The first time as tragedy…

20 01 2011

Lately, I have been seeing a trend in Catholic discourse. Maybe it’s just me, but I really do think certain people are heeing and hawing back their way to the pre-Vatican II Church. First, of course, there is the whole Latin Mass movement. Interesting, but barely a blip on the radar screen in the real world. Then, there was Tuesday’s post about a bishop in Kazakhstan (who do you have to piss off to get stationed in Kazakhstan?) calling for a new Syllabus of Errors. Then it was some convert professor bemoaning the death of a homogenous Catholic philosophy, as they had before the Council. And finally, and most bizarrely of all, some right wing canonist is saying that permanent deacons on the books are supposed to be celibate, as are all of the other married men ordained to orders without having to put away their wives.

Now, as usual, I am not interested in the particulars of their arguments, but I am interested in why all of this is happening now (if it can be called a trend, which I am willing to concede that it isn’t). Perhaps the most surprising is the last argument about permanent deacons and celibacy. From what I have read of this argument, legalism trumps common sense. As a refresher, the restoration of the diaconate to married men is found in Lumen Gentium, though no explicit directive concerning celibacy is given. Now, I don’t like the permanent diaconate. Even though they do things like baptize babies when the priest is too lazy… I mean, too busy… to baptize them, marry couples, etc., mostly one encounters them at least around here as a bunch of retired guys who try to tie in stories of their fishing trips into the sermon. That being said, such a maneuveur as saying that they can no longer have sex with their wives would pretty much read the restoration of the permanent diaconate out of existence. Otherwise, the permanent diaconate would be for those who are just not that into their wives (they are mostly older men, but…), or are too stupid to be ordained priests. As I said, in this case legalism is trumping common sense for this busybody canonist. Is that not the definition of fundamentalism?

I don’t think that this will influence the bishops at all (the Internet is full of self-important people shouting into their ready-made echo chamber). But these days, who knows?

As for the Catholic philosophy question, I liked this retort in the article linked to above:

At the same time, I tend to worry that those who wax nostalgic for pre-Vatican II theology are nostalgic for something they/we didn’t know. I have heard enough stories about what going through the theologates in that era was like. So I was tempted to send Prof. Hutter a copy of Denzinger, in case he doesn’t have one. Now that’s old school. I actually kind of like Denzinger–and I can work with it just fine. Not, however, because I’ve been trained in theology post-Vatican II, even at Yale. Because I’ve been trained in law, post-Vatican II, even at Yale. And I certainly wouldn’t want all Denzinger, all the time. I can’t believe Prof. Hutter would, either. So what does he want?

I’m old school, too, but I still have to say to those afflicted with nostalgia: careful what you wish for.

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27 responses

26 01 2011
Chris

dcs:

“Celibacy is a higher state than the married state (Council of Trent Session XXIV Canon X).”

This is a good example of one of those unchanged changes that others have mentioned on this blog. Somehow we’ve gone from “Celibacy is superior, but it’s better to marry than to burn” to the TOTB view that sex is something so holy and ineffable that you should feel like you’re in church while having it.

26 01 2011
dcs

Celibacy is a higher state than the married state (Council of Trent Session XXIV Canon X).

But in any case, Dr. Peters’ article (which was published in 2005, by the way, though it has recently received some publicity) is about the obligation of continence, not celibacy.

@Leah, Dr. Peters’ point wasn’t that he necessarily thinks that it is a good law, but that he believes that it currently is the law and it is not being enforced, and that it would be good to have a clarification on the matter.

