Friday, November 27, 2009

Personal Aside: Summoning the Spirit of Fr. Ernie to Answer Marin and Matthews.

In the last few days two attacks have been made by two Catholics on the Catholic bishops for purportedly transgressing the demarcation of church and state on the ObamaCare health bill: Chris Matthews an anchor on MSNBC and Carol Marin, political columnist for the Chicago-Sun-Times.

To answer them, I have summoned up the spirit of Fr. Ernie (Rev. Ernest Kilzer, OSB) who taught me philosophy and theology 1946-50 when Saint John’s University, Collegeville, Minnesota was a Catholic school. Since I have imbibed four straight years with Ernie, I can comfortably deduce what he would say about their criticism. With that: heeeeeere’s Ernie!

“Good Morning, Gentlemen.”

Fr. Ernie. Mr. Bede Hall, will you take your seat? But before you do, please pull down the shade on that window over there…no, over there…as the brilliant rays of the sun compete with your own luminescence in philosophical disquisition [Laughter].

I have been asked this morning to analyze two criticisms that have come to Catholic bishops…one criticism made specifically to an individual, Bishop Thomas Tobin of Rhode Island by one Christopher Matthews of MSNBC in an interview with the bishop…and the other of Catholic bishops generally in an opinion column by one Carol Marin of the Chicago Sun-Times. I will consider the Matthews interview with Bishop Tobin first. Mr. Matthews’ criticism has to do with the Bishop’s request that Congressman Patrick Kennedy not participate in reception of the Eucharist, basis the congressman’s support of abortion as an instrument of public policy.

At the outset I will say that I saw a tape of the Matthews-Tobin interview and regret profoundly that the bishop…while on the right side of the controversy…was inept and inarticulate—but then that has been the way with most of our bishops beginning with what I call the Great Dark Ages, when our seminaries became concerned less with the intricacies of theology and more with the public relations training that should encourage the Faithful to call them Fr. Chuck, Fr. Tommy, Father Joe in an ill-considered attempt to infuse jocularity into doctrine. It has failed the test both with jocularity and doctrine [Laughter].

Let us consider the background in Catholicity—or lack of it—that Mr. Matthews brings to the discussion. His biography tells us that he was born in 1945 which puts him at 63 going on 64 years old. He graduated from the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts which would place his matriculation in that Jesuit school roughly from 1964 to 1965 (before he continued with graduate studies at a secular university).

Those dates in his biography are important, gentlemen, because they coincide with the beginning of the sad degeneration of the Jesuits from the point where, founded as “the Pope’s men” to formulate and disseminate rigorous Catholic philosophy and theology, they have been infiltrated by what I do not hesitate to call near-demonic purpose to transform the sociopolitical face of the West by means of waging war on the Papacy with the aim of dismantling the hierarchic Church and many of its singular teachings with which it was associated for sixteen centuries.

Now, gentlemen, don’t go pessimistic on me here and believe the Church is doomed just because the Jesuits have defied the efforts of three popes to reverse the course of the Order from the Church’s most notable defender to one of its most perversely designed nemesis. As the Jesuits decline, the job of defending the Church intellectually has gone largely to the Pope’s personal prelature whose formal name is The Priestly Society of the Holy Cross, founded in 1928 by Saint Josemaria Escriva who himself did not give his new organization its popular name…but whose popular name was conferred through happenstance by Escriva’s confessor who asked in Latin “How is the work of God going?” “Work of God” in Latin is Opus Dei…and thus the organization was named.

Take my word for it as a lifelong Benedictine (whose own Order has disintegrated alarmingly beginning with revolution that began here but has not spread nearly so much as with the Jesuits) that Opus Dei is the successor to the Jesuits and that they are truly what Bede Hall and other military veterans would understand when I characterize them as the Green Berets of the Church. So much for this digression on the hope of the Church intellectually and Mr. Matthews’ apparent lack of theology or reverence for Church teaching.

Here Ernie Pauses to Take a Sip of Water.

