Saturday, July 27, 2002

What are the Bishops saying with The Board?

Firstly, kudos to Dom Bettinelli for uncovering the unsavory pro-abort connections of another member of the Bishops' Lay Review Board. Apparently Ms. Pamela Hayes is another member of the Friends of Clinton, having given thousands of dollars to campaigns for Clinton, Gore, and the evil Ice-Princess Hillary. I suspected that Ms. Hayes, being a New York trial lawyer, was probably an ideological-leftist Democrat, but I didn't know just how much she is one.

What message are the bishops trying to send by appointing people like Panetta, Bennet, and Hayes to the board? I think they're broadcasting to the East coast liberal establishment: "We're still bowing and scraping to seek your approval. We promise we'll get rid of those nasty pedophiles, but don't worry, we won't upset you by actually seeking and calling for holiness, or by questioning your shibboleths about homosexuality (or anything else). Look at our board! We had to include Republicans like Gov. Keating and a couple of token businessmen, or else those mean-spirited conservatives would scream and yell and write complaining letters to Rome. But we've made sure there are plenty of "our sort" of people on it, so you know that it's pronouncements will be in conformity with the New York Times editorial page."

The bishops, as I said in a homily a while back, got into this mess because they were more interested in listening to the world than to the voice of Christ. The board they have put together announces that they are still doing the same.


"Balance" on The Board

The other night I heard David Clohessy, the Executive Director of SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests), inteviewed on WLS Radio Chicago. He was expressing his "disappointment" that no representative from his group was selected for the bishops' Lay Review Board. While I can understand Mr. Clohessy's frustration at having been more-or-less ignored by the bishops for years, I think his "disappointment" is misplaced.

Mr. Clohessy contends, and I have seen comments on other bloggers' sites echo his contention, that someone from SNAP or a similar group is necessary to provide "balance" on the board, or to assure that the victims concerns are "represented." These contentions illustrate a fundamental misconception about the nature of such a panel, and, I fear, fundamental misconceptions about the nature of the Church itself.

Those calling for "balance" and "representation" are, I think, laboring under a sort of fuzzy "democratism" (to borrow a word coined by Dr. Russell Kirk). Whenever we Americans put together any sort of committee anymore, we tend to think of it as representative body, al la Congress. But this is a fallacy. I already mentioned that The Board has been contructed in order to represent "constituencies" and for that reason alone will probably accomplish little or nothing (almost certainly little or nothing good). It is not necessary, or even always desirable, that a deliberative body always be "representative."

A friend of mine, who is a prosecutor, wrote me about this and pointed out that in the sphere of civil law, we don't let victims of crimes write the penal code, nor do we let them prosecute, judge, or sit on the juries of criminal proceedings. Why? Because victims cannot be objective about the guilt or innocence of the accused, nor can they be reliably evenhanded about imposing punishment. Even in the case of those found guilty, he wrote "there are other values at stake, such as the rights and dignity of the offender. "

But why is it that we think the answer to every problem is to appoint a committee? Anyone who has ever served on a committee knows that, in general, committees are a way to waste large amounts of time to accomplish very little. When we appoint Boards or committees to deal with problems, we are thinking like Americans, not like Catholics. When St. Paul was having problems with the Corinthians, he did not send a committee to deal with the problem, and he certainly did not take care to see that every different group among the Corinthians would have it's concerns represented. What did he do? He personally intervened by a letter, and then sent his representative, Timothy, to deal with the situation.

Historically, the Church has dealt with problems in a similar way: typically the Pope sent a legate, his trusted representative, with full powers to dispose of the problem in his name. Such legates also bore the responsibility for the success or failure of their efforts.

I suspect that the modern predilection for committees has a lot more to do with the diffusion of responsibility, and creating the appearance of "doing something", than the desire to represent everyone's "concerns". The Bishops' Board seems tailor-made to do just that.

I would have been impressed if the bishops had appointed someone like Bishop Bruskewitz or Cardinal George as a plenipotentiary to deal with The Situation. I might have even been more impressed if the bishops had asked the Holy Father to send a legate. Such approaches would have demonstrated that the bishops were serious about taking reponsibility for the crisis, and actually solving it. And it would have had the added benefit of actually being a Catholic approach. But most of what they have said and done, and the creation of this Board, is more about PR than about solutions.

