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Sunday, February 20, 2005

Extra, extra: National Catholic Reporter lashes out at Catholic laity!

Demands that they pray, pay and obey instead.

NCR's Joe Gucc--er, Feuerherd unintentionally pens the most enlightening, heartening and amusing piece of 2005. It's fascinating to see the flower children at the Reporter dressing up in ultramontanist drag, but it only works as camp (think Carson Kressley playing Batman, and you've got it). Remember this the next time (and it will probably be next week) that the NCR makes noise about the laity being ignored. The progressives are perfectly willing to see lay groups destroyed if they display an inauthentic consciousness.

They aren't concerned so much with empowered laity as with power itself.

Diocesan social action directors charged with taking the church's election-year message to the faithful were harassed from below and, in some cases, subverted from above.

Given that diocesan bureaucrats are the source of much of the mischief plaguing American Catholic life, I'm not exactly rosining up the bow for a pity dirge.

That, and I'm fresh out of rosin. Not to mention violins.

Harassment came from parish- and diocesan-based conservatives who viewed a second term for George W. Bush as a secular second coming;

And in one fell phrase Feuerherd reveals that John Allen is the only honest-to-God correspondent at the otherwise benighted hovel of leftist bedwetting and nostalgia that is the Reporter.

I'll say this very slowly and carefully, allowing for time to adjust the hearing aids:

If John Kerry had been a Methodist instead of a self-professed Catholic, the Great Catholic Firestorm of 2004 would not have occurred.

Instead, the Senator was the Usual Article, a frowning, quasi-serious politico who talked up his altar boy service and rosary-carrying in his trained speaker's timbre even as he bragged about his determination to trash the bedrock principles of Catholicism. On the dime of "fellow" Catholics, no less.

Many--I would venture to say most--of us who found ourselves in the President's corner did so because we found the prospect of a religious fraud like JFK II being elected as a direct affront to everything we are trying to live and pass on to our children and others. The thought of watching the architects of beige Catholicism wave the awful Kerry like a totem for their brand of anything-goes over the next four years was a vision of hell. In one stroke, much of the fragile renewal of American Catholic life would have been destroyed, as cowards in miters posed in photo ops... Bush has some serious flaws, but, in the final analysis, he doesn't make us puke.

We dodged a bullet. Nothing less, and nothing more.

That the old Catholic left (including rancid men like Robert Drinan) woke up on November 3, 2004 with a horror-induced migraine was strictly a bonus.

the subversion from some bishops and clergy who placed the "five nonnegotiable issues" promoted by a conservative Catholic group (abortion, euthanasia, embryonic stem cell research, human cloning, and gay marriage)

Behold why my patience with progressives is fraying beyond repair--nothing is ever "nonnegotiable" for the religious left. Except their hold on power. More below.

And calling the decision of a handful of bishops to exercise their teaching authority instead of being nonentities "subversive" is rich. At Denver the bishops said this was a perfectly kosher option. That it was inconvenient to the ever-willing-to-negotiate Reporter is irrelevant.

Delightful, but irrelevant.

over the teaching promoted by the U.S. bishops.
Every four years, the bishops, through their administrative board, release a statement outlining their views on current issues through the lens of Catholic social teaching. No candidates are endorsed or parties supported.


The suspect was identified as being between 5'6" and 7', of gold-complexion, and made entirely of straw.

Neither did the CA pamphlet, JF.

In October 2003, the administrative committee of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops released "Faithful Citizenship," an 8,000-word statement on church social teaching, which declared that "as Catholics, we are not free to abandon unborn children because they are seen as unwanted or inconvenient; to turn our backs on immigrants because they lack the proper documents; to create and then destroy human lives in a quest for medical advances or profit; to turn away from poor women and children because they lack economic or political power; or to ignore sick people because they have no insurance. Nor can we neglect international responsibilities in the aftermath of war because resources are scarce. Catholic teaching requires us to speak up for the voiceless and to act in accord with universal moral values."

Only 8,000 words? Message received! I tried to read it all the way through--honest. I gave up after the first two thousand words and skimmed the rest.

