Sunday, January 29, 2006

How U.S. Catholicism Has Come to This Un-Lovely Pass

Saturday I agreed with Justice Anne Burke in a controversy with Francis Cardinal George and I don’t mean to revisit that particular topic (agreeing with Justice Burke once in my life will be, I hope, sufficient) but I do mean to discuss with you how my Church came to this desperate pass. There are several points I’d like to make before getting to what I think is the real reason.

First, the idea that the celibate priesthood is responsible for priests going off the reservation is a concept fondly held by some—but it is not credible. In the regular world, those predators who have defiled children have been totally non-celibate. They have been sometimes heterosexual, sometimes homosexual, sometimes married men, sometimes gym coaches: the celibacy rule has had nothing to do with it. Nor does promiscuity center on homosexuals as I hope we all have learned (from the story of David bedding Bathsheba as outlined in the Jewish bible of today’s Mass). Take a look at Protestant ministers including Jimmy Swaggert and Jim Bakker—married men who had affairs—and you get the idea.

Second, the priesthood is not threatened by scarcity of applicants. One of the really superb prelates in the U.S., Archbishop Eldon Curtis of Oklahoma City has said it correctly: there is no scarcity of qualified men for the priesthood; the idea of a scarcity is artificial and contrived. What has happened is that radical liberalism has infiltrated the seminaries bringing with it a defiance of the Church’s traditional teachings on sexual morality, a defiance that captured many of the seminary professors and discouraged young men of traditional moral stance from applying or being accepted: hence the fictional “scarcity.” The radical permissiveness began as an outgrowth of the so-called but seriously distorted “spirit of Vatican II.” Permissiveness and promiscuity was nowhere to be found in Vatican II, its documents or deliberations. The Council had the bad fortune to be held precisely at the time that the West was undergoing convulsions in mores: radical feminism, radical upheavals in sexual behavior, radical challenges of authority spurred by all kinds of forces.

Third, I do not share the belief of some of my well-meaning conservative Catholic friends that child abuse is simply and solely homosexuality in the priesthood—for the simple reason as any law enforcement official can tell you (and as I observed as a journalist) that predatory sexual behavior occurs in both straight and gay categories. It is true, however, that some abuses reported as against children were against young adults who were attractive to homosexual priests. But to argue this point is to evade the real cause. It’s not gay or straight but radical defiance of sexual mores that has defiled some priests.

That defiance has come as the spillover from what the Catholic writer and John Paul biographer George Weigel calls the “Truce of 1968.” That was the decision not to hold dissenting theologians and priests accountable for rejecting the 1968 encyclical on human sexuality, “Humanae Vitae” [“On Human Life”] by Paul VI. When then Patrick Cardinal O’Boyle, archbishop of Washington, D. C. sought to discipline those who had openly rejected the teaching of the encyclical and sought to force a retraction from the dissidents, he took his case all the way to Rome where his strategy was rejected by the self-same Paul VI, who feared a schism would occur. That decision by Paul was a well-meaning but disastrous one which emboldened the dissidents. A good article on this is by Father Richard John Neuhaus, my own favorite commentator (a Catholic convert from Lutheran ministry where as a pastor he marched with Martin Luther King). He is now this nation’s most eloquent spokesman for authentic Catholicism, in my view. His publication is “First Things” published in New York. He describes the dissent and dissenters very well.

Not mentioned by Father Neuhaus, but nevertheless among the dissidents were those very familiar to us Chicago Catholics. None other than Patrick and Patty Crowley, the city’s most prominent Catholic couple, leaders of the Christian Family Movement who had sought to sway the Pope’s writing of “Humanae Vitae” and were sorely disappointed. They had gone across the country on an insufferably arrogant mission, seeking to put old-style Irish political pressure on the Pope and assuring their audiences that they would be successful. Well, they were not. Call it the work of the Holy Spirit.

Their massive egos were damaged, particularly, may I say, Patty Crowley’s who saw herself, the mother of six children, as the patroness of exploited women who demanded church acceptance of birth control. A wealthy woman, heiress to the multi-million dollar O’Brien paint fortune, she was assuredly not sentenced to lifelong poverty because of her large family. But hearing her on the stump, you could believe she was. She became an inflammatory weapon (she died just weeks ago coldly unrepentant for her stand and in her nineties and I’m not sure she died Catholic or not). The dissent went through the trendy theologians to the popularizers centering here with none other than Father Andrew Greeley, a brilliant man, to whom an unpublished thought has never occurred (and now you know the crux of my disagreement with Greeley whom I first met when we were both 13). We in the Church are living with the consequences of Paul’s failure to enforce his encyclical among the faithful—and a widespread conflagration of dissent that came from his worry about schism. Studying him you understand well that the doctrine of infallibility applied to faith and morals when propagated “ex cathedra” (“from the chair”) does not apply to tactics. Now, what we have is worse than schism where dissenters leave is schism within the ranks, far worse for the dissenters cause scandal to the faithful.

Fourth, again, homosexuality as such does not dominate the entire picture in my view but permissiveness that spreads lawlessness embracing indecency in heterosexual and homosexual attitudes does . Just as the `60s opened wide the doors for the exotic experimentalism of sexual congress, the Church suffers through lamentable relaxation of discipline in its bishopric and seminaries opening the doors to promiscuity. Take a look at how many priests take on girl friends and leave to marry as well as priests who entered through inducement by the gay culture. I would refer you to two books, the first by a good friend, Dr. James Hitchcock, professor at St. Louis University, who wrote a prescient view of the problem many years ago, “Catholicism and Modernity.” A second book is “Goodbye, Good Men,” by Michael Rose who explores the disintegration of the seminaries, the gradual take-over by those who pooh-pooh piety which led to the takeover of some by a gay subculture. Granted now that heterosexuals have been leaving and others disdain to join the priesthood, there’s a temporary influx of homosexuals.

