IT’S ONE THING to report the tragic, dunderheaded mistakes some churchmen committed in handling priestly sexual predators, and gay clerics who seduce teens. (The latter group makes up the huge majority of the cases that have occurred in the recent Church scandalsthe recruitment or seduction of teen boys, not girlsbolstering the case for a priesthood that excludes both pedophiles and homosexuals.) That’s important work, and The Boston Globe will win a Pulitzer Prize for doing it.
But it’s another thing when The New York Times kicks the pope in the yarbles. That very powerful newspaper is using the tragic mistakes of a cadre of church executives during a short period of historical confusion to attempt to dismantle a great world religion. That’s what leftists want to do to Catholicismnot push for a cleaned-up system of reporting pedophiles and teen-molesters, something pretty much everyone agrees on.
The paper’s journalistic fig leaf fell away last week, and we saw its gnarly codpiece in the face of Bill Keller, senior writer for the Times. In his Op-Ed column of May 4, "Is the Pope Catholic?" Keller begins by gloating over the pope’s age and infirmity, treating it as a metaphor for the sclerosis that Keller sees in the Church. Then he pours scorn over the Pope’s attempts to discipline and guide the American cardinals, and craft a new policy that protects youngsters while preserving the rights of men (sometimes falsely) accused. He wonders when John Paul will finally up and expirejust like the Rastafarians of Jamaica, who bang on a drum three times a day for the death of the pope.
So far, so good. I’m used to strong, healthy people making fun of the elderly and the sick; I live in New York City.
And I know plenty of serious Catholics who’ve worked themselves up into a delirium over the Pope’s failure to "clean house" by removing faithless or foolish bishops whom they’ve despised for years. That just shows they don’t quite "get" the nature of the Churchshe’s not a political party; she’s a living organism. That’s why we call her the "body" of Christ. And a complex organism, at thatnot an amoeba. More like a beagle. (Full disclosure: My beagle’s named Susie.)
If Susie, or the Church, felt a limb grow sick, her system would work to heal it; she wouldn’t be wise to gnaw it off, except in the last extremity. Living creatures, like other tight-knit organizations, err on the side of preserving their own integrity. That leads to abuses. This explains why the U.S. military frequently covers for soldiers’ mistakes, rather than hauling them up before courts martial. This explains why so many police departments become infamous for a "blue wall of silence" that protects corrupt officers. You needn’t renounce patriotism or law and order to admit this.
And it fully explains why overwhelmed, fearful bishops got confused in the depths of the ‘70s (rent The Ice Storm, The Big Chill and Deep Throat in case you’ve forgotten)a time when NAMBLA was still welcome to march in gay rights parades, as Benoit Denizet-Lewis reported in the May 2001 Boston Magazine. It explains, while it doesn’t excuse, the fact that these bishops listened to the shrinks and sexual liberals in their ranks who said that the sexual "acting-out" of pedophiles and teen molesters could be controlled through therapy. Certainly, bishops who tried to crack down on homosexual activism and activity among priests (they usually coincide) were roasted alive in the press. Cardinal Law’s predecessor, Cardinal Madeiros, was flayed for disciplining the media’s then-darling gay activist, NAMBLA co-founder Fr. Shanley. Even as he publicly advocated "man-boy love,"but perhaps before he got around to raping eight-year-olds in confessionalsShanley was celebrated as the "motorcycle priest," for his "street ministry" to "alienated youth." He was an honored speaker at a meeting of Dignity, the "respectable" gay Catholic group that pushes the Church to repeal her sexual moralityjust check their website, he’s still listed! The gay site The History Project still lists Father Shanley as a "gay youth advocate," who was "dismissed by Cardinal Medeiros." (Maybe they didn’t know…maybe Boston is unique among big cities, and doesn’t have a "gayvine" that outperforms the Internet, dishing the dirt at light speed…) Meanwhile, Shanley tried to blackmail Madeiros, by threatening to "out" other gay priests.
Then Keller indulges in a nice ethnic slur, mocking the pope for having grown up in backward Poland, behind the Iron Curtain. He says that the pope has
"replicated something very like the old Communist Party in his church. Karol Wojtyla has shaped a hierarchy that is intolerant of dissent, unaccountable to its members, secretive in the extreme and willfully clueless about how people live."
Shocking, shocking, that a pope would behave as an… elected monarch. As the absolute ruler of a hierarchical organization. As the heir of the oldest continuous human institution since the fall of the Chinese Empire. As someone with an almost…divine mandate to preserve a set of mysteries and doctrinal, dogmatic truths. What record do we have, through all the centuries, of a pope acting this way? Obviously, to impose such innovations on the previously anarcho-syndicalist, sexually libertarian commune that is the Catholic Church, this nefarious Pole must have drawn on his Communist-tainted childhood. We must thank Bill Keller, that brilliant student of history, for exposing him at last!
Of course, Keller is really exposing himself. He admits, further down:
"What reform might mean in the church is something I leave to Catholics who care more than I do. I am what a friend calls a ‘collapsed Catholic’ well beyond lapsed and therefore claim no voice in whom the church ordains or how it prays or what it chooses to call a sin."
In other words, you might as well stop reading his column. But let’s do, and pull the wings off this fly.
Amusingly Keller points to the Boy Scouts as a model of a group that has successfully kept out pedophiles and gay seducers of teens. That’s right, the same group that’s being driven out of public schools across the country for… refusing to accept homosexual scoutmasters. The Times has conducted a virtual crusade on the behalf of gay men who wish to lead groups of boys out into the woods. (Curiously, no one’s advocating male scoutmasters for the Girl Scouts. Why not? Here’s another cause for Keller to champion.)
