Thursday, November 03, 2005

“Nice work if you can get it.”

Amy Welborn had a post recently on working for the Church, in particular the risk that doing so might pose to one's Faith. So yesterday she introduced a separate thread entitled "Risk Factor." People are sharing their stories. Most of them have a familiar ring.

The only time I was ever really on a Church payroll, was when I was a sacristan for a Jesuit parish in Georgetown in the early 1990s. My marriage had only recently tanked, and I was on the mend, living in a one-bedroom flat in the heart of the historic district. Shortly after my arrival, they were looking for an additional member to fill the rotation. I got pretty good at it. Maybe too good. My biggest shortcoming (one that I confront to this day, I confess) is being too conspicuous, which is a liability in a good sacristan. But I knew what to do and how to do it from the get-go, and everybody there knew I was the best, even those who wished I'd go away. Fortunately, I was just quiet enough to stay out of a book written by Washington journalist Jim Naughton entitled "Catholics in Crisis: An American Parish Fights For Its Soul," which describes the high drama that occured while I was there. (I read it -- twice.)

I can't say my adversaries were as quiet.

If there is one thing I have learned about "professional lay ministry" over the years, it is that all the talk about being creative and innovative and caring and sharing and helping others, is really a lot of crap.

Most lay employees in the Church are middle-aged upper-middle-class suburban women with overpaid husbands, who find in their employment an opportunity to indulge their petty agendas. They get advanced degrees from places that don't really teach anything, which is obvious to anyone scrutinizing their positions with sufficient intellectual vigor. They lie through their teeth as easily as you and I breathe, they plot against those who are not like-minded (or in the absense of those, one another), and they make any priest in their midst feel like a patriarchal sexist pig unless they can walk all over him. Which is how they do, leaving a pantywaist shadow of a man in their wake.

Being a "communion minister" is less about assisting the priest in an extraordinary situation, than it is a sort of benchmark of the identity of the "minister." The early morning Mass may only have forty or fifty people. But if some heavy-set woman in stretch pants magically appears at the tabernacle to ride shotgun at Communion -- hey, I know it's cruel, but I keep seeing it everywhere I go -- the laity have indeed arrived. Those who are served are incidental; this is not about them. This is about those who appear to serve. That photo of a woman in an alb or street clothes, doing the orans posture behind the altar during a "communion service," does more for "The Spirit of Vatican II" than feeding a thousand hungry mouths.

They would have you believe that the Church is run by a bunch of men. That only human males are ordained is self-evident. But it isn't much of a man who can't make a move without kow-towing to a bunch of arrogant sea-hags on the payroll. It is they who are the power behind the throne -- end-running a man's decisions, discouraging a good man from entry into the seminary, networking with others of their coven at the parish level, who are hard at work watching the men at their end. One case for a married priesthood might be that these banshees would have to get by the pastor's wife before they could do any real damage.

(Note to the Holy Father: Yo, Holiness! It might be worth it after all.)

And by the way, all that social justice talk, that's for everybody else in the real world, not the land-of-make-believe that is the Church infrastructure. The protections that are available to collective-bargaining employees (who don't have to read Rerum Novarum to know what a union is for) are notoriously absent to an employee of the Church. The exception is the ideological diva who can call a press conference if she's fired for, oh let's say, giving a "reflection" in place of the pastor's homily.

Because, after all, we can't expose the People of God to a scandal now, can we?

But we have. What the mainstream press generally doesn't tell you, is about all the laypeople (and the vast majority in these cases are women) who enabled the errant priests in Boston, Philadelphia, and elsewhere. These guys were not dirty old men in trenchcoats hiding in the shadows of school playgrounds. They were bright, attractive, charismatic figures, who did what they did, and said what they said, because they could get away with it. And they could get away with it, because enough people were convinced that these men could do no wrong. And if enough people convince you that you can do no wrong, then... well, buddy, you can do no wrong! You also serve a purpose in providing fertile ground (as in "Hey, nobody's watching, so...") for those with plans of their own.

This is an admittedly intemperate and apparently uncharitable look at those who labor for the Church. It is also a far cry from the view of certain exceptions, who have shared their good news in the forum which Ms Welborn has provided. But as they are reading this (and they know who they are), they must know that somewhere in the blogosphere, displaced seminarians are laughing their asses off. What is painful for some to read, is also painfully true to those who have learned the hard way.

