Category Archives: Pop Culture

Thoughts on “Winning the Culture War”

Last night as I was walking out of Mass with my wife, I saw a display case for Lighthouse Catholic Media and picked up a CD entitled “Winning the Culture War,” in which Dr. Peter Kreeft of Boston College presents a fictional conversation between C.S. Lewis’s Screwtape character and his apprentice, Wormwood. They are discussing how to dismantle Truth by politicizing religion, preaching tolerance, and advancing moral relativism.

One quote from Dr. Kreeft that especially struck me was this one:

“The origins of the moral relativism that justifies the sexual revolution is not intellectual, it’s moral. We’re not confused about moral absolutes, we’re afraid of moral absolutes. Our moral relativism is almost wholly sexual; almost no one defends nuclear war or insider trading or oil spills or even smoking. But anything to do with sex is justified, sanctified and glorified. Even murder is justified in the name of sex. Abortion is fundamentally about sex. Feminism, abortion, divorce, cohabitation-all these issues are about consequence-free sex.”

As a millennial, I grew up in the wasteland left behind in the aftermath of the sexual revolution waged by the Baby Boomers and institutionalized as the framework through which to view all future societal progress. I grew up in a world saturated with sex. Sex on TV, sex in the classroom, sex on college campuses, sex on billboards, sex in the magazines in the supermarket checkout line. And the aforementioned doesn’t even qualify as pornography by modern standards.

Dr. Kreeft’s presentation got me to thinking about our culture, and he is absolutely right. Sex isn’t even exciting anymore. There’s no restrictions to give it the thrill it once gave man. We are simultaneously sexualized and sexless. Sex no longer has meaning or significance in our culture, it’s what you do when there’s nothing good on TV. There are all kinds of sexual issues even in marriages today; sexless marriages, sex that seems routine, a chore, a duty, and sex cheapened by addiction on the husband (or wife) part to porn. And it’s not because God made sex boring, but because man’s designs have distorted sex.

Sex in and of itself-the union of man and woman in a powerful bond of intimacy with a teleological end of bringing new life into the world is no longer enough for the masses. No longer does the mere beauty of the male or female form created in the image and likeness of God prompt sexual desire and drive. Instead, we desire distortions and perversions of what is perhaps is nature’s most beautiful act and seek out images, fantasies and entertainment that degrade and debase sex. We can no longer be fulfilled by timeless love stories; no, we need perversion, domination, abuse, “red rooms,” whips, chains and all manner of diversions to make sex “exciting.” We have men in their 20s seeking treatment for impotency because they can no longer get aroused by a present human female (their wife) after years of living in a virtual world of masturbating to pornography. Worse, men can’t even form the relationships to lead to sexual intimacy, because the “hookup culture” has robbed them of any sense of permanence and commitment.

Our Lady of Fatima said more people will go to hell for sins of the flesh than for all other sins. As a young man navigating our culture, I admittedly bought into the lies promoted by the culture. I had sex outside of marriage, I dabbled in pornography. I damaged myself.

When I met my beloved wife, I couldn’t be the complete gift to her that I could have been had I waited, as she did, to make love for the first time to my spouse. I couldn’t, as much as I wanted to, go back and “undo” my past. Thanks to the grace of God, He was able to restore me before I met my wife, lead me back to Him, and make me a gift to my wife.

After we first got married, my wife was still on hormonal birth control because her endocrinologist insisted she be on it as a type 1 diabetic. Once my wife got on my insurance plan, we were able to find a pro-life endocrinologist and OB/GYN and learn NFP.

