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Thursday, September 22, 2005

McBrien. Again.

If you get a chance, sit down and enjoy one of the old Bob Hope films from when the comedian was in his prime--they've actually aged pretty well, especially the zingers and quips. One of my favorites is his rejoinder to a Bing Crosby shot across the bow:

"Hey--be careful with that joke. It's an antique."

I'm reminded of that line when considering the fraying schtick of MSM's favorite speed-dial Catholic commentator, Fr. Richard McBrien. In a recent essay, he gets all brotherly on a prominent Catholic senator. No, not Remarkably Buoyant Ted. Nope--try the Vatican sock puppet, Rick Santorum. Santorum is not exactly flawless, but I get the sense that Santorum at least tries to let the Faith inform all aspects of his public life. The padre's mail-it-in hatchet job deserves an inquest.

A few months ago, The New York Times Magazine published a cover-story on Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania.

God forbid the professor should actually try to talk to Santorum himself--ick, poo. Might come down with a bad case of orthodoxy.

The article focused on various aspects of his life and political career, including his religious affiliation and convictions. Senator Santorum is a Catholic,

Well, that's pretty nice of Fr.--perhaps we're just one big happy--

albeit of a particular kind.

Oh. "Particular kind." Has the smell of "ilk" or "type." So much for amity. As we shall see, Padre's allergy to orthodoxy is nowhere near remission.

He attends Sunday Mass along with Justice Antonin Scalia

Apparently a sympathetic reader's cue to boo, hiss or, more likely, puzzle over the reference in the midst of asking for the AARP discount at Bob Evans.

and other prominent Catholics of similar orientation

If it's an "orientation," then why do you judge us, you hater!?!?


at St. Catherine of Siena Church in Great Falls, Virginia, where the liturgy is in Latin and the priest prays with his back to the congregation, just like it was in the days before the Second Vatican Council.

Four sentences in, and the Professor has activated the autopilot. As in: "Feel free to move about the cabin, taking the column with you to the crapper." Apparently, the Chaired One is operating under some private legislation: The No Canard Left Behind Act.

Let's rewrite this a bit: "and the priest prays facing the same direction as the congregation, with the symbolism of facing east, the direction of the rising sun and associating the Mass with the Resurrection, just like it was in the 547,500 days before the Second Vatican Council."

It's telling that those locked in a perpetual spiritual teenagerhood prefer their inflated sense of self-regard ("Turn your back on me?") over the truth.

However, at 47 years of age today, Senator Santorum was only 4 years old
when the Second Vatican Council opened in October, 1962, and only 7 when it
adjourned in December, 1965.

Apparently, the reader needs to be reminded that Certified Modern Catholic Theologians™ can read calendars and are capable of basic math. Unlike their preconciliar forebears, who were so unevolved they didn't even have digits.

We need an editor--stat!

He never attended a Catholic college or university,

That would explain why his faith is intact.

having received a B.A. in Political Science from Penn State in 1980,

Paterno's got the Nittany Lions of to a solid start this year, but the real tests are yet to come.

an M.B.A. at the University of Pittsburgh,


and a Doctorate of Jurisprudence from the Dickinson School of Law in Carlisle, Pennsylvania.

Sounds pricey, I will admit.

One of his fellow Catholic senators, Susan Collins of Maine, has referred to him as a Catholic missionary in the Senate.

For being a youngin during V2, the Senator sure seems up to speed on its call to the laity:

There are innumerable opportunities open to the laity for the exercise of their apostolate of evangelization and sanctification. The very testimony of their Christian life and good works done in a supernatural spirit have the power to draw men to belief and to God; for the Lord says, "Even so let your light shine before men in order that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven" (Matt. 5:16).

However, an apostolate of this kind does not consist only in the witness of one's way of life; a true apostle looks for opportunities to announce Christ by words addressed either to non-believers with a view to leading them to faith, or to the faithful with a view to instructing, strengthening, and encouraging them to a more fervent life. "For the charity of Christ impels us" (2 Cor. 5:14). The words of the Apostle should echo in all hearts, "Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel" (1 Cor. 9:16).

She occasionally attends the study group he organized to promote more knowledge of the Catholic faith. Only Republicans are invited.

Perhaps because he's a big-time target of the Dems in 2006? A Democratic mole would find plenty to twist into horror-story material for the push polls. At any rate, ideology certainly isn't a factor if the reliably-centrist and pro-choice Collins is an invitee.

One is tempted to ask if this is one of those cases of the blind leading the blind (with apologies to anyone offended by the politically incorrect usage).

One is tempted to note that he would know.

Indeed, there is a book, Catholicism for Dummies, co-authored by two priests who also lack theological credentials.

Ah--so they're Notre Dame grads.


But they are "safe" enough to have a regular program on Mother Angelica's Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN).

Ilk! Kind! Type! EWTN!

You know--them.

And even though there's not a chance in Hell Fr. would want to be associated with EWTN, I get the definite sense that McBrien is feeling a little green about those capable of authoring a God's honest bestseller, as opposed to a rightfully-maligned doorstop which sells only to a dwindling number of incurable nostalgics.

Especially when his column keeps getting dropped, to boot.

In the Times Magazine article, Senator Santorum is portrayed as exuberant over the election of Cardinal Ratzinger as the new pope. “What you saw,” he claimed, “is an affirmation by the cardinals that the church is not going to change, even though maybe Europe and North America want it to. It is going to stay the way it hasbeen for 2,000 years.”

