Musings on matters of religion, faith and morals
More recent 'Catholic Stuff' can be found here.
Saints Above! Last week, Nancy Pelosi invoked St. Joseph in a pathetic attempt to link this holy man to her prolix and execrable health care bill. The Anchoress was not amused. She wrote, "Almost nothing that has come from this woman's mouth has infuriated me like this. This woman is a profound grotesque who gets virtually everything wrong here, from what feastday it is, to the kinds of Catholic religious sisters supporting her monster's bastard of a bill.
Note, because it is important in the face of her stupidity, her mendacity, her slander and her willingness to use any-and-all means to achieve her ends, the Catholic sisters who vehemently oppose this health care bill, and are not considered news-worthy by the media, or relevant by this glammed-up guttersnipe, Pelosi."
She continued, "It is highly doubtful that St. Joseph, who was faced with an unimaginable event, one fraught with challenges, things unknown, social questions, difficulties and sacrifice, would be a happy endorser of a "life-affirming health care" bill that includes the federal-funding of abortions, sterilizations, contraception undoubtedly, down the road - euthanasia."
Last Friday was the feast day of St. Joseph, earthly father of Jesus. That day, I received an e-mail from Rev. George Bur, S.J. - president of my old Philadelphia high school, St. Joseph's Prep. Father Bur reminded me that "in 1733, when the Jesuits first opened their Roman Catholic chapel in Philadelphia, they placed the mission under the patronage of St. Joseph and today the Jesuit parish at Willings Alley, the Jesuit high school and the Jesuit university in the city all bear his name."
Sadly, St. Joseph doesn't always get the respect he deserves. His feast day is overshadowed by St. Patrick's Day, two days earlier. In recent times, a St. Joseph the Worker 'feast' has been celebrated on May 1, which gives it a vaguely communistic whiff. (In 1955, responding to the May Day celebrations for workers sponsored by socialists, Pope Pius XII instituted this secondary, optional and poorly-named feast of 'St. Joseph the Worker'.)
When I entered first grade, the nun separated the class into three reading groups based on ability. The smart kids were put in the Sacred Heart group, the average kids went into the Blessed Virgin group and the dummies ended up in the St. Joseph reading group.
Poor St. Joseph. He deserves better.
We know that Joseph was man of faith, obedient to whatever God asked of him without knowing the outcome. He was a compassionate, caring man. This craftsman worked diligently as a carpenter to provide for his family.
Father Bur concluded, "Joseph is a fitting model for our age, a patron for fathers and for others who need to rely on God's grace to carry out the responsibilities that we have in our care for the young." (posted 3/23/10, permalink)
Behind The Red Door: Over the last several years, there has been much turmoil in the Episcopal Church, involving gay marriage, ordained women, doctrinal issues, etc. Adding to the disruption are the various pronouncements by Dr. Rowan Williams, the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury - the head of the Anglican/Episcopalian fellowship. Just after 9/11, he wrote that terrorists "can have serious moral goals."
The archbishop is anti-capitalist, too: "Every transaction in the developed economies of the West can be interpreted as an act of aggression against the economic losers in the worldwide game." Unless, of course, the "transaction" involves dropping currency into the collection plate.
Meanwhile, on an American Episcopal parish level, finances continue to collapse and the number of parishioners dwindles.
In October, Pope Benedict XVI stirred the pot further, announcing that the Vatican would make it easier for Anglicans - clergy and laity - to convert to Catholicism. This is an open invite to every Anglican and Episcopalian conservative who is upset over the leftward drift of their church.
Now, I've never been inside an Episcopal church but I've always admired the outside of the ones I've seen on the East Coast with their sturdy stone construction and handsome red doors. The Episcopal shields planted on those nicely-manicured front lawns offer a classy touch.
Episcopalians are an exclusive bunch. There are less than 5,000,000 of them in the U.S. - compared with 65-75 million Catholics. But the Episcopalians apparently don't appreciate what they've got, having one of the lowest church attendance figures of all Christian denominations. In fact, the "median Episcopal Church congregation in 2008 had 164 active members (down four members from 2007) and 69 people in Sunday worship, the same as in the previous year." Oops. Maybe they've overdone that 'exclusiveness' thing.
As to that sorry turnout of Sunday worshipers, Christopher Johnson of the Midwest Conservative Journal - who knows much more about these things than I do - has written, "That's a slow Sunday morning at Denny's is what that is. And that's probably where all the ex-Episcopalians are."
With such poor attendance, I don't know how the Episcopalians can afford to keep those elegant churches open. (posted 12/7/09, permalink)
21st Century Exodus: The Lord said to Moses, "Behold, I will rain bread from heaven for you; and the people shall go out and gather a day's portion every day, that I may test them, whether or not they will walk in My instruction."
Moses led them into the desert and said unto them, "This is the bread which the Lord hath given you to eat."
The Israelites grumbled. "You expect me to eat off the floor?" "How do I know this is Kosher?" "I'm gonna to file a complaint with the Health Department; I'm texting them now." "Eeeeewwww. Mine's all full of sand." "This is a meal?! It looks more like an appetizer. And not a very good one." "What are we supposed to drink with this? Beaujolais? A Riesling?" "Is this gluten-free?" "Anybody got Purell?"
