Let no one deceive himself. If any one among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is folly with God. (1 Cor. 3:18-19)What's the old saying? "Don't argue with a fool; onlookers won't know the difference." True enough, but I think I'm on safe ground in taking a look at Maureen Dowd's latest column of crazed Catholic-bashing claptrap as it doesn't make any attempt at argument. It is titled, "Rome Fiddles, We Burn"; it should have been titled, "Rome Delivers, We Bluster." Or how about, "Rome Breathes, We Rage"?
I know the prevailing wisdom among many good Catholics has been to lament, even strongly criticize, the way the norms for punishing various offenses involving grave sexual sin/actions were released. The Vatican handled it badly, many have argued, and missed a great PR opportunity. I disagree essentially with that perspective, and having thought about quite a bit the past 24 hours, I am, if anything, more convinced than ever that it wasn't handled badly, and that any and all attempts to somehow do it better would have resulted in the same sort of reaction: generally negative, often openly hostile, and mostly clueless. And while some might think Dowd is an extreme example of those in and of the world of big media, I think she is a perfect example. More on that in a moment.
An acquaintance who I respect very much left the following comment over at the OSV blog; the "they" in her remark refers to Vatican officials:
It makes you wonder what they were thinking. It's like handing your enemy a gun and then saying, "Oh here, let me give you a couple of bullets, too."I then wrote, in disagreement:
No, it's more like the enemy already has the gun, is going to shoot you, and when you go to defend yourself, he runs to the police and claims you've attacked him. This is typical of the MSM and of those obsessed with "ordaining women" in the Catholic Church. They will do anything to ignore the good done by Benedict XVI re: sexual scandals. I think many Catholics are reacting wrongly to this and are letting the MSM set the agenda, rather than going about the Church's business as it needs to be done.Fr. John Boyle, a canon lawyer, made a similar (but more serene) comment on the same post:
The Church has issued new canonical norms. In the interests of openness, it has published these norms. In the interests of coherence and to make the job of us Canon Lawyers easier, it has put all grave delicts in one document. For the media, Fr Lombardi issued a statement, the vast majority of paragraphs of which refer to sexual abuse and the public concern about this. Trust the media to miss the story! and follow its own agenda.Exactly right. This isn't paranoia or media bashing or fortress mentality. This is observable fact. Which is not to say that Catholics should not do their best to present matters clearly, to engage with the media with calm charity, to work as best they can with the often frustrating and maddening beast called The Mainstream Media (perhaps a dying beast, but still a beast). They should do so as best they can. But why the belief that if only we present it just right, with the perfect combination of color, wit, humility, and winning ways, journalists will finally understand and will finally see that, yes, the Catholic Church is actually addressing matters, and, no, the current pope isn't an out-of-touch, ultra-right-wing reactionary? Why? Who are we trying to impress? And, far more importantly, what are we trying to accomplish?
"An attack on the Pope," a very wise man observed, "would get the first page in the New York Times any Monday morning." So wrote Archbishop Fulton Sheen back in 1974. Now, granting that Dowd is not a journalist, I think her rants are often instructive as to how most journalists at mainstream, large newspapers view the Catholic Church. And when Dowd draws heavily, as she does in this column, on the dreadful July 1, 2010, "news" piece, "Church Office Failed to Act on Abuse Scandal," the synchronicity is as obvious as her hatred for the Church. (See here and here and here for responses to that July 1st article.) Dowd begins:
If the Vatican is trying to restore the impression that its moral sense is intact, issuing a document that equates pedophilia with the ordination of women doesn’t really do that.This might appear to be Exhibit A as to why, as many have argued, the canonical punishments relating to sexual abuse should have been dealt with completely separately from other issues, especially women's ordination. But are we really to believe that if the norms were released separately, the same "connection" would not be made? I think it would have still been a so-called "PR disaster," precisely because the two issues of sexual abuse by priests and women's ordination are tightly linked together in the minds of those who are intent on using the former to somehow bring about the latter. In other words, there are people from across the religious and political spectrum who really do wish to see sexual abuse by priests/bishops addressed in a thorough, logical, and serious way. And then there are those who see it as proof that women need to be ordained and as a mandate for the radical rewriting of Church teaching about ordination and the priesthood (and, logically, the entire Church). Dowd is clearly in the second group:
If Roman Polanski were a priest, he’d still be working here.
Stupefyingly, the new Vatican document also links raping children with ordaining women as priests, deeming both “graviora delicta,” or grave offenses. Clerics who attempt to ordain women can now be defrocked.
