April 11, 2010
Salvaging the Wreckage of the Catholic Church?By Paul Shlichta
Imagine this rewrite of the scene in Robinson Crusoe where he rows back to the ship to salvage its contents. Crusoe is filling his skiff with provisions and guns and books -- when he feels a tap on his shoulder and turns to face an imposing gentleman, in a ship's officer's uniform, glaring at him. "I assume that you are under the misconception that this ship is sinking. It is not. Please put those things back where they belong and go!"
It was in a similar spirit of exasperation that I googled over 47,000 hits to the phrase "can [or will] the Catholic church survive." This concern (or perhaps eager expectancy) is nothing new. The cover of the April 1 (sic) 2002 issue of Time was glaringly labeled "CAN THE CATHOLIC CHURCH SAVE ITSELF?" and included a twelve-page article that wasn't too hopeful.
The majority of these obituaries concern the past decade of scandals about sexually abusive priests and the failure of their bishops to detect and defrock them. This is admittedly scandalous, but is not a result of orthodox Catholicism -- rather, part of the fallout from a half-century of insidious sabotage of the Church by ultraliberal revisionists.
In particular, as Michael Rose has documented, the scandal was largely a result of the development of a liberal underground in Catholic seminaries and the consequent culling out of devout young men because of their "rigidity," and the acceptance of liberal or even homosexually inclined candidates, a few of whom became pedophilic priests or overly tolerant administrators.* Even so, as has been detailed elsewhere, the percentage of sexually abusive priests is notably higher among non-Catholic clerics and the number of offenders higher for secular schoolteachers -- a fact that the media persistently refuses to note.
I suspect that the present furor, though partly justified, has been inflamed by suppressed guilt about the moral inconsistency of contemporary public opinion, especially about sexual matters. Partial-birth abortion and infanticide are only a few minutes and a few millimeters apart, yet one is a "therapeutic procedure" and the other a hideous crime.
We condemn child pornography as criminal but applaud the parading of little girls, such as Jonbenet Ramsay, in "beauty contests" and teenage rock stars who do pole dances in concert before mobs of idolatrous children. Prime-time TV is filled with explicit scenes that were once restricted to porno movie theaters.
Our violent reaction against pedophilia may be prompted by the sting of our guilt in having failed to protect our children from the deluge of sexual stimuli -- which are the mental equivalent of pedophilia -- that the media and its marketers incessantly spew out at them.
But I digress. The point at issue is the assumption that a matter involving a small percentage of aberrant priests and a few lax bishops is somehow enough to destroy the Catholic Church. Such funeral arrangements seem premature and naïve to Catholics whose church has been ineffectually buried more often than Dracula.
From its beginning, the Catholic Church has been plagued with would-be gravediggers and salvagers. The Romans, regarding Jehovah and Jesus as obsolete tribal gods, generously assigned them an obscure corner of their Pantheon and were understandably angry when the Christians refused the honor.
Chesterton recounts a dialogue between Prince Albert and Mr. Gladstone, one gleeful and the other somber, about the expected disintegration of the Catholic Church after the declaration of the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. Freud, in The Future of a Delusion, pondered the social consequences of the inevitable disappearance of Christianity.
A few decades ago, the Pope received a petition from self-appointed theologians, including Picasso and Sartre, urging that the Mass be kept in Latin -- their reasoning apparently being that since the Church had dwindled into a pathetic museum of antiquities, the Mass should be kept as quaint as possible.
In our generation, liberal Catholic scholars, under the assumption that modern science and scholarship have destroyed traditional Catholic beliefs, have been eager to salvage a few scraps, such as communal good fellowship and charitable works, from what they perceive to be the shipwreck of the Church.
These salvage efforts are not only premature; they seem to be aimed in the wrong direction. The Freudianism that was expected to supplant religion is now out of fashion. The mechanistic science that was supposed to explode religious superstition has given way to a quantum relativistic view of the universe that tends to support even the most esoteric of Catholic doctrines. It is rather the ship of modern society, with its course once confidently set for Utopia, that seems to be foundering, with its cargo of cyberdepersonalization, technoterrotism, and environmental degradation shifting dangerously in the hold while its stern sinks ominously close to the water line.
But not to worry: Since the fall of the Roman Empire, we Catholics have gone through this lifeboat rescue drill many times, and we will do our best to save whatever and whomever we can.
*This tolerance may even have attracted pedophiles, who are always looking for a respectable disguise that brings them into contact with children.