22 01 2011
Arturo Vasquez

I think the “why now” angle is easy to explain, if not very plain to those with a partisan mind. The documents and actions of Vatican II had a certain agenda at their core, and that agenda was far more subversive than most “good Catholics” would admit now. Take liturgy: the revolutionay part of Sacrosanctum Concilium had nothing to do with allowing the vernacular or keeing Gregorian chant, etc. The most revolutionary part was how it seemed to devolve power over the liturgy to bishops’ conferences, relinquishing the centralized total power of Rome over the cultus. In the permanent diaconate, most people who were there will admit that it was a dry run for a married priesthood. In terms of the general shape of the post-Vatican II magisterium, that was also intentional. Good Pope John is turning in his grave at the thought that his council needs to be enforced with a Syllabus of Errors: that is precisely not the way he wanted to do things. Indeed, even the governing style of John Paul II was a sort of Frankenstein version of the Church: allow error and dissent, though try to coerce them through other means to think like us (except if they’re Marxists). Indeed, it is telling how he condemned women’s ordination in 1993: a sort of neither this or that approach: not relying on the sheer force of tradition, nor using an ex cathedra pronouncement, though still it is somehow supposed to be definitive.

Thus, a “hermeneutic of continuity” taken too far makes much of what is controversial about Vatican II completely nonsensical. The idea that we now have “two forms of the Mass”, that some people would not want to go along with the changes and would keep things eternally frozen in 1962 would have seemed some sort of horrific joke to the Council Fathers. Indeed, the fact that people fetishize the 1962 books over, say, the 1965 books, is completely due to the compromise between Archbishop Lefebvre and the sedevacantists at Econe in the early 1970’s (before, even he used the 1965 books). In terms of permanent deacons, to think that they went through all that trouble just so that the married deacons would have to be celibate is equally ridiculous. What we have here is the same obsession with law and external form from which the people who made Vatican II were trying to move away. I am not at all attached to any of the things mentioned above, but I am more for clarity of thought than anything else, and in this sense, the new reactionary Frankenstein ecclesiology fails that test.

21 01 2011
Turmarion

mcmlxix: So is Greory of Nyssa admitting to evolution even before it was proposed centuries later by Darwin?

No. If I remember correctly, Gregory posited that humans were originally androgynes (something along the lines of Aristophanes in Plato’s Symposium) who would have reproduced asexually, with the separation into genders being a result of the Fall. You can check on that, because I’m not completely sure.

Of course, none of the Fathers had the knowledge of biology we do now. Humans certainly were designed for sexual reproduction from the git-go, having evolved from near kin who functioned the same way. Thus, interpretations of the Fall that do not assume “sex in Paradise” are erroneous.

It’s really a shame that the science of the day hadn’t demonstrated evolution. The Fathers, coming from a Greek philosophical background, never had a problem with allegorical interpretation. The immateriality of God and the shape of the world were well-known, so the Fathers never hesitated to ascribe allegorical meaning to Scriptural statements about various body parts of God or the flatness of the Earth. Had evolution been known then, I’m pretty sure they likewise would have allegorized Genesis with no fuss. Then we’d never had all of the Intelligent Design stupidity of modern times. Ah, well….

21 01 2011
mcmlxix

So is Greory of Nyssa admitting to evolution even before it was proposed centuries later by Darwin? By evolution I don’t mean the materialist view of it, but the Catholic view that God could have used evolution as a means to create.

21 01 2011
Leah

The Church Fathers wouldn’t have known this, of course, but it seems like animals like dolphins and chimps that have recreational sex (and even rape) would muddy up that theory.

21 01 2011
walt

Gregory of Nyssa says,in a homily I guess, titled Universal Human Nature that sex was not originally part of “our lofty human nature but a characteristic tranferred from the brutes as a means of our increase” or something like that. Not really the result of the Fall but definitely an appendix to the creation of man.

21 01 2011
sortacatholic

I suspect that certain positions in the clerical sex abuse discourse, such as “ban the gays” or “the ‘sexual revolution’ is responsible”, might reflect a post-traumatic viewpoint on clerical sexual abuse. Media coverage about Catholic sex abuse cases tend to focus on the most anticlerical abuse survivors. These survivors tend not to blame sexual orientations or personality types as the root cause of the crisis. Rather, their criticism centers on the omissions and obstructions of the hierarchy. Some Catholics might blast back that “the media” focuses on this subset of abuse survivors in a move to discredit the Church. Why haven’t self-identified “conservative” abuse victims stepped forward to present their side?

