to endorse contraception, except for a few groups like the Amish," he says. Protestants "were following the spirit of the age. They were influenced by people like [Planned Parenthood founder] Margaret Sanger."
Here's a link to the book written by the couple featured in the story:Open Embrace: A Protestant Couple Rethinks Contraception
He's the fellow who voiced support of the anti-globalization protests at the G8 summit in Genoa last year
In the run-up to last year's G8 summit, he called on wealthy nations not to forget the poor, urging policies in which "man does not exist for globalization, but globalization for man." "One African child sick with AIDS counts more than the entire Universe," he told a convention ahead of the G8. He gave his blessing to anti-globalization protests during the three-day gathering, and came in for heavy criticism from conservative politicians after the demonstrations turned violent, with one protester killed and hundreds more injured.
From the alternative paper, a brief article about how a reporter for the Tennessean misreported an abuse story.
The abuse occurred many years ago - in the 1950's - but as the article makes clear, the consequences for the victims live on for a very long time. The one hero in the story (besides the victim) is the abbot of St. Bernard's monastery in Cullmann, where the offending priest now lives.
But if Coode is dissatisfied--fairly or not--with the reaction his story has gotten from the Diocese of Nashville, he praises the intervention of Abbot Cletus Meagher, who has essentially placed the 80-something Father Roger Lott under house arrest at St. Bernard Abbey, where he now lives. Father Lott is not allowed to have anyone in his room (or cell, as the monks call it) except an outside priest who serves as his confessor, he's not allowed to roam the campus (on which there is a prep school) and he's been stripped of all his priestly faculties, meaning that he's not allowed to say mass or hear confessions. The abbot, a quiet, bespectacled man of middle age who exudes humility, says he sanctioned Coode's alleged abuser because of "inconsistencies in monastic observances." He says he "would have tried to address some of these things even if [Coode's claim] didn't happen," but that Coode's story certainly was a factor. After all the pain and bitterness and heartbreak, it's worth noting that there is still a connection of sorts between Deputy Sheriff Mike Coode and Father Roger Lott. As the old priest sits alone in his cell at St. Bernard, he suffers from prostate cancer and coronary heart disease. He has a few books, no television. But he has one specific daily burden related to Coode, a burden Abbot Meagher placed on him. "I told him," the abbot says, " Regardless of what happened back there many years ago, Mike is in great need of some healing. Every day for the rest of your life, I want you to pray for Mike to be healed.' "
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