And it is most definitely not Catholic.


Thursday, July 25, 2002

The Board

Some bloggers, like Mark Shea and Dom Bettinelli, are wondering how people like Clinton defense lawyer Bob Bennett and pro-abort Clintonista Leon Panetta got onto the Bishops' Lay Review Board for matters of sexual abuse. Certainly the trajectory that the board has taken has not inspired confidence. Coming after the rather stupid remarks made by board chairman Frank Keating a couple of weeks ago, the appointment of Panetta has caused the hopes of many to sink below the vanishing point.

I can't (and wouldn't want to) peer into the disordered workings of the USCC, but I think I can shed some light on how Panetta and Bennet got there: They're both Democratic party hacks. Furthermore, I'd be willing to bet that most of the rest of the board are Democrats as well. With the exception of Gov. Keating and the two businessmen, the rest of the board members are all academics and lawyers (the trial lawyer is almost certainly a Democrat, and I know that Justice Anne Burke is), most of whom are left-leaning Democrats.

It should be apparent to anyone with eyes to see that for most of the 70's and 80's the U.S. Bishops were far more concerned with pleasing the establishment Democrats and "Rockefeller" Republicans than with being bold preachers of the Gospel. Why else would they have soft-pedaled Church teaching on contraception and, until JPII held their feet to the fire in the mid 80's, sat on the sidelines with regard to abortion? Why else would the bishops have sold out Catholic higher education in the name of getting government funding? What else can explain the bishops weak and impotent efforts regarding school choice? Why is it that even today the bishops' statements on pro-abort politicians and the duty of Catholics in elections are so mealy-mouthed and pusillanimous? A bishop once remarked to me and another priest over dinner a couple of years ago, when the bishops had just voted on Ex Corde Ecclesiae, that he wished his brother bishops "worried less about being good democrats and worried more about being good Catholics."

And even apart from many of the bishops' seemingly unalterable programmming to look to Democrats for guidance and advice, the fact is that the bishops don't really run the USCC. Most of them aren't there at the DC offices where all the staff are: even someone like Bishop Gregory isn't there a whole lot. The staff are the ones who really run things, and many of them are 70's-holdovers eagerly watching the horizon for Vatican III. The staffers pick these people (just look at the Dallas meeting and the spectacle of Ms. Steinfels speaking for the "laity"), and the bishops go along. After all, these people are "experts." Why should bishops who don't even write their own Sunday homilies (I can name for a fact at least two cardinal-archbishops who don't) bother with paying personal attention to the makeup of a lay review panel whose primary purpose is cosmetic anyway?

And the review board, in the end, I think, will be just window dressing. It has been carefully chosen to represent various "constituencies": You have the politicians, lawyers, and academics, with a token doctor or two and a couple of token businessmen. For this reason, I predict the board will accomplish little or nothing in reality. None of the members are particularly noted for being knowledgeable or well-informed about the faith. If they wanted good Catholic "expert" laymen or laywomen on the panel, why not pick someone like noted moral theologians Dr. William May or Dr. John Haas? If they wanted a lawyer, why not choose someone like Mary Ann Glendon? If they wanted academics, why not someone like Prof. Robert George?

Amy sarcastically remarks, "Yay, bishops! Strong, united voice for the Faith! You go, guys! Lead us on to glory!" It's clear to me that Faith and the Glory of God are still not what the bishops are thinking of. This lay review board isn't about Faith and the Glory of God. If it were, we would see people like the ones I mentioned above on it. The bishops didn't want truly outstanding men and women of faith, who would seek to serve the Truth first. They wanted "reliable" people who would utter the right platitudes and give sound bites acceptable to the dominant elite that they are still, pathetically, trying to toady.


Wednesday, July 24, 2002

From the Fuzzy Twaddle Department

I may be a little late to this party, but I'm still warming back up to blogging after my vacation. And I'm loath to disagree with people I like as much as Dom Bettinelli, and even more so with Amy Welborn (Amy is the virtual Mom for the St. Blog's community, and who wants to disagree with Mom?), but I can't agree with their positive assessment of the Washington Post article on Theological College, the seminary at The Catholic University of America, that appeared this past Sunday. I would agree with Dom that the article is "candid": it certainly presents the opinions of the ex-seminarians interviewed in an "unvarnished" way. But I'm afraid that the sloppiness of the reporting and the limitations of the reporter's sources left me wondering at the end just what the point of the article was about, and ultimately shed no real light on the state of affairs at Theological College. Furthermore, unlike Amy, I don't see any evidence in the article that the secular press, much less the seminarians involved, have "waked up" (pace Nihil Obstat) to anything.

