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Tag Archive: Scandal

The Kennedy Funeral & the Faces of Scandal

Posted: Wednesday, September 9, 2009 (11:22 pm), by John W Gillis


There’s sure been a lot of chatter over the past week or so about the Ted Kennedy funeral, and Cardinal O’Malley’s participation in it. This is hardly surprising, given how divisive a character Kennedy was. Cardinal O’Malley, in what strikes me as a surprising move in several respects, has gone public with an explanation of his decision, in response to extensive criticism that undoubtedly ranged in impetus from befuddlement to anger. I appreciate his attempt at explaining himself – as I appreciate the difficulty of this whole problematic affair – but there are some elements of this episode I find deeply troubling.

I was among the many who were dismayed at certain aspects of the handling of the affair, though I didn’t feel it was appropriate to comment on at the time. Then there were  a couple thoughts in the Cardinal’s comments that struck me as diverting focus away from the real issue at hand, and my trouble with the whole matter was compounded when I read this article by Madison (Wisconsin) Bishop Robert C. Morlino. At that point, I’d had enough.

Both men went out of their way to praise Senator Kennedy for the good work that he had done in various areas over the years. Now, whether or not the state-centric, “give a hungry man someone else’s fish” social problem solving approach, endemic to contemporary progressive liberalism which Kennedy exemplified, is truly good work, Kennedy clearly believed it was (as do so many others, including, apparently, both of these bishops). I’ve been to enough funerals to know that it seems to serve a legitimate pastoral purpose toward the bereaved to lionize even the most insignificant of contributions of the deceased, so I can certainly understand the approach in that respect (even if it obscures the real point of the funeral Mass), but not without simultaneously realizing that this was an exceedingly public situation, with a scope of pastoral impact that was not only far broader than the vast majority of funerals, but also decidedly more complex.

One of the more eyebrow-raising comments in Bishop Morlino’s piece was his assertion that the funeral Mass was a source of scandal in that it led people into sinful expressions of un-charitableness toward Kennedy. Archbishop O’Malley also seemed to use the opportunity to take umbrage at the angry, though without his brother bishop’s sharp dramatic flair. These accusations may be true, but they are made at the expense of the recognition of the profound betrayal felt by many good people within the Church – including not only those who fell into vindictiveness, but also many more who held their tongues and prayed for humility – at the sight of Church leaders seeming to shrug their shoulders at the most important spiritual crisis facing our culture. Bishop Morlino’s assertion, in particular, seemed designed to undercut, by anticipation of argument, any valid expressions of criticism stemming from the more obvious interpretation of the scandal attached to this Mass, namely: the projection of the heretical idea that the culture of abortion is – or can be made – compatible with the sacramental life of the Church. It’s not as if the Church is not deeply embroiled in this very heresy on an on-going basis!

I’m not suggesting that the matter of whether or not Senator Kennedy should have been afforded a Catholic funeral is one for you or I to consider, for it is not only not our decision to make, but is dependent in large part upon that which we cannot possibly know – namely his relation to Christ and His Church at his death, a matter ultimately hidden in the interior forum of conscience. Besides, it hardly seems charitable to even consider denying a Catholic funeral to anyone who desired one. But there is an exterior forum as well, which the Church – the episcopacy in particular – has a duty to attend to, and if a latae sententiae excommunication is incurred by a woman procuring an abortion, her abortionist, and any others formally collaborating in the crime, it is awfully hard to see how a legislator who was an open and unapologetic  promoter of abortion “choice” would not also be guilty of formal cooperation when said “choice” was inevitably made. Senator Kennedy’s views and actions in defiance of the moral order – and the Church’s clear teaching – were so well-known as to be notorious. He was the poster child for pro-abortion Catholics.

So while it’s all well and fine for a bishop to presume reconciliation, it seems to me a great disservice to the many looking on, who see only the public record, to make no attempt to publically acknowledge that the crimes committed by Kennedy required repentance and forgiveness. That might be a delicate thing to try to do under the circumstances, but I’m hardly suggesting I think the funeral was a good idea to begin with. And frankly, it would seem to be a pastoral imperative to make it very clear that this rampant heresy of rationalized murder is a clear and present danger to the immortal souls of everyone in the Western world (and beyond). Charity may demand that we assume Ted Kennedy died in a state of grace, but whether he did or not, there is nothing anyone can do to change it now. In other words, the real pastoral issue (e.g. the saving of souls) has little to do with Ted, and much to do with those who have yet to face their own, certain, judgment. If participation in this abortion holocaust is a mortal sin, it is by no means “compassionate” to make it appear that it doesn’t really matter in the end. Who benefits from that, except the devil?

Bishop Morlino complained about a perceived lack of mercifulness coming from the critics within the Church, but the truth is that the notion of mercy was largely missing from the proceedings themselves. I think most of the critics would have been satisfied if the proceedings had reflected a communal plea for God’s mercy upon the soul of a brother sinner; indeed, it could have been a great teaching moment. Instead, we were treated to a polite evasion of the most crucial matters, a liturgical rite lamely disconnected from the spirit of the proceedings, and the public lionization of a notorious sinner within the context of the Mass (some have referred to it as a canonization, and with good reason – it was embarrassing listening to people speak of Kennedy as if he were already in heaven, expressions that were not only vacuous, but, coming during a funeral, violations of canon law).

But what bothers me the most, both in the subtler words of Cardinal O’Malley, and in the harsher words of Bishop Morlino, is the insinuation that those who hold and proclaim the sure and ancient teaching of the Church are responsible for a state of division within the Church – or at least of perpetuating it. It reminds me of the way people blame Pope Paul VI for dividing the Church at the end of the 1960s by publishing Humanae Vitae – as if the dissenters weren’t the ones responsible for the division!