Yep. Many of us saw it as a rebuke of those seeking the establishment of the Church of What's Happening Now! and its sister organization, the Chapel of the Affirmed Groin. If nothing else, the election was universally acknowledged to be the demise of a certain media personality's predictive abilities.

A remarkable statement indeed from someone who has never had a graduate-level course in church history.

No wonder--have you seen the cost of a graduate credit hour at ND?

Blessed John XXIII reminded us in his opening address to the Second Vatican Council that history is “the teacher of life.”


Without a sense of history, one is always vulnerable to the temptation of accepting and repeating generalities that are without factual basis or, more specifically, are contradicted by the facts of history.

Odd criticism, coming from a fellow conspicuously noted for his denigration of the past:

Catholicism's clear affirmation of the superiority of modern theology and modern anthropology—based upon the advances made by modern science and philosophy—provides a crucial background for its presentations of various positions. The problem is that this embrace of modernity is so enthusiastic as to imply a certain naive denigration of premodern thought (and thus of all forms of thought that do not embrace modernity). The text is at times quite harsh in its criticism of patristic and medieval thought (pp. 163-65).10 From the perspective of Catholicism, modern thought has definitively superseded ancient and medieval thought.

Many Catholics believe, for example, that only the pope can appoint bishops.

Actually, they should, though "believe" is remarkably klutzy formulation. It's more than a little like saying "Many Americans believe that only a natural-born American citizen can become President." It's a demonstrable, empirical fact, not a matter of belief.

But the pope has only exercised that prerogative for the universal Church since the 19th century.

I guess the consistently-modern theologian's preference for the post-Enlightenment era has its limits.

Before that, bishops were selected by various processes, the most common of which during the First Christian Millennium was election by the clergy and laity of the diocese in which they would serve.

True, but so what? Lest we forget, the First Millennium also saw the occasional deposition of errant bishops by howling mobs of outraged orthodox Catholics....


Oh, sorry--lost in a daydream there for a moment. Anyway, the greater point is that some of those elections were corrupt, and remain eminently corruptible. Just ask St. John McCain. And, at the risk of sounding like a snob, the idea that my vote would be swamped by the hordes of theological illiterates clamoring for the ChOTAG doesn't bear thinking about.

Catholics today take for granted that bishops can be transferred from smaller dioceses to larger dioceses when they are deemed suitable for greater pastoral responsibilities. But in the early Church that was not only uncommon; it was absolutely prohibited -- and by no less than the Council of Chalcedon in 451, the same council that defined the divinity and humanity of Jesus Christ.

Er, I think the dogmatic definition of the person of Christ is a rather more important subject than a superceded disciplinary canon on bishop-shuffling, no matter how grievous one may find the latter practice. But that's just me.

Then again, I've never had any graduate level courses in church history. Not even from quirky universities in Indiana.

Indeed, the body of a deceased pope, Formosus (891-896), was dug up and placed on trial because he had accepted election as Bishop of Rome when he was already the bishop of another diocese in Italy (Porto).

Memo to Self: "The will needs a codicil mandating cremation in the unlikely event McBrien or one of his acolytes becomes the Ordinary of Detroit, or any other diocese I happen to be residing in when I pass."

A few months ago many people both inside and outside the Catholic Church speculated about whether the new pope would come from Latin America or perhaps from Africa. Through-out the First Millennium, this would have been unthinkable. Bishops were elected from the local diocesan clergy, and once in office they remained in the same diocese until death.

The point of these this distorted trip down Millennium Lane is what, precisely--that he'd like to return to it?

If so, I have eight words for you, Fr.: Fabian Bruskewitz as South Bend's Bishop for Life.

But these are only a few examples of changes that have occurred in the Catholic Church.

Each of which is disciplinary and as changeable as meatless Fridays. But here come the well-worn and ill-considered talking points:

There are countless others in the realm of doctrine (the Church once approved of slavery


Not unless the Catholics listed in the article were hammered for heresy on that point. No, really--this one is more tired than his fan club. Lay the cards on the table, Prof.: give me the dogmatic, binding Church document(s) which mandate slavery and support it as a positive good.

while condemning the taking of interest on loans),

Sigh--the usury argument. No Canard, indeed. Again, disciplinary in nature. That can change, like the economic system on which the prohibition was based did.

This is very much unlike, say, a change from a spiritual director advising "Adultery is mortally sinful" to "Like a screen door in a thunderstorm, slugger! After all, she's a hottie and your conscience is your guide!"

Memo to Self No. 2: "Never borrow money from Fr. McBrien, a/k/a 'Dickie the Wire.'"

liturgy (the Mass was originally in Greek, then Latin, and then in many other languages), and even the making of saints (it was not until the year 993 that a saint was canonized by a pope; before then it was a matter of acclamation by the people).

Disciplinary/procedural and hardly articles of faith. Next?

That, and he doesn't really mean it--it's not like he's advocating for the restoration of some of those relatively unknown early Saints to the liturgical calendar. And I rather doubt he'll be signing a St. Philomena petition anytime soon, despite the fact she is a modern example of a saint by acclamation.

Senator Santorum is surely not the only Catholic who is unaware of the lessons of church history.

Assuming he is unaware, of course not: after all, consider the large number of people who have attended the Professor's classes.

Nor is he alone in mistakenly believing that “the church is not going to change,” that it is “going to stay the way it has been for 2,000 years.”But if history is “the teacher of life,” we need to learn from it.

Actually, we need to be damn careful who we learn history from. Starting with the realization that some things are really not going to change, and teaching otherwise is an exercise in fantasy. No matter how fervently our Degreed Betters wish it were otherwise.

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