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.

Sound Off! supporters weigh in.

All comments are moderated. To lighten our editing burden, only current donors are allowed to Sound Off. If you are a donor, log in to see the comment form; otherwise please support our work, and Sound Off!

Show 8 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: - Jun. 05, 2005 9:45 PM ET USA

    "I treat most Catholic clergy of my acquaintance the way parents of small children treat those Goofy and Mickey Mouse mascots that walk around Disney World." :-D Today's "Diogenes Injection" gave me an extra good laugh! I'll remember that one for a long time! Thanks, Uncle D.!

  • Posted by: Fr. William - Jun. 05, 2005 9:02 PM ET USA

    Gil, Pray for the priests in your diocese to have the Heart of the Shepherd, Who laid down His life for His sheep. Encourage your priests to follow the Rites of the Church. You have a right to the Rites, properly celebrated, to full participation in the Mass according to the Church's Ritual. Holy Mother Church has given us the GIRM & Redemptionis Sacramentum. Encourage your priests to teach the Teachings of the Church, for we priests are not smart enough to know better than Jesus & His Church.

  • Posted by: Gil125 - Jun. 05, 2005 6:32 PM ET USA

    a.o., how do we get you assigned to our parish?

  • Posted by: Fr. William - Jun. 05, 2005 4:40 PM ET USA

    Thank you, Diogenes. I am a Roman Catholic Priest. When God called me to serve Him & His Church, I resisted in various ways. Yet, God the Father, Son & Holy Spirit, kept calling me: "Follow Me." Unlike Saint Matthew, who got up immediately & followed Jesus, I took years to follow. By God's Grace, I now strive to follow Him every day: offering Mass, praying the Divine Office, administering the Sacraments, teaching the Church's Teaching, governing. The reward? Life Eternal in Heaven, I hope.

  • Posted by: - Jun. 05, 2005 12:20 PM ET USA

    Just this morning, over coffee and donuts after Mass, I was discussing with some friends how a newly ordained priest assigned to our parish, addressed the subject of Holy Orders to a RCIA class, a couple years ago . He stated that he became a priest because he would have great benifits, i.e., good work hours, heath care and plenty of time off and vacations. No mention of the spiritual benefit of a priestly vocation.

  • Posted by: - Jun. 05, 2005 12:13 PM ET USA

    You're preaching to the choir, Diogenes. That's why we (and the numbers are growing among the young) regularly check in with you for the straight scoop. Don't despair...

  • Posted by: - Jun. 05, 2005 11:20 AM ET USA

    Hmmm . . . my approach is the opposite: I assume the cleric is a true Catholic unless he proves to me otherwise.

  • Posted by: - Jun. 05, 2005 10:36 AM ET USA

    Diogenes -- Your remarks are more hope-giving than you can possibly know to those of us who are continually discouraged by "Catholic" schools and religious ed programs that avoid the Truth of the faith (except "Jesus loves you!").... who see that many who control parish and diocescan activities are motivated by a paycheck or a power-trip...who are sickened by ignorance, incompetence and arrogance. There are good priests out there, but they have a tremendous burden and very little encouragement