In the Churchlet of the Self
By Diogenes ( articles ) | Mar 09, 2006
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Remember Father Bozek, the peripatetic Pole who skipped out to Saint Schism's in order to recalibrate his ecclesiology? Well now he's billing and cooing over the St. Louis-area Church of Sts. Clare and Francis, another "independent Catholic community":
"I wish Sts. Clare and Francis all the best, and congratulate the new pastor and the new candidates for ordination," said Bozek. "I wish there was a way that Sts. Clare and Francis could be part of the Roman Catholic Church, because I believe that what they are doing is very Catholic." Bozek received a standing ovation from celebrants at the installation Mass for Sts. Clare and Francis, but said he was not there looking for options for either himself or St. Stanislaus.
I cried. Sts. Clare and Francis, it appears, belongs to something called the Ecumenical Catholic Communion, which received its warrant of apostolic succession from the Old Catholics of Utrecht, along with an accredited degree in refrigerator repair at the same low price. SCF's pastor, unsurprisingly, is a partnered gay man who used to be a Catholic priest, and who's done a great job of coaching his flock that it is they who sit in judgment of the Gospel, and not vice-versa. Parishioner Jessica Rowley gushes:
"To find a church where I could feel like my spirituality would be nurtured like it was in the Roman Catholic Church, where I can be authentically me, and where people have the freedom to decide for themselves what they believe and how they express their faith, is a beautiful thing," she said.
I imagine there's a certain thrill attending the first week or two of emancipation from the Church and her solicitude. Yet, as P.J. O'Rourke observes, it's a toddler-like thrill predicated on a toddler's notion of liberty: the freedom to run wherever you want, the freedom to put absolutely anything into your mouth. Sooner or later it has to pall. The problem with being "authentically me" is that the person who is authentically there is ... just me.
The photo above (pinched from the ECC website) shows the ordination of an ECC priestess a couple years ago. It combines the images of funeral home, PTA meeting, healing service, Rotary Club, and Catholic baptism (circa 1962) in a way that makes plain -- plainer than any document could -- what it feels like to belong to the Ecumenical Catholic Communion. As the ordinand lay there inhaling the mildew retardant from the carpet, did it occur to her, I wonder, how much smaller her universe had become by her success at being "authentically me"? In almost every case her co-congregants would have been motivated to leave the true Church by personal resentments; her new communion is an association of shared antipathy. And when it comes time to stress the positive, the communicants reach inside to find what they believe to be important and ... there's just not that much there. "While we're waiting for Joanne's, um, toenail polish to dry I invite you all to extend your hands in the ancient symbol of prayer and beseech the Sanctifier to ensoul her with the spirit of openness. Joanne's mother made the pumpkin bread for the reception."
This is not -- at least not primarily -- a poke at the shallowness of the schismatics themselves. No man is big enough to fill a Church. Even the most vastly learned, most encyclopedic minds of Catholicism, if cut off from the Church to be "authentically me" in a churchlet of their own, would end up in a predicament only marginally, and temporarily, different from the folks of Sts. Clare and Francis. Think of Augustine, Gregory, Aquinas, Newman: great human beings, yet how much smaller, in themselves, than an ordinary Catholic parish with an open connection to the living Church. If that seems counter-intuitive, remember that the teaching, governing, sanctifying Church was inseparably intertwined with the life of each man. Their human resources would permit them to make a decent show of it on their own, but only so long as their borrowed spiritual vitality might last. St. Gregory the Great, if isolated from the true vine and made into a "communion" of the authentic self, would have ended up with painted toenails as well, with his sister trotting through the lobby of the Elks Lodge at his consecration, carrying a plate of Rice Krispies marshmallow treats. That's what schism means.
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