I'd hazard a guess that I disagree with David Gibson on close to 96.2756% of most issues, but he tends to be a fairly sober analyst of those issues and I often read his commentary. But his most recent post, "Who Is a Real Catholic?", is truly horrible. It would take several hours and five gallons of espresso to cover all of it, but here, at the very least, is the opening:
All you need to know to diagnose the state of the Catholic Church in America today is that Pope Benedict XVI -- who has a knack for ticking off Muslims and Jews -- spent the past week wandering the Middle East, yet Catholics here barely noticed. They were too busy fighting over Barack Obama's appearance as commencement speaker at Notre Dame or arguing about the fate of a popular Miami priest known as "Father Oprah," who was caught on camera sharing a seaside embrace with his girlfriend.
This is—what's the word?—shallow. If it were any more shallow, it would be a dust bowl buried beneath the "bodies" of a hundred straw men. It's also misleading. If you are going to make Huge, Sweeping Generalizations about a group of some 65 million people, it might help if you backed up, even in anecdotal form, your essential assumptions:
1. "Catholics here barely noticed" the Pope's trip to the Middle East. Really? I visited numerous Catholic blogs and news sites with dozens of posts and articles about the trip. Of course, those were predominately traditional, orthodox Catholic blogs and sites, so maybe Gibson is talking about some other group of Catholics (more on them in a moment).
2. "Is this what Catholicism in America has come to?" Yeah, how silly to get caught up in trivial issues such as abortion, Church authority, the sanctity of life, the nature and purpose of Catholic education, the place and meaning of celibacy, and the state of the Catholic priesthood. I was hoping to catch some gossip about Jimmy Clausen's off-season work-out regiment and the latest in Progressive, Action Nun Wear.
3. "Bickering about whether Notre Dame is really Catholic..." Ah, c'mon, get real: it is a meaningful debate, especially since Notre Dame symbolizes and embodies so much to so many people, and has such a significant place in Catholicism in the U.S. And it has become, of course, the epicenter of a tense but long overdue, uh, conversation about not only Catholic education, but what it means to be a Catholic in the U.S. in 2009. That, it seems obvious, is worth bickering about.
4. "... or whether a priest can make out on the beach with his gal pal?" Gibson overlooks the blatantly obvious fact that the number one reason most Catholics are responding to this story the way they are is because of how the story is being used by MSM puppets and yapping heads to call for an end to the discipline of celibacy for priests in the Latin rites. For example, in case you didn't catch these headlines:
• "Celibacy — the Vatican vs. church-goers" (National Post)
• "Priests and Celibacy" (Washington Post)
• "Priestly celibacy: A self-inflicted wound" (Miami Herald)
• "Commentary: A case for celibacy for priests" (CNN)
• "HOT TOPIC: Father Cutié and celibacy" (Palm Beach Post)
• "Straying media priest sparks debate on clerical celibacy" (Irish Times)
• "Catholic Church Should End Celibacy Rule, Let Rev. Cutie and Other Priests Marry" (U.S. News & World Report blog)
• "Catholic Priests And Celibacy" (NPR)
• "Should Catholic priests be allowed to marry?" (WIVB)
• "Poll: Most Miami-Dade Catholics oppose celibacy vow" (Miami Herald)
• "Priest's romp with a gal pal has folks talking about celibacy -- again" (USA Today)
• "Changing an Unchanging Church" (Washington Post's "On Faith" blog)
• "A man of the cloth but still just a man" (Arizona Daily Star)
• "Catholic Reform in the Face of the Father Cutié Scandal: Why Stop at Just Celibacy?" (Miami New Times)
• "Supporters of Embattled Father Cutie Say Catholic Chastity Vow is Outdated" (Hispanic Business).
Shall I keep going?
If Gibson should be criticizing anyone, it is the big-but-rapidly-shrinking-media, who have not only used the Fr. Cutie story to push for an end to priestly celibacy, but have failed miserably at presenting both sides of the story. But, hey, there's a good reason for this failure: most journalists haven't even attempted to understand the Church's teachings about celibacy, chastity, vows, and sexuality, let alone sought to accurately convey them. Gibson doesn't bother, for some reason, to discuss such details; he is far more concerned with chiding those "hard-line activists" who have abandoned the way of capitulation—er, I mean "assimilation." Gibson frets:
He would have readers believe the reason for this "bleeding out" is the failure of the "hard-liners" who haven't yet embraced "greater engagement" with American society, culture, tolerance, etc. But, really, this isn't an engagement: it's a torrid, forty-year-long adulterous love affair that has exposed liberal/progressive/dissenting Catholics as shameless, needy, politically-opportunistic hussies desperately searching for a secular sugar daddy while insisting on wearing a white dress and a demanding an expensive Church wedding. Think I'm being too harsh? Read on:
A recent courageous editorial in the national Jesuit weekly America (which has at times felt the wrath of Rome) cited the dangers that the Notre Dame furor has revealed: "For today's sectarians, it is not adherence to the church's doctrine on the evil of abortion that counts for orthodoxy, but adherence to a particular political program . . . They scorn Augustine's inclusive, forgiving, big-church Catholics . . . [and] threaten the unity of the Catholic Church in the United States."
The icing on the cake is how Gibson and Co. dismissively sniff at the concern so many "activist" ("active," actually) Catholics have about a sexually permissive culture of death. But what do tramps usually resort to when confronted with their ambiguous approach to immorality? They say, wide-eyed, "Hey, everyone else is doing it! Besides, I kinda like it." And, inevitably, they utter an obligatory, shrill cry of "Hypocrisy!":
Because, foolish reader, everyone knows that Big Tent, Inclusive, Assimilating, Greater Engagement Catholics have never and would never criticize or attack or belittle or denounce loyal, orthodox, "hard-line" Catholics! Of course not! And if you believe that...
The Greatest Classic Catholic of all time once said, "Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man's foes will be those of his own household" (Mt 10:34-36). The Fourth Gospel repeatedly points out how divisive were the actions and words of Jesus (cf., Jn 7:43), and recounts Jesus saying of his disciples: "They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world" (Jn 17:16). Jesus explained to his followers: "If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you" (Jn. 15:18-19). "Do not be conformed to this world," wrote St. Paul, "but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect" (Rom 12:2).
There is sometimes a fine line between "engagement" and capitulation. But Gibson has it precisely upside down: real Catholicism has always been divisive; it has always divided truth from falsehood so that real unity is established and upheld. "Does a spring," asked St. James, "pour forth from the same opening fresh water and brackish?" (James 3:11). Trying to establish unity without an interest in what is truth or false, right or wrong, good or evil, is shallow and self-serving; it may be politically expedient, but it is also spiritually deadly—not to mention covered with a lot of straw.
Finally, on a related but lighter note, the same "On Faith" blog has a post by Susan K. Smith, the senior pastor of Advent United Church of Christ in Columbus, Ohio; it is titled, "What Does God Require?" and addresses the question, "Should the Catholic priesthood be restricted to single, celibate men? Do clergy restrictions based on gender, marital status or sexual orientation make sense these days?"
Smith's opening sentence is: "I have never understood why the Roman Catholic church required vows of celibacy of its nuns and priests." And then, to her credit, she goes on to prove this statement to be completely true and accurate. At this rate I expect her to be a journalist very soon.