Sunday, March 10, 2013

De logicâ ecclesiae

The unexpected retirement of the Pope, and the resultant Conclave, have elicted much idle kibbitzing, best ignored.   But when this comes from the lead editorial in the flagship feature of one of the nation’s most respected magazines (The New Yorker, in “The Talk of the Town”, essay by Margaret Talbot), response is due.   Not by way of religious advocacy by any means, but simply as logical and factual hygiene.  The editorial occurs in the current issue of that periodical (the one whose cover depicts a half-naked ex-pontiff browsing the scandal-sheets).

She writes:  “The Vatican dismissed an American priest who had participated in an ordination ceremony for a woman,” and waxes indignant.
“Ceremony”: as though referring to some lark at the Elks Club, where people dress up in funny hats.
Rather:  Ordination is a sacrament of the Church -- one of just seven.   (Note that this is not a tendentious claim:  the statement is epistemologically on a par with “The parallel postulate is part of Euclidean geometry” or “Driving on the left is a traffic regulation in England”.)  And this he wilfully desecrated, as certainly as had he officiated at a Black Mass, or fed the consecrated host to a squirrel.

She then slyly attempts to load the dice, referring to that instance in terms of “a Church that expels a priest for advocating women’s ordination” [emphasis added].  Does The New Yorker not know (for surely there was a copy-editor) the distinction between doing a thing, and merely advocating it?  You are quite free to opine on your blog that incest should be legal;  that is very different from actually shtupping your mother.
Ms. Talbot was thus dishonestly attempting to shift the debate to the more favorable grounds of Free Speech, which everyone salutes up there with apple pie and motherhood.  Desecrating a sacrament is, no doubt, protected “speech”, in the greatly and sometimes grievously distended sense that that simple word has gradually acquired in secular law;  but that doesn’t mean the Church has to put up with it, and that is what is at issue here.
Moreover, a little less round-eyed wonder, if you please, at the notion that there might be any legitimate restrictions on a priest’s anti-ecclesiastical advocacy.   To put it in perspective, switch to a purely secular context:  Schoolteachers, these days, have very little latitude to advocate anything at all, or even to acknowledge the truth of anything that isn’t explicitly in the lesson plan.  If a pupil asks his teacher, did Evolution happen, or did Columbus discover America, she would be well advised to take the Fifth, and to retain counsel.


Further answers to all your questions:

Q:  Will Ratzinger continue to be infallible  now that he has left the papacy?
A:  Of course not.  He never was, as a man, infallible or anything close to it, even while Pope.  To ask that question is like asking whether ex-Presidents can still appoint Cabinet members.
The doctrine of Infallibility  attaches, not to this or that forked radish, but uniquely to certain central doctrinal pronouncements, uttered ex cathedra.   It is a little like saying “I now pronounce you man and wife”:  the phrase is effectual only if appropriately uttered by a man of the cloth or a clerk of the court, in the presence of a man and a woman, neither of whom is married;  you can’t just run up to a couple of passers-by on the street (or a couple of lampposts) and shout that, with any matrimonial effect.
The infallibility, then, applies to the contextually-situated utterance, and has nothing per se to do with the incarnated man, with all his faults and failings. 
The doctrine thus exactly parallels that of the validity of the sacraments when properly administered by one duly constituted to administer them, independently of the personal worthiness of that unworthy servant, the priest.  For in both cases, we are not dealing with some feat dependent upon the prowess of one individual -- like ringing the bell with the strongman’s mallet on the Midway -- but with, well, a miracle.

Q:  Many Catholic priests are gay, yet they publicly endorse the doctrine of the Church on that intrinsically disordered state.  Is that rank hypocrisy or what?
A:  Indeed not.   What psychological pangs they may personally experience, while trying, in their office and in their private lives, to reconcile their own individual Fallen state, with the abiding, guiding doctrine of the Holy Mother Church, we cannot know; but there is no theological incongruence:  no more than in whoso preaches against Sin, albeit himself quite certainly a sinner.
(Or, more prosaically:  A cop is allowed and indeed required to enforce the law, even if he himself once received a speeding-ticket.)

[This just in]

New pope to inherit demystified office
By Anthony Faiola, Monday, March 11

VATICAN CITY — Papal conclaves historically created mystical figures, men transformed by divine authority into heirs of Saint Peter. But as 115 cardinals begin deliberations Tuesday to pick the next pope, observers say any successor to Benedict XVI is set to step into an office demystified by scandal and early retirement.
In other words, the magic might be gone from being pope.

For the most devout, the figure of the pope spoke with a nearly preternatural voice, vesting him with a transcending influence when, for instance, John Paul II called for the end of communism in the former Eastern bloc. But more than at any other point in recent history, Vatican watchers say the papacy has been brought back down to earth by Benedict’s unprecedented decision to step down and revelations of financial corruption in the Vatican and clergy sexual misconduct.

Those who are innocent of history, will gape and stare at this.
Those with a modicum of knowledge, will nod.
For the fact is:
There have been far worse scandals  in the history of the Church, than what we see now;  and Popes, far less worthy, than the worthy Benedict.
There have  moreover  been Presidential administrations  far worse than that of Obama, or even Dubya :  students of history  will moan at their memory.

And yet, and yet …  The Presidency remains  the best hope of the Republic;
the Papacy remains  the best hope of the Church.

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