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Thursday, January 25, 2007

Welborn but Badly Considered

We all get caught in contradictory logic at times, but it's jarring to see the examples when they are brought before us.

Consider Amy Welborn's recent post. She felt it was wrong for a deacon to make a homiletic reference to the fact that a parishioner, a politician present at Mass, had voted in favor of embryonic stem cell research. The deacon suggested that parishioners might enter into conversation with the man on that subject. Bloggers have since observed that a close look at the parishioner's voting record as a public servant demonstrates he had a 100% rating from NARAL.

Now, Amy's disappointment with the deacon's homiletic observation and recommendation would be unremarkable - everyone is entitled to their opinion, after all - if not for her earlier public attacks on priests and bishops who have had even the slightest hint of scandal surrounding them during the recent child sexual abuse scandals. In those instances, Amy was in high dudgeon even when there was no actual accusation, much less conviction, of child abuse. See, for instance, this or this.

One could conclude, from Amy's remarks, that looking at the wrong photos of children (even though there was no evidence that any action was ever taken) is infinitely worse than fighting to make sure that children are legally torn limb from limb: sex abuse, even when no actual abuse took place (as in the Allgaier case), is apparently worse than the actual use of deadly force.

This is what over 30 years of legal abortion has done to us. We are willing to publicly chastise every priest who is associated even by rumour with an activity which is (currently) illegal while being unwilling to so much as publicly reference the documented fact that a lay person actively promotes a legal activity.

Like many Catholics, Amy seems to feel that sexual abuse is an opportunity to publicly pile on while abortion is a political third rail that should be dealt with sotto voce. It matters not that abortion is just a more craven form of sexual abuse. What matters to Amy, and Catholics like her, is that one act is legal and the other is not. Legal abortion activists needs to be handled with kid gloves, while illegal sex abusers should be stoned. It is an odd permutation of morality when American Catholics insist on the Protestant principle: separation of Church and State.

Recall that the homily is supposed to be the pre-eminent place for showing Catholics where the Gospel interacts with our daily lives. How many times have we heard from the pulpit that we must give a preferential option to the poor, that we should open our purses to donate to the second collection for Honduras, Guatamala or something similar?

Here, the deacon merely recommends a similar course of action, but instead of asking for monetary support, he asks parishioners to converse with a specific man, a man who not only represents his political district, but a man who represents his Catholic parish to the larger political community. Is this not social justice in action? Did we not see the like when Paul immortalized the incestuous sin of one man in his letter to the Corinthians?

If St. Ambrose could threaten to excommunicate an emperor for slaughtering innocent civilians as he put down an insurrection, certainly a deacon can ask parishioners to enter into conversation with a fellow parishioner who has actively supported the slaughter of millions of children. Given the fact of Childermas, the major feast of the Church whose entire liturgy is built around the commemoration of Herod's slaughter of innocent children, such a community invitation is certainly not out of line with Catholic tradition or liturgy.

Would it not be appropriate to ask parishioners to write their representatives on this point? How much more to appropriate to ask parishioners to personally discuss the issue with their representatives? And is it not convenient that this same representative happens to be here at Mass today?

John the Baptist was the greatest saint of the Old Testament, but he was the least of the saints of the New Testament, because he had not the full Gospel, the fullness of which would not be revealed until the Paschal Mystery had been completed. Still, even that portion of the Truth that he possessed forced him to publicly and repeatedly denounce Herod for his incestuous marriage. If the martyrs under the altar can cry out for justice, as they do in the book of Revelation, then certainly deacons can make factual points about justice from the ambo.

It is not without reason St. Ignatius said that of all ordained men, the deacon is most like unto Christ. As this deacon goes through crucifixion from his pastor, his bishop and Catholic commentators like Amy Welborn, we can recall St. Ignatius as he journeyed towards the circus, guarded by four soldiers of leopard-like ferocity. He rejoiced that he would be ground between the teeth of the lion. We can only hope and pray that this deacon be given similar courage and faith for having done what, if we are to believe the book of Acts, deacons were originally ordained to do: identify the injustices within the Catholic community and work to correct them.


Jordan Potter said...

Amy Welborn objected only to the way the deacon used the homily. Otherwise she's obviously in favor of what the deacon did, in principle, and obviously disagrees with the way his pastor and bishop have responded to what the deacon did.

Jordan Potter said...

At Amy Welborn's weblog today, additional information (very helpful information too) on this incident was supplied by someone calling himself "Kevin":


My mother attended the mass on Sat, not Sunday, where Deacon McDonnell gave the same homily. What has not been mentioned is that (1)a good number of people clapped after the remarks were made and (2)Fr Smith, the pastor, stated that he supported the Deacon on this issue and also urged for Catholics to "be aware of a canidates record on certain issues before you vote for them." Unless my 79 year old mother is not telling the truth, this is what was said. On Sunday, the Deacon gave the same homily as he did the night before. He said on RESPECT LIFE SUNDAY...that elected officials should be made aware of our (Catholic) convictions concerning Pro-Life issues. Higgins is no longer a member of this parish..but he is a member of another Catholic church close by. To me, it appeared that the Deacon realized Higgins was in Mass while he was giving the homily. He stated that the Church has an open door policy and he would assume "our guest Congressman has one as well." It was then he suggested that we, Catholics and members of Higgins district, ask him to more closely vote in favor of his (Higgins) Catholic up bringing. Higgins and family then stood up and walked out.

