Sunday, October 5, 2014

Synod on Family Opens, As My Ears Keep Ringing with Pope Francis's Statement about "Little Monster" Priests

Some Sunday-morning questions for you:

Did any of you notice that the new parish priest, the expert on marriage, who went after Tom Wojtowick, 66, and Paul Huff, 73, in St. Leo's Catholic parish in Lewistown, Montana, is 27 years old? Father Samuel Spiering has not lived even half the span of life of the two elderly men on whose lives he has dared to rule so imperiously, not even knowing these men when he chose to go on the attack against them immediately after he was made the new pastor of their parish.

Something seems wrong here.

Two elderly men, 66 and 73, who have been together for more than 30 years, who are considered pillars of their community — a community in which Wojtowick recently retired as executive director of the Fergus County Council on Aging and Huff serves as chair of the county Fair Board — can have their lives upended in a painful public way by a new young priest who is 27 years old, who does not even know the two men, but immediately assumes the authority (authority placed in his hands by his church) to pass public moral judgment on them, the moment he steps into his role as pastor of this parish.

As Wojtowick and Huff have repeatedly told the media, they took the step of marrying civilly not to make any kind of public waves, but to protect themselves as they grow old. The two are lifelong practicing Catholics; Wojtowick's family has deep historical roots in St. Leo's parish. Wojtowick was a priest for nine years, and has a graduate degree in theology. He left the priesthood when he realized that he was alcoholic, and came to terms with being gay when he realized that his inability to deal with his sexual orientation was at the root of his alcoholism. He spent 20 years as a licensed psychotherapist. 

Huff is a Navy veteran who grew up in a staunchly Catholic family of 8 children, and met Wojtowick at Mass, at a Mass sponsored by the Dignity organization. The two have told the media that they are willing to concede the term "marriage" to heterosexually married couples, as Catholic teaching demands, but chose to marry civilly in order to secure benefits for themselves in their old age.

And a priest who is 27 years old has been able, in the twinkling of an eye, to uproot their lives in the most painful way possible, not even knowing them. Because he can do so. Because this is the kind of power the Catholic church places in the hands of anyone who is ordained. 

Something is wrong here. Something is wrong with a system that functions this way. 

Something is wrong with a system that allows a callow, wet-behind-the-ears, cocksure young priest to pass immediate judgment on two elderly men with lifetimes of experience of which that cocksure young priest cannot even begin to dream, as he waltzes into a parish and censures and expels those two elderly men. Simply because he can do so.

Something is wrong with a system that has permitted another cocksure young priest in his 30s, who has never lived the married life and who is violating his own vow to live a celibate life, to pontificate about a life he has never lived, while seasoned married couples who have lived that life for many years are expected to sit in silence as he pontificates to them. Because a bishop's hands have been laid on him.

And because he can behave this way, having been ordained.

Something is awry at a very fundamental level in a church that not only fosters the growth of one little monster priest after another like Samuel Spiering or James Melnick, but then, having laid episcopal hands on their heads, gives them carte blanche to behave so badly, so imperiously, so cruelly, arrogating to themselves a moral power and authority they have not earned.

Because they have not lived long. Because in the short time they have lived, they have learned very little, since they imagine they already know it all. Because they cannot learn, when they are cocksure about already possessing "the" truth. 

Because they have little respect for the members of their community most positioned to share wisdom with them, people who have lived long and, one hopes, learned something in the process. 

Something is wrong with an ecclesial system that permits Carson Weber, a young, wet-behind-the-ears, dismally educated, self-styled "professional Catholic speaker" to imagine he has the right to upbraid James Alison, a trained theologian and priest in his latter 50s, who is an expert in biblical scholarship, about Alison's lack of knowledge of biblical theology. And to recommend to Alison that he educate himself by reading the work of a biblical scholar whose work is widely regarded as so skewed by tendentious anti-gay bias and polemical ideological intent that it is discounted by most real biblical scholars of any standing and repute.

A Sunday morning question for you: what kind of bright and viable future do you think an institution can have, when it permits such little monsters to run around proclaiming that they and they alone have the truth, thumbing their noses at people with years of experience and education that these little monsters themselves lack — just as they appear to lack the shame even to recognize that they are callow and inexperienced and uneducated, as they instruct older and wiser and more experienced members of their faith community in how to conduct themselves according to "the" truth?

And another question for you this morning: do you think any of this has any bearing at all on the synod on the family, as it opens today? Who lives family in the Catholic church? And who imagines he and he alone has the right to issue definitions of family, and declarations about how family life is to be lived?

The graphic: a 1925 holy card depicting the ordination of Catholic clergy, uploaded to Wikimedia Commons by Smith2006.

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