Friday, November 30, 2007

No 'hope' for the Progs

John Allen reports on some complaints from the "reform wing(nuts) of Catholicism" over the new encyclical Saved in Hope:
The deliberately wide appeal of Spe Salvi does not mean that early reaction has been uniformly positive. The “Wir Sind Kirche” [We Are Church] statement, for example, posed three critical questions about the encyclical:

• Why doesn’t it rely more on Gaudium et Spes, or “Joy and Hope,” the Pastoral Constitution on the Church and the Modern World from the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), which has long been a sort of charter document for the reform wing of Catholicism?
• Why doesn’t the pope ask whether the current structures and disciplinary systems of the church actually promote an atmosphere of hope?
• Will this encyclical generate real hope for progress towards ecumenical reunion?
Forgive their childish petulance for a moment. But reading used to have something to do with entering into the mind and imagination of another - a true communicative act. Today reading is mostly about shoehorning texts into agendas like meat through a grinder.

P.S. I've noticed that a lot of sites are translating the title as "Saved By Hope." "In" seems more theologically evocative and correct, and ecumenically less distracting. The Vatican's English translation quotes Romans in the first line: "in [not 'by'] hope we were saved." The West, especially the Protestant side, is used to hearing that we are "saved by faith." Benedict makes a good point in the first paragraph on the essential equivalence between faith and hope. But why let a dubious preposition furrow the brow of every Protestant before he/she even gets to the first sentence? Better to call it "Saved In Hope."

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Chrysostom on Diocesan Assets

St. John Chrysostom scratches his beard, a bit perturbed by the sight of his brother bishops clamoring for legislative judgment-proofing of church assets:
What are we to fear? Death? Life to me means Christ, and death is gain. Exile? The earth and its fullness belong to the Lord. The confiscation of our goods? We brought nothing into this world, and we shall surely take nothing from it. I have only contempt for the world’s threats, I find its blessings laughable. Homily Before His Exile, 1-3
In other words, religious freedom for Christians consists of far more than the boundaries of state beneficence. This is where Dignitatis Humanae is at its weakest.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Paprocki and {sigh} ecclesiology

Reading Bp. Paprocki's recent Red Mass homily contrasting the angelic policy of charitable immunity against the "demonic" attacks on it in the wake of the pervert priest scandal so tickles the irony bone when read alongside Pope Benedict's recent statements.

In his address to the Indonesian ambassador, Benedict condemns the manipulation of religion for political ends. Chicago Trib quotes Bp. Paprocki:
"This attack is particularly directed against bishops and priests, since the most effective way to scatter the flock is to attack the shepherd," he told worshipers in Grand Rapids. "We must also use our religious discernment to recognize that the principal force behind these attacks is none other than the devil."

"I'm not saying the plaintiffs in that case or the lawyer were acting demonically," he explained later. "I'm saying it is in a sense a diabolical consequence when you can no longer provide a charitable service."
Hmmm. Then I read another Zenit piece (on corporate America's profligate rewarding of failed CEOs) which cites Pope Benedict's 9/23 addresses:
"Basically, it is a matter of choosing between selfishness and love, between justice and dishonesty and ultimately, between God and Satan," the Pontiff commented.

In the midday Angelus, back at Castel Gandolfo the same day, Benedict XVI added further reflections on the Gospel text. "Money is not 'dishonest' in itself, but more than anything else it can close man in a blind egocentrism."
See supra, right? But back to Paprocki:
"The settlement or award of civil damages is punishing the wrong people, namely the average parishioner or donor whose financial contributions support the church but who have no role in the supervision of clergy," he said.
Blind egocentrism, you say, Your Holiness?

I hate to disagree with Ed Peters, and he has honorably made full disclosure of his personal ties to Bp. Paprocki, but as a recent JD and fledgling canon law student, I must side with ecclesiology over law, canon or civil. Gerald Augustinus and Off the Record are spot on in essentially calling out the bishops who are groveling before secular courts and legislatures for fiscal salvation, and promulgating bad theology in a weak effort to drum up support for their latest damage control plan.

