“100% Catholic”

26 10 2010

In spite of feeling more often than not that I have no horse in this race, stuff like this concerns me. Circling the wagons in the Catholic context always seems to have to do with sexual orthodoxy. It is as if the Catholic Church had some sort of strange neuroses wherein the obsession of the celibate clergy centers on what members of the non-clergy do in their bedrooms. Why are we not so neurotic about poverty, inequality, and cultic issues? Why are the below the belt issues the only non-negotiable ones?

Before all of you commenters start getting your hair all up in a bunch over this, I ask only looking through the prism of phenomenological social perception and not through some abstract argument over theological dogma. No doubt that when the good bishop speaks of being “100% Catholic”, he is not talking about the Church’s stand on immigration or war. Non-negotiables seem to have their goal posts moved depending on who you speak to, but more often than not, they tend to center on one’s genitals.

To a certain extent, stuff like this looks at the problem in another light. All the same, the idea that the Church needs to be smaller and purer (no matter who said it) is a potent one to the self-described orthodox. They see their relatives and fellow pew warmers and can’t help but look at them in a disdainful light. The problem for me has always been that this was not at the origins of the present aggiornamento. A text from one of Ratzinger’s favorite theologians, Hans Urs von Balthasar, would indicate that such a quest for institutional purity in and of itself is not that uniform or ancient. As the old theologian writes:

On the other hand, everything must be done to prevent an emigration of the progressivists, however uncomfortable their continued presence in the Church will prove to be for the faithful…. I ask the bishops: Is the hearer of a [heretical] homily dispensed from Mass? May he, ought he perhaps leave this liturgy?

But such an approach is out of the question for the Catholica… [it] would have the effect once more of hurling the remnant back into lifeless, cheerless integralisms.

If the “progressivists” are allowed to stay, why not others who “don’t know any better”?

If we went back one hundred years ago, under the old tyrannical papacies, would any of us be “100% Catholic”, just as we are now?



19 responses

12 11 2010


That the non-negotiable is often centered on genitalia is not a new phenomena limited to mid-century Evangelical Protestantism or Catholicism. The genitals are powerful things by virtue of the fact that they generate. They have had deities, cults, and ritual centered on them (as well as all human, animal, and vegetative fertility) since time immemorial.

I would assert that the modern obsession with sex lies squarely with the popular culture. Just log on, tune in, go to school, or walk down the street for a validation of this hypothesis. The difference is that in postmodern times one’s genitals are no longer about generation and fertility but something altogether different. The mid-century reaction to the popular culture’s version of sex is just that…reactionary…but is it unjustified? I think that the all too common meme today is that this reaction sprang out of nowhere or that it’s unreasonable, when actually the impetuous for this reaction is the normalization of things that were once only quasi-permitted under the surface. More than this, this normalization increasingly comes with sanctions if not accepted. The manner of focus on genitals today is not something that would resonate with our pagan ancestors in spite of today’s neopagans effort to construct otherwise.

Charles Curtis:

“I also think that abortion and homosexuality – being sins that many of us feel immune to – are perfect for deflecting our consciences away from our own failures and weaknesses.” This is an excellent point, and is also why gay activist feel justified in questioning why these things are the ultimate sin or receive the spotlight when numerous other sins abound.

Bernard Brant:

Queer is a perfectly acceptable (and not too uncommon) self descriptor, so no scare quotes are needed. What that word means to those with same-sex attraction who use it varies widely however. You may not know me or any other queers but maybe that’s because the way words are defined that the way debate and thought has been framed has been done so by the most vocal. For me and many I know, queer is used as just that, a self-descriptor in contradistinction to gay which is used as an identity with all of the ontological overtones of being versus having…or doing for that matter.

30 10 2010


This is the crux of the pettiness of tridentinism: many of the followers cannot and refuse to understand the beauty and profundity of the sacrament and grace unveiled before them. I’d travel the ends of the earth to teach Latin to anyone who would ask. I desperately wish to break the tridentinists from their willful ignorance of the poetic eternal dance that is the Holy Sacrifice. The only path from hypocritical ignorance is an immersion in the thought of the liturgy.

We are told time and again that humility is the way to the Cross. An immersion in the literature, history, and theology of the Mass reduces the self to a salutary and spiritually productive insignificance. The humility implicit in an unceasing thirst for knowledge deeply frightens those who abuse religion for self-aggrandizement.

