Eye on the "dissent-fest" (part one)

As I exited the controlled climate of the L.A. Religious EducationCongress exhibit hall to enter the crisp Anaheim air, I looked up.After two days of intermittent rain and overcast skies, the clouds weregone--welcome relief. Palm tree tops against blue sky. California. Asmy gaze returned to ground-level, it landed on a tall man with wildwhite hair, towing a hand truck and handing out flyers to people asthey exited the side door of the Convention Center. Naturally, Iapproached him.

"What do you have there?" I asked. The man explained that he was distributing a "thoroughly researched and well-documented" dossier on the Congress speakers.

"Ah, and--"

"It's all fully documented," he reiterated rapidly. "Otherwise, thearchdiocese would sue us in a heartbeat." He smiled pleasantly.

I nodded: "Okay. Thanks."

He went on his way, and I continued toward the parking garage, reading as I walked.

"Stop Cardinal Mahony's subversion of Catholic doctrine at theworld's largest dissent-fest!" The subheadline was even more excited:"Pro-'gays,' priestess advocates, occultists, and anti-Pope rebels to'educate' tens of thousands of Catholic religion teachers." As if thereader's attention wasn't already grabbed, the subheadline continued,"Millions of Catholic children's souls in grave danger worldwide."

The rest of the bilingual flyer goes on in a similar fashion,listing several "dissenters," including R. Scott Appleby, who "heapedscorn on 'fundamentalist' Catholics" in his book Being Right;the late Bishop Kenneth Untener, who "ran a sex-desensitization programfor his seminarians that had them watch pornographic movies"; ThomasGroome, who "wants not only women priests but also women bishops"; TomReese, SJ, who "was known for publishing pro-and-con articles aboutchurch teachings"; and many others.

The newsletter is published by Concerned Roman Catholics of America, Inc.and written by Kenneth M. Fisher, president of the group. As I approached the parking structure near the front of the Convention Center, I saw two men handing out more flyers under a row of about a dozen hand-made signs bearing slogans similar to the newsletter's headline. One of the Concerned Roman Catholics (CRCs) was engaged in a heated exchange with a young man of about seventeen years. I moved within earshot.

"If you're going to tell me that the Latin Mass is more of a Mass than today's, then that's where you lose me," the teenager said. He was walking away from the CRC in the wide-brimmed straw hat. The boy's mother was with him. She said nothing.

"It's more traditional," the CRC explained.

"If there's a Liturgy of the Word, and a Liturgy of the Eucharist," the boy said, "you have a Mass."

Just then, a woman in her thirties pushing a stroller approached the group. She was on about something. A priest, she explained loudly, had "mocked" the pope's statement on end-of-life care.

"How did he mock it?" I had entered the fray.

"He said the pope didn't even write it!" she exclaimed. It's not clear that he did, replied another in the group, which had grown by a few.

"There's been some question as to how the pope's statement fits in with traditional teaching on end-of-life care," I offered.

The woman took a large step backward, her eyes widened, and she declared (again, loudly): "So you support euthanasia then?"

The child in the stroller paid none of this any mind.

Grant Gallicho joined Commonweal as an intern and was an associate editor for the magazine until 2015. 

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