Apologists for Passivity

A fellow KC blogger posts on the confluence of the SSPX school booting a woman referee and Hillary Clinton’s appearance at a Catholic University in San Antonio. My post title is not directed at wolftracker, but rather at the cultural flaw in conservative Catholicism I see in these two St Mary’s incidents.

The invite/disinvite scenario has been discussed to death, and I don’t mean to get into it deeply right now. But one would think that if hiring speakers with views consonant to the faith is so important, that the question of bringing a questionable person in would be answered way before the publicity engines hum to life. One would think.

It appears that bishops get caught unawares. Every time. Instead of having a pulpit in a calm discussion, they tend to draw more publicity for the event, create tensions and more questions among believers, and leave the impression most prelates are just shooting from the hip. Reacting, rather than acting. And others react in turn. At the mercy of the wind direction of the culture outside the chancery, rather than acting an agent for the very holiness they advocate for their flocks.

The same might be said for St Mary’s Academy. I’m sure their athletic department was aware of the organization providing referees. Women have been refereeing sports for at least a generation now. Did they actually have a policy against women referees? Or was it more a reaction against the cultural tide of sport on America? Another look around, feel uncomfortable, gotta do something, even if it’s stupid kind of reaction.

Both the SSPX school and Archbishop Gomez have failed the Church. Well, the former for being in schism, certainly. But aside from that, they both operate on the principle of reacting to challenge, rather than getting in front of the parade and leading.

To non-believers, organized religion in general, and the Catholic brand in particular, are seen literally as reactionary. And passive. It’s hard to believe they’re not. It takes a controversy to get a clear answer. And given the silence of the Kansas school’s administration, an official reply or policy is far from forthcoming. Too bad. I’d like to see how they justify having women teach boys, but not referee their sporting events. Do St Mary’s teachers and moms not monitor their students’ and sons’ playground activities? Are they willing to see that their own position, however positive it seems in their own view, may be in need of discernment?

What bishop, even Archbishop Burke, has ever published a pastoral letter on speakers? Or even a policy? Make it a personal policy or whatever, but doesn’t it deserve to see print? The continual litany on the invite/disinvite circuit does little but generate tension in the Church, pit Catholics against one another, put bishops in a bad light generally, and build distrust of them from various sponsoring organizations.

St Mary’s Academy has embraced the pre-conciliar Church, including its tragic sin of passivity. Too many of our bishops are mired in it, too. They opt to stand as a culture apart, secretive of policies, but waiting to engage when some unsuspecting soul steps on the wrong stick or leaf.

The genius of Vatican II was the initiation of a dialogue with the world. The Church itself took the initiative to engage and explain the faith to non-Catholics and non-believers. The Church was seen in a positive light, as the fruits of dialogue were more easily connected with aspects of Catholic practice that, at first glance, may seem strange or unusual or irrelevant.

One example: I see not so much of this genius in the average parish’s approach to evangelization. Do our parishioners beat the bushes for inactive Catholics in their neighborhoods, workplaces, schools, and leisure activities? When was the last time any one of us brought a friend to Mass? There is too much of the mindset that people should be coming to Catholicism. (One sees it in the vain hope that the traditional Mass will draw people back to belief. I wonder, are they talking about stealing sheep from other parishes, or wooing back the prayerful inactive Catholics who, though they’ve been absent from Sunday Mass since the 60’s or 70’s, will somehow get engaged by a return to the 50’s?) Why should we Catholics bother to reach out, tell people about what we believe, when they need us for eternal salvation?

The current apologist movement is on similar ground. People need answers to defend the faith against non-Catholics. Again, this mode of reacting. Rather than focus on living out the faith in a positive manner with one’s God, one’s own struggles to holiness, and one’s relationship with others, Catholic apologists have allowed the discussion to be defined in an atmosphere of contrasts and tension. As I tell my friends and parishioners, “I’m a Catholic; I have nothing to apologize for.”

Number three would be the bishops’ reaction to the sex abuse and cover-up crisis. They ignored the input of people like Tom Doyle, and allowed themselves to get into deep legal trouble.  Only when the scandal broke among their own number and the material assets of dioceses were threatened, did they see the problem as worth a concerted effort. Again, reaction rather than action. Passivity rather than initiative. Most bishops have adopted adult-child guidelines formed by secular experts and designed for non-church settings. But the scandal still simmers in the American episcopacy. Bishops still make big blunders in administration and moral judgment. And they still don’t get it.

