June 21, 2016
Such are the epochal times we”re living in that even timeworn truisms are at risk of obsolescence.
Take “Is the Pope Catholic?” Those of a certain age may prefer Steve Martin’s absurdist gloss””Does the Pope shit in the woods?””but the original has been every wise guy’s idea of a witticism for as long as I”ve been alive, and presumably longer.
But I”m not the first to wonder if the election of Pope Francis has rendered the phrase extinct. Great news for anyone whose taste in conversation veers away from the Runyonesque, but obviously not so great news for, you know, the Church.
Years ago, I would have cared more.
I spent much of my career as a semiprofessional Catholic. Besides working in Catholic publishing, such as it is, I”d called my first blog Relapsed Catholic. That was in 2000. When the American priestly sex-abuse scandals exploded shortly thereafter, I was in a uniquely helpful position: Canada had undergone an identical crisis the previous decade, and my blog posts about both found an eager readership. I encouraged others to start their own sites, and eventually an informal network grew up”run by priests, nuns, canon lawyers, laity”which I nicknamed “St. Blog’s Parish.”
I was then, as I am now, the resident brat. When, in 2002, America’s clueless cardinals called for a Day of Reparations”during which the laity would perform penance for what were undeniably clerical sins”I blogged that collective guilt was exactly one of the “trendy modern notions” (like the New Age “therapy” sporadically employed to “treat” pervert priests, and the diocesan deference to secular lawyers” morally dubious advice) that had exacerbated the corruption. Jesus, I noted, had been bracingly clear on the topic of child abuse: “It would be better for them to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around their neck.”
“Implicitly,” I blogged, “someone has to stay dry. And do the tying. I”m delighted to volunteer.”
But when I found myself, to my own amazement, in a position to marry, I was forced to face my ambivalence about certain Catholic teachings.
Now, I”d always been smugly proud of the Church’s approach to this sacrament: Couples must attend “pre-Cana” marriage classes, addressing practical matters like child rearing, finances, and sex. That these classes were supervised by a priest with little experience in any of these topics was, I told skeptics with a smile, merely a bug in an otherwise laudable system.
But I learned that if we wanted to marry in the Church, Arnie would have to annul his half-a-lifetime-ago first marriage, a process that required contacting his ex-wife. Perhaps if we were all residents of some feudal Fatima this would be doable, if unpleasant. However, the notion of annoying this poor woman, wherever the hell she was now, was indigestible.
Then there were the vows. I couldn”t mouth the promise to “accept children lovingly from God,” because that would have been a lie. I”ve never wanted children. Canon lawyers and theologians have patiently tried to explain to me why “natural family planning” is sanctioned by the Church but all other methods of birth control are not. And…I still don”t get it. What is so “natural” about NFP? Will someone please point me in the direction of the nearest thermometer tree? And anyhow, just thinking of the word “mucus” makes me gag.
So I decided to put myself quietly away. Changed the name of my blog. Resigned from any gigs with the word “Catholic” attached to them. And got married in Vegas.
I still defend the Church when it is falsely accused, with cut-and-paste rebuttals handily categorized under “Inquisition“ and “Crusades.” And yes, “abuse,” too. My inability to conform my mind and conscience to the catechism is my problem, not the Church’s.