Wednesday, September 24, 2003

For the last couple of days, I have been trying to marshal my thoughts into a coherent argument. I haven’t been able to do so. To be honest, there doesn’t seem to be much point.

How do I argue with a lay person, who quite comfortably insists that she will not obey her own priest, but objects to a priest exercising that same degree of autonomy toward his bishop, or when her bishop is casual in his allegiance to Rome?

What do I say to a Catholic who rejects private interpretation of the Bible but argues with equal assurance in favor of private interpretation of the Catechism?

How can I respond to someone who argues that all he requires is a catechism and the Eucharist as though it were not the priest who consecrates the Eucharist and the bishop who consecrates the priest? Is it enough to say that Thomas Aquinas claimed that reception of the Eucharist can bring either life or death depending on the state of the recipient? Should I make the further argument, so beautifully advanced by Michigan Catholic:

"Priests were optimists. They were builders and golfers, drinkers of Scotch. They bellowed their Latin. They drove fast in dark cars. They wore Hawaiian shirts to compensate for tragedy. Priests' boyhoods were spent in dark, polished seminaries, as lovelorn, as masculine as my father's Mexico. Priests wore skirts. Parishioners gave priests hand towels with crosses embroidered on, or pen sets with crosses for clips, or handkerchiefs with little crosses in the corners, or notepapers embossed with praying hands. Priests told jokes to cover the embarrassment of such gifts; priests told jokes to cover the embarrassment of collecting money; priests told jokes to cover the embarrassment of life, for priests had the power to forgive sins."
What can I think when a columnist of Peggy Noonan’s caliber is fatuous enough to suggest that our bishops should be patsies based on some romantic heroic model of socially sanctioned holiness? Is it enough to remind her that our institutional Church stands as a sheep amidst the wolves and that contrary to her advice, Jesus ordered our bishops to be as cunning as the serpent and as harmless as the doves?

Would any of these people accept as legitimate the argument that, while restoring old customs, we might restore the practice of kissing the bishop’s ring as a mark of our fealty and an acknowledgement of our respective roles in the scheme of things?

Frankly, I'm not at all encouraged when I read of a faithful Catholic participant in the conservatives’ conference threatening to “excommunicate’ her bishop as though she actually believes that she has the authority to do so:
We love them and support them - - but Christ's Church and His Truth is on the line - you are either with us or against us. No more straddling the line calling for peace treaties between truth and lies. Take a side.

It sure seems to me that this meeting was just an other chapter in "Power Politics of the Laity"

Conservatives talk a good talk: "Pulling together a group of powerful and influential individuals who can network to defend our priests and Bishops when they are being attacked". Judging from Boston, however, these are not the folks I would want defending my back. They are far too quick to turn on their own.

And then again, their support comes with a caveat " - and who will work together to prohibit silence from hijacking truth." Exactly whose silence are they prohibiting? And from whence does their authority stem? How are these people different than those that claim "we are the Church"?

I am truly sorry. I had such hope…
but the conservatives' meeting with the bishops is the straw that broke this camel's back. Try as I might, I just can't wrap my mind around it. It's gotten to the point now where I would need a scorecard to tell the 'restorers' from the 'reformers'. Both sides seem intend on having the Church on their terms or else!

Perhaps, Mary Ann Glendon is right. It all comes down to Formation, Formation, Formation

For some refreshing commentary on the state of the Church, I visited Bill Cork

Thursday, September 18, 2003

In trying to identify viable responses to the current crisis, I find it necessary to work through certain conceptual structures. Caroline argues that “Talk of dissenters dissenting from dissent supported by priests and bishops is a clever way of handing me the dirty end of the stick and I won't touch it.” I don’t feel that I have that same luxury of refusal. I have to touch it. I have to toy with it and examine it and search for the loopholes that might allow fidelity to all that I believe. I believe that the numerous Catch-22’s so evident in our current dilemma are more apparent than actual. I would even go so far as to say that my sense of limited options is “a trick of the devil.“ I suspect that the answer I’m seeking, when I find it, will amaze me with its simplicity. But the search for it isn’t simple at all.