I scarcely need to refresh you in this class with the teaching of the Church on abortion…save to say that it has come to be a fundamental belief from the earliest years of the Church when the Roman Empire into which it was born practiced abortion and infanticide. By the 1st century Romans had moved away from their hideous practice of leaving unwanted babies on the hills to die of exposure to the more decorous yet no less barbarous practice of killing the child in the womb. To this our Church responded with courage…for it was worth the price of one’s life to contradict Rome…with the Didache, that instructed the faithful “You shall not procure abortion. You shall not destroy a newborn child.” And the epistles of Barnabas reinforced it doubly. This is sufficient, then, to say that it is a central doctrine of the Church ratified by its Magisterium created by Christ to prescribe on the full range of human conduct that touches on the commandments of God—this being the 5th.

I start with Jesus Christ’s admirable distinction between spiritual and secular authority: “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.” That does not mean that His followers should conquer by the sword as preached by the founder of Islam, gentlemen. It meant admirable distinction between church and state.

Now I go to Peter’s admonition to civil authorities: “We ought to obey God rather than men.” The entire spectacle of civil persecution of Christians then began from those words to make Christians…all were Catholics then…relent and obey men rather than God. It didn’t work. In this country after many years, the doctrine was developed largely through the contributions of the Jesuit John Courtney Murray [1904-1967]—who happily was not infected with the disease of modernism that vitiated the Order later—which has been interpreted thus:

Catholics bound by the moral law can agreeably participate in the secular political system where civil law may contradict the moral. But in no sense should the civil law intrude upon the conscience of the Catholic and require his compliance…nor frankly can the Catholic inflict the Church’s morals on the state beyond what is understood as the democratic process.

It is important to accept this as Murray’s wise guide—and nothing more. It certainly didn’t mean that Murray recommended that Catholics surrender their consciences and bow to unjust civil law. Far from it. But this is what John F. Kennedy implied when he addressed the Houston ministerial association in a speech written by one John Cogley, who ultimately left the Church. In his speech Kennedy assuaged the Protestant ministers by saying that he would not inflict his Church’s views on the country, that he would serve as president who happened to be Catholic—not as a Catholic president. This sounded dangerously scandalous to one of Catholic formation—except that Kennedy added this which I paraphrase: if an issue ever arises where civil action contradicts my religious conscience, I shall resign. That was enough to close the credibility gap.

Not that the John Kennedy we have come to understand would allow his Catholicism to interfere with his duties. In fact it is commonly known now that he did in fact allow sexual immorality to coincide with his duties and in fact it is still an open question as to whether his immorality…his promiscuous attentions to a young woman also the mistress of a Mafia chieftain…did him in! I shall not digress further! [Laughter].

Matthews’ 3 Propositions.

Let us now examine Christopher Matthews’ three propositions he made to Bishop Tobin. His first: It is possible to agree on the Church’s teaching on abortion without thinking the law should follow that teaching.

This is classic “I’m personally pro-life—but.” Frankly, it is bad theology. The conscientious Catholic runs for office and states clearly and unequivocally his position on abortion, that he is against the practice, that he would not support public funding for the practice, that he would do all in his power to reverse the practice through his influence and support of changes in the judiciary.

There could come into play rarely…very rarely… the philosophic principle of double-effect…that possibility that a good may outweigh the bad but it should require consultation with a reputable confessor prior to the action taken. Under no circumstances, then, should the Catholic be passive about or cooperative with the law that sanctions abortion. There is one great example of this in modern political life—the example of Henry Hyde. Hyde achieved great eminence in public life but never sublimated his contention that the abortion law should be reversed. Indeed, his allegiance to his conscience caused him to be disqualified for higher office to which his intellect and courage entitled him.

So on the first of Mr. Matthews’ propositions, he is wrong. A conscientious Catholic should never, ever, countenance the continuation of an unjust law if he can do anything about it.