Arguing the legal merits of charitable immunity as Bp. Paprocki is attempting to do just seems so belittling of what is and has been at stake when it comes to the Church I know and love: the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church of Sts. Peter and Paul, the Roman Martyrs, and all the Saints of the True Body of Christ. Some major random discombobulated thoughts:

Ecclesiology - Paprocki insists that the laity is unjustly "punished" by these massive litigation figures because we had no role in the supervision of priests. Really? Of course we can eliminate our role in the actual abuse and negligent transfer of offending priests, but that's merely a lawyer's analysis of responsibility. As I understand it, Catholic ecclesiology leans towards, if you will, a Three Musketeers understanding of the Church: yes, we all have different and unique parts and roles to play, but when push comes to shove we're all for one and one for all. Add to that our seamless garment understanding of solidarity with all who share sacramental union with Christ which includes the Faithful Departed and the Church Triumphant (ie. the Communion of Saints). We are beholden to each other and if one part suffers the rest does. If one part sins, then though culpability can be narrowly identified in individual persons, it's never individualized theologically.

The American laity by almost all counts have demonstrated its higher allegiance to American paganism and gnosticism over apostolic Catholicism; we spearheaded with abandon the "Spirit of Vatican II" and all its hostility to the Apostolic Tradition, including its strict, but life-giving and cruciform disciplines and aesthetic/ascetic virtues. (The Linacre Institute report is an underappreciated analysis of how loss of asceticism leads to moral degeneration.) Passions? The Fathers and the East always taught that we must subdue and mortify the passions via holy ascesis and prayer. The V2 Church pretty much rejected all that, stupidly confusing it with puritanism. Instead it taught us how we're supposed to just accept and love ourselves including our sexualities, which no longer could be "disordered." Now I never subscribed to the modernizing heterodoxies of AmChurch, but as a Catholic I am obliged to acknowledge that I am a part of it and it is a part of me. I am no SSPXer who thinks being Catholic allows you to cut yourself off from the maddening crowds just because you've discovered a tidy purified corner on traditional orthodoxy.

Those pervert priests and clueless/spineless bishops who recycled them are part of my ecclesial Self - that's just a function of being Catholic. Bishops and priests were all lay at some point, were raised by lay Catholics, had lay Catholic family, friends, and teachers, all of whom played their small parts in cooperating either materially, formally, or efficiently in our moral collapse; how could the clergy be immune? They fed on the theological junk food of our AmChurch and regurgitated it right back for our consumption, and its been clogging our arteries ever since; no surprise that we'd experience a catastrophic arterial rupture sooner or later. So it's awfully demoralizing to hear a bishop of the Church essentially preaching a corporate shareholder ecclesiology that disingenuously paints the laity as innocent, passive victims of some Diabolus ex machina. The Church is not Enron or the Red Cross. Paprocki is arguing as if the Church is essentially just another secular nonprofit charitable institution offering religious goods and services to civil society. Alisdair MacIntyre's managerial emotivism is on full display right here. I'm still waiting for a bishop to sound like an actual heir of the Holy Apostles, Martyrs, and Fathers, who understood they were humble stewards of a Great Pearl not executives of nonprofit religious corporations or corporations sole, who did not expect a dime from the State, who never would have prostrated themselves before Caesar or popular opinion polls, who even when absolutely innocent, went to the slaughter like lambs in imitation of their Lord. That's the ecclesiology that makes the Catholic Church worth living and dying for; that's the ecclesiology that sees the Body of Christ as the Church Militant against the world in our battle with the passions as the path to saving the world.

But an apostolic, eucharistic, communio ecclesiology is contemptible to most American Catholics, clergy and lay alike. The average American Catholic feels victimized by the use of Latin in the Mass for crying out loud. We're a flabby, lazy, and indolent Church; we were practically begging for our priests to follow their "creative" passions wherever they led because that's the same homily we want to hear from the pulpit. In ecumenism, we've hankered for the me- and now-centrism of the Protestants and barely know a thing about our Eastern rite brethren or the Orthodox who uniquely share in our apostolic heritage and have stores of wisdom to impart to us. We've forgotten who we are as Church, Bride of Christ. No, America owes us nothing for the ways we've abandoned our priestly identity and vocation to her.