And: "How come God didn't give us little individual tubs of cream cheese to spread on this?"
Much later, there was the loaves and fishes incident:
"You're Goin' To Hell For That" ... was a phrase used often by my Catholic friends and myself, anytime someone did or said something mildly blasphemous. For example, a high school acquaintance had an ivory plastic Sacred Heart of Jesus statue on the dashboard of his car. One day, it fell off and the cheap styrene upraised hand broke off. He replaced it with a cup hook stuck in a cork and reinstalled the statue, renaming it 'Captain Hook'.
I hope Jesus has a sense of humor about this:
In a radio interview, Ed Klein - former foreign editor of Newsweek and author of a new book on Ted Kennedy - reminisced about Teddy's love of humor: how the late senator "loved to hear and tell Chappaquiddick jokes and was always eager to know if anyone had heard any new ones."
I've always felt that God has a sense of humor and probably/hopefully chuckles at a little irreverence. But, I doubt that he was laughing along with Ted.
I wonder just how hot Hell really is?
If ol' Teddy ends up frying, I hope that Mary Jo can look down and get the last laugh. (posted 9/1/09, permalink)
Miniscule Humor: The church bulletin at St. Mary's Catholic Church (est. 1881) of Mt. Angel, OR carries advertising on the back page. If you're looking to purchase a small home in the area, you might want to contact Mitch and Virginia to show you some properties. Then you could contact James to review the legal documents.
Bad Church Art: One of the downsides to Vatican II is the proliferation of appalling "art" in churches. Call it modernist, interpretive or kiddie felt-craft - it is ecumenically unpleasant. Here are a couple of examples of dreadful images of Our Lord:
|Jesus Seinfeld: "So what's the deal with those flavorless Communion wafers? Why don't they give out little graham crackers instead?"
||The Crucifixion: as portrayed by the USDA Meat Board
Those who promote such dreck are the same Birkenstock-wearing pseudo-intellectuals who complain about old churches "filled with plaster saints" but at least the statues looked like real human beings and had a pleasant, pious appearance. I liked them, even though they looked too Italian to me, especially St. Patrick.
You can be amazed and frightened by more scary church art at this site. (posted 7/5/09, permalink)
Mr. Have-It-Both-Ways: During his Notre Dame commencement speech, Barack Obama said that both sides of the abortion issue "must stop demonizing one another" and later added that "no matter how much we want to fudge it ... the fact is that, at some level, the views of the two camps are irreconcilable."
Too bad we don't have time travel. I wonder if the Teleprompter Messiah would be willing to travel back to, say, 1849 and say the same things about slavery, appealing to both sides to "search for common ground?"
Or to 1942 Nazi Germany to advise the Jews that "the views of the two camps (one of them being Auschwitz) are irreconcilable."
You can't have it both ways, Mr. President. Some things are just plain wrong.
In order to remind you of her name and presence (lest ye forget), Sarah Palin said her Catholic grandfather would be shocked to hear that this prestigious university was honoring a man with such a strong "anti-life" agenda.
"My favorite grandpa, Clem James Sheeran, was Catholic. Irish to the core, his favorite place (other than church) was Notre Dame. I can't imagine what he would think as the university recognizes someone who contradicts the core values of the Catholic faith by promoting an anti-life agenda. As we learned today, our nation is more pro-life than ever before; it is a very important time to strengthen the message that every baby is created for good purpose and has the potential to make this world a better place." (posted 5/18/09, permalink)
Declined Without Joy: Adhering to her principles, Mary Ann Glendon, former U.S. ambassador to the Holy See and Learned Hand Professor of Law at Harvard Law School, has turned down the prestigious Laetare Medal at Notre Dame's commencement this year, in protest of the university's choice of pro-abortion President Obama as commencement speaker and honorary doctoral recipient. She, like many other Catholics, believes that giving Obama an honorary degree violates the U.S. bishops' 2004 statement that Roman Catholic institutions shouldn't honor people whose actions conflict with the Church's moral principles.
Ms. Glendon released the following statement, "It is with great sadness, therefore, that I have concluded that I cannot accept the Laetare Medal or participate in the May 17 graduation ceremony." (posted 4/30/09, permalink)
"The Least Of My Brothers" is another of Jesus' words which have been hijacked by people using them for their own agenda.
The "Least" phrase is used to justify delivering baked goods to prisoners (I wonder if anyone asks if any of the inmates were convicted of robbing a bakery) or supplying stocks of pretty decent foodstuffs at the local food bank. The one nearby also carries 50 pound sacks of dog food. My thinking is: if you're too poor to buy your food, you're too poor to own a dog. And, by the way, the vehicles in the food bank's parking lot are mostly big, relatively-new SUVs. My other thought: if you're so poor that you can't buy food, you should be driving an '87 Escort. Don't get me started on the people hanging around outside, smoking.
Let's not forget that when Jesus fed the hungry, he only gave out fish sandwiches. No tartar sauce. Nor anything Balsamic or Cilantro-laden. No sweet potato fries, either. The fish was free-range, however. And the bread was Artisan. In those days, all bread was Artisan. And probably stale and insect-laden.