I have recently pondered the problem with the seamless garment/consistent life ethic, and it comes down to this: it effectively places everything on the same moral plane. To wit: the intentional destruction of human life is equal to "turning away" from poor women and children "because they lack economic or political power." The second is bad, but the formulation is so vague as to make it useless as part of a decisionmaking calculus. Is someone is being "turned away" from because of a "lack of power" when she is not given direct grants of money, or is she being turned away from when the moribund bureaucracy which purports to educate her and her children demonstrates that it is more interested in protecting its prerogatives? Both, perhaps? Something else?

There's a line in The Incredibles that exposes the fatal flaw at the heart of the SG strategy:

Helen Parr: Everyone's special, Dash.

Dash Parr: Which is another way of saying that no one is.

If everything is important, nothing is.

As a prime example of how quickly the garment becomes a mental straight jacket, consider this incoherence from newly minted USCCB president William "My kingdom for a definite article!" Skylstad in June 2004:

The Church teaches consistently that human life is to be cherished and protected against threats, particularly the lives of those most vulnerable: the pre-born; the ill; the aged; the poor. The immigrant, the sorrowing, the confused, the misunderstood.

Ministering to the "confused," eh? Sounds like a full time job at the USCCB. Physician, heal thyself. And please give me a call when the legislation permitting a 9 month window to kill the "misunderstood" for the convenience of others gets introduced.

Yes, all human life is sacred--even that of the "confused." But not all human life is under threat in the same way or with the same level of violence. Hence the prioritizing, which consistent ethicists refuse to do.

The garment has become a garotte for effective pro-life witness. Time to run it in to the tailor.

The document provided a set of 10 questions Catholics should consider before entering the voting booth and offered a set of principles drawn from Catholic social teaching. The bishops promised an extensive diocesan-based effort to promote "Faithful Citizenship" -- brochures summarizing the statement, videos explaining Catholic social teaching, and a Web site providing "liturgical and homily ideas, education materials and lesson plans for various age groups, and information on conducting nonpartisan voter registration and education programs."
So far so good.


The USCCB "promises" a lot of things. Learn to live with disappointment, Joe. The rest of us have been for quite some time now.

Not so by the way, gentle reader, that transition sentence is your cue to boo the mustache-twisting villain, entering stage right:

Then, in early 2004, an El Cajon, Calif.-based conservative group, "Catholic Answers," published its "Voter's Guide for Serious Catholics," a 2,500-word pamphlet that urged Catholics to vote based on the "five nonnegotiable issues."

EEEEEEE-VIL!

Said the pamphlet, "It is a serious sin to deliberately endorse or promote any of these actions, and no candidate who really wants to advance the common good will support any action contrary to the nonnegotiable principles involved in these issues."

That no serious rebuttal was ever attempted by SG proponents is the most telling thing about the whole episode.

In the outreach effort that ensued, the diocesan social action directors were blindsided.

Still out of rosin--sorry!

Millions of copies of the "Voter's Guide for Serious Catholics" were distributed in church parking lots and foyers and inserted in parish bulletins. Catholic Answers took out a full-page ad in USA Today, and proponents of the nonnegotiables disrupted efforts to promote the bishops' official view of the 2004 election.

Which, in less than 1,500 words was what, precisely?

It was political hardball, with some social action directors subject to e-mail campaigns in which chanceries were flooded with correspondence questioning their orthodoxy and commitment to church teaching.

"As a person who gave numerous … presentations on 'Faithful Citizenship' … before the election in November, I ran into significant resistance from self-described pro-life Catholics at nearly every talk," a social action director told me recently. "In fact, through forwarded e-mail to the [chancery], we learned that I had been targeted by a coterie of these folks because they (correctly) presumed that I would be advocating a consistent ethic of life approach to evaluating candidates and issues, rather than advocating 'authentic Catholic teaching' that labels abortion as the single most important issue."

Which is why your orthodoxy is in serious doubt, O Anonymous One Who's Very Likely Tom Allio From Cleveland. If you hear "yes, but" often enough from someone, you quickly come to understand that they really mean "No."

In this case, diocesan officials stood firm. Parishes were instructed to use Faithful Citizenship and those of the state Catholic conference, and not the Catholic Answers Voter's Guide.

Talk about man bites dog: It's at this point in your usual Reporter article that the correspondent starts shrieking about infantilization and repression of the legitimate aspirations of the laity. Here, the Diocese could have dropped an interdict and NCRep's editorial staff would be whooping it up like Eagles fans on a four hour tailgate bender.

