Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Dancing Around the Issues

This past February saw a parish in Seattle fall victim to a hate crime.

At least that's what some would have you believe. Saint Patrick's Church, located north of downtown in the Portage Bay neighborhood of the city, has what could politely be termed a rather enthusiastic liturgical life, complete with dancing and movement and banner-waving and what-not. They haven't been all that ashamed of it, having until recently chosen to make it public on Facebook. They got a response they weren't expecting, in the form of a barrage of criticism from faithful Catholics in social media, who are tired of the nonsense, irreverence, the desecration of the house of God, whether it happens at the parish down the road, or Down Under. The extent of outrage took the parish in question by surprise, to the point where they removed their Facebook page, so that the photos of their celebrations would be free of harassment.

Well, maybe not entirely.

Enter the predictable punditry, as William Bornhoft admonishes us to respond with love, or something.

"Parish problems should be dealt with on the parish level, when possible. If that fails, they should be dealt with on the diocesan level, and so on. This is entirely in keeping with our teaching of subsidiarity. Rather than behaving like prideful whistleblowers appealing to the online masses when we are offended, we should properly communicate our grievances through the Church’s hierarchy ..."

In response, Joseph Shaw of the UK-based Latin Mass Society reminded Mister Nice Guy, that recourse to dialogue and persuasion hasn't always worked with unreasonable people ...

I think it is worth doing this because it leaves a paper-trail and goes into files. When history comes to be written, no one will be able to say that the laity acquiesced in what is going on. Historians with access to the files will be able to see that we constantly tested the system, and were constantly, with rare exceptions, rebuffed.

But we pay a price for this activity. Mr Bornhoft will be mortified to learn that this kind of thing is regarded, and denounced, by many of the people who hear our complaints or see our letters as aggressive, uncharitable, and contrary to a proper Catholic attitude. The accusations he makes of those posting comments on Facebook are exactly those made of those who are doing what he thinks they should be doing. It has happened to me ...

... and "unreasonable" is exactly what we're dealing with here, as the example to follow will demonstrate.

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Much has been written in recent decades about much that has been written; in particular, letters to the local bishop or to Rome by ordinary Catholics, citing their concern over things gone wrong, attacks on the Church from within. Whether abuses against the sacred liturgy in the local parish, errors against the Faith proclaimed from the pulpit or local "theological institute," or women Religious escorting pregnant women to abortion clinics, not to mention other attitude problems -- the list goes on. We are told to "go up the ladder" of the hierarchical system, to be short and to the point, to be excruciatingly polite, with every "t" crossed, every "i" dotted, every jot and tittle correctly jotted and tittled -- and to bide our time.

Basically, to kiss more than their rings.

One would think that the discovery of deception, over the sexual indiscretions of priests in the past generation, would have altered the sympathies of those in the pews. (It sure has hell altered mine.) Father Zuhlsdorf has counseled us, and one could say, wisely so, as to the right and wrong way to address our concerns in writing to the sacred pastors of the Church. He should know, too, since he worked in the Vatican for a number of years, and knows how complaints are handled (or aren't, depending on their merit). It is simply based upon the admonition “in omnia, caritas” -- in all things, charity; not to mention that old saying that you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.

IMAGE: Catholic Answers, Inc. Used here without permission or shame.

Then, of course, there are the miscreants who ignore that good advice. It is they who become what My Very Close Personal Friend Father Paul Scalia refers to as “The Church Belligerent.”

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One year ago this month, Katrina “The Crescat” Fernandes Ebersole related her experience at the parish of her grandmother's funeral. This included the celebrant imploring the people to stand for the Eucharistic Prayer, and Katrina herself being denied Communion on the tongue, to the point where the priest actually grabbed her by the hand. She also describes how, shortly before her grandmother's passing, the parish secretary denied arranging for a visit from the priest when her grandmother was dying, offering instead to have a "lay minister" come and give a blessing.

Shortly after that story was published, she issued a clarification of events that transpired, including the profound apology on the part of the priest himself, and that she was satisfied with his overture.