30 10 2010

I have to admit that this constant, almost smothering domination of every aspect of ones life by the supposed “rules” is the main reason I abandoned Trad Catholicism in favor of the foundering ship of the mainstream Church. One of the best aspects of Catholicism, to me anyway was that there is very little that the Church forces you to believe outside of a few defined dogma’s. As a Catholic, I am free to agree, disagree, or disregard a good many ideas and concepts that don’t gel with my personality or fancy my interest.

Not so with the traditionalist Catholics though. From what I experienced amongst my brief time with them you are basically required to follow a whole boatload of ideas and pseudo theologies if you really want to fit in (Or not be expelled from the ranks). These would include endorsing things which the mainstream Church ever forced her members to accept in order to be “real” Catholics (Such as having as many kids as possible, home schooling them all, being militantly pro -life, not just anti abortion, refusing to celebrate secular or suspicious holidays like Halloween and Thanksgiving, indulging in any kind of secular entertainment or diversion and so on). It is this whole mess of rules which the trad communities attempt to force on their members that really creeped me out and made me feel more like I was slowly but surely being initiated into some type of cult then attending a Catholic church.

I guess that I’lm too much of a free thinker at heart to truly embrace the Trad Catholic movement (Or any other type of religious fundamentalism for that matter). The same outspokenness and discontent for the statues quo that lead me to run from the post Vatican II Church and seek out the Latin mass and Catholic tradition also ended being my undoing within that movement because I just couldn’t play ball with them. At least with the mainstream Church, for all her faults one is free to hold opinions on a wide range of issues and not feel like their going to be shunned or excommunicated for holding them. This is just one of the many things that I rediscovered about today’s supposedly corrupt and decaying Catholicism which really made me appreciate her with a newfound respect. The Church of today mirrors the man of today, full of faults, sins, and doubts, yet still able to trudge on through life’s eternal muck held together by an unseen hand from above. This religion, for all the errors and omissions it supposedly has made over the past half century is still one that I can empathize with and am proud to belong to.

29 10 2010

The more I witness the behaviors of the Catholic self-elect, the more I’m convinced that Luther best understood the juncture between grace and human frailty.

The Catholic doctrine of “merit” is impossible for humans to uphold. Catholicism clearly teaches that no person may earn salvation through good works. Yet, she does teach that cooperation with grace (through disposition and action) results in supernatural reward. Cooperation with grace results in a strengthening of our spiritual resolve and, in the case of redemptive suffering, the spiritual resolve of others.

Luther persuasively argued that human nature will inevitably attempt to earn the rewards of grace through pious acts (read: manifest hypocrisy) and not through cooperation with a freely given gift. The deadly fruit of merit is hypocrisy, not trust. Luther’s rejection of merit and the human will to cooperate with grace recognizes that human beings will inevitably use religion for power and control when the chance for domination appears. Every time a thaler tinkles in the box, a soul goes to heaven.

I cannot help but believe that we are entirely deponent before God’s grace. The whore, the wimpled nun, the gay man, and the father of eleven all must bow before God’s majesty because our depravity forces us to depend wholly on God’s grace unconditionally. The removal of the variable of disposition and cooperation with grace ideally stalls the incentive for hypocrisy.

Without will, there is no Marian veneration. Without will, there is no Sacrifice. Yet, we have been entrusted with Our Mother — “behold thy Mother” — and with the Mass. And what have the tridentinists and fundamentalists done with the Holy Sacrifice? The juncture of the natural and supernatural has become a grotesque parade of self-righteousness.

Luther’s anti-semitism has sparked great evil and suffering in the world. Ironically, the doctrine of total depravity was designed in part to protect ourselves from our worst instincts.

27 10 2010
Bernard Brandt

I’ve decided to take Arturo’s test for cheap virtue and see if I qualify. Personally, I think I am such a sinner that I could use all the virtue I could acquire, cheap or not. Anyhow, here goes:

1. Am I a queer?
I dunno. If you mean “am I gay?”, then probably not. At my state of age and health, the term would probably be nearer to “latent heterosexual”. But if you mean, “am I peculiar?”, then most of my friends would say “definitely yes!”. I’m not sure I earn any points here.

2. Do I know any queers and thus have to speak about them with some sort of dignity and not as some anonymous force trying to destroy Western civilization?
Sorry, but I don’t know any ‘queers’. I do, however, know plenty of gay people, both male and female. And though I have made my beliefs and feelings clear on the subject of ‘gay marriage’, both here and elsewhere, I was (of course) present at the ‘marriage’ of one of my nieces with her (female) partner. Family is family, and she in particular was and is a decent young woman. But it looks like no points for me here.