There’s simply no other way to say this-there is no substitute for the real thing, without barriers. God intended lovemaking to be a total and complete donation of self to your spouse. When we remove the distortions man has put on sex, sex becomes exciting, thrilling, and full of possibility. Contraceptive sex, by contrast, puts conditions on that gift. It says “I give you everything but my fertility because I don’t completely trust you,” and who wants to make love with someone they don’t completely trust without reservation? Contraceptive sex objectifies people. It uses them for our selfish pleasure. By contrast, natural lovemaking gives and receives. The woman receives the man’s sperm and the man receives his wife’s gift of fertility. Our reproductive faculties are not mere products of evolutionary biology, THEY ARE GIFTS GOD HAS ENTRUSTED TO US, TO BE GIVEN TO ONE PERSON EXCLUSIVELY IN A BOND OF LASTING FIDELITY!

There’s a reason everyone says free, natural, self-donating lovemaking is better on every level; BECAUSE IT IS! But more importantly, every act of lovemaking is an expression of the Sacrament of marriage to the fullest extent. When we make love freely within the context of holy matrimony, there is no fear of rejection or unintended pregnancy. There is, however, hope. Hope and possibility that your mutual self-gift, in cooperation with God, transmitted new life.

Even the use of NFP without grave reason distorts God’s plan sex. My wife and I were still learning NFP when we conceived, but the surprise was pleasant. When we learned we were pregnant, we realized we both had wanted a child, and that we really didn’t have a sufficient reason other than selfishness (i.e. when I get this job or make this amount) to delay having children. Not to mention, having to stop in the midst of intimacy to ask “is this a fertile day?” is a real mood killer.

So much of society is missing out on the thrill of sex that is total, complete, self-giving and life-giving. We’ve distorted sex beyond all recognition, and as witnesses to the Truth of Christ, we have our work cut out for us as we seek to invite people to inquire about the source of our joy and hope. We must meet people in the trenches, speak the Truth with love, and pray for the conversion of individuals and conversion of the culture. Everyone deserves to experience the riches of God’s plan for true unencumbered sexual intimacy with a lifelong partner, in Covenant with God, free from man-made perversions. It is, after all, God’s plan for mankind.

Advertisements

Thoughts on the Supreme Court and Same-Sex Marriage

A few weeks ago, the United States Supreme Court heard two cases regarding state and federal laws pertaining to marriage as an institution of one man and one woman. In United States v. Windsor, the Court will decide whether section 3 the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which prohibits the provision of federal benefits to same-sex couples, violates the equal protection clause of the Constitution.

The case surrounds the story of Edith Windsor, an elderly New York resident who married her late partner, Thea Spyer, in Toronto in 2007. When Thea Spyer passed away in 2009, Windsor inherited a considerable estate, triggering taxes of some $363,000 for Edith Windsor on the estate. Because the state of New York legally recognizes same-sex marriages performed in other jurisdictions, Windsor requested a refund of the estate taxes from the IRS. Citing section 3 of DOMA, the IRS declined.

In a related case, Hollingsworth v. Perry seeks to invalidate California’s Proposition 8, which defined marriage in California as a relationship between a man and a woman for legal purposes. After the California Supreme Court invalidated Proposition 22 and granted gays and lesbians the right to marry, citizens responded by passing Proposition 8, invalidating some 18,000 same-sex marriages.

In February 2011, the Obama Justice Department released a statement saying it had determined that sexual classifications ought to be subject to heightened scrutiny rather than rational basis review, and announced it would no longer defend DOMA, which passed in 1996 with strong bipartisan support after a court ruling in which the Hawaii Supreme Court ruled that the state must have a compelling interest in prohibiting same-sex marriage. The announcement marked the first time an administration declined to defend a federal law duly enacted by Congress. Such action may be a violation of the President’s oath to uphold and defend the laws of the Constitution, but that is a separate issue. With the DoJ declining to defend a federal law, Congress formed the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group, appointing Paul Clement to defend the Constitutionality of section 3.

Proceeding from the administration’s established position on DOMA, in the Obama administration’s brief in United States v. Windsor, the Solicitor General writes,

“Tradition, no matter how long established, cannot by itself justify a discriminatory law under equal protection principles.”