The second Matthews contention is this: The bishop has no business criticizing Congressman Patrick Kennedy’s voting record on abortion unless the bishop is willing to outline the legal code the bishop wants that would see outlaw abortion! I ask you where in the hell…I mean it literally not as an explective…did Mr. Matthews get this idea—from the whacky Jesuits who taught him at Holy Cross? [Laughter]. By this he is postulating exactly the opposite of his intention: that the bishop should proscribe legislation or judicial fiat! The bishop not only shouldn’t do it: he must not do it! The bishop as the heir to the apostles should criticize each and every one of Congressman Kennedy’s votes on abortion, YES! Does Mr. Matthews think the bishop should have instructed Mr. Kennedy…or his late to vote on every single judicial nominee? No. That WOULD be a usurpation!

The third ridiculous Matthews contention is this: The legal code that the bishop should promulgate should specify jail time for the woman who aborts! He might have added jail time for the doctor who administers the abortion! God in Heaven…these are civil matters about which the bishop should be restrained from proscribing! His job is to cite the moral law not proscribe the civil! Is Mr. Matthews an adherent of the separation of Church and State or not? My God, he should be hauled before the court of political correctness or the ACLU for this!

But make no mistake, gentlemen: From this I do not conclude that Mr. Matthews is a fool. He is as duplicitous in his reasoning which reflects the mind-set of the new religion of unbelief so many of his Jesuit masters gloried in. He is cunningly wrong; he knows better, much better who if he has any recourse later he could lay it to his intellectual perversion as a former student of the Jesuits who were undergoing early decadence. [Applause and laughter].

Another Sip of Water.

Ms. Marin is a much simpler matter as, it appears, she is a much simpler person [Laughter]. At age 58, she has had no Catholic education, no philosophical or theological undergirding and shows it. She is far from the duplicitous creature that Mr. Matthews is. She is an innocent and the possessor of what Aquinas called “invincible ignorance.” For proof, listen to her rhetoric:

“As a woman and a taxpayer, I rebel against the notion of a group of men more obsessed with our wombs than other significant life-and-death issues—war, poverty, pestilence—are given favored tax treatment in order to reduce a woman’s freedom of choice.”

She is the classic example of what Jonah Goldberg has called liberal fascism. She says the bishops should be required to file as lobbyists under the law. But she really wants the Church hobbled, deprived of its not-for-profit tax status because it argues its conscience, averring that to advocate what it sees as the moral law it violates the status of the all-powerful state which she sees as the embodiment of her liberal civil religion which has supplanted all else. She does not know that the tax status gives great leeway for the constitutional right to seek redress of grievance. She ignores the fact that other churches…particularly those in the black community whose views she shares…regularly advocate that their congregations vote the Democratic ticket—whereupon she sees no distinction.

Thus her column I dismiss as self-contradicting, as a plaint of one who tells us more than she probably wishes we knew about herself: a woman who has had greater access than most humans to communications but who still feels victimized, angered at men. Wrong-headed she is but as invincible she is to remonstration, I would say she need not worry about the Hereafter.

Which is a hell of a lot better than confronts Mr. Matthews, if you gentlemen again allow me to distinguish between perdition and explective.

Thank you and I leave you with this statement on the distinction between Church and State not by a modern but by Pope Gelasius I who served 492-96:

“There are two powers by which this world is chiefly ruled: the sacred authority of the Popes and the royal power. Of these the priestly power is much more important because it has to render account for the Kings of men themselves at the Divine Tribunal. For you know that although you have the highest place in dignity over the human race, yet you must submit yourself faithfully to those who have charge of divine things and look to them for the means of your salvation…For if in matters pertaining to the administration of public discipline, the bishops of the Church, knowing that the Empire has been conferred on you by divine instrumentality, are themselves obedient to your laws, lest in purely material affairs contrary opinions may seem to be voiced, with what willingness I ask you, should you obey those to whom is assigned the administration of divine mysteries?”

I return now, with your indulgence, to the peace of the tomb in the Abbey cemetery. [Prolonged applause].

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