Tuesday, April 25, 2006

If You Ask Me: Too Much Money One Big Problem With the Church

A seminar of authenticist Catholics at St. Mary of the Lake seminary, Mundelein—the Institute on Religious Life—devoted last weekend to trying to re-instill zeal into the Roman Catholic Church. We attended the concluding banquet featuring an address by the legendary Father Benedict Groeschel. Groeschel, who serves the homeless and addicted in New York and who was a close associate of Mother Teresa of Calcutta, one of the most eloquent priests in the nation, told us that the old religious orders are dying on the vine because of too much money. He contrasted rich parishes, rich religious orders, old-line rich universities that are Catholic in name only with small parishes that are struggling to survive, newly-formed orders like his own, and new, small universities such as Christendom in Virginia, Thomas Aquinas in California and Thomas More in New Hampshire.

Before he spoke there came up to introduce him the chairman of the Institute on Religious Life, portly, jolly Bishop Thomas Doran of Rockford who told a story. Doran is a brilliant story-teller. Had he not become a priest and bishop, he would have been a superb after-dinner speaker.

The story:

Two little boys came to the door of a parish rectory with a box containing the body of a dead dog. The pastor answered and they asked if the priest would give the dog proper burial.

The pastor looked at the two and said, “sorry, we don’t bury animals here.”

One of the boys said, “we’re sorry. We have a check made out to this parish for $1000.”

The priest said: “Oh, you didn’t tell me the dog was Catholic.”


The good news is that it appears the Marriage Amendment people are going to exceed by a good number the required signatures to put the advisory on the ballot in November, thanks to strenuous support from evangelical Protestant churches (Rev. James Meeks launching the drive at Salem Baptist last Sunday). The bad news: the good news is not particularly to the credit of a large group of Catholic parishes of Illinois. At a recent point, of the 1,200 or so Catholic parishes in Illinois, only about 150 or so have signed up to allow the signatures to be collected on church property.

The numbers of Catholic parishes turning down the petitioners includes one of the most liberal—Mary, Seat of Wisdom, in Park Ridge, formerly headed by the man known throughout the archdiocese as “Little Bob,” Father Robert McLaughlin. Former rector of Holy Name, he went to Mary Seat in protest to term limits, a provision he himself had initiated to ditch conservative pastors. When it came to him, Little Bob objected. When he went to Park Ridge, he continued doing what he had done extra-canonically at Holy Name: granting general absolution, using the power ordination has given to intercede to forgive sin across the entire congregation without personal confession. It was in defiance of church law, in defiance of his bishop. And when he went to Mary, Seat of Wisdom, Little Bob did the same thing: thumb his nose at rules. He has gone to his eternal reward now, prompting a bereaved Fr. Andrew Greeley to write that “the church doesn’t make priests like that anymore.” Deo Gratias.

Fr. McLaughlin may be dead but his dissenting soul goes marching on. The new pastor, Father James Gunderson, received a call from an outstanding Catholic layman, John McCartney, known as one of the most valiant pro-life leaders who was jailed for his views in episodes that rival civil rights workers in the early `60s. McCartney asked that the parish allow volunteers to be on the church site to collect signatures.

“I can tell you,” Father Gunderson said, “I have a problem of conscience on this issue.”

Really? And what sort of problem is that, Father? Isn’t it edifying that a pastor of a Church that claims its founder was Jesus Christ, the progenitor of the Christian tradition that has sanctified marriage between one man and one woman for 2000 years, is tussling with his conscience over that thorny issue? A struggle with conscience after your archbishop and all the other bishops of Illinois support marriage’s sanctification. Pray tell, what problem of conscience is it that declines to delineate heterosexual marriage from non-marital coupling? This dissent from natural law and the bedrock of Christianity wouldn’t happen to be the reason you became a priest, would it? How intriguing.

The word “conscience” does give your reluctance a classy tone, does it not? In his teaching about matrimony, Christ restored it to its original place in God’s plan, therefore abrogating the Mosaic tolerance for divorce. Perhaps your struggle with conscience has to do with your disagreement with Christ on that point. If so, did you notify the seminary of your conscience-stricken objection? Or did you glide through? Do you have any problem of conscience when you deny your congregation the opportunity to sign the petition to give Illinoisans the opportunity to vote? No? Do you have a problem with conscience by belonging to a Faith with which you disagree on one of its central tenets? No? Do you have a problem with conscience by belonging to a Faith where you had pledged to support ecclesiastical authority and which you now do not? No? How fortunate for you.

Those who think the Catholic church in Chicago and many places elsewhere is not involved in heresy and schism should look up the definitions. Schism is the act of priests and prelates defying orders because of lack of charity or because of towering ego. Heresy is something worse. Heresy is opposed to doctrine; heresy is opposed to faith. Schism may well have been Little Bob’s dalliance. Heresy is worse. Both features of dissent are alive and well in Chicago. This Blog leaves it to the reader to ascertain the definition of Father Gunderson’s heroic struggle with his “conscience”—knowing that the archdiocesan authorities here are too weak, fearful, timid and addicted to semantic theological parsing to contact the pastor of—and let the irony ring out loudly: Mary, Seat of Wisdom, in Park Ridge, Illinois. Comments open to all.


  1. who reject this petition on a scale of close to 9 out of every 10 churches did not have the same "problem of conscience" covering up and aiding and abetting the crimes of (mostly) homosexual pedophile priests over the past several decades.

    Great commentary as usual Tom.

  2. As you point out, it has been the Christian tradition that has defined marriage for 2000 years. Our founders didn't run to a government office to get permission to marry. They went to their churches.

    It is entirely possible to believe in good conscience in the continuation of that Christian tradition, while also not believing the role of defining marriage should be shifted from the Christian tradition to the government.

    Giving government the power to define marriage one way or the other, does a great disservice to the Christian tradition. I am sure if the referendum were instead saying that government will allow homosexual marriage and that all entities in the state are then required to recognize same sex marriage, you would be arguing that the government has no business telling you how to define marriage. And government certainly shouldn't be telling the Catholic Church that they now have to marry homosexuals. Government power works both ways. We should be getting government out of the marriage business and let the Christian tradition continue to define marriage as it has done for centuries without government power. Why should government have the power to define marriage one way or the other? By giving the government that power, you also give government to define marriage as including same-sex marriage.

  3. I think it is good for the Church to urge their followers to live their whole lives according to their. The Church (any church) does not ask us to compartmentalize. Instead, we are urged to be to whole person, whether in the pew, at home, at work, or in the voting booth.

    The government does not control the church, but as a voter and churchgoer I have a 1/600 millionth share in the government - and it comes with voting rights.

  4. I am a recent convert to Catholocism and the most wonderful part of the faith is the eucharist, the rest of the sacraments, and the devotion these traditions dating back 2,000 years. This is what called me very loudly. If I wanted the liberal things that some of these parishes are teaching I could have just stayed protestant. The Catholic church is most attractive, in my opinion, when it is most Catholic. To begin deviating from this seems to deviate from being Catholic. Am I mistaken? Tom, I heard you say a long time ago, many years before I was even thinking of Catholocism, that if someone does not agree with the Catholic teaching then the church does not have to change, but you do. Either in your belief or where you worship. The way I understand it, is that these are traditions pre-dating the organized church. So how can these priests come along now and claim some new revelations and teachings contrary to the church? It is almost like a loosely organized effort to undermine the church from within. And one thing I still cannot understand is why the bishops are not reigning some of these priests in. They are doing a disservice to the congregations they are serving.

    Followed you for years Tom, keep up the great work.


  5. I'm told that the priest at Lake Zurich would not allow the passing of petitions at the back of that church either.

  6. It is one thing for priests to differ on social policies. It is quite another to go against the church when it comes to one of the Seven Sacraments which these priests are supposed to provide on behalf of the church in the name of Christ on behalf of the Catholic Church and the parish.

    The priests who are openly hostile to the defense of marriage should consider the Pre Cana counseling they administer imploring of the sanctity of marriage. It is bad enough morals are eroding in society. We do not need the church to speed the decline by failing to protect and going as far as being hostile to those who wish to protect one of their most precious gifts they can bestow on their members through the Sacrament of Marriage.

  7. Frankly, I have to wonder if the marriage referendum is anything other than a tactic to bring conservative voters to the polls in November. It is in its own words only "advisory" which means that the pols in Springfield will ignore it. Furthermore, the wording of the amendment is a bit loose to put it mildly. If the criteria for a "valid" and "recognized" marriage is that it be "between a man and a woman" than that opens the door to the legal recognition of incestuous relationships and polygamy. Tom, I'm not doubting your sincerity, but I wouldn't be surprised to find Karl Rove's fingerprints all over this referendum and similar efforts in other states.