However, in the same brief, Justice acknowledges that DOMA could pass rational basis test review that the Court has historically applied to laws that do not make legal distinctions pertaining to “suspect classes” such as race, gender, or alienage. Thus, the proponents of same-sex marriage are urging the Court to utilize heightened scrutiny in reviewing both Windsor and Hollingsworth, making sexual orientation a suspect class for the purposes of judicial review.

Suspect classes, historically, are those groups with an “obvious, immutable or distinguishing trait.” (City of Cleburne v. Cleburne Living Ctr., 473 U.S. 432 (1985)). The respondent, Edith Windsor, declines in her petition to “distinguish between status and conduct.” While most of society agrees that homosexuality is not a choice, to date, science has been unable to point to any biological cause of homosexual orientation. As such, courts have declined to make sexual orientation a suspect class, inasmuch as it involves a type of conduct. “Homosexuality…differs fundamentally from those [traits] defining any of the recognized suspect or quasi-suspect classes. Members of suspect or quasi-suspect classes, e.g., blacks or women, exhibit immutable characteristics, whereas homosexuality is primarily behavioral in nature.” (Woodward, 871 F.2d)

In other words, same-sex marriage advocates, joined by the Obama administration, is seeking to invalidate the state and federal laws restricting marriage to heterosexual couples on the basis that such laws violate the equal protection clause by discriminating against an entire class of people, and as such, the state has no compelling interest, or “rational basis” in limiting marriage. Furthermore, proponents point to several prior decisions by the Court that hold marriage as a fundamental right, namely, “Marriage is one of the ‘basic civil rights of man,’ fundamental to our very existence and survival” Zablocki v Redhail, 434 U.S. 374, 383 (1978) and Loving v. Virginia, 388 U.S. 1, 12 (1967) (same); “marriage is ‘fundamental to the existence and survival of the race’” Skinner v. Oklahoma ex rel. Williamson, 316 U.S. 535, 5412 (1942). While Lawrence v. Texas 539 U.S. 578 (2003) invalidated anti–sodomy laws, it did so on the basis that such laws were not applied equally to homosexual and heterosexual conduct, therefore failing to meet the “rational basis” test in violation of the equal protection clause, the Court in Lawrence made a point to say that Lawrence did not establish a right to marry a person of the same sex.

To the contrary, Baker v. Nelson, 409 U.S. 810 (1972) dismissed an appeal based on the merits of the case of the Minnesota Supreme Court ruling in which they held that the plaintiffs, two men who had filed for a marriage license in Minneapolis, failed in their reliance on the recent Loving v. Virginia decision to find a parallel, writing that “in commonsense and in a constitutional sense, there is a clear distinction between a marital restriction based merely upon race and one based upon the fundamental difference in sex.” On October 10, 1972, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a one sentence ruling on the appeal motion, stating, “The appeal is dismissed for want of a substantial federal question.” While in most cases presented to the U.S. Supreme Court, the Court’s refusal to hear the case is not an endorsement of the decision below, Baker came to the Court through mandatory appellate review, and thus the summary dismissal is a decision on the merits of the case. As binding precedent, the Baker decision prevents lower courts from coming to a contrary conclusion when presented with the precise issue the Court necessarily adjudicated in dismissing the case. You could say that the Supreme Court has set a precedent as regards same-sex marriage.

There goes the claim that opposing the marriage of two men or two women is the same as supporting miscegenation statutes. The sexual difference is a fact rooted in biology, and no amount of obfuscation can change science.