John Zmirak has written the ultimate, How To Be A Christian Liberal handbook. "When arguing with someone, be sure to use the following terms at regular intervals in your sentences (don't worry about the grammar): Voiceless. Afflicted. Disadvantaged. Marginalized. Pastoral. Handicapped. Diverse. Needy. Displaced."
Anything you are defending, characterize with words like these. For instance, tenured homosexuals living in Cambridge, Mass., pouring the money they don't need to spend on diapers into overseas investments can be presented as "individuals whose personal choices of whom to love have rendered them marginalized and voiceless in a heterosexist world."
A drug lord scheduled for deportation back to Bolivia is really "a displaced Latino business-owner subject to America's draconian drug laws." A black guy who's collecting disability for a minor injury while working side-jobs off the books can come across as "a handicapped African-American struggling to support his needy family."
A pedophile priest who molested your son is really, the bishop explains, "a brother in Christ afflicted by a serious mental handicap with which he struggles prayerfully with the pastoral support of our Christian community."
Oh man, John's got it nailed. He continues: "Conversely, if you need to attack someone or something, employ any or all of these pejoratives: Comfortable. Bourgeois. Secure. Smug. Materialistic. Consumerist. Careerist. Racist. Xenophobic. Suburban. Hence a family where both parents work to pay Catholic school tuition so their kids won't get stabbed by members of Mexican gangs at Martin Luther King Elementary School are really "middle-class suburbanites whose racist attitudes are centered on a fear of diversity." See how it works? Anyone who has worked hard and built a career and lives in a city where you can't afford an apartment can be characterized as “a comfortable materialist engaged in the consumerist pursuit of a worldly lifestyle incompatible with Gospel values. And so on."
Meanwhile, our local parish has a Cookies For The Homeless program. As if bums don't already get enough sugar from drinking Night Train Express. (posted 4/30/09, permalink)
Clown College: The back-from-the-dead Philadelphia Bulletin has opined that St. Joseph's University shouldn't have invited Hardball's clown/host Chris Matthews to be this year's commencement speaker.
Frank Diamond wrote, "There are more than just common-sense reasons why Mr. Matthews should not be honored by a Catholic university. He is a well-know abortion rights advocate. It's as if Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad were asked to address the Israeli Knesset. ('Thank you! What a great crowd! I almost don't want to wipe you off the face of the earth anymore!') It's as if the Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan were toasted by the NAACP.
Having previously described Matthews as a "vaudevillian ... sporting a red rubber nose," Frank continued, "Hello? Anybody home there at St. Joe's? Why must anyone have to say to officials of an institution of higher learning that what people think matters? The last I looked, Catholicism teaches that abortion is murder.
Therefore, Mr. Matthews is an abettor of genocide - when he's not doing the soft-shoe and spritzing seltzer water at the audience."
This sure isn't the St. Joe's I remember. I first set foot on campus on June 13, 1948 at my uncle's graduation, appearing in toddler shoes wearing his mortarboard in a period photograph.
Back in those days, St. Joe's was only a 'college,' not a university.
It seems the 'university' designation hasn't helped. (posted 4/16/09, permalink)
Keeping The Faith: Vatican sources have told Il Giornale that their support for abortion disqualified Caroline Kennedy and other Roman Catholics President Barack Obama had been seeking to appoint as U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican.
Thanks to the Catholic Church for standing up for its principles.
Now if only the Vatican would start excommunicating some of those other CINOs (Catholics In Name Only) politicians such as Nancy Pelosi, Patty Murray, Maria Cantwell and Kathleen Sebelius - Democrats and pro-abortionists all. (posted 4/13/09, permalink)
We Make The Mess; You Clean It Up: The Vatican has called on Catholics everywhere to atone for the sex abuse scandals that have engulfed the Church in recent years by taking part in what may be the largest global prayer initiative ever seen.
Give me a break. Asking me to atone for a bunch of perv priests is even more wrong that those slavery apology demands.
During the time that blacks were being enslaved and oppressed in the United States, all of my ancestors were in County Mayo, Ireland - being systematically oppressed, run off their lands and starved by the English.
During the time that altar boys were being sodomized by creeps, I was busy raising a family and trying to make ends meet.
So, leave me out of it. (posted 1/9/08, permalink)
Mark Steyn Is Right. In his book, 'America Alone', Steyn bemoans the downfall of Christianity in Europe. Now there's even more data to support his argument.
Meanwhile, the number of Catholics in western Washington state has almost tripled in the past 10 years - from 350,000 to over 900,000. (posted 6/13/05)
Gimme That Old Time Religion: The Anchoress has written that Pope John Paul II's funeral (April 2005) "made me long to hear more (or, any) Gregorian Chant at mass. I really hunger for it. Enough of the feel-good campfire-type songs, please!"
I couldn't agree more. I am sick and tired of 'Kumbuya' folk music, "invented" ceremonies (I'm waiting for someone to introduce The Blessing of the Dandruff.), turning every low Mass into a time-wasting crap-songfest, excessive hand-holding, hugging and other creepy, Touching To Symbolize Our Shared Faith detritus. Actually, it's more like Touching To Share Germs Just Before Communion. (Isn't this how the Black Plague spread during the Middle Ages?) Maybe we should have a Slather Your Hands And Arms In Purell ceremony.
