Thursday, February 4, 2010

Archbishop to flock: "get off my back"

The Catholic New York contained an interesting article from the archbishop last week. Usually these columns from the throne aren't really worth reading, since their entire purpose is to say absolutely nothing and offend no one, but I found this one slightly noteworthy. Archbishop Dolan grudgingly acknowledges that there is a lot of criticism of priests in this archdiocese, but then petulantly belittles the criticism by 1. giving an anecdote about how the holy Cure de Ars (the patron saint of priests) was a target of criticism, and 2. how he (the Archbishop) gets complaints about his priests from both liberals and conservatives. The implication here is that 1. if even a saint was criticized in the past, that must mean that criticism of priests today is invalid and baseless, and 2. if both liberals and conservatives are complaining about priests, that must mean that the criticism is invalid, and that priests are talking a wise middle road.

Archbishop Dolan wallows in self-pity for a while, saying "[p]riests can't seem to win", it "seems 'open season' on priests", "[p]riests might as well hang a bull's eye on the clergy shirt", etc. Then he changes tack and attacks the critics with the charge that they are reviving the ancient heresy of Donatism!

This column was insulting, from a number of perspectives: his dismissal of the magnitude of the problem and the way he flippantly reduces the critic's legitimate complaints to "homilies or occasional crabbiness". Good Lord, it's so much more than that; just read my blog, just listen to your flock. For goodness sake, go undercover to one of your outer borough churches and see how your priests are driving the Church into the ground.

In addition, his liberal/conservative argument was sneaky, I thought. There are no liberal or conservative positions when it comes to Catholicism. There's either faithfulness to the Magisterium or unfaithfulness to the Magisterium, orthodoxy or heterodoxy. Put those terms in place of "liberal" and "conservative", and I think you'll see the actual basis of the respective complaints. The so-called conservatives are most likely complaining about heretical sermons, feminist nuns, gay rights advocacy, indifferentism, and all the rest of the panoply of outrages and active destruction that suffering Catholics have to deal with. The so-called liberal complaints most likely have to do with priests who show too strong a devotion to Catholicism, and too little dedication to the Democratic party agenda and progressive overthrow of our Faith. The point is that the real situation is not as rosy as it looks from the vantage point of the Cathedral, and if the Archbishop really doesn't know that, he should quickly inform himself, instead of defending the indefensible.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Catholic Church Shopping Part VIII: Little Italy

The next stop on the tour was a big church in a North Shore neighborhood of Staten Island known for its narrow, labyrinthine streets and its large Italian population. This neighborhood is home to a famous Marian shrine that is an official national historic site, where a big holy day celebration is held every year, which for some reason involves a lot of gambling and dancing to the oldies. Anyway...

The parish has been around since 1902, but the old church was replaced in 1957 with a tan brick structure, whose design and materials I have seen used in other boroughs around that time period. The Vatican II era church must have thought that Catholics were too spoiled by all those centuries of beauty and grandeur, so it decided that we needed to look at blank brick walls as penance. As a nod to the past, and to avoid total disorientation, a large Byzantine-style mural was painted in the apse. I noticed an Italian flag beside the altar, but no American or Vatican flag, but I may have overlooked them. The Stations of the Cross seemed to have been taken from the old church. The only bulletin was in Italian.

The pastor of this church, at only 38 years old, is already a real big shot in this archdiocese. He's a professor of canon law at the seminary in Yonkers and was recently appointed judicial vicar of the Interdiocesan Appellate Tribunal, which is the highest court in the state for annulment cases. I believe it was he who said the Mass I attended, as the priest was young and had an air of leadership.

It seemed surprisingly sparse for an 11:00 Mass, with maybe around 75 people. The organist sang from the usual canon of modern church music, which is to say that the hymns were nothing remarkable. They were not the worst she could have chosen though. Surprisingly for a Catholic church, a few people were actually singing along. She probably didn't want to push her luck though, so she didn't sing more than 1 verse of each hymn.

The only thing to remark on about the Mass was that the sound system was screwy, as is usually the case in Catholic churches. Like some primitive tribe cowering before their first encounter with a missionary's flashlight, the concept of electronic amplification seems incomprehensible and terrifying to Catholics. The sound system is usually just terrible in Catholic churches while, as I've often complained, the tiniest storefront church has enough hardware to host 50 Cent. We just don't seem to get it. The priest's lavalier worked fine, but the microphone at the pulpit was so bad that the lector was almost inaudible. We were able to make out when he stopped speaking, which was the only way we knew when to give the responses.

As for the sermon, the priest chose to speak about that day's second reading, which was Paul's famous disquisition on love (as an aside, the lector not surprisingly chose to read the short form of the reading. I will spare you my rant on that subject). The priest had a good speaking voice. However, his subject- love- was a difficult one, being so broad, and I'm afraid he wasn't up to the task that day: love, love, love, blah blah blah, love is a charism, love is a choice, etc. More vague and ethereal platitudes. I didn't follow any of it.

Incredibly, this Mass was yet another sprint to the finish line. Some local priests seem to be trying to break some sort of record. I timed it at 35 minutes.