Saturday, June 25, 2011

Bread, [Wine,] and Circuses

Oh, I love being Catholic; it's so entertaining!! This Fr. Corapi scandal has so many threads to pull, it's great!

Now, there's no doubt I think he's gone off the deep-end with this whole "Black Sheep Dog" thing and that his bizarre rants, released as audio files (what is this, Al-Qaeda??), are both self-aggrandizing and uncharitable (besides being all over the place and sounding sort of crazy...)

But, some conservative reactions regarding his resignation from priestly ministry in the face of this...are rather nuts too. For example:
If, on the other hand, the allegations against Father Corapi are completely untrue, then the action that he took on "both Trinity Sunday on the Catholic liturgical calendar and Fathers' Day on the secular calendar" is, in some ways, even worse than what he was alleged to have done. Drug abuse could destroy his health and affect the people around him; having (presumably consensual) sexual relations with several women would be a violation of his vows and affect his spiritual life and theirs.

But in leaving the priesthood (and, in so doing, bringing the investigation into the allegations against him to a crashing halt), Father Corapi is breaking the most important promise he has ever made, the vows that he took at his ordination. And by doing so publicly, and by publicly damning the ecclesiastical authorities that even he acknowledges have "the right to govern" as they see fit, he not only places his own soul in danger but encourages distrust, anger, and even hatred of Church authorities in his many followers, putting their souls at risk as well.
Really?? Leaving is a worse sin than even the sex and drugs would be?!? I'm sorry, but there is no evidence that he is breaking any vows right now. From what we know now, he's planning to go through licit channels to get dispensed from his vows and either seek laicization or at least dispensation from active priestly ministry. The question of obedience is perhaps legitimate, but the "obedience" the neocon ecclesio-fascists apparently expect is well beyond what canon law actually envisions wherein priests do have legal rights.

No doubt, it makes me highly suspicious that Corapi called it quits after just a few months of investigation; why not ride out the process?? But if he really felt that people in power were going to use this as a pretext to just silence him and then leave him in a state of limbo forever (that sort of passive bureaucratic career assassination
has been carried out on people before, like Bugnini's now-almost-proverbial "promotion/banishment" as papal nuncio to Iran)...then he has every right to, through licit channels, resign from active ministry and seek various dispensations.

As he himself says
on his website, "the only thing I know for sure is that I’m not going to disobey the Church and attempt to 'minister' as a priest." Now that would be disobedient: to go on functioning sacramentally or claiming to represent the Church publicly even while suspended. Seeking dispensation, though, is nothing to be ashamed of, if you go through legitimate channels. I think the stigma of the "fallen priest" needs to be gotten rid of among conservative Catholics. Although my friend was once told by a vocation director, when he asked about the possibility of laicization, that this was not even something that should be discussed because it's "the death of a priest!" reality, these processes exist for a reason in canon law, are licit and legitimate. Priests are not "trapped" by ordination as slaves of the Church or anything like that, and should not feel that way if things really aren't working out for them.

Likewise, the speaking out Corapi's done about the process and the bishops seems self-serving and uncharitable and may contain falsehood or at least dishonest exaggeration, but I would only critique it on those grounds. People critiquing it merely on the grounds that it is, in fact, speaking out critically about bishops and church policy at all...apparently want a church where our leaders are beyond accountability, questioning, or criticism. And that scares me.

Others have criticized Corapi for saying, basically, that since his ministry consisted largely in simply preaching, and outside the context of liturgy at that, then really he doesn't need the priesthood to continue 90% of the things he's been doing:
"I didn't do very much of that quite honestly in the twenty years that I did minister," he says, adding, "90 percent of what I did in the past did not require ordination. Speaking through social communication—radio, TV, so forth—that's not ministry, strictly speaking. My particular mission was speaking, writing, and teaching—not so much in the sacraments, but outside of them, in conjunction with them. So what I'm going to be doing in the future is pretty much the same thing."
This article, for example, criticizes this on the grounds that: "Any one who has been given the great gift of Holy Orders knows that ordination is not strictly about what we do, but about what we are, and what we become. And yet, a priest becomes, by sacred ordination, alter Christus, another Christ."

While I don't want to reduce the priesthood to mere functionalism, I think Corapi's analysis is actually true from a pragmatic perspective. Maritain had the same complaint, as I've discussed before; the other is essentially a clericalist theology of the priesthood ("The sacrament of Holy Orders does not constitute the priest in a state of sanctity any more than baptism constitutes an ordinary Christian in such a state. The state of life of the priest, Maritain maintains, 'is the same as that of most ordinary members of God's people' and a clear distinction must be maintained between this state of life and the priestly function.")

What Corapi is pointing out here is, basically, the other side of the coin to what I've said for a long time: strictly speaking, you only
need to be a priest to confect the eucharist, absolve, and anoint the sick basically. And it's not rocket science (from the practical standpoint) to read words out loud, wave your hands over things, or rub oil on someone's head. Expecting men to basically give up their whole lives to fill just these basic ritual functions (especially now that a class of lay volunteers does many of the other traditionally, but non-essentially, clerical functions) even when there is a shortage of people willing to work full-time at such a part-time no model for a successful Church in the 21st century.

You don't really need to be a priest to speak and teach and advise and counsel on theological or spiritual matters and, on the flip-side, we don't necessarily need priests to do much more than confect the sacraments for us (which could be done on a part-time unsalaried basis by married men from the parish, if they could be ordained). Perpetuating in the modern world a clerical caste, with a hazing---oops, I mean "human formation"--- that lasts four or five or more years in the creepy and unnecessary seminaries, just isn't working.