At midnight Mass last Christmas, there was an elderly woman who insisted on treating us to an a cappella version 'Silent Night' in German to "celebrate her heritage." (Can you translate "Me-Centric" into Deutsche, bitte?) And she sang so badly, I wondered if she might be Bob Dylan's mother. I have seen her at church several times since and have bestowed her with the nickname 'Stella Nacht.'
The only "new" thing needed in church is a polished brass stage hook to drag bad performers off the altar - deliverers of lengthy, pointless homilies, lectors who ask us to pray for odd or political things, off-key warblers, etc.
And I want the old smoker-priests back - the ones who would do a 38-minute Sunday Mass because that was as long they could hold out before they needed another Lucky Strike fix. (posted 4/11/05, permalink)
Changing Catholicism? John Derbyshire at National Review has written: "The debate among devout Catholics about this calamity, so far as I can follow it, is not very enlightening. Conservatives blame it all on the reforms of the Vatican II Council (1962-5); liberals blame it on John Paul II himself, saying that his firm traditionalist approach to core doctrines turned off the more open-minded Catholic laity. Both surely know in their hearts that the real culprit is the irresistible appeal of secular hedonism to healthy, busy, well-educated populations."
I think he's right. People are busy - with work, hobbies, etc. - and no longer consider church as a "social outlet" as in the past. Reality television and the internet have become the new social outlets. Writing in the New York Times, funeral director Thomas Lynch notes that "times formerly spent in worship or communion are now spent shopping or Web-browsing or otherwise passing time. Many Americans are now spiritual tourists without home places or core beliefs to return to."
Educated people don't have the fear-of-God factor; they don't equate skipping church with going to Hell. In the U.S., Mass attendance has shrunk from 74% in 1958 to about 15% today. In Ireland - traditionally a very religious country - the numbers have declined from 90 percent in 1973 to 48 percent in 2001. In France, church attendance is less than 10%.
Don't expect a new Pope to make radical changes in an attempt to conform to so-called modern 'values,' though. Especially 'American values.' The Vatican does not see things through American eyes. There are 1.07 billion Catholics worldwide (17.4 percent of the world's population). U.S. Catholics make up only 6% of the total. The Americas (North and South) have the lion's share of baptized Catholics, with 49.8% (approx. 541 million). Brazil is the country with the largest baptized Roman Catholic population in the world - 151 million souls, Mexico has 93.6 mm, Philippines - 66.4 mm, U.S. - 67.4 mm, Italy - 55.8 mm and Poland - 36.9 mm.
Money is different story, however. When it comes to the bishops' contributions to the Vatican, the U.S. dukes it out with Germany for title of Largest Contributor. Speaking of Germany, more than three-quarters of Germans want the successor of Pope John Paul II to be less ''rigid'' about sexual morality and end the Church's ban on contraception, according to a poll published in Deutsche Welle. 77 percent of respondents said they wanted to see the ordination of women as priests and 74 percent think that imposing celibacy and chastity on priests is no longer expedient.
I'm told that the Vatican has a saying about all these wanted changes: "People in hell want ice cream." Catholicism is, after all, a religion - not a focus group.
The U.S. is also by far the biggest donor when it comes to the Pope's annual collection for foreign missions. Additionally, there are other Catholic organizations supported almost entirely by U.S. Catholics. Catholic Relief Services - one of many independent Catholic charities - takes in almost $100 million from U.S. Catholics annually - more in times of disaster.
Catholics in the United States also put an estimated $5.8 billion in Sunday collection baskets to support their local parishes. Pledges to bishops' annual appeals for diocesan operations are an additional $635 million.
In short, the Catholic Church loves us for our money but isn't particularly interested in the opinions of Americans. Or those of our talking-head 'experts' on various TV programs. Or in print. Or in the blogosphere. (posted 4/14/05, permalink)
Holy Stink: Here's some Papal History you probably won't learn from those television commentators covering John Paul II's funeral: After Pius XII became Pope in 1939, he appointed Riccardo Galeazzi-Lisi, a medical oddball, as his personal physician. In the 1950s, Ricardo introduced Pius to a Swiss doctor who claimed that his 'cellular therapy' could reverse aging. The treatment required the injection of live cells from sheep embryos.
When the Pope died in 1958, Galeazzi-Lisi prevented the body from being conventionally embalmed. Instead, he used his own preservation system - "based on ancient formulas" and claimed that it was "superior to modern methods and would ensure that Pope Pius' body would resist contamination for at least 100 years."
The Galeazzi-Lisi miracle system involved encasing the Pope's body in a cellophane bag into which were inserted aromatic herbs, or spices, or something - reportedly an ancient Egyptian recipe for preserving their dead. It didn't work.
When Pope Pius' body, stretched out in its odd transparent sheath, was laid on a catafalque in St. Peter's, the multitudes who filed by "were horrified to see it literally decomposing before them."
Each evening, Galeazzi-Lisi would climb a ladder and feverishly pour more of his ingredients into the sheath. The four men standing guard in the Vatican had to be changed every 15 minutes because they could not stand the stench. (The Vatican should have used that mortuary on 'The Simpsons' - it carried "all the leading brands of anti-stink spray.")
