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Their Madness, Not Ours

September 19, 2018 Frontpage No Comments

By CRAIG MONTESANO

(Editor’s Note: Craig Montesano is a lobbyist and Catholic writer who serves as a lector at St. Matthew’s Cathedral in Washington, D.C.)

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People out to gain your consent to their bad ideas, or bad behavior, often employ a clever device. They start off by stating a premise that appeals to common sense and then, quick as a wink, use terms to manufacture an artificial consensus for their errors. It is a time-honored rhetorical and polemical tool that can be found everywhere from Shakespeare’s plays to the editorial page of USA Today.
And while we would expect politicians and activist scientists to be practiced in its use, it is disturbing to see how skilled certain ecclesial figures have recently become.
Such sophistry was on display a few weeks ago at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle in Washington, D.C. Donald Cardinal Wuerl, in an attempt to address the priestly abuse scandal at an early-morning Mass, linked the Confiteor prayer to “the shame we all feel” about the “dark cloud” hanging over the Church for which “all of us take responsibility.” It was time, he averred, for us to “turn as a Church to the bruised body of Christ” and atone for “our failures” as we reckon with a long path out of darkness.
This was no mea culpa. In fact, Wuerl’s sleight-of-hand assigning of blame to the laity for misdeeds he has been accused of resembled the passing of the buck between Pilate and the rabble in the praetorium over who would bear the responsibility for Christ’s crucifixion.
Apart from its lack of contrition, there is something far more troubling about the content of the cardinal’s homily — especially in his use of metaphors. That, in and of itself, is not novel.
As philosopher Robert Sokolowski points out, the repurposing of mundane language in theological discussions can help us to grasp new dimensions that take us beyond our worldly existence, toward a new and fuller appreciation of God.
Wuerl did not do this. His failure to honestly confront the ethical problem of ordained priests acting on disordered attractions rendered his words as quotidian as any utterance of Dickens’ pitiable Gradgrind. It also marks an abandonment of reason once nurtured by the Church.
Darwinism, a modernist school of thought, holds that existence is meaningless because man is the arbitrary product of random chance. The writings of Jesuit Fr. James Martin about people being born with same-sex attractions are an attempt to fuse Darwinism with Catholic thought. In some respects, Martin is parodying Churchill’s observation about worms and glow-worms, though to read him is to come away with the impression that homo sapiens is evolving into homosexual.
Regardless, the problem with Martin, and Darwinism writ large, is that both portray ethics as an individual matter.
When placed in the context of Walker Percy’s diagnosis of sexuality “occupying an absolutely central locus in the consciousness” of the present-day self, it was perhaps inevitable that the uglier forms of the sexual revolution would find their way into both seminary and sacristy.
Sadly, the Church hierarchy’s laconic response is neatly captured in Stanley Jaki’s book Cosmos and Creator: “As in such a universe man is a mere accident, his ethical choices too have to be a mere matter of accident . . . one pays only a penalty but bears no responsibility.” In other words, who are we to judge?
Absent a dramatic course correction, it appears that senior Church figures in Rome and America will continue to exploit the priestly abuse scandal to reconcile Catholic theology to a Darwinism that substantiates man’s claim of dominion over his arbitrary body. This, of course, is an injustice to abuse victims past, present or — God forbid — future. And the resulting hybrid would strand us in the realm of the mundane, a bleak house with attenuated ties to a remote God in which the practice of virtue is sublimated into operationalization and technologization.
But their madness need not be ours. It must not be ours.
The lay faithful have a duty and responsibility to defend faith and reason against any bishop who would deny us their light. We do not have to passively accept the fetters of intellectual enslavement. Agitate, agitate, agitate — until the Church hierarchy has no choice but to pick up the fallen standard of orthodoxy.
Because for those who received Christ, who became children of God by His power, there can be no more idle silences — not in the parish council meetings, not in the schools and religious formation classes, not in the media, not in the rectories and chanceries, not in the seminaries, not in any appropriate forum where love and obedience obligate us to speak out.
And wherever we encounter obstinacy, we will use the weapons of truth, prayer, and witness to roar, like Cromwell: “Depart, I say, and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go.”
(C.F. Montesano ©2018)

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