One might imagine that, in a perfect world, the pope would issue a single message and local bishops would simply re-iterate that message, much as the repeaters in a transmission line amplify the information coming down the line. Quite possibly, in an imperfect world, the Church could work this way; but I doubt that it was ever intended to do so. I think that, if we lived in a perfect world and all of our bishops had perfect judgment, a difference in message would still exist between the Holy Father, and individual bishops and from one bishop to the next. The world is too wide and the depth of Catholicism is too vast for a strict conformity to one man’s vision.

It helps me to think of each bishop as a direct heir to the original Apostles. Just as each of the apostles spoke with his own unique voice, each bishop comes to his office with his own perspective and his own priorities. Just as the various Apostles tailored their message to the people they hoped to convert, a modern bishop should have a sensibility for and responsiveness to the unique attributes of his local Church.

Obviously, the Pope speaks to the universal Church. In times as troubled as our own, his message may be quite particular and pointed. It deserves a broad audience and, in a perfect world, it would be promoted in every parish. The promotion of the Pope’s message doesn’t necessarily mean that the local Bishop would act merely as his mouthpiece. The local bishop has his own authority and his own responsibility to his local Church. Being intimately tied to the region, he might see the challenges impacting his people differently and possibly more clearly than the Pope…who after all is far away. Without negating the Pope’s message, a bishop, in gentle times, could quite legitimately place his emphasis on a different aspect of Church teaching. In this manner, the local Church would be moved to action by both messages.

In America, for example, the local bishops might lend much greater emphasis to “social justice” issues. After all, America is the richest and most powerful country in the world. Catholics are the richest segment of the American population. Materialism may be one of our greatest social problems and it does have spiritual dimensions. In addition, one might argue that American Catholics hold the purse strings of the global Catholic community. Assuming a perfect Church, it is well within reason, that a large number of American bishops would stress the responsibility implicit in such material wealth.

Beyond America, many Catholics are among the very poorest people and the very poorest nations in the earth. Others live under the most oppressive of governments or are only beginning to emerge from the shadow of communism. Some live in nations so damaged by corruption that the population can barely sustain itself. Huge portions of the Catholic population are being abused by various United Nations initiatives, the remnants of Communism or the onslaught of a virulent form of Islam. This large body of Catholics, living in quite different circumstances from our own, need to hear a different message. In one country, fidelity to the Faith may demand martyrdom. In another, it might require the rejection of the life-giving financial aid that attaches to population control programs. In each of these situations, the local bishop could particularize the requirements of the Faith to the demands of the world in which his people live.

Even within a diocese, local parishes may have radically different and equally legitimate agendas. While all Americans may be wealthy by Third World standards, wealth remains relative. A parish in the South Bronx would have different needs and might have different gifts than one in Scarsdale. Again, it makes sense that authority would to some measure devolve to the local pastor so that the Church might be most present in the world. At some earlier point, I made the argument that the hierarchical nature of the Church is topsy-turvy. Authority (and the concurrent responsibility) is always maintained at the lowest feasible level so that the Church might be most efficacious in the conversion of the world. This is a principle known as subsidiarity.

While the principle of subsidiarity would seem to contradict the rule of obedience, it is the necessary complement to obedience and can actually work to enhance Catholic submission to authority. In Catholic thought, authority is the necessary condition for liberty rather than its antithesis. And somewhere here lies the key…

Friday, September 12, 2003

I think that it is fair to argue that I have never been subject to the kinds of abuse many people have complained about. I've spent most of my life in the Archdiocese of NY and I have had exemplary bishops. I have, however, seen the effect a faithless pastor (particularly in conjunction with a wayward bishop) can have on the most faithful Catholics. I do not dismiss such Catholics as hyper-religious cranks with disagreeable personalities. I think that they are heartsick and often times valiantly engaged in a struggle against frustration and despair.

It is for this reason that I would never condemn or hold in contempt a parish-shopper. Sometimes retreat is the only sane response. I do think, however, that this course of action should be recognized as a form of surrender. It isn't something to be bragged about nor is it something to be advocated. It is at best a survival tactic. One lives to fight another day on another front.