You can bet that, when they finally placed Pius in this marble tomb beneath St. Peter's, they used many tubes of caulk to make sure that sucker was air-tight.
Galeazzi-Lisi also took a series of photographs of the Pope in his death-throes and sold them to various publications, including Life and Paris-Match, at high prices. He was later stripped of his medical license.
The Vatican is being properly and discretely silent about what post-mortem preparations have been made on John Paul II's body. But I'm sure it involved proven preservatives and nothing involving ancient Egypt. (posted 4/6/05, permalink)
Papal Viewing: Touring Rome in 2002, my wife and I visited St. Peter's Basilica. The Vatican had exhumed Pope John XXIII in 2001 and was displaying him in a glass case, since he is being considered for sainthood.
It's one thing to see bodies of long-dead people you don't know but I still remember John XXIII, who died in 1963. (He was the little chubby Italian pope - after Pius XII and before Paul VI - and the impetus behind Vatican II.)
Seeing his corpse on display felt kind of creepy - like digging up JFK or Buddy Holly for exhibition.
This is another reason that popes are always buried wearing a cassock and traditional vestments. Imagine the embarrassment if a future generation exhumed Pope Paul VI (d-1978) and found that he was wearing a lime-green polyester leisure suit with epaulets and large white buttons. (posted 4/5/05, permalink)
Requiescat In Pace: Pope John Paul II has died. My thoughts are posted here. (posted 4/2/05)
Save The Children: Many liberals were surprised by the emergence of so-called Values Voters in the 2004 Presidential election and by many of the anti-abortion sentiments expressed by such people. The concerns felt by such voters is real and part of a growing trend. When Roe-v-Wade became the law in the '70s, abortion was promoted as an answer to unfortunate and tragic circumstances (rape, mother's life jeopardized, pregnant, severely-retarded women and the like). And, the aborted tissue was presented as nothing more than a group of cells - almost like one's appendix.
But legalized abortion quickly became a form of birth control for the lazy and the careless. Later, "partial birth abortions" took the spotlight. This little-known, barbarous practice appalled many moderates who were formerly pro-abortion. Meanwhile, scientific advances have made many early-term fetuses viable. Finally, the use of ultrasound has shown the public that very young and tiny fetuses look like babies, not blobs of protoplasm.
Back in 1992, candidate Bill Clinton recognized that abortion was out-of-control and promised to make it "safe, legal ... and rare." (A promise he never fulfilled.) The new queasiness over abortion is not simply due to increased efforts by the pro-life movement. Rather, it is because ordinary people now realize that abortion has run amok and the "tissue samples" being destroyed are, in actuality, children. Or near-children.
Roe-v-Wade may never be completely reversed. But I predict that within 10 years, all government funding of abortions will cease and that restrictions will be placed on the practice of abortion. (posted 11/17/04, permalink)
Spiritual Hunger: A number of articles have been written on whether the Catholic Church should/would withhold Communion from those who do not wholly support its views. An example is from the Associated Press (in mid-2004): "Bishops disagree on whether Catholic lawmakers at odds with church teaching should receive the sacrament. They've sparked a national debate on the issue as a Catholic who supports abortion rights - John Kerry - is poised to become the Democratic nominee for president."
On the Catholic feast day of Corpus Christi - around the same time as the AP story ran, the Gospel reading was about the miracle of loaves and fishes. In the story, Jesus fed an audience of hungry people. He didn't ask them to take an oath or pass a 'litmus test.' That they showed up to hear Him preach was, apparently, good enough for Jesus. In an era of declining Catholicism in the U.S. - instead of driving people away - shouldn't the Bishops simply follow the role of the Savior and welcome the spiritually hungry into God's House and pray that the miracle of His Grace will fill their emptiness? (posted 6/15/04, permalink)
Bankruptcy Blues: In July 2004, The Archdiocese of Portland, Oregon (just across the river from here) became the first Catholic diocese in the country to seek bankruptcy protection because of multimillion-dollar awards given to victims of clergy sex abuse. This action will be followed closely by Catholic dioceses and parishes throughout the U.S. and could result in drastic structural changes to the U.S. Catholic Church.
Several years ago, when I was a board member of a regional nonprofit, I pushed to form an independent corporation to separate our region from any future woes of the national organization. We did so, thankfully. The national group is presently being sued for allegedly slanderous comments printed in its magazine. The lawsuit demands compensation which far exceeds the national organization's insurance cap.
In the case of the Portland Archdiocese, the bankruptcy court will have to decide many issues - one is whether parish assets are part of the Archdiocese's assets. Many parish churches throughout Oregon sit on valuable real estate and most have cash and other liquid assets.
It is possible that, in a move to limit their liability, parishes may soon decide to form their own nonprofit corporations with no legal ties and only loose reporting ties to a central entity. This could result in parish councils vetting their own pastoral candidates and having hire/fire authority in much the way that many Protestant churches do. And, for matters which do not involve core issues of Catholic faith, belief or liturgy, individual parishes could become fully-independent worship centers.
