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Monday, February 09, 2004

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After re-reading the Gaillardetz America piece for the umpteenth time, and Amy Welborn's last comment on it, I think I have finally figured out the problem he has with Madrid, Hahn & Co., and it is this: They haven't been initiated and learned the fraternity's secret handshake.

[That, and please join me in savoring the irony of a progressive like Prof. Gaillardetz seeking to stamp out a largely-lay generated phenomenon and replace it with largely-clerical academics. Amusing beyond words, especially if your sense of humor runs toward the bleak side. The Spirit of Vatican II™ is one strange beastie.]

In other words, they aren't among the "made men" of the American Catholic Establishment.

As those of us who have seen Goodfellas know, there is only one way to handle a guy who freelances and crosses a "made" man...

The America article is the equivalent of whacking Tommy DeVito. Remember, for all of Gaillardetz' faint praise for the New Apologists, his solution is to heave the lot of them overboard, right after roiling the water with a few barrels of chum:

But the significant flaws in their overall approach demand that the church move ahead to develop a newer form of apologetics more faithful to the spirit of the [Second Vatican] council.

[Is there a spray for "the Spirit of Vatican II"? A lozenge? A topical ointment? Some kind of pneuma-screen? Anything?]

1. You're Not Church.

America, 2/2/04, p. 29. We are church, indeed. And you vulgar yobbos aren't a part of it. Consider first the concerns, which are entirely institutional: ecumenism, approved scholarship, accommodating to the culture.

That the Establishment has marginalized the very things the laity are clamoring for is the subject of only "it is regrettable," "mistakes were made," "I-take-'full-responsibility'-but-there's-no-way-in-hell-I'll-resign"-speak. Again, it's not as though the NAs are pulling a bait and switch with those who buy their books and tapes, attend their seminars/speaking engagements, etc. These guys come in trumpets blaring, IFF transponders working, and regimental flags flying--they are what they are, and they let you know three months ahead of time.

In other words, the people want their stuff. The public got the apologetic apologetics back in catechism, and a lot of them, through the grace of God alone, have managed to find their way back because they began to hear that the pablum they were fed might not be all there was.

2. The Replacements.

The second, and more obvious proof can be found in the suggestions for replacements.

The first suggestions have been noted: Monika Hellwig, Richard McBrien (p. 30)--names that tend to make me aspirate my coffee at mach 2. (Don't worry--after a while, the nasal passages toughen and the pain is much more dulled. Good thing, too.)

Yes, great idea: having those two in charge of explicating the Catholic creed when their own begins (and seemingly ends) with the Land O'Lakes Statement. For some reason, the phrase "part of the problem" comes to mind.

"The Class of '67 had its dreams...."

But Gaillardetz offers two other possibilities on the same page, one of which I was familiar with in passing, and the other I'd never heard of.

a. Fr. Rausch: "Conservatives" Need Not Apply.

The first is Thomas Rausch, Jesuit priest, theologian, and professor at Loyola Marymount. In apologetic circles, he's most famous for picking a fight with Karl Keating, to which the latter responded with grace and aplomb in an essay entitled "No Apology from the New Apologists." It is very likely this blast against apologetics that led to Gaillardetz' endorsement. Beyond that, he edited and wrote a chapter in an interesting ecumenical book about Catholics and Evangelicals seeking common ground. However, his contribution to it reveals why Fr. Rausch has little to contribute to the forming of a new apologetics--ecumenism is the lodestar for apologetics, crushing the enterprise on the rocks. It is also another anecdotal example of the chief environmental hazard of long-term ecumenism: development of an abiding contempt for a broad swath of less-evolved co-religionists. It's rather like working on a sword boat and perpetually smelling of fish--I really think the practitioners are incapable of noticing it. In any event, Fr.'s analysis is flawed. For starters, in a remarkable case of failing to connect the dots, he notes the massive conversion of Latin American Catholics to Protestantism in the 1980s, but bewails the replacement of more ecumenically-minded "progressive" (his term) bishops with more traditional and conservative overseers. In it, he too employs political labelling, and marginalizes conservatives. He criticizes Geisler and McKenzie's Roman Catholics and Evangelicals for the cardinal sin of deeming more "conservative" Catholics to be "mainstream." From his analysis, there are no such perils for so regarding more liberal Catholics, who do not enter into his analysis. Presumably because they are the mainstream. He also natters about "inerrantism" and other theological sins which horrify the Establishment (remember Gaillardetz' complaints about Hahn's handling of Dei Verbum) which make the exercise of reading his contribution a little like periodic shots of mace to the retinas. Not that it's all bad, but the bad tends to stink up the good. Interestingly, Fr. Rausch has written one of those periodic "common ground" books that inevitably fail to bridge the intra-Catholic divide. They are usually more interesting reading to see how the writer is going to implement the "a pox on both your houses" approach. If Fr. Rausch's previous work and the reviews are any indication, then the result of the "even-handedness" is predictable: progressives get sent off with a noogie, and conservatives get sent off to the mines.

b. Fr. Himes: Now For a Little Comic Relief.