The media is spinning this out of sight. The Deacon did not "berate" him in any way. I am more upset that the Bishop and the pastor are being political and not standing up for him. They are trying to play both sides of the fense.

South Buffalo is an Irish Catholic area. Most people there use the Church as their social network. Also, most would NEVER talk about about Higgins cause it is a HUGE union neighborhood and no one wants to get on Higgins bad side. This will die down. Higgins with throw some great re-election party in 2008 and the South Buffalo Catholics will continue to cheer him.

Look at Higgins' website. He mentions that he was raised Catholic and realizes that this is his base.

The guy is very popular and is trying to get many things started in a depressed former steel city like Buffalo.

God bless Deacon McDonnell and shame on the Bishop and Pastor. No wonder so many youth are leaving the church. 14 Catholic schools are closing in Buffalo at the end of this year. I wonder why?

Posted by: Kevin at Jan 25, 2007 5:38:47 PM

If you were at the mass, (like I was and talked about above), you would know that Higgins was not denounced.

Posted by: Kevin at Jan 25, 2007 6:26:09 PM

My point is that you said Higgins was denounced. He was not. I was present at the Mass. The Buffalo News is "spinning" what happened so bad. Did you notice that Deacon has not issued a comment? The Deacon has yet to give his side of the story. Everything that is being printed/said is coming from a left wing newspaper and a wishey washey Bishop and Pastor. This is what I have the problem with. THE TRUTH ABOUT WHAT TOOK PLACE IS BEING TWISTED!!!

Posted by: Kevin at Jan 25, 2007 6:33:51 PM

Jordan Potter said...

To elaborate a little on my initial comment, I am not aware of Amy Welborn advocating actually or allegedly sexually abusive priests being singled-out by name in a homily. Therefore she is not inconsistent to express tentative misgivings about a deacon singling out a Catholic politician who supports chopping up unborn babies.

Of course, based on what "Kevin" has said, I really can't see any possible objection to what the deacon did, even on a prudential basis. It's about time we see more of what the deacon said to Rep. Higgins.

Roni said...

a) Amy indicated that she was on the priest's side of the issue: "I'm not a homiletics person, but my initial sympathies are with Fr. Stanley."

b)The quotes you provide from her comments section merely confirm that Fr. Stanley is not backing the deacon. If Amy supports Fr. Stanley AND Fr. Stanley is not backing the deacon, then what conclusion can be drawn?

c) Given that chopping up unborn babies is somewhat worse than sexual abuse, insofar as sexual abuse generally leaves the victims alive while abortion generally does not, it is hard to see why anyone, including Amy, would have a problem with a homily that encourages Catholics to contact their representative personally about the inconsistent position he holds.

Jordan Potter said...

"Father Stanley" is not the deacon's pastor. That's "Father Smith." "Father Stanley" is a priest who gave his personal opinion at Amy Welborn's weblog.

Amy also made clear that until she knew exactly what Deacon McDonnell said, she couldn't reach any definitive opinion. However, she said she is "initially inclined" to accept Father Stanley's stated principle that, in general, one should praise in public and dress down in private (notice, by the way, that neither Father Smith nor Bishop Kmiec followed that principle, since they have in effect publicly "dressed down" Deacon McDonnell). But Amy hasn't indicated that she sees that as a hard and fast rule without any exception, and she hasn't indicated that she thinks pastors, bishops, and deacons should be singling out by name those priests who allegedly or actually committed sexual abuse. Therefore we might disagree with Amy's inclination to not have homilists give public rebukes by name from the Ambo, but we can't say she's being inconsistent.

Jordan Potter said...

Here is Amy Welborn's response to Kevin's account:

"If this is accurate, (and I would still like to hear from others, if that's possible) I don't have a problem with this at all."

Patrick said...

The only reason I would have an issue with this is the new interpretation of political activity in churches. By naming a politician and then suggesting that people should talk to him falls very close to the line of activism, which may cause that parish to lose its charity/non-profit status. Several Protestant churches have found this out and for that reason alone the sermon should have been more generalized.

Roni said...

If we aren't willing to identify scandalous behaviour because the tax payments would be onerous, we should just shut the Church down right now.

Amy will never know exactly what the deacon said because the bishop has undoubtedly silenced the deacon.

For Amy to insist that she needs the deacon's side before she can really judge is simply disengenuous. She knows chancery politics well enough to know she will never get the deacon's side of it.

She's spinning her position.

Jordan Potter said...

"For Amy to insist that she needs the deacon's side before she can really judge is simply disengenuous."

On the other hand, the Holy Spirit said, "He who answers a matter before he hears it is a fool."

"She's spinning her position."

There's no basis for that statement. She indicated from the outset that she couldn't make any firm judgments in the absence of facts. As I've said, agree with her or not on prudential matters, she's not being inconsistent or hypocritical.