Justice - OK so the actual damages we're looking at are basically lots of closings and sales of parishes, schools, charitable institutions, and other assets. Paprocki argues this is unjust because it wrongly levies punishment upon those who rely on these goods and services. He's probably saving the Poor People card for later when the anti-Catholic attack dogs are barking at their loudest. (God help me if a bishop is clueless enough to argue that the lawsuits will harm all the poor children who the Church serves.) But meanwhile it seems awfully consequentialist to say that justice should be determined by the ripple effect the resolution of this matter will have on third party beneficiaries, especially when there is an obvious unwillingness to treat the real victims as the real victims. Clearly lawyers and anti-Catholic Catholics are seeking vengeance for all sorts of collateral issues, but that just comes with the territory. You don't FUBAR over innocent children and then demand that the public not be excessively pissed off at you. Add it all up and you're still not arriving at anything disproportionate to the sins. All's fair when you baby and coddle sick priests but treat their victims and families like annoying salesmen. If bishops are not seeing this as a case of comeuppance, their eyes aren't on the ball.

Furthermore, Paprocki's argument betrays a glaring indifference or callousness to the atrocious nature of the injuries committed by so many of our clergy. His argument is more fitting if the Church were being sued over slip and fall torts, not the extensive sexual abuse of Catholic children entrusted to our guardians of the Sacred Mysteries and the subsequent episcopal coverups. It's barely legitimate to want to remind the world about the marginal percentages of offenders compared to other professions, but if you stop there (as too many Catholics do), you're just not getting it. What ius demands from our Church is incalculable. And it's not the goal of the plaintiff's to eradicate the Church, as Paprocki acknowledges, but it's also not just for us to cry victim and beg for State to rescue the Church. The Church has committed grievous wrongs, and if our spotless Lord went to the whipping post without protest, how should we who are pockmarked by infidelity and sin submit to our discipline?

So no, I do not think there is any injustice in the way plaintiffs are attacking Church assets, especially since no serious effort has been made to pierce the corporate veil or impose personal liability on individual lay Catholics or beneficiaries of Catholic services. Even if the American Church were to be completely eradicated and liquidated, America would still allow us to have our priests, popes, and sacraments. We'd have Mass in homes and rented warehouses, but that wouldn't be much of downgrade from the architectural "innovations" of the last few decades anyway. So please spare us the patronizing suggestions that this is some massive attack on the Church. America ain't got nuthin' on Diocletian Rome.

Public Relations - It's a manipulative racket of a business which should be kept far away from the Church but even if you wanted to adopt some of its strategies, don't look to Paprocki as any good example. He looks like he's ripping from the Karen Hughes PR playbook. Let's take the most sympathetic red herring of the indigent and voiceless who derive food, shelter, and clothing from the Church's social ministries. If there is truly an injury to the poor, then shouldn't all the other advocacy groups be voicing concern or outrage over the excessive bleeding inflicted by plaintiffs' bar? If I were bishops' counsel, I'd be speaking to the non-Catholic organizations who could credibly articulate the injustice of steamrolling over charitable immunity. They might demur because of the political heat but they're the only mouthpiece free of obvious conflicts of interest. If the bishops alone are arguing for charitable immunity on behalf of their putative beneficiaries, they only end up looking manipulative and opportunistic because the public has no way of knowing whether they're genuinely for the poor or for their own power and prestige.

What sort of message does it send to the world that the Church needs the State to bail her out from the fruit of her own sins? This is where public relations and ecclesiology overlap. America has been good to Catholics and Catholic things, but not very good for Catholicism. We can be thankful for the privileges enjoyed by the Church under the American flag but we should never be lulled into thinking that the Church needs America or that America has given us our freedom of religion. Christ is the ground of our freedom whether we live in an violently anti-Catholic totalitarian regime or not, period. So the Church does not depend on the state to practice charity - a reminder for us who have come to overvalue Catholicism as the great and marvelous font of human services when arguably it has become a cog in the welfare state machine. I'll defend the existence of Catholic Charities and Catholic hospitals any day, but let's admit that they can serve as a cheap substitute for real evangelical charity. The real heart of the Church is the Eucharist, not charitable institutions, or rather the Body and Blood of Christ is our primary charitable work. Paprocki may assume this, but if he's crying victim over loss of our charitable operations, he's sending conflicting messages about what constitutes the Church.