weddong rings

Going back to the administration’s claim that marriage is a fundamental right, inasmuch as “prejudice may not be the basis of differential treatment under the law,” the Court may disagree. For Constitutional purposes, a right is “fundamental” only if two conditions are met: the asserted right is (a) “deeply rooted in this Nation’s history and tradition” and (b) “implicit in the context of ordered liberty”, such that “neither liberty nor justice” would exist if sacrificed (see Washington v. Glucksberg, 521 U.S. at 720-21 (1997)). No one could well argue that marriage of two men or two women is deeply rooted in the history or tradition of any known civilization, let alone our Nation’s. The Obama administration’s claim that “Tradition, no matter how long established, cannot by itself justify a discriminatory law under equal protection principles,” also faces a tough battle before the Court, inasmuch as the Court has used tradition as a basis for rulings as recently as their unanimous 1997 ruling in Washington v. Glucksberg, wherein the Court rejected a “fundamental right” to commit suicide, assisted or otherwise. Writing for the Court, Chief Justice Rehnquist expounded upon moral and legal traditions, stating,

Indeed, opposition to and condemnation of suicide–and, therefore, of assisting suicide–are consistent and enduring themes of our
philosophical, legal, and cultural heritages.

More specifically, for over 700 years, the Anglo American common law tradition has punished or otherwise disapproved of both suicide and
assisting suicide. In the 13th century, Henry de Bracton, one of the first legal treatise writers, observed that “[j]ust as a man may commit
felony by slaying another so may he do so by slaying himself.” The real and personal property of one who killed himself to avoid conviction and
punishment for a crime were forfeit to the king; however, thought Bracton, “if a man slays himself in weariness of life or because he is
unwilling to endure further bodily pain . . . [only] his movable goods [were] confiscated.” Thus, “[t]he principle that suicide of a sane
person, for whatever reason, was a punishable felony was…introduced into English common law.”

Clearly, there is no precedent that bars “tradition” from entering into legal reasoning. If the fact that 700 years of Anglo-American common law tradition bases suicide bans on moral approbation of society is applicable in rejecting a right to assisted suicide, surely millennia of traditional marriage is a compelling basis for continuing to legally define marriage as a union of a man and a woman. The institution of marriage is a priori to the existence of the State; in other words marriage is first and foremost a natural law institution that dates back to the earliest civilizations of man. The State extended protections to marriage in the interest of children. Inasmuch as same–sex unions are not capable of being consummated or producing offspring, it is sound legal reasoning to argue that the state has no interest in recognizing such unions as marriages.

The case of Ms. Windsor is not without merit, however. Rather than being a question of marriage, it ought to call into question the justice of arbitrary tax laws. As a rule, individuals ought to be able to bequeath property to whomever they wish without the recipient incurring taxes on the inheritance. Estate taxes are the equivalent of me knocking on my neighbor’s door shortly after the death of his mother and saying, “I know I don’t know you or your deceased mother, but I am taking half of your inheritance.” Most people not hell-bent on wealth redistribution would sympathize with Ms. Windsor, but the case of Ms. Windsor need not redefine marriage.

Perhaps the greatest question that would stem from a Supreme Court ruling finding a right to same-sex marriage is where you would consequently draw the line on what constitutes a marriage? The respondents in both Hollingsworth and Windsor base their argument on the premise that marriage exist to unite consenting adults in a committed relationship. If the state, as the Obama administration argues, has no compelling interest in preserving an institution rooted in “prejudice” and tradition (traditional marriage), how does one rationally argue for the continuation of the prohibition on marriage of more than two people? As the USCCB writes in their amicus, “One could substitute “polygamists” for “homosexuals” as that term is used in the Windsor decision and arrive at the same conclusion for the former as the Second Circuit did with respect to the latter. “In this case, all four factors justify heightened scrutiny: A) [polygamists] as a group have historically endured persecution and discrimination, B) [polygamy] has no relation to aptitude or ability to contribute to society, C) [polygamists] are a discernible group with non-obvious distinguishing characteristics, especially in the subset of those who enter [polygamous relationships; and D) the class remains a politically weakened minority.” (Windsor v. United States, 699 F.3d 169 181-82 (2d Cir. 2012)).