Of course, you know another old saying, that "everybody has to get into the act." The mere reference in this venue to such a stalwart-albeit-anonymous fellow may provoke our readers to ask: “Yo, Mighty Black-Hatted One, what more could you in all your pompous pontificating possibly presume to produce as proxy to this predicament?”

Ah, dear minions, how easily one would cut this writer to the quick! Or was there any thought given as to just how this local brouhaha came to such a happy and expedient ending?

It is here that yours truly would dare to tell the untold story, which may or may not have had an effect, but which was undertaken on one's own volition, without prior knowledge or approval of our hapless (and more famous and well-loved) heroine. For it was while overcome with outrage, and just a dash of chivalry, that this writer decided to bring the affair via electronic mail, to the attention of the Most Reverend Francis Xavier DiLorenzo, DD, STD, Bishop of Richmond, Virginia, the diocese in which this adolescent personality cult masquerading as a parish is situated. But did we stop there? Oh no, we're much too clever for that. We copied it to the one person to whom His Excellency would eventually turn and say, "Handle it." In this case, that would be the Reverend Monsignor Mark Richard Lane, D Min, Vicar General, Moderator of the Curia*, and Vicar for Clergy.

And so what follows is the relevant correspondence at this little corner of the internet, in order of occurrence.

On Wednesday, March 11, 2015 1:47 PM, David L Alexander wrote:

Your Excellency:

There is an account of an incident that occurred recently in your diocese, and it is going viral. Its nature is such as to make right-this-damn-minute a very good time to read about it.


You might be interested to know just how much this is getting around.


I'm going to assume that the use of illicit or invalid matter for Holy Communion might be a concern of yours. On the chance that it may not be, I seem to recall that the incident as described by the woman, upon attempting to receive Communion, constitutes assault according to the laws of the Commonwealth of Virginia. (No, I'm not a lawyer, just a guy who knows what "tell it to the judge" means.) Maybe you're okay with that as long as it didn't involve sexual abuse or losing money. Others in high places and less beholden to you may feel differently.

That, and there were probably a whole bunch of witnesses.

I would suggest that you might dispense with the usual countermeasures of saving face, as it's generally too late once there's egg on it. Further, I submit that it serves your best interests to personally apologize (that means, meet her face to face and actually talk to her, while being just a little inconvenienced) to the woman in question, and remove the priest from his position. Let there be no room for doubt that this is not the sort of approach which the Diocese of Richmond takes in the administration of the sacraments, or in pastoral care.

It is said that she is planning to contact you. I am doing this of my own volition, because I am tired of reading stories like this, not to mention the bureaucratic bullshit nonsense that usually follows it.

Finally, and in case it has occurred to you, I stopped being overly polite about things like this a long time ago. That's the bad news. The good news for you (not to mention the priest in question) is that it didn't happen to me.

I'd be a lot less polite than I am now.

In corde Jesu,

David L Alexander
Arlington, Virginia

Now, that wasn't very nice, was it?

No, it wasn't. And by all accounts, it broke every rule which the Z-Man would impart to us. I really didn't think I deserved the courtesy of a response. I didn't expect one. A number of factors came into play while writing this, however, among them an outrage of sufficient magnitude that I didn't give a rat's ass.

Assorted malfeasance from the neighboring diocese has been fodder for local stories among faithful Catholics for many years. One might imagine that there has been sufficient time for somebody in charge down there to corral a few misbehavers. Alas (and this might be a chance to speak in the good bishop's defense), the biggest single challenge faced by any diocesan bishop is that of clergy personnel. A number of issues -- keeping them all busy and reasonably content in their assignment, finding enough of them to even fill every assignment, the mere obligatory handful of those with more than their share of growing up to do, and so on -- require a good portion of a bishop's day. And a presbyterate that is unaccustomed to a collective sense of self-discipline (a malady from which my own Diocese of Arlington has been relatively spared) can make that even more difficult, especially when you can't exactly fire them, and when they know it, and when you know they know, and when they know that you know that they … well, you get the idea.

