Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary
Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary

a touch of class: the blaire witch project

By Diogenes ( articles ) | Jun 21, 2007

A couple weeks ago Dom brought to our attention a homily by Stephen Blaire, the Bishop of Stockton, California, on the occasion of the ordination of two of his priests. It's an excellent specimen of what can be called the "olive branch in the eye" -- i.e., an act of aggression masquerading as a call for unity. Ostensibly admonishing his new priests on their duty "to awaken faith in Christ among those who have grown drowsy and to strengthen in conviction those who believe" -- entirely appropriate and commendable in itself -- Blaire in fact uses the occasion to critique his adversaries in those Catholic culture wars we're continually assured don't exist. After all, if you knee-cap the prophets of doom, you're a peacemaker. Right, milord?:

There are some in the Church today who do not look forward in hope with the eyes of faith but tend to be preoccupied with looking back in some kind of nostalgia for a Church they never experienced prior to the Second Vatican Council. I encourage you to study the history of the Church as a living and developing tradition and not to look back as Lot's wife did or you might end up being a pillar of salt rather than the "salt of the earth."

Wait a minute. Who are the alarmists in this picture, the no-hope folks? Not the Latin Mass crowd, surely: their bright eyes are fixed on the future -- the very near future, in fact. And as for the wistful glances of Lot's wife, those of us who would delight in the vision of a cratered and brimstoned Sodom can only look forward, not, ecclesiastically speaking, to the past. The image is singularly ill-chosen. It's Blaire who sounds agitated, who wants to hold tight to the status quo, whose hopefulness seems to be wavering. To resume:

Those looking back want to give to the Church new forms of triumphalism, juridicism, and clericalism. The triumphalist wants to exercise authority through aggressive condemnation and excommunication and believes that the Church not only has the truth but also all the answers to every modern dilemma. Christ is indeed the Truth but we must seek out with humility and in light of the Gospel how to respond to the many and varied demands of living in today's world. We are a servant Church which proclaims the truth in love. We do not impose the gospel on the world. We seek to persuade by grace.

Well, why aren't "those looking back" trying to give the Church old forms of triumphalism, juridicism, and clericalism? If these witches on the heath were bad enough for Pope Pius X, they're bad enough for Bruskewitz. Note the progressivist two-step about the humility we need toward "many and varied demands" of keeping the Ten Commandments. This humility never seems to impede them in discoursing on the morality of factory closings or CO2 emissions, only on "complex" issues. Such as abortion. Back to Blaire:

The juridicist searches out laws new or old to justify personal positions or ideologies in the Church. Especially they like to focus on liturgical practices. They incline to creating unnecessary hoops for people to jump through. The Church, of course, needs law to insure good order. But the purpose of all laws in the Church is the same as for all the works of the Church: "propter homines and propter nostram salutem" -- for us, for our good and for our salvation.

More consensus-building. Do you think the liturgical "juridicists" Blaire has in mind are those priests that scold worshipers who genuflect to receive the Eucharist or who remain kneeling after the Agnus Dei? Neither do I. After all, his attempt at Latin is impaired by scruples as rigid as any rubricist: feminist ideology won't even let him put homines into English, poor fellow.

The clericalist exaggerates the authority of the priest creating a new authoritarianism. The clericalist operates as if the priest is entitled to special status and privilege in the Church and in society. He gives little merit to collaboration with the laity. The ordained priest, however, represents Christ the Head and Good Shepherd of the Church. As Head of the Church Jesus came not to be served but to serve. As Good Shepherd he gave His life for the flock. The good priest patterns his life on Jesus the servant of God and remembers that the whole Church (Head and members) is the Body of Christ.

I agree with everything Blaire says in the paragraph above. I wonder if he would agree as enthusiastically with this paraphrase: "Clericalism was seldom more appallingly obvious than when our own Cardinal Mahony pulled rank on Frank Keating, former president of the bishops' National Review Board and a remorseless critic of the bishops' failures in the sex abuse crisis. Not only was his power play the very opposite of meaningful collaboration, but by standing on the dignity of his office, Mahony suggested bishops were entitled to special status and privilege and were not accountable for the consequences of their felonious actions. The good priest patterns his life on Jesus the servant of God, not on a sleazy businessman wriggling to stay out of the slammer. Jesus came not to be served but to serve." Did I take your point, Excellency?

I saved Blaire's best for last:

I have always treasured the words of my first pastor when I was newly ordained: We are here to serve the people and to do it with a touch of class.

"With a touch of class ..." How perfect. I don't remember Jesus' including the class act in the instructions he gave the apostles, but then it would be triumphalist of me to think Jesus had all the answers and couldn't benefit from the California experience. We are, at least to the end of Fiscal Year 07, an Easter People.

One of the "touches" that seems to have crossed the line of pure coincidence is the tag "Design by Eric Stoltz" coyly added to the bottom of the Blaire Homily web-page. Stoltz, as LA Catholic has noted, is an ostentatiously gay deacon ordained three years ago by Cardinal Roger Mahony. Perhaps we would be guilty of juridicism if we required bishops to check their web-designers for conformity to Catholic life-style choices on their off-hours. On the other hand, the inclusion of the web-designer's name on a pedestrian page displaying an ordination homily is not strictly speaking a commercial necessity. Plenty of deniability of course, but again we get one of those winks to the knowing, that the sympathies of those in power are on the right side. By which we mean the opposite.

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 current donor, log in to see the comment form; otherwise please support our work, and Sound Off!

  • Posted by: Frodo1945 - Feb. 28, 2010 9:07 AM ET USA

    Don't give them too much credit. Here is the rest of the story. "Survivors of clergy sexual abuse, who serve on the unsecured creditors committee, had strongly objected to the diocese's application filed in bankruptcy court in November, saying the abuser priests were not legally or morally entitled to benefits. What's more, there had been no efforts on the part of the diocese to reach out to the victims, the committee said."

  • Posted by: TheJournalist64 - Feb. 19, 2010 7:36 PM ET USA

    Of course, the diocese might have been in ERISA hot water if the plan was governed by that 1972 law. It is illegal to alienate ERISA retirement benefits from anyone, and such assets and IRA's cannot be seized in bankruptcy. Fortunately, few dioceses bothered with that nicety.