Now I am not arguing that polygamy and same-sex marriage are the same thing, but that the logic of the Second Circuit leads to the absurd. Or is it absurd at all? Many polygamists base their practice in deeply-held religious beliefs, but Congress deemed that the prohibition of polygamy trumped the free exercise rights of fundamentalists Mormons. If the federal government has no interest in limiting marriage to a man and a woman out of mere tradition, they likewise cannot discriminate against groups of three or more consenting adults. You cannot have a compelling interest in protecting one part of traditional marriage (monogamy) and not the other part (one man, one woman), especially if your case for dispensing with the latter rests on terms like “consenting adults” and “emotional fulfillment.” As recently as 2011, the Supreme Court of British Columbia uphold Canada’s ban on polygamy, writing that “the law seeks to advance the institution of monogamous marriage, a fundamental value in Western society from the earliest of times. It seeks to protect against the many harms which are reasonably apprehended to arise out of the practice of polygamy.” Referring to reports of polygamous marriage, British Columbia’s chief justice wrote further that “there is no evidence that it is a widespread or mainstream phenomenon.” Ditto same-sex marriage.

The redefinition of marriage will have widespread impact on all segments of society, including the constitutional right to religious freedom and free exercise thereof. Colorado recently skirted its ban on same-sex marriage, enacting a civil unions bill that did not include language protecting religious institutions from recognizing such unions in the operation of adoption agencies or charitable organizations. The Colorado Catholic Conference, in pushing for conscience protections, was berated by the bill’s sponsor, homosexual Sen. Pat Steadman (D-Denver), saying,

“What to say to those who claim their religion requires them to discriminate? I’d tell you what I’d say: ‘Get thee to a nunnery, and live there then. Go live a monastic life away from modern society, away from people you can’t see as equal to yourself”

Steadman told the Denver CBS affiliate that “acceptance of homosexuality by all” is why he ran for public office. In other words, we’re dispensing with freedom of religion and the first amendment. My 20-year old notion of two members of the same-sex getting legally married renders millennia of tradition obsolete and bigoted. So, folks, it’s not about marriage. The real objective is to rid society of all moral objections to it, which is why groups such as the Human Rights Campaign are pushing for laws that do not exempt religious institutions from recognizing same-sex marriages. While the Church teaches that homosexuals must be treated with the same dignity afforded to all, it does not recognize two men as a marriage. Try telling that to those who equate dissent with bigotry. When the law seeks to compel religious participation in a state-created definition of marriage, the courts will be very busy adjudicating challenges to such laws on the basis of First Amendment rights.

The basis of the argument put forth by opponents of same-sex marriage is not to deny same-sex couples the right to set up a household, share property and responsibilities, accumulate assets or care for each other. In fact, where there are obstacles to these things, the law should be changed to accommodate such arrangements. Federal law should designate domestic partners as legal claimants of their partner’s remains upon death, for instance. Nevertheless, marriage has a long and storied history as the fundamental building block of society, and ought to remain so.

Sex, Religion, and our Sick Culture

The controversy over the Obama administration’s mandates requiring all health insurance plans to cover all FDA-approved contraceptives has been raging for three weeks now.  Last Friday, President Obama “accommodated” employers with religious and/or moral objections to the mandate by proposing an accounting gimmick.  Under this “accommodation,” employers with religious or conscience objections to contraceptives would not be forced to offer them to employees, but the insurance companies would be required to provide contraceptives to employees “free of charge.”  As if the mandate didn’t insult religious institutions already, the “accommodation” insults the intelligence of the American people.  After all, when is the last time your insurance company gave you a free lunch?

Through this bogus “accommodation,” the White House, aided by their media allies and dissidents who claim to speak for the Church, have effectively shifted the paradigm of the debate from being about a violation of freedom of religion and the Constitution to one about Bishops and pro-life politicians wanting to force women to conform to their religious values.  As former Clinton pollster and political strategist Dick Morris hypothesized, this was a politically calculated move from the start, beginning with George Stephanopolous’ out-of-the-blue question to GOP presidential candidates about whether or not states could constitutionally ban contraception.  Thus the narrative that the Catholic Church seeks to impose its values on America and ban contraception-all part of a grand design thought up in conjunction with pro-life presidential candidates.