Anyway, I also have some serious questions here about what happens next. SNAP seems to think the allegations were credible, but who knows:
David Clohessy, who directs the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, known as SNAP, issued a statement which read: "We have spoken with one of Corapi's victims and find her very credible, and our hearts ache for her and her family because of the pain Corapi and a few of his misguided loyalists have inflicted on her. We have mixed feelings. We are grateful Corapi has quit, because he'll have less protection and access to vulnerable Catholics outside of the priesthood. But we're sad because it now seems less likely that those he exploited will ever see justice."
Apparently, now that he's stepped down, they simply stop the church investigation!? At the time this first all came out they said:
"Based on the information we have received thus far, the claim of misconduct does not involve minors and does not arise to the (level) of criminal conduct. Consequently, this matter will be investigated internally, and unless and until information suggests otherwise it will not be referred to civil authorities."
But now that he's gone or no longer their employee, what happens? Is he really able to "get away" with it (if it happened) just by resigning? The investigation stops and he's allowed to keep claiming his innocence? If I were them, I'd keep investigating any former employee anyway just for the sake of justice in the form of a fair record of the truth, and to expose him publicly if it did turn out true. I'm not saying for sure he's guilty, but if he's seems stupid that the entire process can apparently be short-circuited by making pre-emptive statements (in fact, Corapi himself is the one we're getting most of our info from, not the Church authorities, bizarrely) and resigning. The Church then has no recourse and just lets the whole thing die and stops pursuing the matter? Something does seem broken about this whole process and system, but not necessarily in the way he's claiming.

To sum it up, I think what this article (a very perceptive analysis in general) says at the end is very true:
Some want a good priest, a victim-priest, to say or do something to the make last decade feel like a bad dream.

That might sound a little too pat, but I remember when Corapi first announced his suspension, how many commenters on various Catholic blogs brought up the Dallas Charter. The Dallas Charter established norms for handling priests accused of abusing young people; the accusations against Corapi involved consensual sex with a grown woman. Nothing about the Dallas Charter covered his case, yet many observers were happy to throw it all in the same basket.

That kind of knee-jerk response, with the Dallas Charter behind it, makes me fear Catholics are recoiling so violently from the shame of the sex-abuse scandal that the Church will end up right back at square one. That is, accusers will again be at a disadvantage, and wrongdoers will be given an endless series of second chances. Some in intellectual circles are already feinting in that direction.

Take Thomas G. Guarino's essay "The Priesthood and Justice," which ran in First Things in January of this year. Guarino argues that the Dallas Charter, with its zero-tolerance policy concerning the abuse by priests of minors will vacate the theology of the priesthood. Bishops will regard priests as at-will employees [I think regarding priests a little more like at-will employees rather than men we're stuck with no matter what might not be such a bad thing], not—as St. Ignatius of Antioch proposed—like "sons and friends." He also predicts that the "paradigm shift" will foster "adversarial" relations between bishops and priests.

"First, in judging the sinning priest," Guarino writes, "should not the Gospel be the absolute norm? Are we allowing room for repentance, forgiveness, and for the change of life promised by the Gospel of grace? Or are we simply responding to lawyers who insist that bishops must reduce their legal (and financial) exposure?"

I'm no theologian, so it's possible I'm talking past Guarino's points, rather than addressing them head-on. Nevertheless, I find it outrageous he hasn't considered that 1) generosity to degenerate sons and friends goes by names like "cronyism" and "nepotism," neither of which is very flattering; 2) forgiveness and a role in priestly ministry are two separate things; 3) leniency toward abusive priests might mend fences among the clergy but it will exacerbate the adversarial relationship that already exists—the one between the clergy and the laity; and 4) fear of exposure cuts both ways: many of the most lenient bishops were acting from horror of scandal. No one's cornered the market on heroism.

I raise these objections not because I think they're particularly daring or original, but because they are, or should be, obvious. Though, certainly, some who feel moved by arguments like Guarino's must be acting from an admirable desire to protect innocent priests, falsely accused, I have to wonder whether another force might be at work. When I saw the number of people defending Corapi and attacking his critics—including the one who threatened me with grievous bodily harm—I catch a whiff of plain, self-interested denial. Better we should overlook bad behavior than find ourselves agreeing with Maureen Dowd [LOL!!]

This strikes me as a terribly misplaced set of priorities. But it might not be so widespread after all. Every once in a while, amid the more obviously partisan responses to reports on Corapi, I saw one that said something like, "I used to be a fan of his, until . . ." followed by the mention of some warning sign. It was very encouraging.

So maybe, hopefully, Barnum's favorite equation deserves a reworking. If every minute a sucker is born, maybe during the same minute, another sucker dies, to be reborn as a shrewd consumer. The world's due that kind of break.


James Kabala said...

I know the word "neocon" has gradually lost all meaning and become an all-purpose insult, but Mr. Richert is pretty clearly not a neocon:

A Sinner said...

Fine, a Paleocon.

By church standards, that's still (neo)"conservative" to me.

When I say "neocon" I don't mean the American political neocons (though some are).

I mean people who are conservatives based around the status quo NOW, the NEW post-Vatican II conservative.

(As opposed to those holding positions that would have been conservative 60 years ago, but who are now reactionary "trads" because the status quo, by which "conserving" is defined, has changed)

Anonymous said...

Oh, I love being Catholic; it's so entertaining!!
Not nearly as entertaining as being
a Missouri Synod Lutheran.