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unclear on the doctrine

By Diogenes ( articles ) | Apr 16, 2005

High dudgeon highbrow prophesying from His Holiness, a biography of Pope John Paul II, by Carl Bernstein (1996), p. 408.

"A lot of people feel, rather than this heavy-handed dogmatic approach, he should take a pastoral approach," says Father Vincent O'Keefe, a former vicar general of the Jesuits who has had his own struggles with Wojtyla. "In the United States we have a lot of Catholics who are divorced. The pope says the doctrine has to be clear. Well, the doctrine is too damned clear! That's not the problem. How do you deal with these people? How do you help these people? Is there no help for them? Do you say, 'Well, you can come to the Church but you can't partake in communion'? It's the same with people who practice contraception or abortion. How do you deal with these people? What kind of hope do you hold out for them?

O'Keefe, like many American bishops, believes the pope has a cultural bias, that "he has a really deep antagonism to the West, certainly towards the United States. I think he feels we're too materialistic, we're too loud, we talk too much, we're spoiled." The Jesuit father asks, "How available is he for this universal Church that a lot of us are looking for? That was the great thing at Vatican II."

How available was Wojtyla, you ask, for this universal Church? Well, Father O'Keefe, in view of the fact that this polyglot Pope made 104 official trips to 126 countries, attracted enormous crowds even where the host regime did its utmost to sabotage his visits, and was viewed in the flesh by roughly 150 million people in his pontificate -- his failure to win your esteem suggests that the universe to which your "universal" Church belongs is not one to which the rest of us have gained admittance.

For purposes of comparison, let's look at how the Pastoral Approach has succeeded in the congregation you rescued from Wojtyla's heavy-handed dogmatism. In 1965, at the time of the Council (according to the Annuario Pontificio), Jesuits numbered 36,038 worldwide. Today, after 40 years of making the Society of Jesus "available to this universal Church," it numbers 19,850. On a Jesuit website we read, "During the past year 512 entered, 414 died and 418 left the Society." Perhaps there's some postmodern mystical math known only to Jesuits by which this adds up to a victory for O'Keefery. Using my insular, pre-Conciliar methods of calculation, I make it out that there are 45% fewer Jesuits today than in the bad old days, with a net loss of 320 in the last year alone -- roughly a province a year up in smoke.

Further, when I look at the sort of Catholics to which your dream pontiff would extend hope -- abortion fans, contraception fans, divorce fans -- it occurs to me that by "universal" you mean what the rest of us mean by "parochial." These macabre enthusiasms for sterility and death are rife among Catholics living in your own mid-town Manhattan neighborhood, I'll grant you, but nearly unknown in Bangladesh, Guyana, and Chad. And when I read that Manhattan's St. Francis Xavier parish invited "Ducky" from a sex-aids shop called Toys in Babeland to address its Catholic Lesbians sodality, I'm moved to wonder whether you're confusing the theological virtue of hope with some other concept. Vaseline, maybe?

Subverting Church teaching must be no end of fun for the subversives, but institutionally it's a precarious basis for long-term growth. Steyn's Doctrine has it that "the design flaw of the radical secular welfare state is that it depends on a traditionally religious society birthrate to sustain it." Let me recast it in ecclesial/catechetical terms. If your dreams came true, if we had a series of progressive popes cheerfully pulling condoms over zucchini before a roomful of enthralled fifth-graders, in the space of two generations there'll be no fifth-graders left to enthrall. The design flaw of your Pastoral Approach ought to be evident in the contrast between, on the one hand, the demographics of the Society of Jesus, and, on the other, the omniracial omnilingual multitudes that crowded into Rome to say their farewells to Pope John Paul.

Still clueless? Ask Ducky to explain it for you.

Loquere filiis Israhel ut proficiscantur

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