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By Diogenes (bio - articles ) | Aug 07, 2003

The Anglicans' approval of a gay bishop and the Vatican's instruction on opposing same-sex marriage have had the beneficial consequence of flushing many anti-Christians and pseudo-Christians from the high grass where they've been hiding. Latent for decades, the lines of battle are taking shape swiftly across the landscape. Within Catholicism too, waverers are beginning to nail their colors to the mast. Sulky passengers like Andrew "I still love Mum when she's wrong" Sullivan are on the brink of honesty -- i.e., of admitting the apostasy that occurred long ago. Caring Priests (tm) are shrieking the one thing they've ever cared about. And at the National Catholic Reporter, where the Barney Frank method of birth control has long held a place of special esteem, publisher Tom Fox has a uniquely revealing editorial:

Consider something else. Is it possible the Catholic Church still has it wrong on sexual morality and needs to reconsider church attitudes and teachings? This would require admitting the church is, like other institutions, capable of making mistakes, even big ones. It would require becoming a more humble church, perhaps one with less sweeping claims to infallibility.

Cute, isn't it? Our umble essayist umbly invites the Bride of Christ to admit she has spots and wrinkles like the rest of us umble folks. The Church makes mistakes too.

Fraud, and an ugly fraud at that. An honest man does not speak of "less sweeping claims to infallibility." If my calculator gives me a wrong answer for a sum, I don't stroke my chin and suggest that Texas Instruments make "less sweeping claims to accuracy" -- I say the calculator's worthless, and throw it away. Dissenters have in fact ignored the teaching Church for years; they occasionally agree with her, they are never taught by her. Indeed, they can't be taught by her, any more than I can let myself be informed by a calculator that once gave me a bad answer. It's psychologically impossible. I might keep a worthless calculator as a paperweight; I can only keep a worthless church for private purposes of my own devising.

Dissenters are tapeworms. Both a tapeworm and a fetus may simultaneously draw nourishment from the same woman. But whereas the baby is nourished bloodstream to bloodstream, as it were, and so extends and continues the mother's life, the tapeworm feeds her blood into its gut. The tapeworm is an alien, no matter how intimate and "inside" it may be, no matter how furiously it insists it is feasting at the same table as the baby.

In the Church, at the altar, fetuses and tapeworms share one loaf and one cup. From the outside, it's impossible to tell us apart. And note that what makes a baby and what makes a tapeworm (in this sense) has nothing to do with sinfulness. Many babies fall frequently into grave sins and many tapeworms lead lives of continence and generosity. Tapeworms are often more likeable and usually more presentable than babies. It's not a question of "we're better than you"; it's an admission that the relation of mother and child and the relation of host and parasite are radically contrary. For us, the Church is mater et magistra; for dissenters, she is a source of jobs, or Marty Haugen music, or chances for self-display, or political soapboxes, or hiding places, or access to important people, or opportunities for sabotage.

But isn't the distinction drawn too sharply? Aren't some Catholics part fetus and part tapeworm? Impossible. As Newman said, a thousand difficulties do not make one doubt. In the same way, there's all the difference in the world between the scandalized and anguished Catholic hanging on for dear life and the breezy dismissiveness of the dissenter who chirps about "less sweeping claims to infallibility." It's not our task to start a pogrom -- remember the parable of the wheat and the tares -- it's our job drink to more deeply than ever from the springs of salvation. To be Catholic.

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  • Posted by: - Aug. 09, 2003 1:56 PM ET USA

    Other modern Tapeworms : Those who give and receive Holy Communion to non-Cathlics ; Those who call themselves Catholc in politics but who either do not believe or refuse to accept consequences of belief ; Those who approach marriage while living together in fornication ; Those who live contraceptive lives and receive Communion but never consider Penance ; Priests and ordinary Catholics who push unfaithful agendas or tell half truths (i.e. lies) ; Bishops who are not whole-truth-sayers.

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