Gaudium et Spes, expounded

By Diogenes (articles) | Jun 05, 2005

What follows is a polemic against cynicism.

I treat most Catholic clergy of my acquaintance -- and I don't think I'm alone in this -- the way parents of small children treat those Goofy and Mickey Mouse mascots that walk around Disney World. We assume they're putting in their hours for the pay, perhaps in the best job they were able to land, and we're content if they make a reasonable effort to fake the part of a good Goofy or a good Mickey during working hours -- cognizant that the heart of the man inside the costume is probably set on the shots and beers he'll be tossing back after the end of the shift. In the same way, I'm long past expecting the clergy to believe what they preach or pray. If their play-acting manages to stay within the bounds of a recognizably Catholic Mass and recognizably Catholic homily, I figure the opus was duly operatum and go away a satisfied customer.

Too negative? Let me quote part of Russell Shaw's open letter to the bishops, published just before last year's June meeting of the USCCB:

Back in the 1970s I was present at a conversation between one of the most powerful leaders of the Church in the United States and a prominent Catholic theologian. The theologian railed against Catholic teaching on sexual morality and insisted it had to change. After listening to him in silence, the powerful churchman merely replied, "Give it time, give it time."

The U.S. bishops have had a full year to challenge Shaw's veracity and demand names, dates, and circumstances in order to vindicate their corporate integrity. Has any done so? Of course not. Lay or clergy, we all recognize the type and realize Shaw's account rings true. And the fact that senior ecclesiastics don't seem especially put out by the gap between real and professed convictions ("I'm not a believing Catholic but I play one on TV") is an oblique confirmation of the extent to which they -- as well as we -- have come to take the duplicity for granted.

Notice that Shaw didn't tell us the direction of the moral change which the prominent theologian was urging. He didn't have to. It goes without saying that the moralist wasn't arguing for greater stringency but for the opposite, for the Church to adapt herself -- whatever the controverted teaching -- to the ambient heathen culture. And the bishop, being himself a genial if unreflective heathen underneath his Mickey outfit, momentarily set aside the persona of his day job and made a plea for patience: "Of course we're on your side. Play it cool, and headquarters will come around eventually..."

There are honorable exceptions to the rule -- bishops and clergy who are Catholics not only by paycheck but also by conviction -- but they're outnumbered. I think they'll stay outnumbered, until the priesthood as a way of life becomes so overwhelmingly unattractive that the only men who embark on it do so because of, and only because of, its true spiritual purpose. Almost all reforms of corrupt clergy have occurred this way -- that is, by stripping the priesthood of the side benefits that accrue to it. Sometimes civil persecution makes priesthood a ticket to prison or death; sometimes the poverty of the Church makes it ill-paid and arduous; sometimes a reforming saint restores priestly asceticism as voluntary spiritual offering. In any case, a true cleaning of the stables comes about when all the incidental reasons for choosing the priesthood have vanished and only the core reason remains.

Yet we can't put our faith life into hibernation mode until we get the pastors we want -- the pastors, indeed, the Church teaches us we deserve. We need to advance with such means as have been vouchsafed to us in our own time and place. Like the knight on a chess board, the devout Catholic must skip over bishops (and rooks) to get to where he needs to go, all the while acknowledging and defending their lawful powers. To stay connected to Church doctrine, he bypasses Always Our Children ("Give it time, give it time...") and orders papal encyclicals from the Daughters of Saint Paul. To stay connected to the Church Militant, he combats those who want her de-bishoped: both Leftist politicians from outside the Church and the VOTF types from within. To stay connected to the local diocese, he'll grudgingly slip Goofy, in recognition of his more honorable forebears, the occasional five-spot. Boys and girls, we are a holy nation, a royal priesthood, a people set apart.

Richard Cross holds a doctorate in psychology, who has taught at the university level, including at Franciscan University. He is currently an educational researcher and consultant in the field of psychology and related disciplines.
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