Before I go further, a few notes are in order: My comments here are not a "defense" of Theological College, or a contention that "everything's peachy" there. I've never attended TC, though I have known seminarians there. But I think that Ms. Rosin's article in reality demonstrates far less than one might think at first reading. Furthermore, I think it is actually intended as subtle criticism of Catholic teaching and discipline, and not as the "candid" expose that some take it to be.

Amy points out the "stunning cluelessness" of the reporter, who identified the "Daughters of Trent" as a real religious order. And surely that is cluelessness of the highest order, because the reporter could have remedied it by asking a simple question (isn't that what reporters are supposed to do?). But when I see cluelessness of such a truly "stunning" magnitude, it makes me question the perception of the writer's work as a whole. Call me suspicious or cynical, but when a writer exhibits a lack of perception on such a easily remediable point, my Twaddle-o-Meter starts to twitching.

The first significant problem with the article is it's breeziness and lack of precision. The first instance of this is in her characterization of the debate surrounding homosexuality in the seminary as centering on "the mere presence of a significant number of gay students." Sorry, but that is not what the debate centers on. The issue is not whether we have a problem when some "critical mass" of homosexual seminarians is reached, but whether homosexual men should be admitted to the seminary at all. And just what is a "significant number" of gay seminarians? The "straight" seminarian interviewed, Mr. Krzmarzick, made it seem as if there were homosexuals practically coming out of the woodwork, but there are reasons to take his account with a grain of salt, as I will demonstrate below. Another instance of the writer's sloppiness lies in her statement that "many" seminarians she interviewed admitted to participating in or witnessing "some sexual activity" while at TC. But how many is "many"? And what does she mean by "some sexual activity?" Does she confine that term to homosexual acts? These questions are unanswered. She only alludes to one incident in her article: the claim, by Mr. Krzmarzick, that he witnessed two seminarians kissing. While such behavior is certainly inappropriate and sinful, this one incident (and this is the only one specifically mentioned) is hardly evidence that TC is the hotbed of homosexuality that Krzmarzick and Ms. Rosin try to portray.

The second siginificant problem with the article is it's primary reliance on disgruntled ex-seminarians for testimony. I criticized this faulty methodology in my review of Michael Rose's Goodbye! Good Men, and the methodology is no less faulty here. But the methodological problem is compounded by the fact that the seminarians interviewed all seem to embrace a view of sexuality that is not Catholic. The "straight" seminarian repeatedly goes out of his way to make it clear that he doesn't have any problem at all with homosexuality, and the gay one makes it clear that he embraces his homosexuality. These men do not have a well-formed intellect or conscience on the matter of sexuality, so their perceptions and judgments on these matters is at best questionable. Mr. Krzmarzick reveals his questionable judgment when he described an openly gay Unitiarian Universalist minister as being more "healthy" than the "atmosphere of suffocating sexual repression" at TC. Clearly Mr. Krzmarzick's criterion for "health" are not those of the Catholic Church.

Dom at Bettnet asks "Does anybody but me think that if only the faculty would only stand strong with the Church's teachings that homosexuality is disordered that most of these guys would be better off and less confused?" Certainly I agree with Dom that a strong witness by the seminary faculty would be infinitely helpful, but even if these seminarians could have been exposed to good teaching at TC, they in fact never had the opportunity to be formed by it. Mr. Krzmarzick left after his first year at TC, and Kucharski left after two. At most Krzmarzick would have had his first fundamental morals course in that year: issues like sexual morality don't typically come up in the curriculum until the second or third year. These men didn't get their confused views on sexuality from TC, they had them before they went in and weren't there long enough to be converted to a more Catholic view.

