From X to ex

Our column yesterday in the Catholic Thing (cliquez ici pour la version française), on the general slouchment, seemed to touch off a discussion on the disinclination of Catholics to be Catholic. This was expressed statistically in that Yanqui election, wherein government healthcare proposals that will create a crisis of conscience for every faithful Catholic, & end inevitably in the destruction of Catholic charitable institutions, were greeted by Catholic voters in this way: about half voted for the party that would bring on the Persecution, & half voted against. Let us expand on what we said in comments to the comments, over there.

When we were writing for a certain daily in Ottawa, we were often warmly criticized by the secular humanists for persistently mentioning Christianity in a family newspaper. And as if that weren’t irresponsible enough, we would go farther, & specify Catholic Christianity. One of the complaints to the Ontario Press Council against our habitual tendency to political incorrectitude stated that we “openly admitted to being Catholic.” But not only the secularoids were disturbed by our experiment; for we took heat from self-identifying Christians, too, & usually from “Catholics” among those. Dragonfire came regularly from a fellow columnist, who accused us of espousing “Benedict Catholicism,” which she seemed to equate with child molesting. By other Catholics we were frequently dismissed as a “mere convert,” as an upstart or arriviste, for taking some doctrine or other “too literally.” On several occasions, we were even condemned by a self-identifying Catholic priest.

For instance, when we indicated opposition to the practice of abortion in one column, we received a memorably intemperate email from one urbane priest in Quebec, accusing us of misogyny & intolerance & giving Catholics a bad name. In retrospect, we regret not having pushed “Send” on an email forwarding his note to his Bishop with the query, “From what seminary did this man graduate, & have you closed it down yet?”

Ottawa is an ex-Catholic town, Toronto more ex-Protestant, & so the flavour of Catholic anti-Catholicism is different between the two. Toronto ex-Catholics (& we are using this term presumptuously) tend to be more laid back. The Ottawa ones can be virulent, & even when of the Irish heritage, to have adopted post-modern French Canadian attitudes towards Holy Church. That is, there is nothing a Pope could say that would not inspire them to do the opposite. For which reason we have sometimes thought a Pope should send a special encyclical to his flock in Quebec & Ottawa, instructing them to discard every teaching in the Catechism & never to attend a Latin Mass. Within weeks we would have seven million new saints, & the streets of Montreal cluttered by pilgrims saying their Rosaries & singing the Angelus at the stroke of each hour. (In Latin, to the consternation of Quebec’s language police.)

Yet, conversely up here in the Great White North, we have found that lapsed Roman Catholics may take great umbrage at the employment of such terms as “nominal,” “cafeteria,” or “lapsed.” They, who apparently go back generations, will not be told what’s what by some upstart, or arriviste, or as one high-toned older Catholic woman called us, about ten times in a five minute rant, a “Baby Catholic.”

In thinking about this we have come to realize that we are using the term “Catholic” in quite different senses. For us, it refers to something like a religion. For them, however, it is a tribal thing, an ethnicity: often qualified for precision as, “Irish Catholic,” “Polish Catholic,” “Italian Catholic,” & so forth. That is what makes them “authentic” & therefore qualified to speak on behalf of all the other Catholics — in the same way as, say, only women may speak about women, or only blacks may speak about blacks.

They all have “feelings,” & thanks to those, they are able to apprehend Catholicism in its totality without any reference whatever to its intellectual premisses.  Christ, because He can never be surprised, would not be surprised to learn that they have “felt” their way into a better understanding of what He meant by all the things they haven’t read in the Gospels. In particular, they “feel” that they are good people, who have never done anything bad & have therefore no need of Confession. Some even feel themselves to be “traditional” because they were married in a church & attended a “very traditional” Novus Ordo Mass at Christmas; to say nothing of a funeral which they found “very comforting.”

In a similar way, the lapsed Scotsman has sometimes been seen in a kilt, & singing “Auld Lang Syne” at New Year’s. (Few go as far as to eat the haggis.) In an age of cultural desiccation, one clings to decorative fragments of the past.

There are some who do, however, consider Catholicism more a religion than an ethnicity; or more precisely some kind of opiate, or brainwashing cult; & these self-identify as “Recovering Catholics,” omitting the ethnic tags. Ottawa seems especially to be crawling with customers so self-styled, & we imagine rooms set aside in government & corporate offices where these people hold their alternative rituals.

Yet one should not only mock. For we have encountered, among these “recovering” & “tribals,” people who are haunted by priestcraft in more telling ways.

We think at this moment of a lady on her third marriage, suddenly provided with her first child. Further provided with her fourth drink, she expressed concern about the fate of this child. She wanted to get him baptized. To this end she had several times stolen into a church, to attend some portion of a Mass with the intention of collaring the priest afterwards. In each case she had lost her nerve & fled. In her cups she made an extraordinary statement: “I know that I’m going to Hell. Sometimes I think I’m in Hell already. But I don’t want my child to go there, I want him to be saved!”

Here was a woman who could easily pass, in daylight hours, for a glib lapsed Catholic.

Her confusion about the Church was heart-rending. Nor did it seem possible to set her straight. She was actually convinced a priest would decline to baptize her child because she’d been remarried; or for some similar solecism – of hers. She wanted help in finding a priest who would perform this baptism “illicitly,” without being told who the parents were. And more; & more.

This story does not have a happy ending, so far as we have been able to follow it. We suspect the lady “solved” her terribly misunderstood problem by putting it progressively out of her mind. The failure of the Church to teach or guide or console this woman, herself born into a Catholic cradle, was apparent in all her pain. Our own failure to compensate for this larger failure counts within that. Perhaps most discouraging: the indifference to her fate, & that of so many like, from the bleary world of the diocesan bureaucracies, compiling their numbers. Baptized herself, she counts as a “Roman Catholic” for demographic purposes. But her son will not, unless Christ intercedes.