And it is the most potent evidence we have of the power of The Evil One. Why pick on the average Joe at the periphery, when you can go for the epicenter? Legions of practicing Catholics can lose their faith, vast numbers of souls can be lost (as in vast numbers of Joes), with one direct hit in just the right place. So it has been from the beginning. So it shall remain, to one degree or another, until The Final Battle.

And somewhere in the world, when no one with a camera is watching, the real work of Christ and His Church is proceeding as planned.

"Now when John had heard in prison the works of Christ: sending two of his disciples he said to him: Art thou he that art to come, or look we for another? And Jesus making answer said to them: Go and relate to John what you have heard and seen. The blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead rise again, the poor have the gospel preached to them." (Matthew 11:2-5)

Wherever the corporal and spiritual works of mercy are performed in His name, He is there, and His Church is there. It is no less so than it is at the feet of the man who sits in the Chair of Saint Peter. Surely one would serve to no avail, without the benefit of the other.

The Lord works in mysterious ways. Not to mention very clever.


Anonymous said...

Fortunately, you don't hold a grudge.

Mr. Nixter said...

I've sometimes heard/read that blogs allow their users to "rant." After reading your tome on those ladies parading across the altar wearing their stretch pants, I think I understand where that terminology came from!

Do I perhaps sense a slight disdain for the fair sex who serve their local parishes?

David L Alexander said...


To answer your question; no, just the ones who serve for the wrong reasons. And you're mistaken about my disdain. It is by no means slight. Oh, the stories I could tell! But if I did, some guy going through life with a name like "Anonymous" (and s/he really gets around too, have you noticed that?) would think I hold a grudge.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for demonstrating the point.

Mr. Nixter said...

And this "anonymous" character who has penned a few word on this modest blog...perchance a woman???

David L Alexander said...

Jack: I have no idea. But after this week it won't matter, because Anonymous posters will be barred from MWBH.

Anonymous: I didn't realize you HAD a point.

Anonymous said...

But it isn't much of a man who can't make a move without kow-towing to a bunch of arrogant sea-hags on the payroll. It is they who are the power behind the throne -- end-running a man's decisions,

You neglect to specify what prevents the pastor from canning his problem employees.

Dymphna said...

Judging from what I've seen of the lay ministers in my parish I'd have to say that this post was spot on.

John C. Hathaway said...

The whole point was he's criticizing people who don't "serve." They control. They use "ministries" in the Church to emphasize personal power. They run up to the altar and fall all over each other to be one of the "Eucharistic Ministers," not even using the proper term.
At my parish, now that Bp. Loverde has permitted/ordered lay reception from the cup, it takes a whole hymn just for the priest to give communion to all the EMCs.

THe fact that these people are women is mostly incidental. I've seen many men who fit the mold Mr. Alexander describes, as well.

What I "love" are the middle-aged, overweight Elvis impersonators who serve as "music ministers" and stand there swaying their hips while strumming their guitars.

The only reason it's "women" is that, as he notes, the only people who can *afford* to work for the CHurch are women--upper-middle class women whose husbands have good jobs, divorcees living off alimony, or extremely poor women who are desperate for work.

And remember who sets the culture: the nuns.

The reason all these liberal laywomen get *in* is that they're let in by liberal nuns. If a conservative layperson (male or female) tries to get a job, dollars to doughnoughts some nun will do everything in her power to stop it.

Dad29 said...

John H., there are Elvis impersonators, and there are Garfunkel impersonators.

Same rot, different style of stupid for sticking...

David L Alexander said...

Art Deco, thou hast writ:

"You neglect to specify what prevents the pastor from canning his problem employees."

First they'd have to be seen as a problem, wouldn't they?

I know one pastor who, some years ago, confided in me upon reaching his new assignment, that he was confronted with a parish predominated by "hypersensitive laity." That is to say, they were very defensive about having as active a role in parish operations as they did, to the point of attempting to intimidate him, in the exercise of his normal perogative. I daresay it may have been a factor in breaking his health. I'd love to ask him, but he's no longer with us.

