"The Bishops vs. Catholic Faithful (The Second Inning)" -- the title of this posting expresses what is so deeply wrong about your understanding of the Church and how it functions. The Church is not some kind of mobocracy in which a populist uprising can topple the government. It is not even an orderly democracy (as theological conservatives were once at great pains to tell us) in which the people get to "throw the bums out" periodically through free and fair elections. The Church is hierarchical.
Trying to apply the norms and methods of American secular politics to the Church, as you seem to do, is, on the face of it, profoundly non-Catholic, and shows exactly how deeply secular assumptions and instincts have tinctured the minds even of those who might think of themselves as the defenders of some kind of old-fashioned, "real Catholicism."
There is no justification in the traditions of the Church for its members to "take the law into their own hands" in the manner of secular revolutionaries, however just their grievances. Those who have attempted this in the past are known as Protestants and schismatics and have harmed, rather than built up, the unity of the Church.
[For the Catholic "faithful" (as a whole) to be "versus the Bishops,"(as a body) -- which is very different from an individual Catholic's being in conflict with a particular bishop over a specific issue -- would have been unthinkable to our "faithful" Catholic ancestors. The resolution of particular conflicts with particular bishops is possible within the structures of the hierarchical Church as regulated by Canon Law and papal decrees.]
I find the uncharitable tone and apparent intent of this blog (to somehow weaken people's loyalty and respect for the Cardinal Archbishop of Boston, toward whom the Pope has recently given renewed evidence of his confidence through his appointment as a visitor to the Church in Dublin) repugnant to a Catholic mind and sensibility. It would be better for the Church, I think, were it to be discontinued.
[Finally, the phrase "The Second Inning" reveals an understanding of conflict within the Church as a kind of game, an understanding which is, considering the gravity of what is at stake, completely inappropriate. The life of the Church is not a game, and its phases are measured in eras and ages, not "innings."]
Thursday, August 05, 2010
A Leisurely Ramble through the Comboxes and "The Posting That Failed"
My return to blogging and my decision to write about the threat to the Church from the theological and political right wing were both occasioned by my growing awareness of the extensive right-wing Catholic blogosphere. Within this category, I have recently had occasion to discover a little clutch of interconnected blogs which chronicle the goings-on, or imagined goings-on, within the Archdiocese of Boston. All of these display a strong animus toward the Archbishop himself, Seán Cardinal O'Malley (who has a blog of his own, by the way), and number of other archdiocesan officials, especially Fr. J. Bryan Hehir, currently the Cardinal's Secretary for Health and Social Services, and Fr. Richard Erikson, currently the Vicar General. Indeed, one of this clutch of blogs is dedicated exclusively to "exposing" Fr. Hehir.
Other targets of these bloggers' indignation and scorn are a long list of Catholic organizations and institutions, some of them ostensibly on the same side of controversial issues involving Church and state as the bloggers themselves. On this list, for example, are certain pro-life organizations, like Massachusetts Citizens for Life and the National Right to Life Committee, which some of the bloggers have decided are insufficiently rigorous or orthodox. And some of the people who post comments to these blogs are even more particular about the fellow Catholics they are willing to associate with than the bloggers themselves.
Recently, for example, when someone for MCFL dropped the name of Fr. Frank A. Pavone, the National Director of Priests for Life, a "Throw the Bums Out in 2010" combox poster calling himself "Jerry B." wrote to hurl this double anathema: "1) Fr. P. promotes the heresy that babies who die in Original Sin yet enter Heaven. 2) Fr. endorses blood-communion with the drippings of murdered babies, otherwise known as vaccination." Now, while I must admit that I do not understand the vaccination reference in point #2, I do recognize the position on unbaptized infants in point #1. The problem here is that Fr. Pavone, if he does indeed incline to take a lenient view of the matter, happens to be in good company -- so does His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI, who is, apparently, not quite Catholic enough for Jerry B. If you doubt me, you an look it up here and in several other places you can find by doing a little creative Googling.
When I said I recognize the position expressed in point #1, I meant that I recognize it from certain specific sources, namely those which claim that the present Pope is heretical on this and (in some instances) a large number of other topics and thus cannot be a legitimate holder of his office. Thus, they hold a position with regard to the Pope which is remarkably parallel with that of the "Birthers" toward President Barack Obama. Remarkable, isn't it, how much religious and political rightist extremisms seem to have in common!
This is not the only instance in which the voices in the blogs and their comboxes have come perilously close to Sedevacantism. Usually, to be sure, they never come right out and say that the pope is either illegitimate or grossly incompetent, but often that is the clear implication. For example, the unremitting blanket criticism of the American hierarchy to be found in some of these blogs can only be an indirect criticism of the present Pope and his immediate predecessor. Given the length of John Paul II's reign, very few of the currently serving American bishops can have been appointed by John XXIII or Paul VI, two Popes of whom the right wing is often openly contemptuous. So in spite of a commonly expressed admiration for John Paul II and a piously professed allegiance to Benedict XVI, the implication is that both pontiffs were too dull or busy to notice the heretical and morally derelict tendencies of the men they appointed, or that they approved of and shared these tendencies themselves. The latter possibility is exactly what people like Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins, who would like to have the Pope arrested in Britain and tried in the Hague, would maintain to have been the case. Does the Catholic right wing really want to ally itself to these characters? (By the way, please pray for poor Hitch, who has a very serious case of cancer. Even he feels that he is not long for this world.)
But the extremist tone of much of what appears in the comboxes may not be there entirely at random. As the television pundits have found out, featuring extremists who agree with them is good for ratings and keeps the excitement of their regular followers at a high level, while faturing extremists from the other side helps to establish a caricature of their views as representing all of them in the public mind and keeps the indignation of their followers at a fever pitch. In the political realm, the media on the left, like MSNBC, have been playing this game with the likes of Rand Paul and Sharron Angle, both of whom can be counted on to make statements which lead everyone but their greatest enthusiasts to question whether they are living in the real world.
I have recently had some personal experience of this tactic. After having explored the comments posted on a couple of the Boston blogs that had caught my attention, I concluded that these comments were either in close agreement with the positions of the blogger or, if in disagreement, so extreme, vituperative, unreasonable, ignorant, and at times obscene that they destroyed the credibility of their side of the argument. So I decided on a little experiment. Not a scientific experiment, nothing I would want to submit in an article to The New England Journal of Religious Pathology, yet none the less good enough for here. So I submitted two comments to the same moderated combox within minutes of one another. The first was a short, slightly snarky post criticizing the weak Latin of another commentator who had chosen to call herself "tantamergo." Within a reasonable time that comment appeared on the blog. my second contribution. reproduced below was much longer and more serious and addressed itself, in an unmistakably critical, yet reasonable and polite tone, I thought, to my difficulties with the tenor and intent of the anti-hierarchical blogs which I was just then discovering. This contribution has yet to make it past the moderator and onto the blog. I thought that perhaps, to complete the experiment, I should have written a third submission expressing the same objection but vituperative, abusive, and laced with deletable expletives, just to see if that would make it through the moderator's screening be posted because it would have been a self-discrediting verbal tantrum. But, alas, I simply do not have it in me to write that sort of thing, even anonymously. I suspect, however, based on other reactions allowed to appear in connection with earlier topics, that it might well have appeared.
Whatever the case may be, I have decided that it does, in fact, have merit, and I am posting it below for the record and to get it off my chest. (The piece in its original form was too long to be uploaded, so I cut the two sections printed below in brackets [...]. So here it is: