Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Being Catholic

Reactions to Pope Benedict XVI’s recent visit prompted reflections of how it is to be Roman Catholic in America. I was born a Boston-Irish-Catholic-Democrat and that heritage is a big part of me whether I like it or not. And, “like it or not” sums up how I felt about it while growing up - part of me liked my heritage and part of me didn’t. Eleven years of Catholic education shaped me from ages seven to eighteen. I had little choice about going to Catholic schools while my friends attended public schools. My parents insisted on it and I resented it. I was deprived of some things - my high school had no girls for example - but there were compensations. Those nuns, brothers and priests did whatever it took to keep me in line - including many a whack in the head - and that was good for me. I might have gotten into much more trouble if I’d gone to the public schools with my friends. They certainly did.

After graduation from high school, I began my decade as a heathen. For about ten years, I didn’t go to church at all except for weddings and funerals, and doubted nearly everything I’d been taught. It was as if I had to reject it and then take back only what I came to believe for myself. I say nearly everything because I’ve always agreed with the church’s position on social issues, especially abortion, homosexuality and our obligations to the poor. Everything else was pretty much up for grabs. I even allowed myself to entertain doubts about whether there was a God at all. That seemed necessary for me to accept fully that, yes, He really does exist. More than that - He knew me before I was even conceived.

When my children were old enough to ask questions about God, my wife and I decided to bring them to church right in our community. The Lovell United Church of Christ was the only game in town and a lot of good people were members. The two ministers there at the time became good friends. The wider UCC was quite liberal, however, and becoming ever more so while I was moving in the other direction, both spiritually and politically. Gradually, I gravitated back to the Catholic Church and have been attending regularly again for about twenty years in Fryeburg, Bridgton and North Conway. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Fryeburg is my home church.

While I was away from the Catholic Church, it had liberalized as well. Boston’s St. John’s Seminary had been co-opted by homosexuals and graduated most of the priests who sexually assaulted all those altar boys, bringing the American Catholic Church its greatest scandal. Bishops and cardinals who oversaw other seminaries similarly corrupted covered up for the predatory homosexual priests they produced. The problem is that most of those bishops and cardinals are still in office. As the scandal was breaking in 2002, the rector of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in NYC, Monsignor Eugene Clark said from the pulpit: ''In some seminaries in the United States, known homosexual young men have been accepted as candidates against every rule of church wisdom and church requirements. One need say no more of this as a breeding ground for later homosexual practice after ordination, and the manifest danger of man-boy relationships.''

Although many were glad that Pope Benedict addressed the clergy sexual abuse scandal, I was disappointed that he referred to it as a pedophile problem and not a homosexual priest problem, which it clearly is. I was also dismayed to see Cardinal Egan play such a prominent role during the pope’s mass at Yankee Stadium because he’s one of the most notorious enablers mentioned above.

He annoyed me with his speaking voice. Contrasting sharply with Benedict’s humility, Egan was theatrical. He seemed like he was paying less attention to what he said than to how he said it. It was a painful reminder that Rome should have overhauled the American Conference of Catholic Bishops [and cardinals] after the scandal broke and didn’t. Benedict is a reformer, but seems to prefer a quieter and slower reform where many Catholics like me would have preferred an immediate and thorough housecleaning.

As a cardinal himself, Benedict wasn’t shy about enforcing Catholic orthodoxy, so I hesitate to question his courage. He has bravely confronted Islamofascist resurgence and has dressed down administrators of Catholic colleges and universities in the United States who have strayed far from Catholic teaching. As leader of a two-thousand-year-old institution, he doesn’t rush things. I’m impatient, but he obviously is not.


Anonymous said...

Great article as usual.

I was wondering if you read "Faithful Departed... The Collapse of Boston's Catholic Culture" by Phil Lawler, editor of Catholic World News? In a recent review Amy Wellborn said Lawler does something more than simply rehash the sexual abuse scandal. "He reaches back through the history of Catholicism in Boston and tries to understand exactly how and when bishops in this area lost their nerve. When and why did they start accommodating with political culture, in particular, that held so many goals in opposition to Church teaching?

As someone who lives in the Boson Archdiocese, I can attest to the fact that St. John's Seminary has cleaned house and is now considered one of the best on the east coast.

Another piece of good news is the resurgence of solid Catholics born after 1981 attending and participating in the life of the Church. People that age don't show up for mediocrity or "Catholic lite."

Tom McLaughlin said...

"The Faithful Departed." What a great title. It's also a sentence. How many of the faithful have come back after departing?

You're the second person to recommend that book and I guess it's time I went on Amazon and ordered it.

Glad to hear St. John's has cleaned up and that a new generation of faithful is in the pews. There's hope for the American Church in the 21st century then.

Anonymous said...

I think those nuns and priests whacked you one too many times on the head. You are truly a twisted and sick man.

Tom McLaughlin said...

Thanks for the feedback Anonymous. As long as I keep annoying you, I'm doing fine.

Anonymous said...

So, homosexuals are the problem, not pedophiles? I guess you're saying that it's better to be abused by a heterosexual than to be treated with respect by a homosexual. I'm afraid that i don't quite follow your thinking, if we can call it that.

And if the Pope if actually helping to spread the "Islamofascism" myth, then he's not doing much good in the world.