Believe me, the future of Roman Catholicism does not lie with this kind of gnosticism: that the Church possesses the true faith and we need not publicize it or explain it, even to our own people. It’s up to them to overcome their own stubbornness or God to inspire them to tag along. We don’t need to restate our moral positions, only silence our adversaries. We don’t need to be proactive, we’ll just deal with the crises as they come to us. And not forget to play the victim card–that’s a modern cultural tool we can embrace.

For the record, I think gender separation in education is mostly a good idea. Maybe it’s the dad in me speaking, but I like the idea of my daughter going to an all-female school.  Especially if she can excel academically, not have the athletic budget drained by boys’ sports, and benefit from the example of strong, mature, holy, adult women as teachers and mentors. I’ve heard from parents of teen boys that for the most part, they have benefited from an all-male student body. My criticism of St Mary’s lies totally in their secrecy and hypocrisy.

I also don’t think that abortion on demand is a good idea for us morally or as a society. But I’m not afraid of engaging others who disagree with me. Why shouldn’t a university be able to model the kind of discussion nobody seems to be able to have on the internet?

And as for bishops, I know that the cultural media machines are hard to overcome unless a juicy story is in the offing. But I rarely see in diocesan papers (and I do sample their net editions regularly) bishops being proactive. I never hear of a bishop requesting a minute before a speaker to say something like this.

My sense it’s back to school for all these folks. This week’s grade of Catholicism in the public eye is a D. D for discredit

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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3 Responses to Apologists for Passivity

  1. Robin says:

    Hi folks! came across this brilliant video , a must watch thought i’ll share that with you, cheers…………
    Don’t click too hard.

  2. Mike says:

    Both your portrayal of apologetics as a purely reactionary effort and your statement, “I’m a Catholic; I have nothing to apologize for,” betray a misunderstanding of the true nature of Catholic apologetics.

    Yes, apologetics can be – and is – used to defend the faith against attacks from non-Catholics (and, sometimes, misinformed Catholics), but it is also rightly used to explain the faith to those honestly seeking answers. The Church calls that second use “evangelization.”

    The study of apologetics necessarily deepens one’s understanding of the faith, of the reasons why the Church teaches what she teaches. Some Catholics find such an understanding uncomfortable, as it often challenges cherished personal attitudes and beliefs that are not truly Catholic.

    As for Catholic apologists having “allowed the discussion to be defined in an atmosphere of contrasts and tension,” I wish you had offered a concrete example or two. Every Catholic apologist of whom I am aware subscribes fully to 1 Peter 3:15-16:

    “Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope, but do it with gentleness and reverence, keeping your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who defame your good conduct in Christ may themselves be put to shame.”

    I do not see any tension or contrast in that (although the prediction of rejection is blindingly obvious).

    In short, apologetics, like most things in the Church, is a “both … and,” not the “either … or” you try to make it out to be.

  3. Todd says:

    Thanks, Mike; I appreciate the challenge you offer here.

    Do you see apologetics as more of a method than the actual content? In my experience as a Catholic, yes, we use the term evangelization, but also faith formation. Pre-conciliar apologetics seemed directed at anti-Catholicism in the US. Needful then, but perhaps a different tone and approach in the present day.

    What you describe as the difficulties when faith intersects understanding–that’s part and parcel of the spiritual life. One encounters that as an apologist, evangelizer, missioner, minister, parent, spouse, or in any spiritual endeavor.

    I confess I’m a little less comfortable with the hint that the apologist has it all figured out, and the only spiritual difficulties are among the recipients. That seems to be counter to the spiritual wisdom of self-examination, observing one’s conscience, and all.

    Mark Shea is described as an apologist–I confess I don’t know if he uses the term on himself. But he does use tension and contrast among believers, though not as forcefully as some of the more conservative web pages like CWN, IC, or Insight Scoop.

    I’m sincerely curious: how would you define apologetics and who would be two or three stellar examples of apologists and why?

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