IMAGE: A day in the life of St Thérèse of Lisieux Church, Chesapeake, Virginia. Used here without permission or shame.

So, imagine the surprise two days later (right about the time that Katrina issued her clarification) when this rogue warrior received the following unsolicited response, to that which was penned two days earlier, in his inbox.

On Friday, March 13, 2015 3:51 PM, Kevin O'Brien wrote:

To whom it may concern,

I received your email about the incident that happened this past Monday at the woman’s grandmother’s funeral. I would like to make several comments.

First, I have written an apology to the woman for not giving her Communion on the tongue. The pieces of the Body of Christ were brittle and I thought that it would be safer to place it in her hand. I was wrong. I should not have done that. I made a terrible mistake. I learned an important lesson and I will not make that mistake again.

Second, there are people in our parish who regularly wish to receive Communion on the tongue and I gladly give it to them on the tongue. Monday I made a split second decision and I was wrong. I am truly sorry. This is not a usual occurrence.

Third, the bread that we use at Eucharist here at the parish is not “pita bread.” It is in compliance with the guidelines set by the American Catholic Bishops.

Fourth, if someone is dying, I always respond to their request and visit the person as soon as possible.

Thank you for taking the time to contact me regarding this issue. God’s Blessings always!

Sincerely Yours,
Rev. Kevin J. O’Brien

Now, even an arrogant son of a b**** such as myself is not one to kick a man when he's down. If only to remove all doubt, I made an exception.

On Friday, March 13, 2015 8:44 PM, David L Alexander wrote:

Father O'Brien:

Thank you for your letter to me. I found it most contrite. Then again ...

I would surmise that your superiors brought my correspondence with them (as opposed to any of mine directly to you) to your attention. To wit, the action described by Ms Fernandes, whereby you allegedly grabbed her by the hand as she attempted to receive Communion, constitutes assault according to the laws of the Commonwealth of Virginia. If this is the case, you are most fortunate that she does not take any further action. I can assure you that I would have been far less accommodating.

Reception on the tongue is normative in the Latin church, while reception in the hand is an indulgence, at the discretion of the bishop or conference of bishops. If you remember from those lectures on canon law, a lower authority cannot restrict that which a higher authority allows. (The latter would be Rome, not the bishops conference.)

As to the form of bread used for confecting the Sacrament, I took the time to examine the recipe that your parish uses. While it appears to meet the criterion set down by the Apostolic See for validity and licitness (the declarations of the bishops conference notwithstanding), there is always the danger of even the smallest of particles falling to the ground (or left on the hands with the communicant unaware, photos available upon request), especially when the form of the Sacrament is, as you describe it, "brittle." I recommend that you either employ servers to accompany you and other ministers with patens, or use a more conventional form of hosts. True, the latter takes away some of the romance, but not the essence.

I also recommend that you initiate serious catechesis with your staff and volunteers, regarding the differences in the roles of priests and laity; more to the point, that a layman offering a blessing to the dying is not of the same order as the administration of the Last Rites. When I prayed the "Proficiscere" over my dying father three years ago, I was under no illusion that it would have replaced Viaticum and the Apostolic Pardon which he had received earlier. Neither should it be.

And so there is no misunderstanding, Father, you have ABSOLUTELY NO AUTHORITY WHATSOEVER to compel the faithful to stand during the Eucharistic Prayer. I trust that manner of coercion will cease immediately. You are hardly in a position to disagree. The proper gesture is to kneel. PERIOD!

Finally, I can tell you that the tone of my letter to His Excellency was most intemperate. In my dealings with both priests and prelates as a master of ceremonies, I show the highest respect for the sacerdotal office. Unfortunately, I know this woman well enough to know the challenges she has faced in life, and how her faith has sustained her. I was so incensed at the offenses described to me (not to mention the entire internet), that I was moved to respond as I did.

