Tuesday, August 27, 2002

I enjoy being bicultural but from where I stand I must admit that Catholic culture has always seemed so much more sensible than American culture. It is more in tune with the actual rhythms of my life. In Catholicism, the world is a manageable place since one's authority and one's responsibility are directly proportional and synchronous. I have a particular sphere of influence and my responsibility rests entirely within that sphere

I've been visiting St. Blog's parishioners today and I am a bit taken aback by the storms that seem to be raging. There is a level of frustration and outrage that is a bit disconcerting. I don't remember on which site I discovered the following attempt at explanation but somewhere someone suggested that the tempest is due to a deep seated feeling that the laity are powerless to take action to remedy the problems in the Church. The comment struck me as an accurate reflection of 'St Blogs' assumptions. At the same time, these 'parish' assumptions struck me as unrealistic in the extreme.

Many vocal bloggers seem frustrated by the very real fact that they are not bishops. I thank God that they're not. I thank God I'm not. There is a certain madness in the current conversation that reflects badly on the prudence and rationality of those contributing to that conversation. There is a presumptuousness that dishonors us both as Americans and as Catholics. I'm reminded of a scene in the movie A Man for All Seasons. In it, Thomas Moore is arguing with the rash young man that is soon to be his son-in-law. He argues that he would give even the devil the benefit of the law, because without the protection of the law, no one can stand 'in the winds that will blow'

Before continuing, I should warn you that I may be one of the few white folks in America who believes that O.J. is not guilty of his wife's death. I am an American and this is the only legitimate place for me to stand. Either our laws are valid or we will find that we have 'nowhere to hide when the devil turns round , the laws all being cut down.'

On hearsay, people have judged that a goodly portion of our hierarchy are moral degenerates and secular criminals. As an American, I don't buy it. As a Catholic, I don't think that I'm even allowed to buy it. As far as I can tell, most of our accused Church leaders have violated neither secular nor Church law. They have simply exercised their office. That is what they are commissioned to do.

One of the ongoing arguments does involve the relationship between the religious and secular authorities. This is an area where popular opinion seems to be way off track. Personally, I think that Catholic popular opinion is being manipulated by people who see the State as capable of issuing in a New Jerusalem. But I also think that the modern premises are such that very little overt manipulation is necessary. I imagine that we will be making bad secular law from these hard cases and that, as Americans, we will learn to regret those laws. Just as today, so many people have begun to question the actions of Child Protection Services and our Public Education system. But also like today, having made our bed, I imagine that we will be forced to lie in it.

There are people who claim that the Church has brought this on Herself, but I find that argument naive. The same people who argue that accused priests have been treated too leniently, also argue in favor of respecting the confessional seal. Today, this seal applies to lay Catholics who hold equally authoritative power over 'our' young. Should we say that errant teachers are not entitled to the sacrament of penance? Or perhaps we should refuse the sacrament to drill sergeants and community leaders? Trust me, this is likely to be a future battleground

A great number of people claim that they don't agree with the manner in which the bishops have exercised their office. These lay (and clerical) Catholics feel that it is perfectly within their province to damn our bishops. They even feel some moral prerogative to put pressure on the Church to force its compliance with their particular agenda. It's an easy call. Everything wrong with the Church can be laid at the door of the various faithless bishops. I think the root of the disagreement however is less palpable and more dissident. The way I read the situation, a great number of modern Catholics simply don't think they should be subject to any authority other than their own. In other words, despite their protestations to the contrary, they are working within a Protestant reference.

Only a small time ago, the argument was being made that the bishops failed the Catholic people of North America. Now that same argument is being used against the Holy See. Suddenly, once again the 'defenders of the faith' are rushing to the defense of the Church. Maybe they are right, maybe they are wrong. What I find most striking about the conversation, however, is that it concedes points that haven't really been won. It concedes for example, the unestablished fact that our bishops are guilty of gross dereliction of duty. I don't know that they are. The case hasn't really been made to my satisfaction. Perhaps it hasn't been made to the satisfaction of the Pope.

I know that I'm giving offense. But I can't find a polite way of saying that the entire conversation seems to lack a sense of Catholicism. The ongoing discussion isn't about responsibility and it's not about appropriate lay responses to the troubles in the Church. It's about power - pure and simple. There is a rage for corporate action and a fury that the claimants lack the competence to impose their will on the Church and thus determine the greater workings of our institutions. Maybe some feel that by shouting loudly enough, no one will notice that they are shirking their very real responsibility in this crisis. If they feel powerless perhaps it is because they are not properly exercising the power naturally inherent in their established sphere.

I said at the beginning of this posting that a particular beauty of Catholicism is that we are called to a responsibility commensurate with our authority. Please, if you haven't read my last post about our neglected duty to our parishes and our local communities. do so.

Remember, the simple realities of our Faith. Each of us is a member of a parish and each of us has parish obligations. We have an obligation to live good and even exemplary lives. We have an obligation to know our priests and fellow parishioners. We can and we should pray but we should also be involved in our parishes in a meaningful way. We can tend our small corner of the Church by appropriately fulfilling our 'everyday Catholic' duties. Perhaps most significantly, we can examine our own lives and our own consciences in terms of our complicity in sin. The potential to perform penitential acts is also within our power and our authority. Since we are one body in Christ, these acts actually do impinge on the other members of the church. With luck, they may even impinge on our 'holier than thou' selves.


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