3. Am I / was I obligated to live with my future wife because paying two rents wasn’t feasible before we were married?
At the risk of Too Much Information, yes: twice. Both with my first (and late) wife and with my second (and present) wife. None of us were (or are for that matter) making much money. But it looks like no points for me here, either.

4. Do I have a working class job and thus have to worry about popping out eight kids, fueling a giant white van to transport them all, and having to send them to public schools instead of having my wife homeschool them?
Golly gee, that’s kind of complicated. As for the job thing, while I have both a B.A. and a J.D., and have worked for more than 25 years as a paralegal, for the last five or so years I have been either un- or under-employed due to the endemic age discrimination in the legal business and the fact that I am 55+.

And as for the kid thing, I would have loved to, but my first wife died, horribly, of breast cancer that had metastized to both lungs; and while my second wife survived the breast cancer that nearly killed her, the chemotherapy that she had to endure initiated early menopause. (And, as Miracle Max said in The Princess Bride: “and thank you so much for bringing up such a painful subject. While you’re at it, why don’t you give me a nice paper cut and pour lemon juice on it?” [grin])

But I’m not sure I can get any points here, either.

5. Have I actually spoken to an illegal alien for more than one minute and thus have to treat them like normal human beings and not some sort of horde of Mexican reconquest?
Why, yes, daily. It would be hard to live in San Pedro and not do so. And the conversations are mostly in Spanish. ¿Y que?

Personally, though, I’d be a bit cautious about applying any sort of test. I would find that to be a temptation toward Phariseeism. In the spirit of Jeff Foxworthy’s “You might just be a redneck. . . (and, as a matter of fact, I am):

“If you have ever said: ‘I’m so glad that I am not like X’, you might just be a Pharisee.”

27 10 2010
Robert Hiyane

But there are standards and morals and gthere always has been and that is what separates Christianity from other religions. In the early days of Christianity the Romans and others in the Mediterranean world practiced infanticide and Christians judged them and tried to save the babies.

The New Testament has examples of people being cut out of communities as well as the Early Church Fathers having defined heresy and those who are out of communion.

Sex causes human life and so sex has a lot of consequences like unwanted children—and abortion is less about sex (although obviously children are created by sex or at least the products of sexual acts even with modern technology) and more about taking a human life which is a decent line to draw in the sand and a non-negotiable.

We are all sinners but if we cease to believe in the core of Catholicism on Faith and Morals we may not be Catholic.

27 10 2010

Spiritually, I’ve literally been “around the world”. Now I am just an old woman doing the best I can. That’s the only thing I can know about for sure.

I don’t focus on my “percentage”, nor on the percentage of others. Anyone who wants to call themselves the defender of the faith, one of the remnant, or anything else, can do that if they want. I’ll be happy to be on the edges, doing the best I can. That’s all I have to offer—that, and my love. The rest is up to God.

26 10 2010
Arturo Vasquez

No, they wouldn’t get any more respect from me. Precisely because it is a choice. Even better: it is none of my business, except when they brag about it or bitch about how everyone thinks they’re weird for riding around in a big van in recycled clothes. There is nothing on the books in the Catholic Church stating that you need to have X number of kids. There are always Josephite marriages, etc. So no, I don’t think that they are inherently more virtuous than anyone else. If the parents are responsible and love their children, I respect them for that, regardless of how many kids they have.

Voluntary poverty is not virtuous when your own children are involved. If you want to bring back the Catholic slum, send me a postcard, because I’ve already been there and done that.

26 10 2010

I do not believe Arturo is criticizing large families per se. One set of people acts irresponsibly if they have children and another set is shirking their Christian obligations if they fail to procreate sufficiently. Some folks carry on and on about the burdens of immigrant children on society and then later go on about the selfishness of people that have not had more children. It is not piety but a status symbol.

26 10 2010

By the way, many of the “cheap virtue” types don’t have any problem with Church annulments, either.

26 10 2010

What Ben said.

One thing I’ve noticed is that very few of the “cheap virtue” types have large numbers of children. Thus they’re “qualified” to speak to the issue. But for those who do follow Church teaching, it is a real hardship in most cases.

26 10 2010


It is a credal distinction. The issue isn’t one of personal practice, but that vast swaths of the faithful don’t believe contraception is sinful at all.

I can’t figure out where you are coming from with your cheap virtue talk either. Surley you must have come to know at least a few families in your time with the SSPX where having 8 kids meant that nobody got new clothes, and that the children had to sleep 2-3 to a bed? Surely you must have a least met one family whose lease wasn’t renewed because they had too many kids? People with large families struggle in this world, their piety is real. I’d think they would ge a little more respect from you. For large numbers of the people who do it, the chioce to avoid contraception is identical with choosing poverty.

