Monday, September 8, 2008

Goats, Sheep, and GASometers©: A Modest Proposal for Catholic Renewal

Today’s Clerical Whispers blog has a posting about a new Opus Dei parish in Dublin ( In an interview with the Irish Sunday Tribune yesterday, the pastor, Fr. Fergus O’Connor, insisted that gays and divorcees must repent before receiving communion at his parish.

For those who don’t follow bizarre inside-Catholic stories tracking organizations that have tremendous influence on all our lives—Protestant, Catholic, Jew, Muslim, non-believer—even when we don’t know it, Opus Dei is a worldwide organization comprised largely of obscenely rich Catholics with connections to high places. Which promotes itself as a corrective to the Catholicism of Vatican II, with its insistence on open dialogue with the contemporary world.

Opus Dei prefers to pursue its goals in secret, mainly through placing its operatives in very high places in business and government, where they can use their wealth and political clout to pressure the secular world to toe God’s line. Or else. It’s no accident that the organization’s ancestry has a direct line of descent from the fascist wing of the Spanish Catholic church in the Spanish Civil War period and afterwards.

So. Father O’Connor insists that gays and divorcees must repent before receiving communion in his church. According to Clerical Whispers, when asked about his stance on this issue, Father O’Connor stated, “The teaching of the church is that if a person is a practising homosexual, [they] would need to repent [i.e., before approaching the altar].”

Then, in case his listeners hadn’t “gotten” it, Father O’Connor immediately repeated the complex statement: “So that's the teaching of the church."

(Note to self: research the following—Is repetition a peculiar tendency of right-wing political and religious operatives? Do said operatives tend to rely on repetition when all else fails? Is there a tendency in these circles to recycle tired old ideas by tricking them out as new, when the ideas are simply being repeated? And are we just not supposed to notice the repetition, we who are not inside the circles of God’s elect?)

But to return to the other scintillating observations of the Opus Dei pastor: Father O’Connor also informed Tribune readers (news flash: radical new Catholic idea approaching!) that, “A person who is not in a state of grace should not approach the altar to receive holy communion. They can come up and get a blessing and so on, but they shouldn't receive holy communion."

Oooh. “And so on.”

The mind boggles at the goodies that this vague term might comprise: a blessing “and so on” at the communion rail of an Opus Dei church! Scapulars? Whips to lash oneself as one prays the penitential psalms? Better yet, a lashing from Father O’Connor his ownself?

And all for dirty practicing homosexuals and dirty divorcees! What goodies “and so on” are available for dirty homosexuals who no longer have to practice, Father O’Connor leaves deliciously unspoken.

I remain fascinated by the novel approach right-wing Catholics are inventing for the practice of communion these days. Traditional Catholic theology has—wisely—left the question of who or who is not worthy to approach the altar up to God. And to the individual believer’s conscience. And to the sacred seal of confession, at which the conscience of the believer is supposed to parlay in total privacy with a confessor.

The fanfare about who shall or who shall not traipse down the aisle to the altar rail is all new to Catholicism. And it raises some interesting new possibilities.

Among them is how to detect those practicing homosexuals before they reach home base and “receive” Jesus into their sordid, sin-ridden, unrepentant hands (and even worse, mouths). It’s not so easy, dontcha know.

In this posting, I’d like to propose the development of a device that, should fellow Catholics cotton to the proposal, I’m prepared to patent. This is the GASometer©.

The GASometer© separates the Goats And Sheep. It performs the nifty little service that has previously been thought to be the Lord’s work at the end of history; it performs that service here and now, in our vice-ridden parishes, for us too impatient to wait for Judgment Day.

Here’s how it would work. Since it has now been scientifically proven* that gaydar actually works—that is, that a statistically significant proportion of observers can accurately determine the sexual orientation of men simply by looking at pictures of their faces—I propose installing in each Catholic parish a GASometer© that will be full of downloaded pictures of known practicing homosexuals, and will alert the parish priest and his Goats And Sheep Ministry Squad© immediately when a homosexual "type", practicing or otherwise, enters the parish church.

Of course, simply identifying a potential goat does not a goat make. There's that goats masquerading in sheep’s clothing thing, you know. Homosexuals, practicing or otherwise, are notoriously tricky. They tend to “infiltrate,” to “disguise” their identity, to try to look “normal”—normal enough to pass for sheep who need no special passes to claim the communion wafer prize at Sunday liturgy.

So along with the GASometer©, parishes would also need to develop a GAS database—preferably, a computerized one, that interfaces with the GASometer© to feed instantly the sighting of a potential goat into the system and determine whether the homosexual intruder (or seeker of a blessing "and so on") is practicing or not practicing. And is repentant or not repentant.

Granted, the GAS Basedata© would need to be continuously updated, what with Saturday evening confessions “and so on” constantly shifting the calculus of who’s worthy and who’s not, who’s in a state of grace and who’s not. And it would have to be fast, since the tricky little buggers are likely to slip into the church right as the Introit is being intoned, leaving little time for the GAS Ministry Squad© to obtain the readout of that particular Sunday’s goats, and to make arrangements to bar those goats from the altar rail.

Whether the GASometer© can be configured to recognize goats of some other variety—e.g., garden-variety goats who have flounced around in a bed other than that of their lawfully wedded spouse and are unrepentant, or who have cheated their employees out of health benefits and are unrepentant, or who have lied and back-stabbed to obtain job preferment and are unrepentant, or who have reveled in homophobia, sexism, racism and been unrepentant, “and so on”—I can’t quite say.

But since the focus of many Catholics today seems to be more or less exclusively on catching genus-goats species-practicing homosexual before they sashay up to the altar and grieve Jesus and his flock oh so grievously by profaning his sacred body and blood, for now, I’m content to let the GASometer© do the important work of gaydar for Christ.

I do wonder, though, what would happen if bishops insisted that every parish install a GASometer© designed to detect pedophiles, and positioned this device both at the church door and the sacristy door . . . .

Would we even be having this discussion now, if we had such GASometer© capability in our parishes at present?

Oh, well, never mind.

*See Matt Kaplan, "An Eye for Sexual Orientation," Science Now Daily News (18 Jan. 2008), citing an upcoming study of Nicholas Rule, July issue of Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.