If I were asked my opinion, I would recommend that someone stick with their territorial parish AND become engaged in one of the faithful lay movements. By doing so, they might serve in the front lines and still draw sustenance from a supportive, faithful community. In tending advice, I'd be careful to time my suggestion so that it might serve as a source of strength rather than an admonishment. A separation from one's parish that is based on "irreconcilable differences' holds an terrible immediacy of pain. We are engaged in a cultural war and many of us are casualties of that war.

One of the things that I like to keep in mind is that the American Catholic Civil War is a major front in a global conflict between the Culture of Life and the culture of death. It should be viewed in this light rather than as a discrete power struggle for control of the Church in America. The culture of death would love to enlist the American Church on its side of this larger war...much as they have now enlisted the American Episcopal Church.

If this is not possible, the servants of death want to destroy the Catholic Church in America or at least sideline Her. It seems to me that far too many American Catholics are playing into their hands. Yes. This does includes some priests and some bishops in addition to the laity. It also includes a great many activists on both sides of the aisle. In honesty, I find that a great many 'conservative' Catholics are becoming 'useful idiots' in advancing the multi-pronged agenda of the Left. Just as SAM rightly wonders whether I am ignorant of the ruthlessness of the liberal structures, I worry that many conservatives are naive as to its cunning.

Some conservative American Catholics have begun to object to perceived anti-Catholicism in the secular arena. Yet many of these same Catholics callously dismissed the claims of our Bishops (SA and European) that the Catholic scandal was itself a deliberate and concerted attack on the Church. These outspoken bishops saw the 'scandal' as the first American salvo on the American front in war against Catholicism. They should know. They "have the tee-shirts." They have seen the same sequence of events over and over again in their various countries. On each occasion, a "scandal" was useful in alienating the faithful from their bishops. It is a strategy that has proved its power to handicap and cripple the Church. Such 'scandals' have been the justification for abusive secular legal and governmental action around the globe. Yet many American Catholics dismiss these bishops as naive.

Now, before you jump all over me, I am not claiming that the Church is perfect. Dig deep enough, and you will always be able to find cause for scandal. Jenkins, who authored the book about "The New Anti-Catholicism", has also documented the waves of 'pedophilia' fear that have broken across our country in the last decades. It is a credit to the conservative Catholic activists that the Church scandal did not fall prey to this hysteria. Their insistence on defining the issue as pederasty and their success in doing so is a remarkable tribute to their talent, their activism and their power to persuade in public debate.

They were, however, less successful in keeping the focus on abusive homosexuality. When the left shifted the discourse to the issue of "abuse of power", most conservatives jumped on the liberal bandwagon. Most are still riding that bandwagon. In doing so, they are accepting liberal premises, structures, definitions and tactics. A single example should suffice.

Today, conservative Catholics seem to have accepted a 'de facto' American Catholic Church. Conservative pundits (including members of St.Blogs) harp endlessly about "our" bishops. In doing so, they deny an essential element of our diocese structure. Each of the bishops, responsible for a diocese, is sovereign and answerable only to Rome. Bishop Gregory's recent letter to Archbishop Dolan is a graceful acknowledgement of this reality. Sovereign bishops are loath to criticize each other (particularly in public) and they should be.

God has not granted Archbishop Egan authority over my local Church, which implies that God has not given him the grace sufficient to that task. On the other hand, God has given Archbishop Egan authority over his own archdiocese. By the same token, the Bishop of Los Angeles is no more and no less "our" bishop than the bishop of Milan. My bishop is singular. His name is Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of the Diocese of Brooklyn. Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio and I belong to each other as distinctively and as surely as my father and I belong to each other. What most of you might consider heretical is that, when Bishop Daily was my bishop, he and I also belonged to each other as distinctively and as surely as my father and I belong to each other.