Leo Booth, an Anglican priest and therapist, wrote a book about “religious addiction” titled When God Becomes a Drug. For Booth, the way in which different children in the family relate to one another typifies their particular way of coping with religious and sexual abuse. One hypothetical child, the “lost child”, endures abuse rather than venture away from the home. The lost child prefers continual abuse in the home rather than independence. Independence from an abusive parent or relative often introduces a internal confrontation with post-abuse trauma.[1]

Sometimes I wonder if there is an “invisible” contingent of abuse survivors who have suppressed their abuse for the sake of Catholic institutional preservation. I do not doubt that sexual abuse suffering exists even among those who proclaim ultramontanist positions. These are the lost children. They would rather perpetuate an abusive power structure than confront the scars of abuse. We would all benefit from their insights into the crisis. Even so, most will never speak of their experiences. We must respect the privacy of abuse victims. I wonder if some who vocally support the current regime and clerical disciplines might have suffered mightily because of them.

[1]. Booth, Father Leo. When God Becomes a Drug: Breaking the Chains of Religious Addicition and Abuse.” Foreword by John Bradshaw. Los Angeles, Calif: Tarcher, 1991. 129

21 01 2011
mcmlxix

This my might be my personal theology, but I always thought it was Lucifer who thought that sex (and indeed all physical matter) was dirty. He rebelled against God because he was disgusted that God directed His attention away from His creatures made from pure light to those made from clay. Lucifer has been exploiting man’s carnality ever since. Perhaps this is why the Church has had a cautious (to use a kind word) view toward sex.

21 01 2011
Francesca R

It can be born from experience, though. For a while I was subjected to disturbing sexual harrassment from a priest who was a stereotypical groovy spirit-of-Vatican-II guy who loved Hans Kueng etc., so when I read the conservative take on the reasons for the scandal it made a lot of sense to me. Only reading the latest round of stories from the past year or so, and more diverse Catholic commentary on them, managed to convince me that there was any more to it.

21 01 2011
Chris

It was debated for centuries whether or not human beings had sex prior to the Fall. Aquinas asks in ST 1, 98, 2, “Whether in the state of innocence there would have been generation by coition?” His answer is Yes, but there were plenty who answered No. For them, sex isn’t part of God’s original design but is a consequence of sin.

21 01 2011
Leah

It seems then, that it would have made more sense for God to design humans to reproduce asexually. By doing so, sin (real or imagined) could have been reduced by as much as 80%.

21 01 2011
Chris

What it would do would reinforce the notion that celibate men are more pure than men who have sex with their wives, and therefore more fit to stand in the sanctuary. Sex is dirty and makes you unclean in the eyes of God, didn’t you know?

21 01 2011
Leah

What would having celibate deacons actually do? There’s not a huge problem with the sons of deacons making a grab for church property, is there? Being a deacon in the pre-VII church wasn’t a permanent state anyway, so it wouldn’t be a move to re-establishing the former status quo. What’s the point of this suggestion?

21 01 2011
Mike Walsh, MM

If you cherry-pick your data, then you can predict any trend you want. Consequences can only really be known in retrospect, and having experienced the post-VII seminary –its replacement of spirituality with therapy, of tradition with “relevance”, of catechesis with sociology– I am quite confident that a number of disasters –including an increase in unchallenged sexual deviancy– can be charged against a Church that had no clue how to implement reforms that the bishops themselves scarcely understood. This doesn’t absolve the pre-Vatican II Church of its own shortcomings, it only points out that each era has its own.

21 01 2011
mcmlxix

Exactly. This why that point of view is not any real (or complete) explanation of the abuse crisis. It’s a pretext (conscious or not) of a return to come particular conception of discipline.

21 01 2011
Chris

“I too think that the sexual abuse crisis is a large part of the trend Arturo is seeing. Your interpretation is more complex than the more obvious, which is the (real or perceived) post Council lack of discipline being seen as the (part of the) cause of the crisis. Although I don’t see this point of view as being any real (or complete) explanation of the abuse crisis.”