The most serious problem with the article is its almost total reliance upon Mr. Krzmarzick's subjective perceptions regarding the prevalence of homosexuality at TC. Mr. Krzmarzick's criterion for whether a fellow seminarian is gay or not seems to be little more than whether or not that man made him "uncomfortable." Krzmarzick repeatedly describes himself as being made to feel "uncomfortable," and on the thinnest of pretexts. He admits that there was little overt evidence of homosexual activity, but nevertheless contends there was a huge "undercurrent." His reason for perceiving this undercurrent? He was "uncomfortable." The standard isn't evidence of objective behavior but his own feeling of discomfort. Well, that discomfort could stem from many things: he was the youngest in his class, relatively un-accomplished compared to his peers, and the fact that he was a young man from a small city in Iowa plunged into a very cosmopolitan city. These factors seem to me to be ample grounds for him feeling discomort in social situations, without introducing his vague "discomfort" at a homosexual undercurrent.

Mr. Krzmarzick seems to be of two minds: on the one hand he describes the atmosphere of TC as one of "suffocating sexual repression". He complains that sexuality wasn't talked about, but that if one "came out" as gay, one would receive all manner of approval and support. How could the atmosphere be sexually repressive and at the same time supportive? What is clear is that the issue wasn't talked about in the way he would have liked: he appears to believe that the Rector's conferences on issues of sexuality should have been turned into some kind of "encounter group" session in which seminarians could stand up and raise one another's consciousness about their own drives and longings. But the proper place for discussion of such matters is within spiritual direction, and it is clear that such converstions did take place between seminarians and spiritual directors at TC. Mr. Kucharski shows the same bipolarity: How could homosexuality be the "elephant in the room" and yet the seminary be a "great place to come out"?

Mr. Krzmarzick's reaction to the alleged undercurrent of homosexuality borders on the obsessive: I can assure you that neither I nor any other sane/stable seminarian of my acquaintance ever sat up in the evenings looking through class rosters and pointing out seminarians who were "gay, gay, gay but doesn't know it... etc." Certainly in my seminary experience there were seminarians whom I or others suspected were gay ( a little too much swish here, a little too flamboyant there). But given, on the one hand, the evidence that these "suspect" men were obedient, prayerful, and loyal,, and, on the other hand, the lack of any evidence of disobedience or sinful activity, one learns to look beyond the effeminate exterior and see the person beneath, who frequently isn't actually homosexual at all. Frankly, if I were a seminary rector and learned that these guys were engaged in this "spot the homo" game, I'd wonder about their suitability to be in formation. At the least their behavior was immature, at the worst it was unjust calumny and gossip. In any event it was a colossal waste of time. That the problem was with Krzmarzick and his friends can be seen in the fact that, after a while, practically anything became evidence of a man's homosexuality. Their perceptions and accounts can hardly be regarded as trustworthy.

Finally, it seems to me that the whole article is actually intended to be an indictment of the Church's teaching and discipline, not an expose of problems in a seminary. For Messrs. Krzmarzick and Kucharski are clearly cast as the victims of the "bad old seminary" and hence the "bad old church". They are portrayed as victims of the repression of the Church's "traditional ban on sex" (what a ridiculous phrase!). But one is specifically held to be a victim of the homosexual "undercurrent" which made him "uncomfortable", while the other is the victim of a Church which won't let him say "I'm Father Dave and I'm gay." Both remain unshakable in their conviction (anointed by dominant-liberal-elite opinion) that being gay is just fine. After all, says one of Krzmarzick's friends, the gay priests are the "most pastoral" guys.

So in the end, it seems to me, this article is little more than a puff piece buttressing the edifice of liberal opinion. Dom Bettinelli writes of TC, "What a dysfunctional place!" The only things clearly dysfunctional to me are the opinions and judgments of Messrs. Krzmarzick and Kucharski, and the journalistic competence and motivations of Ms. Rosin. I am left wondering at the end what really is going on at TC, because the article never sheds any real light on it. The article uses a lot of subjective opinion and cloudy judgement to imply a murkily dissatisfactory account of TC, all in order to further the leftist cant that the big bad old Church is the problem.

And that kind of twaddle makes me very uncomfortable.


Tuesday, July 23, 2002

A New Auxiliary Bishop for Detroit

Yesterday Cardinal Maida, the Archbishop of Detroit, announced the appointment of Msgr. Earl Boyea, who is currently the rector of the Pontifical College Josephinum, as the newest auxiliary bishop of Detroit.