26 10 2010
Arturo Vasquez

I’m not a saint, and I am not even a good Catholic, but there is a sort of “cheap virtue” that I don’t fall for due to years of spiritual and intellectual formation. I think it goes something like this:

Am I a queer? No. One point.

Do I know any queers and thus have to speak about them with some sort of dignity and not as some anonymous force trying to destroy Western civilization? No. One point.

Am I / was I obligated to live with my future wife because paying two rents wasn’t feasible before we were married? No. One point.

Do I have a working class job and thus have to worry about popping out eight kids, fueling a giant white van to transport them all, and having to send them to public schools instead of having my wife homeschool them? No. One point.

Have I actually spoken to an illegal alien for more than one minute and thus have to treat them like normal human beings and not some sort of horde of Mexican reconquest? No. One point.

In other words, if Bonhoeffer believed in such a thing as “cheap grace”, I think one can speak of in the modern context of a phenomenon of “cheap virtue”. That just means that I can put points in my personal column for falling on the “right side” of the issue. I can still say that I am a sinner, but being a sinner is not the point. As I have said previously, there is a tendency in modern Christianity to transcend sin and go right to pathology. Sin no longer is about what you do, but rather who you are. As long as you put up the right front, and don’t appear to be “one of them”, you are in the rank of the elect, even though lip service is paid to orthodox soteriology by saying, “of course, we are all sinners”. Why can’t a statement just begin and end with, ” we are all sinners”?

And that is why the “below the belt” issues are the “non-negotiable” ones in my opinion. Since Freud, nothing speaks more of pathology in the human psyche than sexuality. This being able to separate the wheat from the chaff solely on the basis of sexual practice and its consequences seems to be the only ontological certainty that some Christians can have. But like I said, it’s won with very little effort, and it turns religion into a very insular, very bigoted creature, if sometimes covered in a sheer veil of “tolerance”.

26 10 2010

Arturo: [The self-described orthodox] see their relatives and fellow pew warmers and can’t help but look at them in a disdainful light.

In this connection I’m reminded of C. S. Lewis’s autobiography Surprised by Joy. In writing of his school years, he makes mention of the rampant homosexuality of the boarding school. He says he was never interested (“tempted” is the word he uses) in that and never got involved in it, but that in his view he became subject to what he, as an adult, viewed as a far worse spiritual condition–that of being a self-righteous prig. No one could ever say, based on his writings, that he was against orthodox teachings on sexuality–but he didn’t see the need to blow such issues out of proportion, as is commonly done today, either.

Charles Curtis: For most of us in the States, the “poor”…are all somewhat abstract.. We rarely notice them, and don’t feel personally responsible for their plight. Even people our government bombs…are unseen, and so not a personal reality. The 12 hour work days for pennies on the hour, and viscera created by American arms are not personal realities for most of us.

I’d take it beyond that–to a large extent, our First World lifestyle depends on such things, so we tend to actively ignore them. If they’re forced to our attention, many of us don’t care. Many people, on having such things brought to their attention, just shrug it off or blame the victims: “They shouldn’t be here illegally, anyway,” or “Them Eye-raqis/Afghans/etc. ought to be bombed back to the Stone Age because they’re a buncha terrorists,” etc.

Bourbon Apocalypse: If anything, this seems like vintage American Puritan thinking seeping into Catholicism….

Well, the clergy in North America were historically Irish, and the Irish clergy of the late 18th and early 19th Centuries were heavily influenced by Jansenism, so they were already predisposed towards Puritan/Calvinistic thought to begin with. The environment on the ground just fed into it and made it worse.

Hopefully some day we’ll get tired of trying to define each other out of the Church.

26 10 2010
Bourbon Apocalypse: A Whiskey Son of Sorrow

I wonder: One hundred(+) years ago, would Catholics have even asked themselves if they qualified as 100% Catholics? If anything, this seems like vintage American Puritan thinking seeping into Catholicism–namely, the elect will make manifest in this life that they have reserved seating in the Great Performance Beyond–preferably the balcony. In addition, this also seems like modern day American prosperity “gospel-ling”: the fullness of life in Christ surely applies to what cars occupy one’s garage.

I suppose that if the Church cannot purge the chaff from the wheat in a tangible manner, the next best thing is to identify oneself with various bumper sticker cults. Shucks, I do. After all, you shall show off the correct bumper sticker, and the correct bumper sticker shall set you free (translation dubious).

