18 July 2007

One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic...

I don’t know why I bother to read the local paper. Unless I’m interested in who stabbed whom, or want to hear about the latest drunken rampage on the highways, there’s very little that could pass as real news. World and national events I can get on the internet.

I’m especially irked by some of the local columnists. There was one this morning that really put me off my breakfast. As soon as I read the title I should have stopped. "'One true church' should start by cleaning its own dark closet." What good could possibly come after that? Not much.

The columnist starts out by saying that he is thankful that he didn’t have a painful experience with clergy, unlike so many other young boys. Ok, fair enough. He then moves on to describe what was “probably my most memorable encounter with a priest.” Some deeply spiritual encounter, perhaps? Maybe some life-lesson learned? No. This was it:

One day, the parish priest came walking up to me.

He was a distinguished figure; a balding man, who was blessed with a booming "voice of God" that most people, oddly enough, typically ascribe to radio and TV newscasters.

"Are you going to go home and fight with your big brothers?" the priest intoned.

"No, father," I stammered.

"Chicken," he said playfully.

That was it? The “most memorable encounter” he ever had? It’s a pretty weak memory, but so be it. It was when the columnist moved on the meat of his article that I decided to push my breakfast aside.

It wasn't until years later I came to my own conclusion that there were two distinct parts to the Catholic Church.

There's "the Church" in Rome where the pope makes grand pronouncements and sets a conservative tone for the faithful. And then there's "the church" in the neighborhood where the priest is a tangible, often less rigid, part of the community.

In my experience, the Church hierarchy, whether in the Vatican or the archdiocese, was the serious, conservative — even detached — patriarch of the Catholic family. By comparison, the individual priests were more like laid-back uncles.

He then went on to discuss the settlement in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.

The settlement's timing couldn't be any worse.

Last week, the Vatican, with Pope Benedict XVI's approval, reasserted its claim that the Catholic Church is the one true church established by Jesus Christ and that other Christian denominations are defective.

It goes without saying how hypocritical it is to claim the spiritual high ground at the same time more than 500 victims of abuse were waging a war against Church obfuscation in the country's largest Catholic archdiocese.

It also comes at a time when the pope is making other controversial moves, such as calling for greater use of the Latin Mass.

This has ignited a fear that the Church will move away from the Vatican II reforms of the mid 1960s, which allowed Mass to be celebrated in the vernacular of the local community.

Speaking for this Catholic only, I know that individual priests and nuns do great works every day.

But, it's at times like these that Rome seems even more distant than ever.

When you want to beat a dog, any stick will do. In the mind of this columnist, “big bad old Rome” is the dog, and the stick happens to be the clergy abuse issue. Now, there’s no doubt in anyone’s mind that the abuse which happened is a scandal, abhorrent to God and to every faithful Catholic. But to pit “Rome” against the local Church not only shows a fairly serious ignorance, but it’s the source of the some serious trouble. It's a misguided thought that if the mean old Pope in Rome would just stop handing down these decrees, then it would be easier for the clergy on the local scene to be the nice guys, the “laid-back uncles” everybody loves. The thing they don’t seem to get is that those laid-back uncles can cause real problems.

A family becomes dysfunctional when Mom is telling the children. “Don’t listen to your father. He's just a cranky old crab who doesn’t want you to have any fun.” Or when Dad says, “Your mother is nuts.” To be healthy a family must be unified. And what’s true about human families is equally true about the family of the Church. God in His wisdom has founded the Church to be mater et magistra. And she is able to be the best mother when her children obey her teaching.