Before reading Christina Pesoli’s marvelous article, Why This Catholic Girl Is Praying for a Schism, I was all about the business of writing something short, enlightening, and relatively professional. But the humor of her work has bubbled up within me, to the point that I would now consider it criminal not to share a brief response. Pesoli is a wonderful writer, and an intelligent human being, so I guarantee that her work will brighten your day, tickle your sides, and give you hope for future of the Church. Without further introduction then, and with the embrace of my immediate, most immature reactions:
“Dear Father in Heaven: If you’re up there and you can hear me, show me the way. I’m at the end of my rope. Show me the way, God.”
That was George Bailey’s prayer as he sat at Martini’s Bar in the holiday movie classic, “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
I can relate.
Like George Bailey all those years ago, this summer I found myself in the middle of a personal crisis of my own. The Catholic Church — my church — had lost its mind.
Her mind. Let’s get crazy and begin without degrading women.
…all glory be to God, whose mercy and compassion upon us exceeds the furthest reaches of human imagination.
Apparently, dedicating their lives to caring for the sick and helping the poor wasn’t enough.
Yes, the truth Pesoli points out is entirely apparent, though it’s not the Vatican preaching it. It’s that aggravating, let’s-not-define-everything-by-21st-century-liberal-vs.-conservative-standards St. James, who says “religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world” (James 1:27).
Those darn two-part commands. It seems that the practice of religion that looks after the orphans and widows while simultaneously advancing the pollution of the world — such as, but not limited to, the current fashion of promoting, ignoring, or justifying the killing of a unique human being in utero — is neither pure, nor faultless, nor acceptable to Father, equally as lame as the religion of someone free from said pollution, who refuses to help the poor in distress.
And thus we nod our heads towards the Vatican, may she live long and prosper and continue to work tirelessly for the salvation and edification of every member of the LCWR, whom she instituted.
The Vatican accused them of promoting “radical feminist” ideas and demanded that they crank up the volume on opposing abortion and gay marriage. In short, the Vatican wanted to see less help and more hate.
Pesoli’s annoyance at the “radical feminist” charge is understandable. Radical feminists are — in the vein of Susan B. Anthony — adamantly pro-life, and remarkably intelligent. The current intellectual culture within the LCWR — instituted by the Vatican, did I mention that? — could have been more adequately termed by the Vatican as radically stupid. Forgive my crudity, but I’m a simple-minded kid, and I can reach for no other word when seeking to describe what could possibly influence a group of humans to choose this woman as an opening speaker for their conference:
But as to the idea that the Vatican wants to see “less help and more hate” (because it’s not a culture war if your enemy isn’t pro-burning-hatred) I wonder whether this does justice to the man or woman living in poverty. After all, if the Church truly believes that things like abortion are wrong, damaging in their very nature to the human person and his community, then surely it’s no kindness to a man without money — a poor man — to teach him that it’s otherwise?
The poor are not some abstraction that just need food, shelter, and cash (though we of course should laud anyone who provides their fellow man with these). The poor are people. People yearn for the Truth. Poverty does not eradicate this yearning. True hate — or at the very least true contempt — would be for the Church to only meet the physical needs of the poor through the work of her nuns, ignoring their moral and spiritual needs. True contempt would be a message from the Vatican to the LCWR saying, “We’re worried about you misleading the souls of the poor, but because you are feeding them, we’re not going to look into it.”
Then, in a move that seemed to be ripped from the headlines of The Onion, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops took aim at the Girl Scouts of the U.S.A. Among other infractions, the bishops had learned that the Girl Scouts had approved projects that would donate money to Doctors without Borders and OxFam.
And because those organizations have stances that are contrary to the Church’s on issues like birth control, the bishops did what they do best: They launched an inquisition into the internal goings-on at the 100-year-old organization whose mission is to build “girls of courage, confidence, and character.”
Say, for instance, that Planned Parenthood had a historic relationship with Big Kahuna Burger. Planned Parenthood then gets word — through various complaints written in neon pink — that Big Kahuna Burger donates money to a group antithetical in its nature to Planned Parenthood. For the sake of argument, let’s say Kahuna is donating to the Family Research Council. No one would be surprised or offended if Planned Parenthood investigated those claims.