But my experience tells me that intimidation -- whether admitted to oneself or not -- is the major factor here. No one wants to be seen as "rigid" or "backward" or pre-Vatican II." And being a priest can be a lonely existence, especially when you're alone in your assignment (a fact in much of the Midwestern USA, for example).

Even a good man learns in the seminary to "get along by going along." Some will keep their heads down long enough to get ordained. Others keep their heads down long afterward.

Does that shed any light?

Anonymous said...


Der Tommissar said...


David L Alexander said...


Ian Andrew Palko said...

If you'd only been a sacristan a bit longer, you'd probably have met me, since I went to college a few blocks away. I know exactly what you mean ... when the sweatpants-wearing, weight-baring lady comes waddling up to the altar, you don't get in the way ... if momentum doesn't have a way of making the battle decisive, the hyphenated last name she carries somehow seems to make her more powerful.

I agree with Tom, easily one of if not the best blog posts I've ever read anywhere.

Barb Szyszkiewicz said...

Excellent! This gives me a lot to think about. Thank you.
Found you thanks to Tom's plug!

Anonymous said...

You've hit the nail on the head here. I come across this sort of thing all the time and it drives me wacko. Only it's not the women in our parish, it's the men. Our community has what I call a "country club" mindset, which assumes (seemingly) that the priest is some sort of employee, rather like a caddy. Interestingly enough, the Sunday school director (female) is more of a drill sergeant than anything else. She dictates the choir schedule for Sunday Masses, and expects our choir directors to adhere to it. The directors themselves (also women) are what I call "The Barbie Twins": both are blonde, married to affluent men, and both act as if they consider the choir another item in their weekly calendar, along with lunch dates and beauty treatments. This year marks my 19th year as organist in this parish, and will probably be the last. One can only hold one's nose and play for so long .... Patricia Gonzalez

Anonymous said...

Okay, I AM one of those middle-aged, sensible shoe wearing, blue state sympathizing, social justice, women-ought-to-run-the-world, Catholic church employees, and I absolutely SHARE your loathing for my type.
For a long time I thought my more conservative family and friends were bonkers, they were always complaining about "pushy broads" (that was one of the nicer phrases) who were trying to be the Pope (but only becasue they couldn't come up with a job title that sounded superior to the Holy Father....ewwwww! that patriarchal word!)
I was traveling a lot and church hopping, and thought they were just reactionaries who couldn't stand seeing smart holy women in positions of influence.
But as soon as I settled in one place, and began "ministering" in one place I realized how right they were.
There is this enormous class of lay people, overwhelmingly female (but NOT, acutally, overwhlemingly liberal or progressive,) whose "authority" comes from "credentials" issued by others of their ilk (it's as if you or I decided we were royalty and started "knighting" our firends.)
They tend to be remarkably ill-informed but utterly positive about what they think they know, and it is, you're right, all about power.
They want what they want, they micro-manage, and they sulk like two year olds when they are thwarted.
The musically illiterate want to select the liturgical music, the color blind choose the felt and burlap for the banners, and the historical imbeciles ("What? there was a 'liturgical movement' before VCII?") think the Holy Spirit.... whoops, the Spirit, speaks only through them at this moment in time.
They seem not to know that "parochial" when applied to anything other than a grade school is gerally a pejorative, and they care desparately about "well, this is the way we do things HERE," rather than "this is the way the CHURCH ask us to do it."
I've had Music Directors, DREs, Parish Liturgists, and even from time to time their lacky priests tell me utter nonsense and when confronted with refutation in black and white (SC didn't ban Latin? White isn't the only permissable color for funeral vestments? Vespers is a LITURGY so we can't just make it up as we go along? VCII didn't outlaw celebration ad orientem? that song isn't officially called the Preparation Song?) pull rank and walk away.
I am naturally confrontational, so I'm trying not to enjoy it all too much, but it's getting to the point where I'm only staying put for the young people who would be left in utter ignorance if their only knowledge of the Faith comes from these ignorant harpies (as opposed to me, a learned harpy.)

Anonymous said...

Okay, so I can't type or spell, especially whne I've had a large brandy.... my humble apologies.

The Anon at 10:45