Confirmation is sometimes described as a “sacrament in search of a theology.” Pius X’s plunking down First Communion to age seven isolated Confirmation as the only “adolescent” sacrament–Penance and Eucharist abandoning the teens for the childhood years. (I’ve always been curious if the SSPX schismatics thought to restore First Communion to age 16 … but that’s fodder for another post, if not fodder for later in this one.)
As a result, you have the Catholic bar/bat mitzvah apologists: Confirmation is the sacrament for passage into adulthood/Catholic soldiery. Sounds good, but there’s no track record of Confirmation as such anywhere in the Christian tradition. In the West, the bishops wanted to retain control of some part of the initiation process. Darned inconvenient to visit parishes for infant baptism, so …
In fact, psychologists might tell you that adolescence is potentially the worst time for Confirmation: human beings are at the most fluid in their commitment to social structures and systems as identified by the Establishment. I’ve known lots of good, holy kids who honestly approached a discernment of staying with the Church or not. It’s hard to tell them that, at that age, doubts are a good thing.
Religious educators often panic when you suggest moving Confirmation to age seven or younger. It would eviscerate our youth ministries, they complain. Then Confirmation becomes of a sacrament of graduaton from Catholic education. Nice work.
Similarly, we’ve seen recently the curia grasping for a theology that allows them to excise homosexuals from the ministerial priesthood. Ta-da! We now have spiritual paternity. What invention! What insight!
Sometimes we Catholics have matters of fact (note: not necessarily truth) that demand a theology to fit the bill. I’ve seen all sorts of apologies for the lifting of SSPX ex-communications. What if those bishops started ordaining more bishops and the whole things gets out of control? (They weren’t so concerned about Old Catholics and their line of bishops extending into women’s ordination, were they?) What if all those weirdo anti-Semites sowed weirdness into the million or so “innocent” followers? (Ditto, not so much concern for rank-and-file Old Catholics.)
I suspect that despite a minimum show of contrition, the pope just wanted the SSPX back into the fold. A matter of personal taste, in part, perhaps.
Now that the door’s been left ajar for the schismatics on one fringe, folks on the other are asking, “What about us?” Predictable. Naturally there’s a theology in place that will, as Rock suggests, quote apples and oranges.
And it is true that the comparisons deep into theology are different between SSPX bishops and women. It’s unfortunate that most Catholics will be unable to discern the differences, including many clergy. However, it is also true that reasons given by the Vatican do not always fit either the facts of a situation, or the given theology in the deposit of faith. The lack of good communication hampers the Church’s ability to teach clearly.
The Church appears clumsy, doesn’t seem to care, and basically tells the rest of the world and many of its own believers it doesn’t care. It sounds like fishing using not bait, but a boulder. You’ll get the fish that are drop-dead impressed with your chutzpah (or sense of entitlement). But what about the doubters?