Parishes, being smaller organizations, can better serve the needs of their members - and can solve problems (like abuse allegations) quickly and decisively. Parishes might even elect to market themselves well beyond their traditional geographical boundaries, appealing to specific segments - "we're evangelical", "traditional", "young, singles-oriented", "family-friendly", "sympathetic to single parents", etc. These and other local-level actions could bring needed fresh air into a musty old organization, attracting new members and bringing back some old ones.
I'm happy to report that our regional nonprofit is financially secure and growing, even while the national organization is experiencing membership declines. Seventy percent of new members now come from the region's own recruitment efforts. By the way, we've never abandoned the core values set forth by the national organization. We've simply tailored our message to the Pacific Northwest market.
Catholic bishops and the Vatican might wring their hands and wail about parish-level power - nobody ever likes to give up authority - but, in the end, such operational decentralization may be the best thing that has happened to the Catholic Church in many years. (posted 7/8/04, permalink)
Update: In September 2004, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Tucson, faced with possible multimillion-dollar legal verdicts from sex abuse cases against its clergy, has filed for bankruptcy protection. Spokane, Washington's Diocese has also gone bankrupt.
Catholicism's Not-So-Finest Moments: The Vatican praised Yassir Arafat as a leader who struggled to win independence for his people and repeated its support of a sovereign Palestinian state alongside Israel. A Vatican statement called Arafat, who died in Paris, an ''illustrious deceased.'' (Infallibility in faith and morals. Yeah, right.)
This is the same Arafat who created Black September as an offshoot of his Fatah organization. He presided over the operation resulting in the massacre of the Israeli Olympic athletes in Munich by Black September in 1972.
The following year, Arafat became the first Arab terrorist to target Americans. He personally ordered the assassination of American Ambassador to Sudan Cleo Noel, Jr. and charge d'affaires Curtis Moore in 1973. As the founder of Fatah and leader of the Palestine Liberation Organization, Arafat waged a lifelong war on the state of Israel and its Jewish citizens. And the Vatican has arranged for free legal help for Tariq Aziz, Saddam Hussein's former foreign minister and right-hand man, for his war crimes defense. A disgrace. (posted 11/15/04, permalink)
Planned Parenthood's Sour Grapes: Numerous counties in Illinois are allowing federal workers to select a Catholic-based insurance plan that does not cover abortion, contraceptives or fertility treatment. Run by the Sisters of the Third Order of St. Francis, OSF HealthPlans is being touted as an example of the faith-based initiatives favored by President Bush. Gloria Feldt, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said the plan was an "inappropriate" use of federal funds, one that "is blatantly designed to foster one religion's point of view."
Catholic League president William Donohue responded as follows: "The taxpayers are forced to fork over a quarter-billion dollars of federal funds each year to support Planned Parenthood’s agenda. But all of a sudden the officials at the so-called pro-choice organization feel threatened by some Catholic nuns and want to deny federal workers freedom of choice. So much for truth in advertising."
Political Correctness Gone Amok: A Church of England school - Saint Mary Magdalene Primary School in Islington, north London - has been told to drop the word "saint" from its name in case it "offends" other religious groups. St. Mary Magdalene has been serving the community since 1710.
'Father Joe: The Man Who Saved My Soul' - a book by Tony Hendra is a tribute to his spiritual mentor. Father Joe is a wise but unassuming Benedictine monk who brings common sense and truth to the problems Hendra offers him over a 40-plus year period. A stuttering, big-eared, ungainly man, cloistered in an ancient abbey on the Isle of Wight, Father Joe is a good listener and deeply spiritual. He is undoubtedly a saint and, for Hendra, an anchor in a storm-tossed life.
Of Tony Hendra, things are less certain. An accomplished writer, satirist and actor, he sunk into a world of drinking and drugs. His ego and excesses destroyed his first family - he admits to being a loathsome husband and despicable parent. According to one associate, Hendra has a "long track record of seedy, duplicitous behavior - well-known to those who have worked with him over the years." The book title proclaims that Hendra's soul is saved. But, part of salvation is making amends to those wronged. If that has been done, it is not recorded in this book and very-recent claims of sexual abuse made by Hendra's now-grown daughter raise more doubts. Father Joe teaches the lesson of not speaking ill of others, yet Hendra finds time in the book to rant about the politics of Ronald Reagan and others.
Hendra claims to find comfort and "spirituality" in old churches and Gregorian chants, yet one must question his announcement of rediscovered faith when, immediately after one of his last confessions with Father Joe, Hendra thinks "the God-force-principle-thing would like me to pop down to the pub and celebrate. Which I did." Hardly the words of a spiritually-renewed, post-confessional penitent.
Nevertheless, the book is a good read with an inspiring surprise about Father Joe and his influence in the last few pages of the book. I recommend it. You may not want to shake the hand of Tony Hendra but you'll certainly wish you could have met the good Father. (permalink)
The Quebec Way: While visiting Quebec in Fall 2004, We went to Mass at the Notre Dame Basilica.
I remember being there almost 50 years ago and seeing several cardinal's hats hanging from the ceiling. When a cardinal died, his hat was strung up for all to see - until it disintegrated into a pile of dust. Now the hats have disappeared. I inquired and was told that "when we redid the church a few years ago, we took them down because they were dusty and ugly." Fame is fleeting. Tradition is swept away by Style.
