The Parallel Catholic Church
Over at The Dish, Andrew Sullivan praises a new HBO documentary, "Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God," by Alex Gibney ("Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room") on the perpetration and cover-up of sex abuse in the Catholic Church that traces the corruption all the way to the Pope. None of this, I think, will be news to many of us who have been following this horrifying story for more than a decade, but Sullivan offers an interesting comment on how the loss of moral credibility among the hierarchy has created two parallel churches:
One feature of this last election was the complete failure of the Vatican hierarchs to dictate the vote to the flock. American Catholics voted for Obama over Romney. The docile fools in dresses - from Dolan to Chaput - were ignored as they now routinely are, and should be. They actually think they still have moral authority. But moral authority has to be earned with each generation, and the corruption in the Vatican is so deep and so rotten and so incapable of self-reflection it has effectively created two Catholic churches in America: those few in the pews who still listen to the bishops and those who exist almost in a parallel church, focused on their own parish, their own priest, and their own faith, which remains, for many of us, undimmed.
I have also found the idea of inhabiting a parallel Catholic Church to be one way of sustaining my own faith through the dark time of scandal, pastoral malfeasance, and political cynicism that continues to undermine the hierarchical Church. The wonderful community at my local parish and the excellent priests that serve us have kept me coming back every week in spite of the continual heartbreak that comes from seeing certain bishops and their friends take the public stage with a militant defensiveness, a hunger for power, and a litigiousness that seems to be the very antithesis of the Gospel's message of self-sacrifice, humility, and love. Now more than ever, I find that spending Sunday mornings in prayer with my spouse and our friends at the Church of Loretto is essential to sustaining a spiritual life away from the daily silliness that has become the public witness of institutional Catholicism.This is why I find Luke's post about a young man being denied confirmation at his Minnesota parish so depressing. Some conservative Catholics may applaud this move as an important catechetical moment on the way to preserving doctrinal discipline and the deeper edification of a smaller, purer Church. From the pew where I sit, however, it is a cold-hearted, pharisaical action that privileges the letter over the Spirit, which will only result in stamping out any meaningful future for this Church that so many of us love in spite of feeling unloved by it. Why a priest or bishop would deny the sacraments to an enthusiastic and independently-minded young person -- who has an obvious interest in practicing the virtues of love and justice (that he, no doubt, learned in the Church) in the public sphere -- and the family that raised him is beyond baffling to me. It is mean, plain and simple. Do we really have so many 17 year-olds seeking confirmation these days that we can afford to alienate those who desire the sacrament in good faith?As Sullivan points out, this case in Minnesota is made even worse by the fact that it looks like political retribution:
In Minnesota, where a third of the population is Catholic, the hierarchy insisted that the state amend its constitution to keep gay couples out of civil society and civil marriage. The hierarchy failed - as miserably as they failed in their trumped up "war on religion" nonsense. The Amendment didn't pass. [...] And so in Minnesota, a 17-year-old Catholic, Lennon Cihack, who goes to mass weekly, and who was diligently preparing for his confirmation, posted on his Facebook page a picture of himself and a poster opposing the Amendment. His mother is then called into the rectory by the local priest and told that the confirmation cannot occur. Then she is told that the entire family is now barred from communion.
Is it Sunday yet? I need to go to Mass.
About the Author
Eric Bugyis teaches Religious Studies in the Division of Politics, Philosophy and Public Affairs at the University of Washington Tacoma.