Nonetheless, "we were inundated with the [Catholic Answers] voting guide," reports the social action director.

Poor baby.

The experience of this social action director was the norm in this election cycle, reports Catholic University of America associate professor of Religious Studies William Dinges. For a paper he is presenting at the Feb. 18-23 meeting of diocesan social action workers, Dinges interviewed 22 diocesan social action directors around the country. He described his findings at a Feb. 16 presentation at the university.
Dinges said he was surprised "by the number of people who told me that they have 'never seen the conflict this bad before.' " There is little civility when conservative activists challenge diocesan workers presenting the teaching of the bishops.


You refuse to engage the other side and shut down them down by fiat, but still puzzle over the lack of civility.

The religious left in a nutshell.

"I was struck by the sense that this has really gotten ugly," said Dinges.
So who are the conservative activists? Dinges places them in five groups: Catholic traditionalists, conservatives and neoconservatives, the "radicalized element" of the antiabortion movement, Republican political partisans and "evangelicalized Catholics."


Sounds like a real fringe element there--oh, everyone to the right of Commonweal's editorial board, if not its contributors.

[Ed. Note: I rather like Commonweal, too.]

Though there was clearly some organized effort to disrupt and disparage the church's official outreach, most of agitation was caused, said Dinges, by individuals acting in small groups, frequently with the support of conservative parish clergy who showed little fear of contravening diocesan guidance on election-year activities.

Translation: It was an actual, honest, grass-roots lay movement. For which crime the Rep wants to get all Inquisitorial on their glutei. Deus lo volt, and all that.

I feel like I've entered the Bearded Spock parallel universe.

Further, said Dinges, in some dioceses the activists "were emboldened by the actions of some bishops," particularly in dioceses where bishops threatened to withhold Communion from pro-choice Catholic politicians. In some cases, chastened by the hostility diocesan presenters received at Faithful Citizenship education efforts, bishops simply cancelled additional sessions, leaving the Catholic take on the election to the Catholic Answers crowd.

"Coterie," "crowd"--can "ilk," "lot," or "rabble" be far behind?

In the absence of examples of real misbehavior by pitchfork-wielding mobs, my suggestion is to have a hanky, a blanky and shut up. A refusal to answer the questions is not the problem of the questioners.

Anything new here? Is there anything new here? Dinges thinks so. In the immediate post-Vatican II era, he noted, disputes between liberal and conservative Catholics centered largely on intra-church issues, such as liturgical practices. Today's tug-of-war is focused on the "broader culture wars in American society" and liberal Catholics and their conservative brethren are no longer even "pulling on the same rope."

Sounds about right, actually. See "yes, but" above. I have sufficient reason to be concerned about whether we are on the same team anymore, and that doubt grows by the day.

Said Dinges, "We do not even know how to talk to each other -- to have responsible adult conversations -- in areas where there is serious disagreement." The structures that are supposed to facilitate communication within the church, says Dinges, are "dysfunctional."

Actually, he's wrong: the structures are what they have always been. The "problem" is that, in the age of the WWW, they are no longer effective at silencing the inconvenient and ramming the bureaucratic party line down the throats of those who are craving something more authentic.

Then there's the difficulty of "dialoguing" and "communicating" with those who reflexively describe you with words like "crowd," "coterie," "neo-conservative," "radicalized," and "evangelicalized" (whatever the last means. Probably has something to do with the fact progressives are not big on evangelism. Whatever.)

There's no point. You've already shelled the common ground pretty well into oblivion, and I think orthodox Catholics already know how stupid you think they are. Hearing it from you in person isn't going to help. There's no trust--period. They're convinced there's nothing you wouldn't jettison, water-down or negotiate away, if push came to shove. And it's fully-rooted in those old and still-raging battles over the liturgy, doctrine, education, etc. The only things that have changed are the arena and the recognition by the orthodox that if they don't organize, strike first and keep hammering away, they are going to lose.

Sucks being on the receiving end, doesn't it?

Besides, we're having too much fun--"Come and see 'em run!" pretty well sums it up for us these days.

Dinges is to present his paper at the social action meeting on Feb. 19. The title of the gathering: "The Church in the Modern World: Founded on Truth, Built on Justice, Animated by Love."

Sounds like a corker.

Tell you what--start emphasizing the first item on the list, and then maybe we'll have something to talk about. After all, the next two are phony without it.

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