Tuesday, February 24, 2009

'You Cannot Interpret the Signs of the Times'

Yesterday's New York Times article announcing the Vatican’s appointment of Archbishop Timothy Michael Dolan to preside over the Archdiocese of New York contains an obligatory dig at him as “a genial enforcer of Rome’s ever more conservative writ.” (“A Genial Enforcer of Rome’s Doctrine”).

In other words, the Times doesn’t approve of the choice, as the archbishop is obedient to the See of Peter.

To underline the sinister effect, reporter Michael Powell sets it all up this way:
For a few deeply unpleasant days, the Rev. David Cooper found himself in the crosshairs of the Roman Catholic hierarchy.

It was 2003, and the priest had opined to a reporter that women should be ordained. Faraway bishops rumbled about censure. Then he picked up the telephone and heard the baritone of Milwaukee’s archbishop, Timothy Michael Dolan. Father Cooper immediately offered to resign.

No, no, the archbishop replied, we just need to repair the damage. “He was very pastoral and caring,” Father Cooper recalled.

And how was it resolved? “Oh, I agreed to recant,” he said. “He effectively silenced me.”
(That is, if agreeing to recant insincerely only to keep your job is recanting. And if being quoted in the Times is being silenced.)

Given the comparison of Archbishop Dolan doing his pastoral duty with placing some poor bastard in Rome’s “crosshairs,” Times readers are invited to understand that for all his outward geniality and care for his flock, he’s still just an enforcer sent to kill the buzz of America’s most with-it Catholics (that is, the ones who defy Church teaching on abortion, who think all religions are equally valid, (except Catholicism, which they’re ashamed of), and who actually give a shit what the Times thinks of them).

But here’s the most silly bit of the piece. Powell writes:
On matters of doctrine, the archbishop 59, adheres to the line laid down by Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict, including firm opposition to abortion, birth control, divorce, gay marriage and any crack in the wall of priestly celibacy.
If anyone is interested in doing some of the fact-checking the Times dispensed with for this article, I invite you to search out any moment in the 2000-year history of the Catholic Church when she did not preach firm opposition to abortion, artificial contraception, divorce, or did not condemn homosexual practices (“gay marriage” is a recently invented euphemism), nor when, say, in the past 15 centuries, she ever entertained abandoning her rule on the practice of priestly celibacy.

My point is that these fundamentals of Catholic moral teaching and practice were not a line “laid down” by John Paul II and Pope Benedict: putting it that way strongly suggests that before JPII became Pope in 1979 the Church’s line was pointing somewhere else. The fact is, the line the Times sneers at leads right straight right back to the first century. (There are valid questions as to whether the celibacy rule was in effect universally in the first century, but there is no question that once it was adopted formally in the Latin Church, in ancient times, it has never been abandoned: it certainly was not part of a line first "laid down” by JPII).

Even John XXIII, whom Democrat Catholics fondly remember now as a fellow liberal because he was fat, jolly, and foisted Vatican II on the Church, laid down the identical “conservative” line, or he would have, surely, had he foreseen how many silly priests and theologians were going to try to erase it.

I suppose every Times story, looked at through the cracked political lens they use for everything, appears as a struggle between “conservative” reactionaries and “liberal” freedom-loving intellectuals. But applied to church matters, this distorted view is most insidiously misleading.

As the decay of American Catholicism since 1965 has proved beyond doubt, once decouple the Church’s moral teachings and doctrine from essential Catholic identity and you can convince Some of the People of God All of the Time that the Church only teaches what she does because of that one stubborn old priest in Rome who doesn’t know anything about sex.

Catholics were scolded by smug religious teachers for forty years that the Church has got to change, and then left them with no more substantial means of understanding the whys and hows of "change" than to assume it was identical with popular demand. That’s democracy, isn’t it? We Are the Church, aren’t We? Didn't we in America "vote for change" and elect Obama when we grew weary of the Bush tax cuts and all this gloomy talk about terrorism? And lickety-split we had higher taxes, more lobbyists in high office, and a foreign policy we can conduct from our hands and knees? Same deal goes for the Church, right? Get a new Pope, get new doctrines.

Hell, maybe we'll even be popular again.

As John Paul was growing visibly weaker there really were a lot of older “Vatican II” Catholics who consoled one another that once he was dead God would finally be able to rebuild His Church in accordance with the yellowing plans moldering in abandoned convents since the 1960s. When that new day arrived, they said, then we’d have our women priests, our ecclesiastically blessed condoms, and a harmless runny-in-the-middle gospel with all the pith and punch of Mike Brady lecturing Greg and Marcia about sharing the bathroom. But John Paul died and then B16 came along, and like a lightning flash it became clear to all at once that the Heavenly variances needed for the old sixties updates had been denied, and that project was being shut down for good.

And the New York Times saw that it was bad.

Fortunately for humanity the Holy Spirit, Whom the Lord promised would lead His Church into all the truth, uses other criteria for selecting her leaders. He is especially rigid on that promise about the gates of hell not prevailing.

That promise is why we have someone like Josef Ratzinger in Peter’s Chair instead of someone like (God help us), Rembert Weakland or Thomas Gumbleton.

The real miracle of the Catholic Church, if you care to look for one, is that, as Chesterton said somewhere, she’s right when everyone else is wrong–and at this moment everyone else is really, really wrong about a whole lot of things. We’re getting things wrong that we shouldn’t be missing by a mile, like whether lesbian hook-ups should be glorified with taffeta and white veils, or how many lives you count when you see a man and a pregnant woman together. That is why, when even gutsy stand-up guys like George Bush and Tony Blair still can’t quite exactly tell the truth on Islam, Benedict steps up and points out how that ancient heresy has always been a chaos of violence and unreason. He should know. His predecessors were holding the line six centuries before the whirlwind escaped from Arabia.

When it comes to the Catholic Church the New York Times has always clung to its editorial commitment to side with the gates of hell. In some ways, maybe that signifies nothing more than a historical leftover of eastern WASP bigotry. Maybe it's something deeper, something that is now causing Archbishop Dolan to find himself in the crosshairs of the enforcer of the Eastern Establishment. No matter. Even if it's something like that, we know their side will not prevail.


Michael said...

Not being Catholic, I won't get into any of the nitty-gritty, but it seems to me that you hit the nail on the head when you wrote the Times doesn’t approve of the choice, as the archbishop is obedient to the See of Peter.

Maybe I'm just a naive non-Catholic, but isn't 'obedience to the Vatican' part of an archbishop's job description?

T.R. Clancy said...

Yes it is. It is the job of a shepherd to lead the sheep, not be led by them.