A seminar of authenticist Catholics at St. Mary of the Lake seminary, Mundeleinthe Institute on Religious Lifedevoted 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.
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 dont bury animals here.
One of the boys said, were sorry. We have a check made out to this parish for $1000.
The priest said: Oh, you didnt 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 liberalMary, 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 doesnt 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? Isnt 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 marriages 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 wouldnt 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 Gods 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 Bobs 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 Gundersons heroic struggle with his conscienceknowing that the archdiocesan authorities here are too weak, fearful, timid and addicted to semantic theological parsing to contact the pastor ofand let the irony ring out loudly: Mary, Seat of Wisdom, in Park Ridge, Illinois. Comments open to all.