Monday, July 19, 2010

Far too many Padgetts

My first temptation, when I encountered this whinefest by Tim Padgett on Time's website, was to fisk it. On second thought, however, there's not enough of substance in the piece for an actual fisking. Any Catholic with half a brain can see for himself (and yes, I think that "himself" includes "herself,") what's wrong with passages like these:
Rome's misogynous declaration, tossed into its new guidelines on reporting clerical sexual abuse, did more than just highlight the church's hoary horror at the idea of female priests — or its penchant of late for sticking its papal slippers in its mouth every chance it gets. It also pointed up an increasingly spiteful rhetoric of bigotry. When Argentina in mid-July legalized gay marriage, the country's Catholic bishops weren't content to simply denounce the legislation; they used the occasion to argue for the subhumanity of homosexual men and lesbians, the way many white Southern preachers weren't ashamed to degrade African Americans during the civil rights movement. Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio not only called the new law "a scheme to destroy God's plan"; he termed it "a real and dire anthropological throwback," as if homosexuality were evolutionarily inferior to heterosexuality. [...]

How did it come to this? The answer lies in why the Vatican felt compelled to throw its antifemale jab into the sexual-abuse directives. When any institution is as convinced of its own moral infallibility as the Catholic Church is, it tends to lash out at criticism — especially charges as serious as the priestly rape of children — with Dostoyevskian paranoia. And the church then fortifies its less popular stances, like an all-male priesthood or the condemnation of gays, in the process becoming even more uncompromising. Most Catholics, according to polls in the U.S. and abroad, support women's ordination, but the church peevishly views that trend as an insidious subagenda of its sexual-abuse accusers. Hence last week's astonishing aside from Rome that both the ordination of female priests and pedophilia are graviora delicta, or grave crimes.

The real offense is the church's theological sophistry. Its argument for keeping women out of the priesthood — Jesus had no female apostles — is as shamefully bogus as it is unjust. The hierarchy, threatened by claims of Mary Magdalene's ministerial status, has long tried to identify her with the unnamed "woman caught in adultery" in the Gospel of St. John. When that woman was dragged before Jesus for judgment — death by stoning, the men demanded — Christ famously said, "He who is without sin, cast the first stone." The church wants us to embrace that compassionate teaching when it comes to pedophile priests, and yet it is deaf enough to cast stones at the "crime" of female priests.

What's at stake is the Catholic Church's ability to salvage any moral authority from the sexual-abuse tragedy. The fact is, it can still do that without ordaining women. But it can't do it while digging itself a deeper hole like a defendant hurling insults at a judge. It can't do it by excommunicating a hospital nun, as an Arizona bishop recently did, because she signed off on an abortion that saved a mother's life. It can't do it by losing sight of the difference between dogged traditionalism and mean-spirited obscurantism, as it so often does these days.

In keeping with the approximately sixth-grade level of this writing (no offense to intelligent sixth-graders), Padgett goes on to call bishops "...a bunch of homophobes wearing miters..." and to threaten that if the Church keeps on insisting on, you know, truth and all that instead of accepting its role as a "...a helpful, contemplative guide in matters spiritual and social..." the really relevant Catholic youth like his altar-girl daughter will just quit paying attention to the Church altogether.

Of course, with every word he writes, Padgett reveals the truth: he stopped paying attention to the Church a long time ago.

If he hadn't, he'd be able to understand both the historical and theological roots of the Church's tradition of having only male priests. He'd also realize that to God Himself (since Jesus is really the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity) no mere considerations of present cultural reality would act as a barrier to any action. Jesus spent time in the company of tax collectors and prostitutes; He didn't avoid ordaining women simply because He thought the people of His day would reject female priests. The fact that He didn't do so does, indeed, mean something, whether we lack the humility to recognize that or not.

Of course, Padgett isn't paying attention to Church teaching on the sinfulness of homosexual acts, either. Like so many who misunderstand the Church on this point, he sees Church teaching as essentially a declaration of the subhumanity of same-sex attracted people, instead of recognizing that it is Church teaching which insists that a person's sexual orientation cannot be the basis of his whole reality. The Church wants the same thing for same-sex attracted people as she wants for the rest of us: salvation, and eternal life. No matter how hard people like Padgett try to reinvent morality, the simple truth is that sexual sins do not lead us to eternal life, but to eternal death. Gay marriage is, for Catholics, as much a road to eternal death as the remarriage of divorced Catholics in situations in which no annulment is possible, cohabitation, or any other state of living which simply makes a habit of soul-killing sin easier and easier to perpetuate.

But when you buy into the secular world's view of the Church, stop paying attention to her teachings, and start thinking of her as an embarrassment, it's quite easy to get to the point where Padgett obviously is. There are far to many Padgetts in the Church today, men who hate the Church for what she is, create for themselves an image of her as a sort of trendy social worker who encourages her clients to do a spot of navel-gazing now and again but isn't pushy about it, and proceed to tear down the real Church in favor of the false image of her they pretend is real. The biggest lie they swallow is the lie that somehow Christ would be frowning at His Church's insistence that women priests are still a ridiculous notion and that homosexual sex is gravely morally evil. Christ is, to them, just another cool social worker who affirms people in their okayness while never insisting on, you know, rules, or anything.

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