The current fight over the contraceptive mandate stems from our culture, inasmuch as culture forms our politics.  Our society is awash in competing secular ideologies and philosophies claiming to lead to human happiness and liberation.  With supreme court rulings and the passage of laws over the years that run contrary to the common good and human dignity, our culture, and indeed our politics, have abandoned a society rooted in the promotion of human dignity and embraced one that seeks only the right for each man to define right and wrong for himself. Thus, today’s government abandons the first amendment in order to promote evil as good.

Politics aside, the controversy comes just as my 9th grade Catechism class is embarking on a six-week study of Blessed Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, adapted for teens.  In a catechesis spanning five years, the former Pope sought to re-establish the lost notion of human dignity and true love through his weekly audiences.  What Pope John Paul II sought to counter was the culture of objectification, selfishness, and relativism that had taken hold of the world during the sexual revolution of the 1960s.

In 1930, the Episcopal church was the first to move towards the acceptance of contraceptives, and over time, the other Protestant denominations followed suit.  At the time, even Mahatma Ghandi had preached against birth control, as it allowed us to throw self-discipline and control over our desires to the wind.

In 1962, “the pill” was released to the market.  Invented by a Catholic in an attempt to avoid violating Church teachings on condoms, in 1968 Pope Paul VI released Humanae Vitae, reiterating the Vatican’s teaching against contraception and reaffirming the self-giving of marital union.  The day after the release of Paul VI’s encyclical, the New York Times featured a full-page ad with the signatures of many American Bishops who publicly rebuked the Vatican.  Blessed Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body was and is a lesson that seeks to bring the culture back to a view of sexuality rooted in human dignity after decades of attempts to erode the true nature of human dignity.

In a culture that views marriage as a contract lasting only as long as it is convenient, a culture entertained by an industry saturated with sex, and a utilitarian, consequence-free view of sexuality and human dignity, the Theology of the Body curriculum that my students are exploring must seem rather radical, and perhaps even avant-garde to the second generation to grow up in a world of “sexual liberation.”

In the 50s and 60s out-of-wedlock pregnancy was shameful; today it is entertainment and federally-subsidized.  Witness the glamorization of what we should be ashamed of in shows such as MTV’s “Teen Mom” and “16 and pregnant.”  We constantly consume sexually explicit advertising and entertainment that glorifies what was once taboo, and yet we perennially lament the state of our youth, the prevalence of sexual activity among teens, and the breakdown of social mores.

Our culture glorifies the debauched while it views tradition and faith with suspicion.  In contradistinction, TOB promotes a resounding “YES!” to the dignity of man and our right to true love, not an objectified use of women and men for self-gratification.  TOB affirms the inherent good of men and women as they were created for each other in the image of God, and the gift of sexuality that He willed as good to us.  It promotes the dignity of marriage not to the detriment of homosexuals, but to say that sexuality outside that which God has ordered does not fulfill the dignity of the person.

This TOB curriculum is providing a radical alternative to the “sex ed” my students receive at school, which promotes the view that we are all objects for the purpose of pleasure; that morality or religious values held by our parents are a detriment to our capacity for self-determination and prevents us from defining happiness on our own terms.  But as the TOB for Teens video tells us,  the aftermath of casual sex outside of marriage is devoid of respect for the dignity of the human person, and is filled with disappointment and pain.  In a refreshing change of course, my students seem to be eager to grasp the idea that no one is an object; we are all subjects of God, made in His image with dignity.

The next five weeks of catechism class promises to be interesting and revealing.  What do young people think of our culture of decadence, relativism and objectification?  Are they secretly yearning for more out of a relationship than sexual pleasure?  Do they resent the pressures of secular culture?  Will they fix the destruction wrought on us by our parents’ sexual revolution?

