"You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you odd." ~Flannery O'Connor

Sunday, January 28, 2007


I have called Alexandra Pelosi "the perfect living synecdoche of AmChurch." But if she is that, it is only as an individual. If one is looking for an event that serves as well, indeed better, one need look no further that what happened at St. Thomas Aquinas Church in Buffalo, NY on Sunday the 21st. You can read the details for yourself. Whether you're Catholic or not, the event perfectly encapsulates what's wrong with the Church in the U.S., of which the sex-abuse scandal and its devastating aftermath are but one symptom, albeit a major one.

I'm tempted to say we need to get matters of etiquette out of the way first. Yes, Deacon Tom McDonnell was wrong to confront a particular individual present at Mass, in this case Congressman Brian Higgins, in a homily. There are good reasons why that sort of thing just isn't done, and I do not gainsay them. Yes, Higgins was wrong to walk out of Mass in protest, and wrong for the reasons he himself gave. Higgins apologized and McDonnell will doubtless be disciplined. It was bad form all around. But much more significant is the fact most of the attention, including that of the local bishop, seemed to center more on how the event made everybody feel—i.e., bad—than on the content of the deacon's message. The applicable etiquette is designed, among other things, to protect people's feelings, which it should; but to carry on as though the event's emotional fallout is its most important aspect is itself wrong.

The most important aspect is whether what the deacon said is true. Unassailably, it is. But that does not seem to be uppermost in the minds of those directly involved, including Bishop Kmiec's. That's the symptom of what's wrong.

A faith community in which feelings trump truths is sick. We should look to bishops to help cure that disease. But in this case the bishop is part of the problem. He has said: "It is my belief that in situations like this, we are more effective when we have substantive, one-on-one conversations with individuals outside the context of the Mass." While true, that is also irrelevant. If Bishop Kmiec has indeed had such a conversation with Congressman Higgins, which we don't know because nobody is saying, what has it accomplished? It has had no visible result; if it's had any result at all, it's been to make Higgins all the less excusable for seeking to fund something, i.e. embryonic stem-cell research, the Church says is intrinsically evil. His culpability is thus increased. I don't think it can seriously be maintained that his salvation aided by that. So, who loves the man more: the one interested in protecting his feelings to the point of being unwilling to call him, concretely, to account? Or the one who calls him publicly and specifically to account?

Kmiec's attitude is the usual one among American bishops. Not even Archbishop Wuerl of Washington will withhold the Eucharist from anti-life CINO politicians; no, he prefers the way of "teaching," as does Kmiec. But for the reason I've suggested, that is not, objectively, the loving path. So I can explain it only as a desire not to rock the boat. That's the problem across the board. It is the problem which explains why all the sex abuse scandal was covered up for so long. It is the problem which explains why the Church evangelizes adults so little in comparison with the evangelical and pentecostal churches, many of whose adherents are former Catholics. It is the problem which explains a great many things. Until it is effectively addressed, the Church in this country will not regain her moral credibility with the public at large.
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