Keller betrays just how thoroughly his intellect and reporting skills have collapsed along with his faith when he denounces the pope for filling the hierarchy with "reactionaries." By "reactionary" he means any Catholic who hasn’t cast aside every article of faith that’s become unfashionable in the last 30 years. The real reactionaries in Catholic circles todayand I know many of them, personallycan’t stand Pope John Paul II. A little bit of honest reportinghell, a Google searchwould have revealed this fact. There are millions of avowed reactionary Catholics across the world, who call themselves "traditionalists," who regularly denounce the current pope for his ecumenism, his opposition to capital punishment, his championing of Vatican II, and his self-critical attitude towards the Crusades, the Inquisition, and other troubled periods in Catholic history. Many of these Catholics still languish in exile, members of "schismatic" groups that reject the pope for his liberalism. They’re different from leftist critics of the pope in one respectthey know something about the Church. They’ve studied her doctrine and history, and realize precisely how modern and innovative Pope John Paul has been. By comparison, Pope John XXIII was an amiable, bumbling figurehead, Paul VI a nattering Prufrock, Pope Pius XII an 18th century aristocrat. When he was still a bishop, Karol Wotyjla wrote Love and Responsibility, which devotes an entire chapter to the importance of sexual pleasure in marriage, especially of the female orgasm. Some reactionary!
Of course, it all comes back to birth control. Or as the genuine geniuses of Monty Python put it in The Meaning of Life: "The Pope won’t let me put a little rubber thing on the end of my John Thomas." What Keller cannot forgive in Pope John Paul, or in the Church, is the hierarchy’s refusal to cave in when liberal non-believers, like himself, demand it. As Keller writes:
"Probably no institution run by a fraternity of aging celibates was going to reconcile easily with a movement that embraced the equality of women, abortion on demand and gay rights. It is possible, though, to imagine a leadership that would have given it a try."
No imagination is needed here: Has Keller ever heard of the Episcopal Church? I’m sure there are a few in his neighborhoodjust look for the really tasteful, empty buildings… The Anglican Communion, founded on a compromise with worldly power and sexual convenience, has followed Keller’s prescription for renewal. The result? Plummeting membership, political irrelevance, and an almost pagan England. (Not to mention a virtual schism between the conservative Episcopal bishops of the Developing World, and the mitered veal-calves of the North.) Apart from hustling thousands of converts into the Catholic and Orthodox churches, the Anglicans have created an ideal home for Catholics who reject the thorny teachings of the Church about sexuality, but who still crave sacraments, smells and bells. Yet very few Catholics make the switch. Even the most fervent opponents of John Paul’s orthodoxy still cling to the title "Catholic," and the legitimacy it brings, while trying to drag the Church behind them. But the pope is a shepherd, not a lemming.
It fills Keller, and liberal Catholics, with intolerant rage that a Church is permitted to exist which claims continuity with the past and divine authority, which refuses to cave in to their opinions, which dares to dissent from dissent. They will not follow their conscienceswhich point the way to the Episcopal church down the roadand they’re furious that they cannot coerce the consciences of other Catholics, pull down the Church’s leadership, destroy her internal consistency and integrity, then smoke a joint in her rubble. It reminds me of Billy Joel’s rage at "Virginia," the "Catholic girl" who just wouldn’t put out.
Keller complains that Pope Paul VI considered changing the Church’s teaching on birth control, some 40 years ago. That much is true. Pope Paul appointed John Noonan, a brilliant and sincere Catholic layman, to lead the commission that re-examined this doctrinal question. Unlike Keller, I’ve read the book Noonan produced as a result: Contraception. It’s a brilliant work of history, marked by intellectual honesty and eruditionand it demonstrates beyond a shadow of a doubt that the Church has condemned contraception everywhere, always, and in every circumstance, for 20 centuries. In a final chapter, Noonan makes an astonishingly weak case for changing the Church’s teaching anyway, the kind of argument Tobacco Institute physicians make in defense of smoking. (Now a respected federal judge, Noonan himself would certainly not overturn 2000 years of uncontested legal precedents on such a flimsy basis.) Confronted by the unanimous voice of Tradition, Pope Paul had no choice but to re-affirm the Church’s constant teaching, although insiders say he did so with personal reluctance. Catholics call this "infallibility," but you might just as well call it "integrity."
Pope Paul paid a price for his honesty, and the Church is still paying. Millions of Catholics suffer cognitive dissonance, and probably incur grave sin, by ignoring the Church’s teaching, and continuing to receive Communion. The bishops who wish to stand up for the Church’s "hard sayings" become unpopular, and the press persecutes them. When they try to clean up their seminaries, to remove the men who are trying to infiltrate the ranks of the clergy with non-Catholic beliefs and practices, they are called "reactionaries," and sometimes hounded out of office. The ordinary Catholics who hunker down and try to live by the Church’s least popular teachings are labeled "fanatics." They alienate family members, they make their own lives harder, and they certainly limit their prospects for marriage. But they’re hardly a shrinking minority, as Keller lazily or dishonestly suggests. As every study of the Church reveals, and leftist Catholics grudgingly concede, the only religious orders with booming vocations are those that reject the modern heresiesjust as the Franciscans in their day rejected the luxury of the Renaissance, and the Jesuits the individualism of the Reformation. The "orthodox" Catholics are having large families, running home schools, and preparing to replenish the pews emptied by contraception and dissent. The lukewarm or ill-informed Catholicsa temporary major ityare still receiving spiritual nourishment, some sense of legitimacy and continuity, by attending their local parishes. As fellow sinners, we welcome them. On the issues where we differ, we hope that they’ll see the light some day. Meanwhile, their contributions help us pay the electric bill.