Time will tell.

On Truth and Pope John Paul II

This weekend marks a historical event, the beatification of Pope John Paul II in Rome.  The event is historic in the remarkably short period of time in which it is taking place, a mere six years after his death in spring 2005.  It also marks the first time that a Pope (Benedict XVI) has overseen the cause for his immediate predecessor’s sainthood.

John Paul II was a truly transformational figure in that he humanized the papacy.  His charisma, his energy and zest for Christ and the Church inspired millions, and his message of the hope and freedom found in Christ Jesus left an indelible mark on the world by contributing to the break-up of the tyrannical Soviet empire and the reviving of the Church, which had fallen into decay after the tumultuous cultural clashes of the 1960s and 1970s, which saw some 45,000 priests leave the priesthood and saw Europe divorce itself, culturally and politically, from its Christian roots.

John Paul II’s death was met with cries of “Santo Subito!” (Sainthood now!) from the thousands of mourners in St. Peter’s Square and from millions of the faithful around the world whose lives he had so touched.  John Paul inspired thousands of youth to enter religious life and to defend their faith by living it out in their daily lives.  Even non-Catholics recognized this man as a leader, a peacemaker, and a man who sought to change the world for the better.

On the eve of his beatification, the media has predictably begun its assault on John Paul II’s legacy as Pope, attempting to dismiss his achievements while focusing on his mistakes, principally in regards to his handling of the sexual abuse crisis and his friendship with the founder of the Legion of Christ, Fr. Marcial Maciel Degollado, now disgraced as a criminal for his abuse of seminarians and fathering of illegitimate children.  The media of course, wants to paint John Paul II as a perpetrator of the cover-up and culture of secrecy within the Church hierarchy, when in fact he was a leader in reforming the priesthood, investigating seminaries around the world for heretical practices, unfit candidates, and general dissent from the moral and theological teachings of the Church amongst priests, bishops, and religious.

New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, had a scathing column regarding the push for John Paul’s sainthood entitled “Hold the Halo,” published in Sunday’s edition of the Old Grey Lady, America’s “Newspaper of Record.”  Dowd claims that JPII “forfeited his right to beatification when he failed to establish a legal standard to remove pedophiles from the priesthood.”  In fact, it was under John Paul that a thorough investigation of the priesthood was conducted and canonical statutes of limitations were done away with.

While the sexual abuse scandal has left a stain on the Church hierarchy, Dowd and her crowd fail to acknowledge that the actions of those in the Church do not define the Church; rather, the Church is defined by its teachings and its existence as the Body of Christ, not the criminal actions of a few wayward members of the episcopacy.  As Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York recently wrote on his blog, “it’s especially tragic when someone leaves Jesus and His Church because of a sin, scandal, or slight from a priest or bishop.  If your faith depended on us, it was misplaced to begin with.  We priests and bishops might represent Jesus and shepherd His Church, however awkwardly — but we are not Jesus and His Church.” 

Perhaps Dowd’s biggest dislike for Pope John Paul II rests not in his efficacy in handling the abuse crisis, but his adherence to the timeless teachings of the Church, which are Truth.  While praising his stands against the evils of Communism, Dowd writes, “as progressive as he was on those issues, he was disturbingly regressive on social issues- contraception, women’s ordination, divorce and remarriage.”  Dowd’s use of the word “regressive” to describe efficacious defense of Truth is misplaced.  “Regressive” implies that we had “made progress” as a Church on these moral issues, and that John Paul somehow returned us to the Middle Ages.  She posits that John Paul protected the Legion of Christ and Opus Dei because they acted as “the shock troops in John Paul’s war against Jesuits and other progressive theologians.” 

