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Monday, May 19, 2003

What do you do?

Greg Krehbiel has a provocative post about sticking it out when the church is given over to dissidents, rogues and heretics. [You'll have to scroll down to May 16, because he doesn't have archive links.]

Greg argues forcefully against the notion that a Catholic has to simply shrug with a sad face and live with it:

Imagine the contrary. Imagine that we had to stay in the church no matter how abusive and wicked the bishops and priests became. Imagine that we had to go to mass to hear heresy, or to participate in non-Christian worship. Imagine that we had to tithe to a church that used our money to fund its abusive policies. That's precisely what abusive and wicked leaders would want us to believe, and natural law (if nothing else) proves beyond any reasonable doubt that we can't behave that way. You can't put the fox in charge of the hen house.

* * *

Useless, liberal bishops still dull the senses with the banal, then fill sleeping brains with modernist goo. And the other bishops (including the pope) sit by and do nothing. They should be publicly rebuking these wolves in frilly episcopal dresses, but they are asleep on their watch.

Oh, how Aslan will roar against these useless shepherds!

It would be nice to find a way to easily dismiss this, but you can't. There are entire Catholic diocese where this description fits to a "T." I'm going to worship in one this weekend, a place I will call "Unternaw." If I don't see five different glaring liturgical abuses (including near-concelebration by the "pastoral administrator" nun) or hear heresy from the pulpit (e.g., "God our Mother", fuzzing the Resurrection with a discussion of the "Jesus event," a denial of predestination and virtual denial of original sin), it will be a good Sunday. Thankfully, I don't live there and worship in good ol' Day-twa most of the time. Detroit has its problems, but I'm within 15 minutes of five solid-to-superb parishes--that I know of. I can't say the same for Unternaw. In fact, it may be unique even for the American Church in that it has no refuges of orthodoxy: a couple of parishes where the beleaguered can flee.

Unternaw is five thousand square miles of Methodism without the doctrinal discipline.

I have often wondered what I'd say to a prospective on-fire convert living within its bounds:

"Become familiar with the boundaries of the diocese, and find out how close are you to Lansing, Gaylord or Detroit. Get a car that can handle the mileage."
"The bishop has to retire in five years. That could help. Then again, it may not."
"Familiar with the phrase 'offer it up'? It will be a useful discipline."

OK, a little over the top. Which, if you visit here somewhat often, should constitute an improvement. The sad fact of the matter is this: An evangelical church is likely to be far more "Catholic" in terms of doctrine than the parishes of Unternaw. The divinity and resurrection of Christ will be firmly preached, as will certain difficult rules of biblical morality, including recognition of personal sinfulness and the need for a Savior. The Bible will not be deconstructed by whatever historical-critical theory happens to be the flavor of the month.

In short, one will hear a decent (if incomplete and flawed) approximation of the Gospel of Christ, not the Gospel of Nice.

Oh, and it's much less likely that the guy in charge will place someone with a history of sexual abuse in a position of oversight at the church's school, as happened to the parish in my hometown, smack dab in the middle of Unternaw.

Like Greg, I'm not preaching anyone leave the Church, even in its most benighted regions. There are lifelines and alternatives that can and do help preserve the Faith. 99 percent of the time there are "oasis" parishes. Even where it seems bleakest, there are good people. One of the best priests I have ever met was a priest of Unternaw--a superb shepherd, preacher and confessor. Of course, he was the guy replaced by the abuser.

In other words, it's not easy to be Catholic in such places. It's painfully difficult to be at odds with the clergy and religious, and often a cause of despair. Therefore, we ought to be far more careful of how we judge those who do leave, especially in this time where the witness of the Church, from its bishops on down to those warming the pews, is a poor one indeed.

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