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Unholy Matters

July 16, 2010

For a lifelong. practicing Catholic like myself, raised in the glow of the Second Vatican Council, the hard-line reactionary bent of the last two popes has been, to put it mildly, discouraging. Today’s report that the Vatican equates pedophilia with the ordination of women represents not just a new low but also an embrace of the egregiously inane. Meanwhile, as it hopelessly bungles the festering wound of the sexual abuse crisis and insults the intelligence of its own adherents, the Church’s leadership continues to torpedo the prospects for ecumenical progress with its open encouragement of the schism within the Anglican communion and the approaching (or so it seems) canonization of Pius XII, an eventuality that angers many Jews and threatens to undermine the dramatic improvements made in Jewish-Catholic relations. In the case of Pius XII, the Vatican maintains that it is for the Church to decide whom it wishes to honor for “lives marked by the exercise of heroic virtue.” The available evidence suggests that his heroic virtue lay more in personal piety and loyalty to priestly vows than in any act of individual resistance or bold public leadership against the Holocaust. If the decision is made that this is enough to justify his canonization, then the Church will be well advised to prepare the way by creating a category of saints who exemplify how orthodoxy and piety in the private sphere can alone qualify as a life of heroic virtue. A number of Pius XII’s contemporaries could be enlisted in such a litany. Generalissimo Francisco Franco, for example, who led a successful rebellion against the republican government of Spain and ruled for more than three decades as a fascist dictator, not only gave Church teaching on homosexuality, contraception and divorce the force of law but was punctilious in his religious observances and a loyal husband. Monsignor Josef Tiso, who served as the head of the Nazi puppet state of Slovakia, was by all accounts highly virtuous in his personal life. In America, so-called radio priest Father Charles Coughlin became notorious for his fervid anti-Semitic broadcasts but was never derelict in his duties as pastor of the Shrine of the Little Flower and demonstrated an admirable docility to ecclesiastical authority when he accepted the silencing that was eventually imposed on him. Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy, a loyal Catholic and a leader in the crusade against communism, might have failed to demonstrate heroic virtue in every aspect of his personal life, but that only goes to prove nobody is perfect, not even saints. And, hey, even if some mistakes are made and some less-than-worthy candidates are canonized, it’s nothing compared to the unholy, sacrilegious thought of a Church in which “there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus,” and the ability to say Mass doesn’t depend on possessing the correct genitalia.

2 comments

  1. If you have to THINK so hard about being a practicing Catholic,where does the “faith” go..?? I still don’t understand how modern, intelligent people can be Catholics today…for all of the reasons you mention above…and more…like the abortion issue and the Church’s hypocritical stance on homosexuality. And don’t get me started on talking snakes!


    • Oy vey, it’s complicated. You can’t be part of a 2,000-year-old institution that includes a billion people and think it’s all gonna be neat and simple. Basically, if the Church were just the hierarchy, the whole operation would have gone kaput on the first Good Friday when the apostles—save one—actively abjured their faith and/or ran away. Per Vatican II, the Catholics I know see the Church not as for, of and by the hierarchy, but as the entirety of those joined in fulfilling Christ’s mandate to be people of mercy and compassion; despite the anathemas/excommunications thrown about by the present generation of hierarchs, these Catholics take the view that change must/will come and that, by staying, they can make it come sooner rather than later. Unfortunately, I’m beginning to sound like I’m preaching, and I’m not a preacher. I find few things more useless than trying to argue people in/out of religious beliefs. Mostly, I try to stick to Marilynne Robinson’s advice in her novel, “Gilead”: “It seems to me to be presumptuous to judge the authenticity of anyone’s religion, except one’s own. And that is also presumptuous.” Or as a wise rabbi once put it: “How can you say, ‘Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite! First take the plank out of your eye!” I try to remember to check my eyes for planks every morning. Tonight, for sure, I’m going to make certain the plank is out so I don’t miss a second of the premier episode of this season’s “Madmen.”



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