Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Put not thy trust in Princes

Rod Dreher and R.R. Reno both have good reflections on the apostasy of Jesuit Father Bert Thelen. Reno writes of the 68ers, men ordained after the Second Vatican Council who felt that the Church betrayed her own promises of reform and renewal. And then he writes of the next generation. I wasn't born Catholic but they are my contemporaries and I share their thoughts:
Recently another Jesuit and former colleague diagnosed my “conservatism” as a sign that I don’t understand what it means to be Catholic, by which he meant, I think, that I don’t trust the Church’s power to be all things to all people.
...But there’s an element of truth worth pondering in the diagnosis. To a certain degree I don’t trust the Church.
When I think back to my students at Creighton, I can see that their experience of the Church—and to a great extent mine—also involves worries about betrayal, though of a different kind. A profoundly hostile secular culture wars against our efforts to achieve even a modest loyalty to the apostolic tradition, and, sadly, in the war we see the Church as a sometimes-unreliable ally. 
For example, although Creighton touted its Catholic mission, my pious students could not trust their theology professors—many thought attacking “Catholic fundamentalism” their calling. They couldn’t trust daily Mass on campus, because some Jesuits took great liberties. Campus ministry was only too likely to attack their beliefs as retrograde, intolerant, and ignorant. Ten years ago students had to fight for one evening a week devoted to Eucharistic adoration. The powers-that-be thought it encouraged the “wrong” sort of piety. 
Bert’s integrity eventually overcame those concerns, and the students got their once-a-week evening of adoration. But his general stance made it difficult to minister to most Creighton students, especially those most loyal to the Church. It contributed to their feelings of betrayal and added to their worries that the Church would not reliably help them resist the blandishments of the world and the glamour of evil. The same can be said for liberal Catholicism as a whole. It cannot both minister to the world on the world’s terms—and minister to those of us who don’t want our lives defined on the world’s terms. 
 Rod says:
The new Catholic just doesn’t know who to trust on moral and theological matters. From the outside, theological conservatives weary of confusion and fighting within Mainline Protestant churches see Rome as a bulwark of stability. It is, but it also isn’t. Once you come in, you’ll find the same fighting over the same issues, but it’s harder to identify who’s who, and what’s what. Just because Rome has a Magisterium does not mean that it is recognized at the local level.
 Just so. Bad Catholics have always been with us. Jesus said the tares would grow alongside the wheat until the harvest time. But what's new in the life of the Church is that the tares furiously resent having their orthodoxy impeached, even as they sneer at orthodoxy and work to undermine it from within the Church. Fr. Belen was wrong to apostatize from the Faith, but at least he had the integrity to leave instead of staying in place to form souls in his "Cosmic Christ" gobbledygook. In the past, bad Catholics either left the Church or at least had enough respect for the Church to not present themselves in public as Catholics in good standing. These days Catholic politicians and judges brazenly vote in favor of abortion and same-sex "marriage." Either the bishops do nothing at all, or they try to talk sense into them and do nothing when they persist.

If I may presume to speak on behalf of converts, it's not the existence of sin among Church leadership that scandalizes us. Wasn't our Blessed Lord betrayed by one of his own handpicked Apostles? What's wearying is that sense Reno described, of lacking confidence that the Church is going to stand by you in the good fight. I trust "the Church," if by that we mean the Deposit of Faith. I am as certain of the dogmas of Catholicism as I am certain of paying taxes and eventually dying. If by "the Church," we mean individual priests and bishops... well, I don't trust them until they give me a good reason to. I experienced the same things Rod did. I've heard priests say from the pulpit that the real miracle of the loaves and fishes is that Jesus inspired everyone to share their picnic lunches. I've heard priests say in the confessional that there's no such thing as mortal sin so long as your "fundamental option" is to remain oriented toward God. Such things ought not be. I ought not be so cynical and lacking in trust, but the crisis in the Church is what it is. What used to be considered plain old Catholicism is now, I am told, primarily practiced by a tiny proportion of Catholics who are usually tarred as dour, Pharisaical, anti-Semitic troglodytes.

I've noticed that cradle Catholics always ask of their new priests, "Is he solid?" Fortunately, more and more priests are solid. I may never fully trust any priest again after my experiences in the seminary, more specifically the reason why I left. But at least I no longer feel like I have to double check the catechism for everything Father says. As Martin Luther said, "DTA son! Don't trust anybody!" Or was that Stone Cold Steve Austin? I always get their sayings mixed up.

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