The second name I was not familiar with: Boston College theology Prof. Fr. Michael Himes. According to Gaillardetz, Fr. Himes makes a regular speaking circuit, travelling to pastoral conferences around the country. I know, I know: BC, yet another mandatum factory, recently blasted by one of its last identifiably orthodox professors, Fr. Matthew Lamb:

''The theology department at Boston College is increasingly unable, in my judgment, to provide the kind of serious formation in Catholic intellectual and theological traditions that is essential,'' Lamb said in an interview.

But, perhaps Fr. Himes is different. At least he has a sense of humor, according to Prof. Gaillardetz, honed through years of presentation to thousands at those same conferences. Through the miracle of Google, we have a sample of the sense of humor:

Father Himes sternly warned that the Faith cannot be defined by what's in a catechism, and cautioned us against those who would "stand pat."

This was personified by a cut to a grim old codger reading a copy of The Catholic Catechism written in the 1970s for the United States by Father John Hardon at the request of Pope Paul VI. Later, while Himes spoke pejoratively of "standing pat," the elderly man was shown (sans catechism) in a discussion with other, obviously spiritually upbeat people, around a table -- he appeared to be at odds with them, and finally folded his arms in a closed and unfriendly gesture of disapproval.


So much for a "passionate," "dialogic" presentation of that "life-giving" Catholic doctrine. Laugh at the late Fr. Hardon all you want (best not in my presence, though), his Catechism sold more than 1 million copies. Something tells me more people will learn and be changed by the work of that holy Jesuit (it's nice to be able to say that phrase) from Detroit than from those who mock him. If you don't own his prayer book, consider yourself deprived.

3. The Establishment In Action.

Another point about Himes is his dependence on the Establishment infrastructure--his contact with the layfolk largely comes from the pastoral conferences which Gaillardetz cites. Sponsored by a diocese or closely-related Catholic (YMMV) university, there's something of a captive audience built in--after all, you have instant advertising, publicity, large facilities, etc. And America helpfully provides an example of the kind of pastoral conference Fr. Himes (and Prof. Gaillardetz) attend: in the midst of the Gaillardetz article is an ad for a pastoral ministry conference sponsored by BC. In addition to Gaillardetz and Fr. Himes, there are the following speakers and topics:

1. Gustavo Guiterrez is doing his Weekend At Bernie's shtick with liberation theology;

2. A Dominican is offering a course entitled "Mutuality of Self and Other: Toward an Adult Spirituality." Yes, that's verbatim (First one to make sense of the theobabble let me know); and

3. There is an obligatory liturgical and sacred dance seminar, hosted by the obligatory Jesuit.

Oh, and perhaps sensing something amiss in the demographics, there is a seminar about The Young People™, entitled "Inviting Youth to a Prayerful Church." After seeing the above three topics, all I can say is "lotsa luck."

I would like to advance the following thesis: Without the friendly hosting services of the American Church, such events would draw literally tens of people. Any takers?

4. Nothing to Worry About.

Ultimately, the good news is that Gaillardetz' project will likely never leave the drawing board. The first reason is that the divorce between the Catholic academy and the broader church, especially the "grubby" apologetics enterprise, is final for the older generation. Writing specifically for Catholics just isn't on the radar for Keep Your Mandatum Off My Body! crowd. Even the oft (and strangely) cited example of Fr. McBrien refutes itself: Catholicism was written with a broader, non-Catholic audience in mind, as the non-Catholic blurbs on the back of book enthusiastically testify. It may be "haute vulgarisation" (p.30), but service to the needs of Catholics was a decidedly secondary consideration. Scholarship has become its own end, and it is hard to see how the contempt for apologetics could be overcome.

Even for those who do popular work, it's clearly less apologetic and much more establishment in character: Welcome to Catholicism--Now Perpetually In Flux!

Yep, literally tens of people...

On the other hand, the reason the NAs are successful is because it's a cultural phenomenon. Many of them have brought their model over from evangelicalism (where it is part and parcel with that culture) along with the fire and determination to make it work. For their part, the cradle Catholics among them have made it their calling, having watched friends and loved ones leave the faith, glitterchesis proving to be a poor vaccine against people who love and live Jesus and the Bible, however errant those people may be from a Catholic perspective.

In short, they want to do apologetics. In return, Gaillardetz is telling the academicians that they have to do it. In the battle between "want to" and "have to," "want to" wins every time. Breaking four decades of habit on the part of the Catholic academy is now impossible. What's in it for them? Publish or perish is a tough class, and peculiarly (parochially?) "Catholic" stuff doesn't count toward the course requirements, so to speak.

Those of you like me can expect to keep profiting from the Kreefts and Pacwas, Welborns and Madrids, Olsons and Hahns. They'll be owning the field for the next generation--there will literally be no contest.

After all, the apologists just aren't the establishment's kind of people, and the latter isn't going to dirty themselves with the former's declasse' pursuits.

Which is probably just about ideal, when you think about it.

[Update: In the comment box, Mark Sullivan offers a stout defense of Fr. Himes that is worth considering.]

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