We ask so much of our priests (including yourself), such that those whom they serve would grant them more latitude in their human failings. Once in a great while, one who serves will take undue advantage. Once in a great while, those whom he serves look the other way. In time, they may do it all too often. I would consider the possibility that you may not have been well served in this respect. I pray that such imprudence does not plague you too much in the future. Too many souls are in need of you.

In return for your taking this time to write, I feel obliged to inform others of your humble contrition, for the sake of your good name. Thank you again for writing me. I can only imagine how hard this must have been for a man in your position.

Oremus pro invicem!

David L Alexander
Arlington, Virginia

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I should say at this point that Ms Ebersole was informed recently about the correspondence (if not shown its substance), and of my intention to publish it. The above is not necessarily a reflection of her own views on the matter, let alone how such incidents might be confronted, but are solely those of this writer. She has been assured that she can safely disavow any association with, or prior knowledge of, the aforementioned correspondence. The author (that would be me) has proceeded on the understanding of there being no objection.

That being said ...

Was the above a factor in a resolution of a pastoral matter? I don't know. I don't expect to.

But here's what I do know. The majority of a certain generation of priests have engaged in years of adolescent behavior, of such nature and extent that would never be tolerated in any other venue in real life, and have enjoyed such indulgence with little consequence if any, and I'm about as sick and tired of it as anyone else. At the age of sixty-plus years, it is in most areas of life, that I am expected to act my age. It doesn't seem to happen with many who pursue a life of "professional ministry." I have seen lives and marriages and reputations ruined. I have seen the good priests suffer for standing with correct belief and correct worship. I have seen those among the faithful who have lost their faith.

All this, so that a tired and perverse status quo might be held together with the bailing wire that is the code of silence, casually explained away as "the good of the Church," as though such would ever owe its preservation to a sinful act.

I would also invite the reader to pay attention to the paragraph highlighted in my response to the pastor. If one is to avoid the pitfalls that are part and parcel to the human condition, we must be aware, not only that our priests are only human, but that they are no more or less so than ourselves. It is important to take notice, not only of how much we need them, but how much they need us, and especially, how and why. We have a case where a priest was caught dead to rights, and has had to humble himself to all who would call him on his errors. He deserves notice for that much, and the vote of confidence that, perhaps, he might be just a little closer to the kingdom of Heaven; dare we might say, even more so than the rest of us.

It is not surprising to suggest to faithful Catholics that the time has passed for being silent. What if the time has also passed for being polite? Social media has become the public arena of choice, an arena where the playing field is level, and all bets are off. If you commit a public sacrilege with no apologies, be prepared to get called out on it, and have no one to blame but yourself. If you're a bishop who can't be bothered with the legitimate concerns of faithful Catholics, be prepared to look inadequate to the task, and (you guessed it) have no one to blame but yourself.** Say all you want about playing nice, but it hasn't worked, and the Powers That Be are left with the fruits of their indifference. If this level of outrage is to be contained, it must begin at the source. That would be the problem itself, not the reaction.

I remain hesitant to recommend to faithful Catholics the method I employed here, assuming it had any direct effect at all (other than finding out the hard way what I have to do to get any attention around here). Given the choice between honey and vinegar, that of the higher ground may be obvious. On the other hand (and in my defense), there are moments when the best results can be found with a fresh road kill.

In other words, sometimes you have to raise a big enough stink to get enough attention, don't you think?

Or don't you?

* The "moderator of the curia" is a position akin to a chief of staff. It is always held by a cleric, one who is often also the chancellor (the chief administrative officer or a diocesan bishop) and/or the vicar general (the chief delegate of a diocesan bishop, always a priest or auxiliary bishop).

** It is clear that the Bishop of Richmond is not among that number, and where he is concerned, yours truly stands corrected.

1 comment:

Gail Finke said...

"..."The majority of a certain generation of priests have engaged in years of adolescent behavior, of such nature and extent that would never be tolerated in any other venue in real life?

I would not be so sure about that, Other places in real life, I mean.