That “explanation” has to be one of the biggest canards coming from the Catholic right, this notion that the sexual abuse crisis is the result of the “moral relativism” of the 60’s and a “lack of fidelity” in the post-conciliar Church. Anyone who thinks these things weren’t going on, and probably to a greater extent, in the “good old days” of the Church under the Piuses is completely deluded. The only difference is that now the secular authorities are no longer willing to hush it up. As a former seminarian, I heard my fair share of stories from those “good old days” of the cops quietly dropping drunk Fr. X off at the rectory after a late-night encounter at a rest stop.

21 01 2011
mcmlxix

sortacatholic,

I too think that the sexual abuse crisis is a large part of the trend Arturo is seeing. Your interpretation is more complex than the more obvious, which is the (real or perceived) post Council lack of discipline being seen as the (part of the) cause of the crisis. Although I don’t see this point of view as being any real (or complete) explanation of the abuse crisis.

The Council was (in part) an attempt to make the Church comprehensible to the modern world. It didn’t succeed in this. I think that the modern world was more successful in making itself comprehensible to the Church. I don’t think that this was success either as the modern world tends to be superficial and fickle.

Collapse (institutionally, environmentally, militarily, economically) usually comes as a result of unsustainability more than relevance. Many contemporary people find the Church, as well as religion generally, lacking in relevance. I always have to ask myself…relevant to whom? I don’t see the emerging church movement’s experiment in relevance as succeeding either.

My parish was for decades obsessed with (ideologically motivated) relevance, or at least the Anglos who held the power were. Now since a pastoral regime change, the Latinos are in greater power, the shift in tone is seismic. To my eyes, relevance has been replaced by tangibility. This is not a difference without distinction.

But regarding the Church, is the current model unsustainable? This is an honest question. What are the details of this unsustainability? What would make it sustainable without repeating the contradictory results of the comprehensibility experiment?

Without wanting to make this thread go on a tangent, I knew a guy from the DDR who stayed in the US for a few months about 4 years after the wall came down. He was a mess emotionally. He just couldn’t understand how he could have been born in the DDR, and without ever moving, being a citizen of the BRD. He also wanted to have his cake and eat it too. He was zealous of his new found civil and economic freedoms but also nostalgic of that being taken care of you mention and as well as his memories of the Free German Youth.

20 01 2011
sortacatholic

Ever notice how a smallish number of Chinese, Russians and citizens of former Eastern Bloc countries sometimes display a nostalgia about their former communist/socialist regimes? Many people in the West just can’t believe that someone would be nostalgic for despotic, even murderous, police states.

Sometimes the nostalgia is superficial. There’s a burgeoning Mao memorabilia craze in Beijing. Few, if any, Chinese wish to go back to the Cultural Revolution. Sometimes the yearning runs deep. The former East Germany has experienced very high unemployment compared to the western part of Germany ever since unification. Some in the former East Germany reminisce about the old days, “when we were provided for.” How easily they’ve forgotten that up to 1/6 of the population had some contact with the Stasi.

Why am I babbling on about this? I’ve been following the developments that surround the canonist Ed Peters and his blogging son Thomas. Ed Peters has concluded that permanent deacons and married convert priests must uphold perpetual continence. His “defense” reads more like an editorial. Peters Sr. also mocks those who do not agree with his position. I strongly suspect that the canonist has not chosen this topic out of academic interest but as a way to shore up institutional “orthodoxy” in the face of a laity extremely skeptical about clerical celibacy in wake of the sex scandals.

Peters (elder and less) demonstrate the way in which those who cherish a certain vision of the clergy and ecclesiology will go to very great lengths to maintain the status quo. I would argue that the days of an omnipotent parish priest are well over. Yet the “orthodox” Catholics yearn for the days of unbridled and unquestioned priestly power despite the overwhelming evidence that this system produced grotesque horrors across cultures. The Peters’ version of ostalgie is not innocuous: they are trying to patch up an institution that will soon collapse without major internal and external reforms.

20 01 2011
Francesca R

So back to Arturo’s post, why is this happening now? I have a few ideas on that but they’re probably too obvious — I’d rather hear what the deep-thinking regulars have to say.

20 01 2011
mcmlxix

Arturo, if the trend you think you’re observing is true, it’s concerning, but it might all be nothing. Saying time will tell, gives little assurance though.