But when the Church does the very same thing, it’s an Inquisition. (When I am older and more mature, I will stop imagining Girl Scouts being sent to the racks.) I’m genuinely curious whether there is a reason for Pesoli’s irritation over an institution attempting to remain ideologically consistent, besides that she disagrees with the particular ideology.
The Church’s backwards and outdated policies relating to women in particular and equality in general were nothing new; but its singular focus on these issues coupled with its demand that everyone else do the exact same thing was. So much for free will.
Her singular focus on women’s issues. And yes, it’s truly novel, this bizarre move by the Church to call her universal claims universal, her doctrines doctrinal, and her dogmas dogmatic. For the last 2000 years its been all, “we’re going to to say a few things regarding morality, feel free not to apply them to your life.” The Council of Trent was a fantastic example of this attitude, a long declarative “eh, whatever” to the world. Then 2003 came it was all, “Better idea, let’s hate women.”
“Let’s say that which we’ve been claiming to be universal, divine Truth is in fact — wait for it — true for everyone!”
“Brilliant! Now the women will leave! But wait, doesn’t this contradict the Catholic doctrine of free will, which holds that no ideological institution may investigate the ideology of its partner institution?”
The Church had become paranoid and delusional to the point where everyone and everything was a potential threat — even little girls selling cookies.
Right. That’s precisely what’s at issue here. Not ideological consistency, but the Girl Scouts themselves, who shall now receive their long awaited excellence in apostasy badges.
If Pesoli had cited a source besides the never-ending ritual of intellectual masturbation that is The Huffington Post, then even the most uncritical reader would read the Church’s actions as benign. As the pro-Catholic, conservative news outlet The Washington Post has it: “Church officials involved with the investigation say the Girl Scouts have made some changes in their materials and both sides say they think some complaints are overblown and that the relationship will remain intact.”
That escalated quickly.
Your life is a living hell, and your husband is out of control. He constantly makes an ass of himself. You try to defend him. You explain away or cover up his bizarre behavior. You remember the person he used to be and the good times you had. You hang in there hoping that things will get better, but they only get worse. Then you wonder, what if he never gets better? And what about the kids?
Imagine what it’s like to be married to a man so constantly on acid that he believes it’s his wife, in her sanity, who is tripping balls. Now that would be difficult.
I am used to disagreeing with the Church on issues revolving around the theme of equality.
I take it Pesoli was also used to professing her absolute faith in that same Church every Sunday at Mass.
After all, the last time the Church made any progress in this area was in 1992 when it took the baby step of allowing girls to be altar servers. I have waited (not exactly patiently or quietly — but I have waited, nonetheless) while the Church treads water, clinging to all the good the Church has done in the area of social justice as my personal life preserver.
But the new bumper crop of high profile Catholics like Paul Ryan and Rick Santorum have punched a hole in my life preserver with policy proposals that completely forsake the poor. And the assaults on the nuns and the Girl Scouts prove that the Church isn’t dog paddling anymore; it’s doing the backstroke so fast that even Michael Phelps would be impressed.
I was foundering.
What I considered the heart and soul of my church was gone, and I didn’t like what was left.
I think we arrive past the fun and to the heart of what Pesoli is expressing. What, exactly, is the heart and soul of the Catholic Church?
While the effort to establish social justice should certainly be the primary visible action of the Church in the world, this action rises from a deeper well. This action rises from doctrine. Christ did not merely say “love another”, and thereby institute a Church of Social Justice. Christ said love another, “as I have loved you.”
He gave us a call to action based on an established Truth. The effort to establish social justice — which is only a great way of saying “love the poor” — is a direct result of the reality that Christ loves us, a reality contained in the doctrines of the Church, which holds that Christ became man, died, and rose for our sake, thus elevating every man to a position of immense dignity.
It is because of this Truth that Paul could say “there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). Because of Christ, we should treat everyone with love.