Fifth, here’s where homosexuality is front and center in the picture. Now that the sexual revolution blew off the seminary doors allowing a good many dissenters to enter, the battle is being waged over the Vatican’s November 4, 2005 instruction on homosexuality and the priesthood. Get this dissent from what used to be a liberal but orthodox Catholic publication with a venerable history: Commonweal. An editorial recently said, “Whether it is birth control, homosexuality or the range of sexual contact permitted between spouses, church teaching offers little that speaks to the experience of the vast majority of faithful Catholics who now insist that they know something about sexual morality that the Church’s leadership needs to learn.” What does that tell you? Experience should be followed, not rigid morals.

I would say this is right from the gospel of Father Greeley (a pollster who tells us how many Catholics disagree with the teachings of the Church). But Greeley is not the originator of such dissent but propagandist, insisting his columns shows him in clerical garb, allowing him to represent by implication a Church for whose teachings he has such disdain, a Church he will not leave because his novels exploiting it have made him many times a millionaire. Commonweal continues: “There is hardly a Catholic alive who doesn’t have a colleague, a neighbor, a friend, a relative or a child who is gay. Like `Humanae Vitae,’ barring homosexuals from the priesthood would force many Catholics, both straight and gay, into internal or outright exile from the Church.”

Answer: If that isn’t relativist, situational morality, nothing is. It argues: change, wink at homosexuality and other excesses because some Catholics will leave. Father Thomas Reese, S.J., the exiled editor of “America,” the Jesuit publication (rightly canned as virtually Benedict’s first act) asks questions that are duplicitous, easily answered to anyone but Reese: what does it mean to “practice homosexuality?” What does it mean to have “deep-seated homosexual tendencies?” Com’on, Reese, what are you giving us? It’s dissimulation by one who challenges the historic magisterial teaching of the church—one who stays around to see if he can change the Church. Only to a person with no absolutes do Reese’s questions have relevance. The age-old mission of the Church is to define sin, get sinners to repent and reform and not entertain what the meaning of “is” is, Father Reese. If the Jesuits are what they were, you’d know the answer.

Sixth, reading “Commonweal,” Greeley and others of their ilk it strikes you that you have read it before. Of course, you have! It’s standard operating liberalism—in essence, relativism that is purveyed in other conversations, social, political, cultural, in the country. Significantly it is relativism that Benedict XVI said he was determined to work against in his pontificate. The subhead of Michael Rose’s book “Goodbye, Good Men” is: “How liberals brought corruption into the Catholic Church.” And now you know why I write for the oldest Catholic newspaper in the country which is determinedly opposed to relativism and whose enemies call it hopelessly out-of-date.

Seventh, except for the great pain that has occurred to children and families which has been truly incredible, the loss of souls and the disaster that has afflicted my Church (a gigantic exception), the fact that its hierarchy and priests have been sorely humbled is not bad. The fact that good priests I know who wear clericals are glowered at as they walk down the street is not all bad. Being humbled, humiliated, as I have discovered, is balm for the soul. When I was young, priests were elevated to an unconscionable prominence by average Catholics—primarily because in the `30s, priests were usually the best educated in our neighborhoods. People would go to them with problems including jobs, trade unions and politics about which they had no expertise. Too many bishops and prelates lived and indeed still live like worldly princes rather than princes of the Church. Cardinal George is an exception and has been guided by his many talents including a trenchant sense of humor. I trust he will meet the challenge of this controversy as he has so many others.

So sorry to go so long. And now, your comments.


  1. John Thomas McGeeanJanuary 30, 2006 at 2:08 AM

    Elden Curtis is Archbishop Of Omaha, not Oaklahoma City

  2. John Thomas McGeeanJanuary 30, 2006 at 2:30 AM

    Aside from the correction of the Sea of Archbishop Curtis, your case was well stated. In his book Mr. Rose relied on one Norman Weslin for his comments on Sacred Heart School of Theology. There were changes made after Norman Weslin left Sacred Heart. Weslin said the Vatican Visitation of 1983 did nothing. In fact, I can sight two MAJOR changes that occured there. 1.) Women (nuns) were no longer used as Spiritual Directors. 2) Formation Directors no longer acted as Spiritual Directors since Formation People "have to vote on Seminarians. I wrote Mr. Rose a letter on this and never got a response.
    However, you wrote the rest of this well.
    As you will recall the Papel Commission was established to see if the "Rock" pill was a natural form of family planning or whether it was just another means of artificial contraception. This is why the commission was established. When the commission concluded it was artificial then they opened the door a lot wider than the mandate. Paul VI gave us the answer in October 1965 when addressing the U.N in New York. At that time he said "Ours is not to deny people a place at the table of life but to find a way to feed those who come to the table of life."
    On the treatment Cardinal O'Boyle got I say you hit it right on the head.

  3. After all, Cardinal George pleaded with the Vatican not to release the much needed and long overdue document disallowing the ordination of gays. (and even then it was watered down- 3 yrs of celibacy before ordination- puhleeeeezzeee!

    He also apparently disregarded the first complaint against McCormack that occurred in the seminary.