I was going to just excerpt, but this deserves something I rarely have time to do these days: a mild Fisking. In honor of the theme of the column - distress about the unwashed, unordained daring to comment on church matters, I think I'll go ahead.
What is most entertaining about the column is to watch those who have, for years, been telling us about the importance of the laity in the Church, sensus fidelium, the limits of the hierachy and the really non-specialness of the ordained, have kiniption fits about the non-ordained, non-professed jumping in the mix.
Well, because it's the wrong kind of non-ordained, I suppose.
Quick summary of the situation. Boston Catholic Charities recently held a dinner at which the mayor of Boston, a Catholic who supports abortion rights and legalized homosexual unions, was honored. In his defense, he said that his commitment to social justice for the poor was the fruit of his Catholic faith. There were petitions and complaints. Archbishop O'Malley ultimately did not attend the dinner.
So it seems that Menino knows neither the Bible, nor the catechism, nor the teaching of popes and bishops.
But of course, none of that matters to Fr. McBrien, who resolutely refuses, in this column, to hold Menino's statements to any kind of critical scrutiny, reserving his scapel for the "ultra conservatives" who have the temerity to question Catholic Charities' choice.
So, there's our first question. Why is Mayor Menino's assessment of the Catholic faith given a pass? He's a non-expert. He's just the mayor of Boston. What could he possibly know about theology? Why can't he be cross-examined, too?
Don't answer. Don't even try. Let's get to that column:
A tiny group of ultra-conservative Catholics protested the decision of Catholic Charities of Boston, the largest private social services agency in Massachusetts, to confer its annual award upon Boston's mayor, Thomas Menino. Catholic Charities honored him for his commitment to the poor and to the cause of justice. The activists, on the other hand, regard him as an advocate of abortion and gay marriage.
Well, is he? Note that nowhere in the column does Fr. McBrien come out and state what Menino believes or has advocated on these matters. ( Some details, from a source inimical to Menino)
Significantly, the activists were unable to force the mayor to step aside and decline the award, nor were they able to discourage prominent Catholics from attending the $500-a-plate dinner in support of Catholic Charities. Indeed, for every conservative Catholic who ran for cover, there were many more lay Catholics ready to take their places.
Implication: those objecting were not "lay." When in fact, they were mostly lay. You know, laity. We Are the Church, etc.
Menino said that his understanding of Catholicism was derived from the nuns who taught him in parochial school and that it had to do with reaching out to people in need: "the hungry, the naked, the homeless, the sick, and yes, the imprisoned," referring to the parable of the sheep and the goats in Matthew's Gospel.
The mayor also pointed out that Jesus "did not give priority to piety. He didn't make holiness the big thing. And he did not tell us to go around talking up God, either."
His critics, however, saw it differently. In their eyes, they alone are "authentic Catholics." Everyone else, it seems, can be written off as dissidents or heretics --- "bad Catholics" all.
Notice, again, that Fr. McBrien does not choose to critique Menino's views, wondering, for example, if the nuns who taught Mayor Menino would have advocated abortion rights. I thought there was, you know, a Seamless Garment of life issues. I thought it was all tied together. I thought that a Catholic who is anti-abortion expresses reservations about the efficacy of massive government spending as a way to aid the poor they're, like, not buying into the total Gospel of Life. How come the "advocates for the poor" get to leave out the unborn, consistently, always and ever, and get a pass?
And why does Fr. McBrien let that second paragraph from Menino go by without comment? Does he really hold up such sloppy thinking as a valued contribution to Catholic life in the world?
These ultra-conservative activists, for whom abortion is the only moral and political issue that counts, not only miss the Latin Mass but also the former archbishop of Boston, Cardinal Bernard Law, who allowed Operation Rescue, a militant anti-abortion organization, to use Catholic churches as staging areas of illegal blockades of abortion clinics.
Explain, Fr. McBrien, why it is "Catholic" for abortion not to count at all. That is the issue. Why is it "Catholic" for abortion to be left completely out of the justice equation.
Answer: it's not. If all of these issues are connected, that means...they're connected.
The foundress of Faithful Voice, a counterpart to Voice of the Faithful, has said on her Web site that the Republican governor of Massachusetts, by urging all hospitals to obey a new state law mandating that emergency contraception be offered to rape victims, was in effect saying that Catholic hospitals "must be forced to kill children."
Regarding the president of Catholic Charities, Father J. Bryan Hehir, one of the most respected priests in the United States and a long-time staff member at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington, she wrote: "That man is pure unadulterated evil. He literally sends shivers up my spine. If he and his cronies think we're going to tolerate he and the Archbishop's material cooperation in abortions --- we'll chase them out of town faster than you can say Voice of the Faithful."
That's Carol McKinley's battle, there. I'm sure she is defending herself on her own blog.
But this next paragraph interests me very much:
What has changed on the ecclesiastical and political fronts over the past decade is the broad accessibility of the Internet. With it has come a new capacity of individuals, who could never be published by reputable newspapers and magazines, to gain an audience via personal blogs and to attract the attention even of the mainstream media, which are always interested in controversy, especially of the man-bites-dog variety.
I'm not one to celebrate the Internet as the Second Coming of Gutenburg or anything. I've never been a Blog Triumphalist. It's one more means of communication - and a handy one. It has its problems, certainly, and is not the Messiah of anything. But oh, that paragraph. I could spend days on it.
It's the Old Guard, getting a little nervous. It's about guardians of power and yes, orthodoxy, looking behind them, a little dismayed at what they see.
The irony is almost too much. All I've been hearing for thirty years is that the work of the Spirit cannot be confined, that it works far and wide, through all parts of the Body of Christ. I've been hearing that the old, hidebound hierarcy, trapped by its own insular vision and experience must start listening to that Spirit as it moves through the People of God, be open and unafraid of the new things God is doing all the time, everywhere.
I've been hearing that. For a long time.
And do you know what? I believe it.
The question is - does Fr. McBrien?