Someone in the USCCB needs to go over Shelby Steele's work on the psychological phenomenon of white man's guilt and how it spill over into foolish, irrational decision-making. What we're witnessing in our bishops is a similar phenomenon of bishop's guilt. They've been traumatized in their own way and their nerves have been frayed by this whole ordeal, so I can sympathize too with our bishops. But they're acting with the same defensiveness of America's desperate but flatfooted attempts to make the race issue go away. Liberals insist on affirmative action even if it might harm black America. Conservatives gripe mindlessly about reverse racism. Bishops are going through something similar, but they need to get a grip. I don't expect spiritually rootless Americans to accomplish this, but I'd think bishops have deeper resources.

Law - Some bishops have symbolically donned the sackcloth and prostrated themselves before the aggrieved parties in humble contrition (eg. O'Malley), but most continue to hide behind slick corporate lawyers. Canon law too can be susceptible to the self-reproducing cycle of rationalizations and sophistry, so self-assured in its clean codifications of canonical equity. But our canons tried so hard to mimic secular Enlightenment civil code systems, with all their lexical pliability that it's so easy to forget about simple apostolic sensibility. Even if the law is on our side and even if charitable immunity is in the best interests of reason, justice, and the common good, it is also beneath the dignity of the Church to stand on the law. We may use the law for our apostolic ends, but as Church we don't strut the law; we don't circle the wagons around clever legal arguments or manipulate the law to our advantage against people we've injured, no matter how greedy they and their lawyers may be. It just looks ridiculous. The job of church lawyers is to render smooth legal representation of the Church in the courts and to ensure our clergy are honorably upholding and complying with the law, always conscientious that their client is not just any organizational client; anything more adversarial than that, the Church assumes the mind of Wall Street and Walmart.

St. Thomas More understood that the law stops at the water's edge and the rest is fidelity to Mother Church unto death. He didn't lobby for legislative reforms or public sympathy or rope in innocent third parties as a buffer - again, he was innocent of wrongdoing but fictitiously guilty of treachery against the King. Meanwhile our bishops are guilty of considerable wrongdoing but essentially immune from criminal prosecution and still they're complaining about state laws that seek to liquidate their financial assets in order to make some restitution and retribution for unfathomable destruction of souls conducted in the name of the Church. I really don't understand where we get the nerve.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

If the Church is our Mother

...then this really does capture the "Spirit of V2" church:
Here is what one of her [Alice Thomas Ellis'] characters says about the post–Vatican II Church: “It is as though . . . one’s revered, dignified and darling old mother had slapped on a mini-skirt and fishnet tights and started ogling strangers. A kind of menopausal madness, a sudden yearning to be attractive to all. It is tragic and hilarious and awfully embarrassing.”
Which is a witty variation on the "She might be a whore, but she's our Mother" ecclesiology. From First Things' On the Square by Marian Crowe on the Catholic Novel in England.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Bellas and whistles

Barbara Nicolosi, the de facto dean of Catholic film arts in America, strips off all the hype surrounding Bella, and even questions its pro-life bonafides [gasp].
Could you ever see us pro-lifers being heart-warmed and won over by a subtly pro-choice film, you know, and kind of not see that it is undermining our world-view? And aren't pro-choice people minimally as smart as we are? You're damn right they are. So, regardless of what is being said, this movie is not strongly pro-life. It doesn't represent common-ground. It just takes a very complex, divisive social issue and handles it, well, sloppily enough that neither side in the argument knows exactly what case is being made. I don't even think it is pro-adoption as some have claimed. If it was, then the bookend at the beginning would have Jose looking somewhat healed after five years with the child. As it is, he looks like a pedophile who hasn't moved an inch from the last time we saw him. If it is supposed to be "pro-adoption," it's just sadly sloppy.
The underlying lesson here is what draws my interest to this story, that of American Catholicism's shallow aesthetic sense, which infects both liberals and conservatives alike. Ideology destroys aesthetics. And it's because the pro-life movement has become so ideologized that pro-choice ethics can still look so half-reasonable to so many people. It all comes back to Liturgy. Sloppy lex orandi leads to sloppy lex credendi leads to sloppy art, politics, morals, you name it.