26 10 2010
Bernard Brandt

I find that if one says what one has to say in short words, one is more likely to have one’s meaning known.

For my own part, I also do not think that I have a horse in this race. I am married to my wife, and share the Jewish view that in marriage, any thing goes. This is a mystery which is none of the clergy’s (or for that matter, anyone else’s) business.

As regards so-called men and women who want to have sex and not deal with what happens after, they remind me of the sort of folk who want to over eat and not have stomach aches. Let’s kill the child that happens while it is still in the womb. If you are a so-called man, let’s abandon the girl who chooses to bear that child. Or let’s use poisons or drugs that prevent the child from forming in the womb. Then, let’s ignore the fact that those drugs cause the woman who uses them to get sick and die.

And you seem to be upset because some people, like the bishop, call those others on their B.S.?

As to those men who want to play sex games with other men, or those women who want to do the same with other women, as for me, It is their own business. In the cases of some few, like W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman or Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears, they bring dignity and worth to what they do. As for the rest, I hope that they will be happy.

Just don’t try to tell me that I have to think that what they are doing is the same as a man and a woman who join as one so that they can bear and raise children. Or that I have to call what is done in both cases with the same name. For as far as I think and believe, the phrase “gay marriage” is one with the phrases “kosher bacon” or “California Champagne”: they are all oxymorons, and false advertising.

And no, I do not think myself to be “100% Catholic”, or that I am some how better than any or all of the people of whom I have spoken. I know my self too well for that.

26 10 2010

What if the discipline of celibacy were flipped as a historical coincidence? What if it were Eastern Catholicism’s discipline and the West had a mixed presbyterate? I often wonder what could have been if the West had not out-paced Eastern disciplines. 100% Catholic would certainly look a lot different.
However, I do not see the need to denounce what has come to be in disciplinary matters, vis-a-vis celibacy, any more than I feel that we are somehow beyond the Baltimore Catechism in our post-Vatican II era.
These non-negotiable issues are largely Western Catholicism’s discipline…having said all this I am bound to wonder how many hospitals for the poor and neglected would have arisen in the West were it not for our Western Church’s fascination with its own disciplinary purity. We should hope for more people, not fewer, to be called to this life of purity and service. The Church largely gave us the momentum for hospitals and many other merciful ministries [because they gave heed to living in purity and discipline]. Why urinate in that cistern now?

26 10 2010
Charles Curtis

I think the sexual issues dominate our thinking because for many, if not most of us, they are personally thorny.

For most of us in the States, the “poor” – immigrants, sweat shop labor, campesinos of whatever sort, are all somewhat abstract.. We rarely notice them, and don’t feel personally responsible for their plight. Even people our government bombs, Iraqis and Afghanis and other such people, are unseen, and so not a personal reality. The 12 hour work days for pennies on the hour, and viscera created by American arms are not personal realities for most of us.

Sex, though, is an immediate and constant struggle for most of us, in one way or another. There’s porn everywhere, propaganda and various stimuli enticing us “to do things we shouldn’t do..” When you fail, it usually seems very clear – there’s a discrete act you’ve committed, as opposed to many other sins which – while often being more fundamental – take a more developed moral sensibility to wrestle with than failures of chastity. More existential sins such as pride, sloth, judgmentalism, anger are often far more subtle – and so not as obviously defined by actions, even if they are often far more devastating to charity.

The fact that so few of us actually follow the letter of Humanae Vitae, is also cause for some angst. Just as embracing it gives reason to celebrate one’s own heroic virtue and commitment to being Catholic.

I also think that abortion and homosexuality – being sins that many of us feel immune to – are perfect for deflecting our consciences away from our own failures and weaknesses. They give many cheap cause for feeling virtuous. We pro-lifers are on God’s side, we are good, the abortionist is evil.

The fact that the “liberals” tend to champion the cause of the poor, while simultaneously rejecting Catholic sexual ethics, makes those causes suspect.

This is all obvious, I think. Most of us have rather basic consciences and moral lives. Fornication is an obvious sin, one that usually cannot be fudged away.. But hardly anyone reads Amos anymore, and even if we do, few of us are going to associate his condemnations with our own lives..

Even the pope and the Franciscans are rationalizing usury away, these days. So why then shouldn’t we?

26 10 2010

I am in perpetual bafflement at the collective subconscious of the internet. I first was shown that picture probably a week ago (and on Facebook), and now it appears here, and I bet it pops up in some other place I don’t think of as related in a week or so, too.

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