Actually, if Hollywood were the Catholic Church, Polanski would not only still be a priest, he would be supported and defended and probably given all sorts of awards by sycophantic sickos such as Woody Allen. As for the "links," this is like equating rape, evading taxes, and having a meth lab because all can result in long jail sentences; reasonable people know that all three are serious crimes, but no one thinks evading taxes is as horrible as rape. But, of course, Dowd is so clueless (or, more likely, dismissive) about the serious ramifications of a bishop attempting to "ordain" women, she states:
Letting women be priests — which should be seen as a way to help cleanse the church and move it beyond its infantilized and defensive state — is now on the list of awful sins right next to pedophilia, heresy, apostasy and schism.If and when a Catholic says that women can and should be ordained priests, they are uttering heresy: "Heresy is the obstinate denial or obstinate doubt after the reception of baptism of some truth which is to be believed by divine and Catholic faith (Code of Canon Law, can. 751; see Catechism of the Catholic Church, par. 2089). There is no "right next to" in this case; it is the heresy in question. Heresy is very serious business, especially since it places souls in danger of eternal damnation. Sure, I know, I know, responsible journalists and angry columnists can't get caught up in the mumbo-jumbo of theology and Church doctrine (not the least because most of them seem incapable of comprehending any of it). But Catholics should care very deeply about heresy, especially when it relates to one of the seven sacraments established by Jesus Christ. As I wrote a couple of days ago:
A key problem here, in a nutshell, is that while everyone with a working conscience knows how horrible and vile are the sexual molestation and abuse of children, not everyone takes nearly as seriously the grave spiritual harm caused by the attempted ordination of women. This is especially true when the "ordination" is done by an actual bishop; it is a betrayal of the most serious sort, a violation of his holy orders and, ultimately, of the sacred calling granted to him by God. It is, put frankly, spiritual abuse.Dowd, if she is anything, is a scoffer:
Which is not to make light of physical or sexual abuse; the problem isn't that people take sexual abuse too seriously—it's that they don't take spiritual harm and abuse seriously at all. Especially since it requires believing that the attempted ordination of women is not a matter of ritual or "rights," but of fidelity, communion, and sacrifice. To throw away that fidelity, to break that communion, to spit on that sacrifice is to deeply wound the Body of Christ, the Church; it is a scandal that causes spiritual division—these are "ruptures that wound the unity of Christ's Body" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, par. 817); if not addressed correctly such actions can, in fact, lead to damnation. And those who scoff at such a notion show themselves the careless, irresponsible fools they are.
Archbishop Donald Wuerl of Washington, the chairman of the Committee on Doctrine of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, asserted, “The Catholic Church, through its long and constant teaching, holds that ordination has been, from the beginning, reserved to men, a fact which cannot be changed despite changing times.”
But if it was reserved to celibate men centuries ago simply as a way for the church to keep land, why can’t it be changed? If a society makes strides in not subordinating women, why can’t the church reflect that? If men prove that all-male hierarchies can get shamefully warped, why can’t they embrace the normality of equality? The Vatican’s insistence on male prerogative is misogynistic poppycock — enhancing American Catholics’ disenchantment with Rome.
There is surely much poppycock in the room, but its coming from Dowd, whose ability to misrepresent history, theology, doctrine, present-day situations, and basic facts is, admittedly, perverse and astounding. She mistakenly or misleadingly confuses the ordination of men (a matter of doctrine) with celibacy (a discipline); she takes it for granted that "society" (by which she means herself and her like-minded friends) should set the agenda for the Church; she says that the sexual scandals were the logical consequence of an "all-male hierarchy" (which doesn't help explain why nearly 10% of students are targets of educator sexual misconduct in public schools, which have many more female than male teachers); she brandishes silly and vapid sound bites about "the normality of equality" ("normality" defined by whom, and by what standard? and for what end?); she suggests that American Catholics are increasingly "disenchanted" with Rome, which a perfect example of wishful projection built on legless substantiation.
(A friend recently told me of hearing a guest on NPR say that "tens of thousands of Catholics are leaving the Church" because of the sexual scandals. No proof was given; no numbers presented. No need to: it must be true because that's what Mr. X or Ms. Y want to be true!)
I appreciate the desire and, to a certain degree, the need to continually engage with the media and try to clear away obstacles, explain Church beliefs, and so forth. But, again, I have to wonder: what really is the priority? Is handling public relations adroitly and jumping through hoops for journalists as important as defending the sacraments? Catholics should certainly be willing to address questions and seek to "clean house" in a sober and humble manner. But the temptation, it seems to me, to please certain groups and to prove ourselves to the MSM can get in the way of seeking to please God, to follow Christ, to give assent to Church teaching, to pursue lives of holiness and charity, to defend doctrine, to stand up for the sacraments and the priesthood, to put truth before "PR." It can also blind to us to the battle lines, the way the war is being waged, and the fact that some people do really hate the Catholic Church and cannot be persuaded to do otherwise by our most sincere and well-produced efforts. Isn't this, in fact, what Jesus spoke of shortly before he offered himself up on the Cross for the salvation of men?
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. Remember the word that I said to you, 'A servant is not greater than his master.' If they persecuted me, they will persecute you; if they kept my word, they will keep yours also. But all this they will do to you on my account, because they do not know him who sent me. (Jn. 15:18-21)
• The National Secular Society sort of gets it. The priestettes are clueless. (July 16, 2010)