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June 15, 2012

Shrinking Roman Catholic Church

Roy Meachum

This week the Catholic Archdiocese of New York ordained a single priest. The Rev. Patric D’Arcy was not born in this country; his Irish ancestors immigrated to Canada. Desultory attendance attends the practice of all of major Western religions, except Islam – which may be why there is such an ingrained fear of Muslims.


Protestants and Jews cite no specific reason. But both conservative and progressive Catholics blame the councils of the 1960s’ Vatican II. Aged John XXIII (Angelo Roncalli) was elected pope in 1958 partially because Msgr. Giovanni Montini was simply not ready; he didn’t own a cardinal’s red hat.


To counter such political and cynical pragmatism, the “temporary” pontiff summoned an ecumenical international conference. He called it for the sake of aggiornamiento – the Italian word for modernization. Conservatives hated the word, naturally, and progressives were overjoyed at the promise. Msgr. Montini received the crown of St. Peter after the very first session. Things changed in the favor of the Curia, the Vatican bureaucracy that is not at all liberal.


Priests married believing it was inevitable on the promises. Nuns removed their habits and veils in the new order, which did not really arrive; they kept them off anyway. While under Paul VI, laicization was simply available for any Catholic cleric. I know several priests who took the opportunity. It was during this time of uncertainty that I was first assigned to cover the church, specifically because moral theologian Father Charles Curran was suspended for publishing his thoughts on human sexuality.


Washington’s Catholic University was shut down by students and faculty. He was reprieved by a divided hierarchy. That was in 1967. Pope John XXIII’s prefect of the Congregation of the Faith, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, finished the firing job, in the early 1980s; Charlie found refuge in Southern Methodist University.


Forty-five years later Msgr. Ratzinger is Pope Benedict XVI and Father Curran has been replaced in the Vatican target’s eye by Yale Divinity School’s Sister Margaret Farley.


The nun published “Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics,” encompassing masturbation, same-sex marriage and “unnatural sex, disordered desire, and dangerous live.” The Congregation of the Faith attempts to rebut Sister Farley’s book on every point. “Just Love” came out six years ago. Why now?


The pope is generally dissatisfied with “uppity” nuns. The Vatican emphasizes “a prevalence of certain radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith.” The Leadership Council of Women Religious (LCWR) issued a statement alleging the charges “unsubstantiated.” The Washington Post reports the council as saying it has “’caused scandal and pain’ and exacerbated polarization…”


Catholic scholar George Wiegal wrote in May about the LCWR: “Their notions of orthodoxy are, to put it gently, innovative; and their relationship to Church authority is best described as one of barely concealed contempt.” In their corner is a group of Franciscan friars and the Conference of Major Superiors of Men, which administers male orders; both offered the ladies their “prayerful support.”


Sister Margaret Farley recently retired from Yale Divinity School; and the last I heard from Charlie Curran on Tuesday, he’s still safely in Texas. With my membership in New Market’s Grace Episcopal, as Lyndon B. Johnson might say, I have “no dog in the hunt….”


….other than as an informed, older journalist.


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