Earl raises the point that there is a critical difference between dissent against Catholic doctrine, the moral law, etc and dissent against the 'imprudent' prudential judgments made by bishops. What he claims is true. One can accept Catholic theology and Catholic moral teachings, without ever submitting oneself to the authority of the Church. It is an article of our Catholic faith that you don't have to be Catholic to agree with the teachings of the Church on these issues. To be Catholic is to do more than this. It includes submission to the authority of the Church. This translates into submission to the authority of your local church unless you are released from this obligation by a higher authority in the hierarchy. Your bishop can release you from your obligation to submit to your priest and the Pope can release you from your obligation to submit to the authority of your sovereign bishop.

If, rather than submit to your local authority, you choose to trust your own prudential judgment, you can exercise that judgment by moving to a more amenable diocese. It's not that different from the way America works. As a New Yorker, I'm subject to taxation by the state of New York. If I don't like it, I can move to New Jersey. I'm still be an American citizen, but I'm no longer a New Yorker. In this country, we think that it is appropriate that the rules may vary from state to state. It's called Federalism and most conservatives will defend the Federalist premise. It provides a structure within which a greater degree of authentic freedom might be exercised.

Somewhere along the line, I might outline my thoughts on obedience. For now, I'll simply note that the Church considers obedience to be one of the more difficult and praiseworthy virtues. Mary is the Church's model of obedience and we frequently refer to Christ as "obedient unto death." In my estimation, the obedience that a Catholic owes his bishop is comparable to the obedience that a soldier owes the commander in chief. A soldier may legitimately take part in civil discourse on proposed war efforts. However, once the decision for war has been made, the soldier does not have the right to question the prudential judgment of the President. Nor does he have a generic right to second-guess his superiors or to selectively follow orders. His job is to obey the orders of his superiors with the enthusiasm of a true believer. The only exception to this rule is his right and obligation to refuse "criminal" orders. In doing so, he had better be certain of their criminality. Similarly, Catholics are supposed to obey their bishops except when the bishop calls them to real (not imagined) sin.

In the period prior to the Vatican Council, the Church in America exercised a similar authority over Her people. Bishop Hughes was able to threaten the mayor of New York with a 1000 unruly Irishmen guarding his churches. He had called on his people and he was sure of their response. These men weren't saints. Some may have been scoundrels. But, they were Catholic; they held to the Church; they responded to Her call. I would be surprised to find an American bishop today who would have the audacity of Bishop Hughes. Our bishops are not fools. They know that their people can no longer be counted upon in this manner.

Before arguing that the Bishops are responsible for the current state of affairs, you might consider whether you yourself would be welcoming of such stringent discipline. The old standard of Catholic obedience runs contrary to the American spirit. Americans don't respond well to the claims of authority. We are an ornary people, protective of our rights and our perogatives. We believe in the claims of reason, the power of persuasion and the authority of personal judgment. It is fitting that our Bishops use these tools to govern the Church and proclaim the Gospel. It is also fitting that the Bishops have tried to conform the Church to the best in America. This is the much praised process of inculturation. Without some measure of inculturation, many of our most prominent and promising 'conservative' converts might never have even considered the possibility of crossing the Tiber.

I'm afraid that I've taken too much of your time and I haven't addressed the central issue: ie,discerning viable approaches to renewing the Church. My apologies...

I will post more on this subject, early next week.
And I look forward to hearing from you

Tuesday, September 09, 2003

From Greg Popcock:

I had much more sober goals for the day, and those goals were achieved. For too long, the Bishops have associated themselves with the loud voices of dissent, not because they necessarily agree with those voices but more because, 1) they are loud (Bishops hate conflict) 2) they are influential (read: "Moneyed and politically connected) and 3) They threaten to tear the Church apart (Threats of schism get attention.)...

What this meeting accomplished was to say to the bishops that observant Catholics have an organized voice, that we are not afraid to use it, that we are not cranks, that we are university presidents, publishers, academics, business leaders, lay ministers, that we demand our say, and that we demand that our concerns be heard and responded to...

Bishops are terrified of conflict. So, if you want fidelity, you have to agitate for it. Alot...

They genuinely, honestly, don't have a clue how bad it is on the front lines of the culture of death. Now, that's a damn shame, but you know what? You know what that means, folks? It just means that we aren't yelling loudly enough. That's what.