Ste. Anne de Beaupre used to be a shrine for pilgrims; now it is more commercial and caters to bus tours. You can light $5.00 votive candles before the relic of Saint Anne but when the rack becomes full and another bus is rolling into the parking lot, the candle rack is quickly moved to the basement where many other racks of burning candles light up a nondescript (but very hot) room.
Meanwhile upstairs, a fresh candle supply is wheeled in for the new arrivals. Turning inventory and optimizing cash flow - Catholic-style. Next to the gift shop is a small, glass-fronted, free-standing building with a priest sitting at a desk, looking like a Notary Public. Go inside and he will bless all purchases. Free.
On a Sunday afternoon, we visited the historic Holy Trinity Anglican church in Quebec. As I approached the door, I heard strains of 'Embraceable You' on a piano. Followed by the tinkling of 'Misty.' I thought it was one of those Gay Anglican churches I've read about, but they were just having an afternoon concert. We departed to the melody of 'Autumn In New York.' (permalink)
Gay Mirage: Some gays think that the so-called "homophobic" Republican machine is trying to trample them. This is a mirage. Jeff Jacoby writes: "In 13 states this year ... voters were faced with proposed constitutional amendments limiting marriage to one man and one woman. In all 13 the amendments were approved, by majorities ranging from 57 percent to 86 percent." The initiatives gathered large majorities everywhere - red states and blue. (So, it's not just about Republicans, is it?) Meanwhile, on some cable shows, radio programs and blogs, backers of traditional marriage have been denounced as gay-bashers. This is also a mirage.
Gay people should understand that it's not the "gay" part that bothers people - the vast majority of folks feel that most homosexuals are "just wired that way" and recognize that most gays just want to live their own lives and spend most of their time on the same everyday activities as straights - working, paying bills, having a drink after a tough day at the office, etc. Gays are not 'recruiting' for their side and are far less irritating to straight people than, say, Jehovah's Witnesses.
It's the "marriage" part that straights are against. We consider marriage to be a contract between a man and a woman - a 5,000 year-old institution. Not some deal between two guys. Or two babes. Or a PETA advocate and an "animal companion." Or some horndog and an armoire with an interesting knothole.
Gays - men and women - are generally far more creative than straights. The theater, the visual display industry, the writing field, the graphics design arena and other "creative arts" endeavors seem to be havens for gays. We straights are both envious and appreciative of their cleverness, talent, ability to create inspiring works and put on spectacular shows and events. Therefore, it is a disappointment that gays can't seem come up with a better word than "marriage" to describe their civil unions. Gays need their own name - one that invokes awe and wonder and perhaps a little heterosexual jealousy: "Damn. Why didn't I think of that!?" A noun that ends with an exclamation point. Or deserves to. A name that isn't "marriage" - that moniker was taken many years ago. It's been done. By us dull straights. Very passé and unhip.
Memo to gay people: Get your own name - and you'll be surprised how much more support you'll get from us straights. Many of us will applaud and celebrate your legalized, stable relationships. The ones with the cool new name. And we'll support your efforts to obtain equal rights and benefits as couples, under the law.
Speaking of the creative arts, as a car guy, I wonder how many of the exciting car designs - the ones that all those testosterone-pumped, heterosexual young males lust for - were penned by gays? But the auto design business isn't completely gay.
Because only an design-blind heterosexual could have designed the Pontiac Aztek. (permalink)
Monied Messengers: If you have cable and you've ever channel-surfed, you've surely come across Paul and Jan Crouch on the Trinity Broadcasting Network. Wearing a big platinum wig with cascading-ringlets, Jan Crouch could pass as Dyann Cannon's mother. Or much-older sister. But she wears so much black eye-shadow, she often looks like a badger. Or the Hamburgler. She cries a lot, especially when describing the good works she and Paul do with all the money people send them. With his silver hair, mustache and bifocals, Paul Crouch looks grandfatherly. But a decidedly odd grandfather - he allegedly paid a former employee $425,000 to keep quiet about an alleged homosexual tryst.
The Crouches are usually perched on gaudy, gold and white faux-Louis XVI furniture, begging for more money to "help with God's work." The network says that 70% of its contributions are in amounts less than $50. Lower-income, rural Americans in the South are among TBN's most faithful donors. And the Crouchs are always asking for money. You'd think they wouldn't need to. TBN has posted surpluses averaging nearly $60 million a year since 1997. Its balance sheet for 2002, the most recent available, lists net assets of $583 million, including $238 million in Treasury bonds and other government securities and $31 million in cash. TBN's declared mission is as a tax-exempt Christian charity. Meanwhile, Paul and Jan maintain several palatial homes, drive luxury cars and draw fat salaries from their "church."
The Crouch duo are just another example of crass moneygrabbers masquerading as Messengers for God. It's sad that few of these 21st Century "messengers" choose the path chosen by, say, Billy Graham. He has always drawn a modest salary and his 'Billy Graham Crusade' books are open to anyone who cares to look. (posted 9/22/04, permalink)
A Grave Issue: My grandson's elementary school had a fundraiser offering flower arrangements, including a cross-shaped cemetery pieces. One of the parents in this very PC, liberal, university community objected, saying that her sense of secularity was offended. This raises a larger issue - the need to develop appropriate grave-decoration symbols for seculars.