I imagine the bishops are frustrated by the exposure of the rift, but let’s be very clear: there is visible division in the Church stemming from the liberal abortion license because some people support abortion rights in dissent from Church teaching, yet claim to be in Communion with the Church nonetheless. (Actually, the fact that any of the baptized assert abortion rights creates division in the Church, but that takes the matter to another level, beyond the scope of our consideration.) If people get angry at such injustice being done to the Church they love, perhaps it is with good reason, and perhaps they deserve to be treated with a bit more kindness than their shepherds have managed to muster here. God help us if we begin appeasing the demands for unfaithfulness to the truth, for the sake of avoiding uncomfortable conflict.

At the end of the day, though, the real issue seems to me to be the ability of the Church to fulfill her mission to proclaim the Gospel, where the question of her credibility is of paramount importance. The Church may be widely admired for her good works, but she is otherwise seen by many (including more than a few Christians) as just another political player on the world stage – and a clumsy one at that. Nothing in the handling of this matter provided evidence to the contrary, as far as I can see. By disregarding the great moral crisis that hung over the event like a storm cloud, the Church gave the impression that abortion is just another political issue, subject to the ebb and flow of circumstance and expediency. And that plays right into the hands of her enemies, eager to paint the Church’s outrageous claims to moral authority as fraudulent. That might be the most tragic scandal to emerge from this mess.

Ziegler’s Death of Free Speech

Posted: Monday, April 27, 2009 (11:21 pm), by John W Gillis


I had the radio on in the car one day, a couple months ago, when I caught part of an interview with a filmmaker named John Ziegler, who was promoting a film on the 2008 U.S. Presidential election called “Media Malpractice,” which he purported would demonstrate decisively just how in the tank the popular media was for Obama. I’m not sure a documentary is really necessary to make such a point, but the guy sounded funny, so I figured I’d check the local library system to see if there was a copy available I could request.

ziegler_deathoffreespeechThey didn’t have a copy of the documentary, but they did have a couple copies of a book Ziegler had written a few years ago, called “The Death Of Free Speech: How Our Broken National Dialogue Has Killed The Truth And Divided America,” so I requested a copy, and gave it a read.

The essence of the book is a demonstration of how the irrational moralism we call “political correctness” has eroded our culture’s appreciation for – and even understanding of – freedom of speech. I would add that it has also contributed significantly to a serious dumbing-down of our dialogue, as well as of a loss of respect for the truth – neither of which claims would be disputed by Ziegler. However, as much as I would have liked to like this work, it is simply not a good book.

No small part of the problem with the book is that it is really, first and foremost, about John Ziegler, and his trials and tribulations as a misunderstood and oppressed talk radio character. Furthermore, the entire book is just a series of anecdotes – some of which may be interesting, but the sum of which fail to constitute a rewarding whole, in much the same way a platter full of Twinkies would fail to constitute a rewarding meal. It might be unfair to criticize him for not writing the book he didn’t write, but when a book’s subtitle purports to tell “how” something comes to be, a little analysis might not be an unreasonable expectation. There’s simply not much there, despite ample subject matter. This book even has an index, though it is such a light-weight work that its inclusion seems unnecessary, if not a tad contrived.

Then there is the matter of the writing just not being very good. This guy’s not a writer, he’s a whiner, an agitator, and a wiseguy – and it shows. Even the editing is poor, with numerous sentences and paragraphs showing obvious traces of cut and paste procedures that nobody bothered to go back to clean up.

In truth, I was also put off by a number of his libertarian prejudices, as he perpetuates several of the hoary dogmas of the left as related to religious faith in the public square, such as the canard that “organized religion” is responsible for most of the world’s bloodshed. I’ve already returned the book, and cannot remember any specific examples off the top of my head except for one rather comical one.

Anyone who spends any time these days defending Catholicism in public is accustomed to having the recent clergy sexual abuse crisis hauled out by critics of the Church as a kind of talisman against having to take seriously anything someone in the Church says, regardless of how serious it might actually be. In discussing the outraged response of the Archdiocese of New York to an act of on-the-air sacrilege-for-entertainment within the sacred space of Saint Patrick Cathedral, Ziegler pulls out the obligatory talisman by saying something along the lines of “how can they waste their time complaining about this when THE CRISIS happened!” But then, incredibly, he goes on to claim that the clergy sexual abuse crisis is clearly the worst scandal in Church history!

Ignoring the irony that THE CRISIS as an issue specific to the Catholic Church (as opposed to an issue common to almost every institution during the “sexual revolution” and the rise of “therapeutic man”) is actually a product of the exact same anti-critical, obfuscating, politically motivated, media-driven left-wing group-think that Ziegler wrote this book to complain about, the claim that this is anywhere near the worst scandal in Church history just exposes a complete lack of historical credibility on his part.

In terms of scandal, a small fraction of priests committing grave sins and an episcopal bureaucracy that bungles the response would hardly seem to hold a votive candle to the spectacle of the “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church” presenting three rival claimants to the papal throne, to use just one of many possible candidates from the first half of the second millennium. Many other examples abound, and the current situation is really just a blip on the radar screen in the big picture – as outrageous as that undoubtedly feels to the happy consumers of “politically correct” moralism – where nothing is more important than having properly defined victims, except having appropriate scapegoats put in their place.

What might be unprecedented in history, though, is the public disregard for truth that simmers under the surface of Ziegler’s book, like volcanic lava threatening to erupt onto the surface of society with devastating toxicity and lifeless scorching ore. It’s just not clear to me whether Ziegler’s approach is more part of the solution, or the problem.