This is great news for Catholics in Detroit and elsewhere! Prior to becoming rector of the Josephinum, Msgr. Boyea was the Academic Dean of Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit. I was privileged to have him as my spiritual director during my first two years at Sacred Heart. He was a great teacher, mentor, and friend to me then and now. He honored me further by serving as the homilist for my First Mass. I can personally testify to his love for and fidelity to the Church, his loyalty to our Holy Father John Paul II, and his love for the priesthood.

Msgr. Boyea was one of the more popular members of the faculty at Sacred Heart, because of his down-to-earth good humor and generosity. He was also known as something of a prankster and practical joker. But he was also one of our more demanding professors (he taught Church history): He expected that we mastered the material, and the unstinting workload of his classes caused a fair bit of grumbling (never, of course, on my part...).

Most of all, he imparted to me and my brother seminarians zeal and the desire for excellence. I think he will strive to impart those same qualities to the people he serves as bishop. I think his appointment as bishop bodes well for the future of the Church in Michigan and for our country. I will be happy to pray for him: that his service as bishop will be long and fruitful, that he will grow in zeal and holiness, and that he will merit the reward of his labors one day in heaven.

Monday, July 22, 2002

Well, I'm back...

I'm back at my parish, after two weeks of vacation. As I mentioned in my post from last week, I spent much of the time out on the East coast. I have a number of friends there from my years in graduate school (at Catholic University in Washington, DC) and and seminary (my first two and a half years of seminary were at St. Charles in Philadelphia). I got caught up with some old friends I hadn't seen in a a while, and I made a few new friends. It was an enjoyable and productive trip.

Upon returning to St. Joseph, I was immediately plunged into the highlight of the summer here, our town's annual Venetian Festival. About 250,000 people descended on our little lakefront burg for our celebration of summer. We had the usual round of concerts by second, third, and fourth tier musical groups (the headliner act was the Beach Boys), the usual carnival rides whose appeal lies in their appearance of unsafety (the Zipper is my personal favorite), and the usual booths selling overpriced food of dubious nutritive value. For me, the best part of the weekend was the fireworks display Friday night. Our rectory porch has an ideal view of the fireworks, so I was able to sit on our porch, drink a rum & coke, and munch on chips.

The rest of the festival was, I must confess, rather tiresome for me. I admit this with some trepidation, for I fear I will be accused by parishioners and townspeople (many of whom work quite hard to organize the festival) of lacking in civic-mindedness. But it's not that I lack enthusiasm for my town: I truly enjoy living here. It's a great town, I like living on Lake Michigan, and I love my parish. But I don't enjoy crowds or extreme heat, both of which seemed to me the principal features of the weekend.

I am willing to consider that my reaction to the festival is merely a manifestation of my own misanthropic temperament. So I invite those readers of mine who enjoy getting out into massive throngs of people in 95-degreee + heat to tell me why they think it's fun. Because, frankly, I don't get it. As far as I'm concerned:

Being outside in 95 degree heat (with it's usually attendant 95 percent humidity) is tolerable per se, given that one is sufficiently provided with refreshing beverages such as gin & tonic, Pimm's & soda, and/or mint juleps, and given that you are in the shade and that one doesn't have to move around too much.

Crowds are tolerable per se as long as they are at a distance and you don't have to mingle with them.

Overpriced food of dubious nutritive value is OK, as long as, after having sampled some of it, you can either go home or to a decent restaurant to have a real dinner.

Sitting on the ground surrounded by 200,000 people for two hours to listen to a has-been musical act just plain isn't ok, in my estimation.

I went down to the festival on Saturday evening for a while. I talked to some parishioners, had an Elephant Ear and a lemonade, and mingled with the vast press of humanity.

I was struck by the general demeanor of the crowd. I presume that most of the people there, many of whom had travelled some distance, had come to "have fun". But I did not see many people showing evidence of having fun. I saw many people grimly shouldering their way through the crowds; I saw parents snapping at their unruly children, and I saw idle teenagers leering at passers-by. The only people I saw who showed evidence of "having fun" were the parishioners I encountered who were "working" at various booths. The experience made me recall something C.S. Lewis once wrote about the modern quest for "fun", and how we moderns substitute excitement and "fun" for Joy.

If I'm merely showing my misanthropy, then please tell me. But someone out there, please explain the appeal of things like this, because, as I wrote above, I just don't get it.