Some religions are already covered - crosses for Christians, six-pointed stars for Jews (although this particular town of 45,000 had only seven Jewish families last time I heard), crescents for Muslims. I don't know what to use for Confucians, Hindus or Buddhists, but may I suggest a question mark for agnostics and a zero for atheists?
Memo to Floral Industry - get to work.
Love Letters In The Sand: A website - CatholicShopper.com - offered 'Shoes of the Fisherman sandals' for $19.95 per pair.
Description: "If you plan on walking in the sand, this is a great way to evangelize! As you walk, you will leave an imprint of: JESUS LOVES YOU, for others to see!!!!" The sandals are "hand-finished in Thailand by adult Christian workers."
This raised some questions in my mind - to wit:
1. Are the 'adult Christian workers' former Pagan Babies?
2. Since these products are made of injection-molded vinyl and the adult Christian workers only do the hand-finishing, who is operating the injection molding machine? Atheists? Muslims? Buddhists? Confucians?
3. Since all of us Catholics want to leave a long-lasting impression on Unbelievers, why doesn't the product description mention other, more-permanent things to walk on besides sand? Wet concrete? Hot asphalt? Uncured epoxy?
4. If this were a real Catholic site, it would clearly state: "One size fits all - or else you're excommunicated. Unless you're a Kennedy." (permalink)
At First, I Thought This Was A Joke: There's a new book, 'The Gospel According to Popeye: Meditations on Substitutionary Grace for a Pre-millennial Age,' by Robert Fulton The book discusses "the comic strip Thimble Theatre, which ran in American newspapers in the 1930s and introduced the character of Popeye to a breathless world." It continues " ... let us begin our examination of the theology of Thimble Theatre."
"I yam what I yam, an' tha's all that I yam." - Popeye
""And God said to Moses, 'I AM THAT I AM.'" - Exodus 3:14
"That Popeye himself is the heroic Christ-figure is plain enough even for conservative Southern Baptists in Dallas to grasp. ... In fact, Popeye's iconic "Blow me down!" will find its greatest expression in latter-day televangelist Benny Hinn's breathless, ritualistic summonsing of the Holy Spirit. No figure in the Thimble Theatre canon is more expressively human than Wimpy. He is the epitome of modern man, forever asking for grace ("I would gladly pay Tuesday for a hamburger today."), reneging on his promises, then demanding justice for everyone else. ... The infant Swee'pea, whom the original texts state was originally sent to Popeye for safekeeping as the Crown Prince of Demonia - we know, of course, he is a perfectly splendid representation of the Virgin Birth." I'm speechless. (hat tip: Relapsed Catholic)
Popemobiles: For some facts and musings about papal rides, go here.
For Your 'What's Wrong With The Catholic Church' File: The new, $190 million Catholic cathedral in Los Angeles offers Starbucks coffee in the cafeteria and $25-a-bottle 'Our Lady of the Angels' wine in the gift shop. You can buy your own crypt for anywhere from $50,000 to $3 million. The gift shop takes credit cards and even has an ATM. And, what was it again that Jesus did to those money changers in the Temple?
If you just want to park in the garage, it's $12. Hey, here's an idea - instead of paying $50,000+ for a crypt, why not buy an old junker of a van, put the body in it and park it in the garage for $12, then abandon it. Cheap crypt. Heh, heh.
But wait - there's more. Missing from the endless line of church officials at cathedral's grand opening last Monday was one of its first associate pastors, Fr. Carl Sutphin. An accused molester, Sutphin held the title of associate pastor at the new Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels until L.A. Cardinal Mahony cut him loose in the wake of the Boston church scandals.
It's stuff like this which contributes to the decline of the Catholic Church. Consider these statistics for the Catholic Church in Quebec, where the share of Catholics attending weekly Mass has fallen from 88% in 1957, to 42% in 1975, to 28% in 1990 and to 23% in 2000. Sad. (posted 9-4-2002, permalink)
11-1-2002 Update: From the Los Angeles Times: "Five top executives of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles have quit (two monsignors, two nuns and a layman), saying Cardinal Roger Mahony failed to consult them when he cut program budgets to help close a multimillion-dollar deficit. The archdiocese, the largest in the nation, has a $4.3 million deficit and plans to lay off at least 60 workers and cut programs for minorities, gays and the disabled to bridge the financial gap."
No money for the needy in L.A. but plenty of money to build stone-and-mortar monuments to the Cardinal's ego.
Other Pages Of Interest
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If I have slandered any brands of automobiles, either expressly or inadvertently, they're most likely crap cars and deserve it. Automobile manufacturers should be aware that they always have the option of trying to change my mind by providing me with vehicles to test drive.
If I have slandered any people or corporations, either expressly or inadvertently, they should buy me strong drinks (and an expensive meal) and try to prove to me that they're not the jerks I've portrayed them to be. If you're buying, I'm willing to listen.
Don't be shy - try a bribe. It might help.