In the Churchlet of the Self

By Diogenes (articles ) | Mar 09, 2006

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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  • Posted by: sparch - Mar. 13, 2006 5:32 PM ET USA

    I do not understand how one becomes authentic without the history, knowledge and faith that is immbedded in the church. For one to throw away 2000 plus years of Catholicism because you believe you know more from your thirty or forty years of life is arrogant and foolish. To be authentic means to allow that which is greater than you guide you to perfection. The church is the guide. To walk away from the church means you walk away from God and yourself.

  • Posted by: - Mar. 10, 2006 9:03 AM ET USA

    We seem to be at the point in national politics predicted by Sir John Harrington: "Treason doth never prosper: what's the reason? For if it prosper none dare call it treason." Has the Catholic Church reached the point where none dare call it heresy?

  • Posted by: - Mar. 10, 2006 6:10 AM ET USA

    Laity 1: HERESY. There is a world of difference between schism and heresy. Look up the two terms in brother Webster and you'll get it. Schism = a disagreement over authority while heresy = a complete departure from true knowlege as given through Dogma and Doctrine, (in my own words, not Websters)!

  • Posted by: parochus - Mar. 10, 2006 3:25 AM ET USA

    The cut branch may appear green for a time, but it's destiny is to wither and die.

  • Posted by: - Mar. 09, 2006 6:55 PM ET USA

    Altar boy, I am sorry, but I must reinterate that Di was not too harsh.Do you really think Saint Francis or Saint Clare would be happy to have their name associated with this group? I would like to remind Fr. Bozek that St. Francis and St. Clare were really Catholic Saints.This group is a travesty and mockery of any resemblance of Catholicism. Women in the ordination rite? Fr. Bozek is the one, with his mindset, that is off the mark. Why is St. Stanislaus group embracing this mindless priest?

  • Posted by: - Mar. 09, 2006 3:48 PM ET USA

    Ross Dee: The ECC is a heretical sect; they are not really Catholic. The parishioners of St. Stanislaus, and their pastor, have not been accused of heresy. There is no comparison to be drawn and Uncle Di IS off the mark in his criticism of Fr. Bozek. Look around: Today’s Catholic cleric never utters a harsh word about heretics, pagans and other non-Christians, but given the opportunity, will always manage to say something mean about certain disobedient Catholics whom they label as “schismatic.”

  • Posted by: - Mar. 09, 2006 1:22 PM ET USA

    Alltar boy, No, Di is not too harsh, we have to assume that all of these parishioners are Baptized Catholics.Some parishioners may have also received all of the other Sacraments.However, they may not have had the proper instructions,that is why, they are not in communion with authentic Catholics. As the Holy Father would say, that the Bishops and Priests must correct them, because their "Souls" are in peril. As for the Muslims, His Holiness knows, they are deficient:; not to be judged the same.

  • Posted by: - Mar. 09, 2006 11:38 AM ET USA

    Terms and definitions are important. Somehow, I'd like to see the term schism trifurcated: 1) for subjects of true ecumenism (e.g., Eastern Church), 2) pious faithful fallen into unfortunate schism due to poor leadership (e.g., SSPX, Fraternitie Notre Dame), and 3) an aggregate of this type of inane, new age, self-based, or feminist departure from the faith to which ECC belongs. The former two deserve effort, the latter truncation. Have any thoughful writers differentiated schism? New terms?

  • Posted by: - Mar. 09, 2006 11:19 AM ET USA

    Di, you are too harsh on Fr. Bozek. It seems to me that he is just expressing a sentiment of Vatican II-inspired ecumenism. I mean, if the Holy Father can speak kindly of the followers of Mohammed, surely it is good for one of His Holiness’ priests to speak kindly of our Christian brothers and sisters of the ECC. BTW: There is a wide difference between the situation of St. Stanislaus and that of the heretical ECC. Christian charity mandates that you not imply a similarity between the two.

  • Posted by: Sir William - Mar. 09, 2006 10:58 AM ET USA

    May Sts Francis and Clare, who were personally all about complete obedience to the Church and total surrender to Her authority in all things, intercede for these poor souls and bring them back to the Church. Pray fast and do penance.

  • Posted by: Gil Bailie - Mar. 09, 2006 9:15 AM ET USA

    Here's von Balthasar on unity in the Church: "the unity consists of people who, if they are officeholders, are inclined to change their office from a ministerium to a dominium; if they are laypeople, they tend to dwell on their maturity over against the officeholders. The uniqueness of unity in Christ collapses, and in its place arise the unities fabricated by men, robbing the Church (or the fragments of her that remain) of her credibility, lackign any note of her essential mystery."

  • Posted by: - Mar. 09, 2006 8:51 AM ET USA

    But they get to keep the vestments, and to have a daddy priest, mommy priest and baby priest. And they can "feel good" about being themselves, whatever that means, and doing it, in the immortal words of the prophet, "my way."