Since the cultural revolutions of a generation ago, the “shock troops” in the war for moral relativism and secularized culture devoid of any religious expression have been trying to apply political labels to an institution founded on the teachings of an eternal being, Jesus Christ, not the temporal desires of mere mortals.  It is in this distinction that these so-called “progressive Catholics” miss the boat. 

When Jesus asked us to take up our cross and follow Him, he didn’t say we were going to be skipping through a meadow having a picnic.  Jesus himself was controversial; his actions and teachings went against convention and political correctness, which is the reason he was crucified.

I am always amazed by people who call themselves “recovering Catholics.”  Many of these individuals are Baby Boomers raised on the Baltimore Catechism and taught to fear God as an angry being by nuns who never should’ve been nuns.  This goes back to Archbishop Dolan’s saying that if your faith is allowed to be formed by priests, bishops, or nuns, who are mere sinners like all of Christ’s body, your faith is misplaced.  Coincidentally, these “recovering Catholics” also tend to be obsessed with a Church they claim to want nothing to do with, claiming that the Church is “repressive” and needs to “modernize.”  I had the opportunity to sit in on two meetings of a graduate course on oppression at UNC’s School of Social Work, and was struck by the professor and the student’s fixation with the Catholic Church as a source of “oppression”, stemming from its teachings on the sanctity of life and marriage. 

Two Catholic friends of mine attend the School, and view their interest in helping the less fortunate as a calling from God and a way in which to live out their faith.  Both have told me that Christians are viewed as suspect within the School of Social Work, and that most have an anti-religious bent.  I would venture to say that these “recovering Catholics” have lots of regrets and remorse about their past, which serves as the source of their animus toward not just the Church, but to God.  We all have Truth written on our hearts, as Aquinas said.  Perhaps when we yearn for the Church to change to fit our views, we are trying to avoid admitting that we have made mistakes?  It seems, then, that we must remember that God yearns to forgive; indeed He already has forgiven us.

I am reminded that to follow Christ is not easy.  I myself struggle with the teachings of the Church often.  How do I reconcile the Church’s teaching on marriage with my friendships with individuals who are gay or lesbian?  If I accept Church teaching, do I betray my friendship and love for my friends who happen to be gay?  Can I stand for life, even when that life is a result of a crime, such as rape or incest, despite the fear of being painted as unreasonable, or anti-woman?  I, like many Catholics, I suspect, constantly juggle the temporal and the eternal, the faith and the tainted culture in which we live.  It’s a journey, full of ups and downs, triumphs and failures, revisions and more revisions.  I am comforted in knowing that though these teachings may sometimes be hard to swallow, it is Truth-with a 2011 year history.  I am constantly evolving and asking how best to follow the example of Christ.

What keeps me going is the knowledge that while we are all sinners and we all experience periods of uncertainty, sadness, and feelings of failure, the Church is a rock, an anchor, a constant on which we can always depend on to remain the same as we navigate a world of change.  It is comforting to know that though my children will grow up in a world radically different from the world I grew up in, I will be able to impart to them the same Truth my parents taught me and their parents before them.  Truth is not politically correct, it is not malleable, and it is not handed down on the whims of men.  As such, defense of Truth, as in John Paul’s case, is not a cause for ridicule, but for admiration.

If the Church were dependent on the actions of men, it would’ve been dead on arrival.  St. Peter, the first Pope, denied Jesus three times!  And yet he went on to shepherd Christ’s Church!  While John Paul might have done more to combat the “filth in the priesthood,” as Benedict XVI so rightly coined it, to make his shortcomings cloud his contributions to the world is to diminish a man who arguably changed the course of history, and most definitely inspired an entire generation.  Lay faithful, religious, priests, bishops, popes, and even saints are sinners.  Only Jesus was without blemish.  So while those who wish to turn the world into a relativistic cesspool will spend the weekend fuming over John Paul’s beatification, I will be watching the ceremony, and praying that I, a sinner, might be granted mercy and the grace to follow Christ, like John Paul did so well.  Santo Subito!