The heart and soul of the Catholic Church cannot — therefore — be social justice. The heart and soul of the Catholic Church must be Christ Himself, for the command to love and work for justice rests on the reality of Him and His love. If this is admitted, though perhaps it will never be, then Pesoli’s complaint that the Church are focuses too heavily on moral issues becomes silly. For that same Christ has demanded that we “be perfect, therefore, as [our] heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). Christ demands both moral goodness and love for each other. The Catholic Church, as both the largest charitable organization in the world and the annoying Mother reminding us not to kill babies, seems to be fulfilling both of these demands.
Could I really raise my daughter in a Church that was so firmly committed to being on the wrong side of so many no-brainer issues?
I’m going to pull the common sense card, which I understand holds little weight in uncommonly senseless times: Is it at all possible that it is not the 2000 year old institution, with its consistent and incredible philosophical and theological tradition, who remains on the wrong side of no-brainer issues, but Pesoli herself? To be fair, I don’t know how many heresies our author has destroyed in her lifetime.
I didn’t know what to do. So, like George Bailey, I prayed. And like George Bailey, God sent me an angel, too. Only mine wasn’t named Clarence. Mine was named Melinda Gates.
Oh sweet Lord.
I learned that through her foundation, Gates had launched a program to provide contraceptives to 120 million of the world’s poorest women by the year 2020. And because Gates is both a public figure and a practicing Catholic, she immediately began taking heat for her efforts. Catholics questioned how she could support birth control; and supporters of birth control questioned how she could be Catholic.
Gates answered these questions with unwavering commitment to both. “Part of what I do with the [Gates] Foundation comes from that incredible social justice I had growing up and belief that all lives … are of equal value.”
How, I’m truly curious, does one have incredible social justice?
That’s my kind of Catholicism.
A noble sentiment. It reminds me of seventh grade, when I met a man who told me that I could be a mathematician, and believe whatever I want about Math. That’s my kind of Math, I said.
When questioned about the conflict between her foundation’s work and the Church’s position on contraception, Gates answered, “We’re not going to agree about everything, but that’s OK.” How refreshingly reasonable.
Reasonable? As in, Melinda Gates’ answer reflects her use of reason, that human faculty that generates true conclusions? Let’s use a little of the stuff ourselves.
To become a Catholic, a human being must believe and state the following: “I believe and profess all that the holy Catholic Church teaches, believes and proclaims to be revealed by God.”
This statement of belief must be restated by every Catholic, every week, at every recitation of the Creed, as “I believe in one, holy, Catholic and apostolic Church.” To be a Catholic at all is to believe in the teachings of the Catholic Church.
When Mrs. Gates claims that it’s “OK” that she disagrees with the teachings of the Catholic Church regarding contraception, clearly annunciated and elucidated as they are in Humanae Vitae…
Therefore We base Our words on the first principles of a human and Christian doctrine of marriage when We are obliged once more to declare that the direct interruption of the generative process already begun and, above all, all direct abortion, even for therapeutic reasons, are to be absolutely excluded as lawful means of regulating the number of children. Equally to be condemned, as the magisterium of the Church has affirmed on many occasions, is direct sterilization, whether of the man or of the woman, whether permanent or temporary. Similarly excluded is any action which either before, at the moment of, or after sexual intercourse, is specifically intended to prevent procreation—whether as an end or as a means.
…I cannot agree that her position is a reasonable one. It is “OK” in an earthly sense. No harm will come to her for disagreeing in this manner. In fact, she’ll be hailed a heroine and a rebel by white people fond of imposing Western norms where ever they see fit. It is not OK in the logical, rational sense, for the small reason that it makes no sense whatsoever.
If being Catholic depends on believing in the teachings of the Catholic Church, then rejecting a teaching of the Catholic Church is to reject Catholicism. Answering this obvious contradiction by pointing out that you’re following another Church teaching — the call for social justice — is no answer at all, but a picking and choosing from a belief system to construct your own. This is no more an example of bold rebellion than a man who claims to be a member of the Marines, but chooses to ignore the command to stay fit.