As to your characterization of deacons and priests, I’ll have to object. I don’t doubt that the folksy (almost phoning it in) deacon and the not even being bothered to go in priest exist.

But at my parish, which I admit my attendance is sporadic at best, the priest and deacon are totally spread thin. They need to be able to work together as a team to meet the needs of this inner city, rapidly growing, and largely Mexican parish. That the Irish-American priest is nearly fluent in Spanish, and his ability to code switch in bilingual conversations and homilies is amazing. The deacon is Cuban, and his homilies are about as folksy as bad cop, which contrast well with the priest’s good cop homilies.

Anyway, I’ve worked on projects with both of them, and they need all of the help they can get. I’m amazed that the deacon, who also has a full-time corporate career, has the time for his wife and four children. I think that the priest would scoff at being given the opportunity to marry. In spite of their tremendous work load, both of these men are kind and generous to a fault.

I’ll have to disagree with Francecsa R on purely pragmatic grounds. Entering the priesthood at 40 to 50 gives too few years before retirement. This would exasperate the already shortage of priests. That is, unless she means ordaining younger, celibate priests as well as older (kids out of the house) married priests. I’m also not uncomfortable talking to the priest about sexual matters, but then again I’m male. His advice regarding my frequent transgressions is generally cryptic but helpful, such as…when you’re ready, you’ll be ready.

I’ll also agree with M.Z. I think that a priest with a strong and objective background in psychology/counseling would be immensely better than the subjective musings of a married man.

Ok. I’ve blathered enough.

20 01 2011
M.Z.

A priest’s primary function isn’t marriage counselor, so the grounds seem a bit spurious. A psych degree would probably be of more benefit there anyway.

As for prelates lightening the burden if they had to experience x,y,z themselves, I’m doubtful. A non-trivial number of priests have had mistresses or some other illicit lover. There is no movement toward normalizing those relations. The arguments against divorce and birth control are primarily secular arguments anyway. The arguments for the latter are often economic relief arguments, circumstantially lowering the level of sin, hence the reason why you rarely hear prelates talk about birth control despite the prevalence of use.

20 01 2011
Ron Pavellas

I am in consonance with your last paragraph, and thanks for the response.

20 01 2011
Francesca R

I have often thought I would rather get advice on marriage from a celibate priest than a married man, because the latter’s advice would probably be coloured too much by his personal experience. All couples are different and I would rather hear general principles than advice based on how So-and-so gets along with his particular wife. On the other hand, I don’t feel comfortable asking celibate priests for advice on anything relating to real-world sexual relations.
Right now I’m thinking maybe the best solution would be to have a married clergy with a relatively high minimum age of ordination (like 40 or 50). It would be good for the quality of their advice, and they wouldn’t be busy raising little children.

20 01 2011
Ron Pavellas

My only standing for making comment here is that I have lived and stayed alert for a long time, I was married for 22 years into (then out of) a Catholic family (albeit generationally lapsing), and I have lived in a mostly Catholic neighborhood in Brooklyn.

My great-grandfather was a Greek Orthodox priest. He had five children. They had children, and so on. I am not a member of any church.

My bias and opinion is this: it would be a good thing if Catholic priests were allowed to marry. It has long seemed bizarre to me that Catholic priests, especially young ones, give marriage and family counseling to parishoners. I suppose the advice given is based in church doctrine and can be almost read from a book, but how soulful is this? Pardon my ignorance if I am off-base here, and possibly off-topic.

I can see where it would be useful and appropriate to have higher-ranking priests be celibate, or at least not married and. therefore, with family responsibilities.

20 01 2011
Turmarion

[W]ho do you have to piss off to get stationed in Kazakhstan?

I don’t know, but I think we could all generate long lists of hierarchy who should’ve been but weren’t!

20 01 2011
Chris

Catholic philosophy prior to Vatican II can be summarized along these lines:

Memorize these “Thomistic” theses.
Memorize these syllogisms proving those theses.
Memorize these syllogisms proving Ockham, Descartes, Hume and Kant wrong.

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