So let me get this straight:

1.The bishops shouldn't associated themselves with the voices of dissent
2.We can dissent even louder.
3.Therefore, the bishops should associate themselves with us

Sounds like a pretty poor syllogism to me!

From the front lines of the Culture of Death
"As the epidemic evolves," he says, "so does our perception, and the art that we make about it." For some reason, this line reminds me of the Bug Chasers. Is Bug Chasing simply another example of the reduction of life to posturing?
Body Parts:In general the donors "are done for anyway," said one doctor, speaking anonymously. "Maybe they could live another three or four days."... The surgeons just wanted to "speed up the process", he said.

Root Causes

On the Ecology Front:
The Climatic Effect of Fungi
Oil and wildlife 'can co-exist': In a rare tribute to the energy industry, scientists have praised one company's record in exploiting an African oilfield.

A Reminder from freedom's frontier:
Our World-Historical Gamble

Monday, September 08, 2003

My PC is on the fritz so posting will be intermittent until I get it fixed!

The Time of the Gentiles
For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in.
And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, There shall come out of Zion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob:
For this is my covenant unto them, when I shall take away their sins.
As concerning the gospel, they are enemies for your sakes: but as touching the election, they are beloved for the father's sakes.
-- Romans 11:25-28

And they shall fall by the edge of the sword, and shall be led away captive into all nations: and Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled. -- Luke 21:24

On occasion, Adam's sin has been referred to as a Felix Culpa. The argument runs that, if it were not for Adam's fall, there would have been no incarnation.

I tend to think that the Judaic rejection of Jesus as Messiah is the occasion of my own Felix Culpa. Jesus compared heaven to a wedding feast where the invited guests declined to come. As a result, passersby were invited to the feast. The implication is that, if the intended guests had attended, the invitation to all and sundry would not have been extended.

If the Judaic community had accepted Jesus as the fulfillment of the Covenant, where would I be?

Friday, September 05, 2003

Domenico Bettinelli shares Bishop Dolan's and Bishop Gregory's responses to the proposal to drop the celibacy requirement for the priesthood. I'm feeling better already.

Thursday, September 04, 2003

I have to admit the idea of married ex-priests returning to the priesthood gives me the willies. The few ex-priests I personally know all left during the mass exodus shortly after the Vatican Council. They are the Peter Pans of Catholicism. Though they’ve grown old, they have never grown up. I suspect that they suffer from The Skimpole Syndrome:Childhood Unlimited. Re-admitting these men to service in the priesthood would only exacerbate the problem of dissent and indifferentism. I know that it isn’t fair to generalize but my mind still boggles at the possibility.

Priests for Celibacy

Eminent Domain vs Bells of St Mary

The Shame of the Irish

Some time in the future, I want to explore the problems I associate with Islam but, since I found this interesting, I thought I'd post it: 'Night Journey'

Wednesday, September 03, 2003

Out and About:

Justin Katz has an interesting post on transhumanism

Whose in Charge Here: State vs Parental Rights

Scottish Gospel Music?

A bishop who doesn't know the meaning of priest

And while we're on the topic of bishops:

I have to admit that I find this rather odd. The charism of a bishop is to govern the local church to the best of his ability for the glory of God. One portion of that responsibility is determining the methodology of governance most compatible with his individual talents and the needs of his people. Some bishops might rule with an iron fist, some may indeed go up to the mountain, and some may go out among the people. Some may listen only to one side of a debate and others may be more even-handed. Hopefully all bishops serve prayerfully but even that isn't guarenteed.Within the guidelines of canon law, the responsibility for governing - and for determining how best to govern - rests with the Bishop. As does the authority. I guess I just fail to see the problem here.

There's an excellent posting on Political Theory and Catholicism over at SecretAgent's Dossier

More on Church and State:
While it's legitimate to wonder whether or not nations should discriminate on the basis of religion, it does seem to me that what's good for the goose should be good for the gander

Also from the Dossier:
Reflections on Backwoods Justice

Tuesday, September 02, 2003