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July 15, 2002

Perfectly medieval
Posted by Teresa at 09:30 AM *

This may not mean a lot to you if you’re one of those “Never take a course where they make you read Beowulf” types, but the scandal in the Catholic Church is generating cartoons that would have been instantly comprehensible to any twelfth-century parishioner:

The Cardinal’s telling detail.
The Cardinal’s reward.
A shiten shepherde and a clene sheepe.

(This noble ensample to his sheepe he yaf,
That firste he wroghte, and afterward that he taughte.
Out of the gospel he tho wordes caughte,
And this figure he added eek therto,
That if gold ruste, what shal Iren do?
ffor if a preest be foul, on whom we truste,
No wonder is a lewed man to ruste!
And shame it is, if a preest take keepe,
A shiten shepherde and a clene sheepe.
Wel oghte a preest ensample for to yeue
By his clennesse how that his sheepe sholde lyue.)
Comments on Perfectly medieval:
#1 ::: James Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2002, 04:44 PM:

I saw another cartoon not long ago, showing Christ surrounded by children, saying "If anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a large millstone tied around his neck."

And a figure on the edges of the crowd wearing Cardinal's robes and labeled "Bernard Law" is saying, "Wouldn't an out-of-court settlement be just as good?"

#2 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2002, 06:37 PM:

I saw that one and admired it. I also admired one where a Cardinal is patting an errant priest on the back and saying "We can forget that one time." They have their backs turned toward and are walking away from an unregarded small boy, who's saying "But I can't."

#3 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2002, 08:06 PM:

The reasons why the cartoons look so familiar is that the vices look so (sadly) familiar. If they did editorial cartoons about the rape of nuns by priests in Africa, those cartoons would look familiar, too. Not that either subject is funny to the victims, mind you.

A BBC story on the African situation:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/world/europe/newsid_1234000/1234268.stm

#4 ::: Kevin J. Maroney ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2002, 10:57 PM:

"Catholics have fallen out of the healthy old habit of reminding each other how sinful Popes can be."--Gary Wills, Papal Sin, page 1.

#5 ::: John Farrell ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2002, 09:25 AM:

"Every second bastard born is fathered by a priest..." (followed by laughter). This from a scene in Robert Bolt's Man for All Seasons. I agree with Kevin, the medievals and Renaissance Christians had a heatlhy sense of humor and irony about their bishops.

I can tell you from the home parish here in Boston, that Law is in hiding. Maybe he thinks the current financial scandals will keep the media off his back. But that's not going to happen. This weekend is the big meeting of the new Voice of the Faithful group at the Hynes in Boston. All lay people and all demanding a new role in parish oversight. It's going to be big news.

#6 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2002, 11:42 AM:

John -- Cardinal Daily of Brooklyn is being noticeably invisible too. You can imagine how well that's going down with his famously peaceable and unopinionated parishioners.

Kevin, a person who doesn't have the free agency to sin doesn't have the free agency to be virtuous, either, and how can that be right? Intent requires free will. Without intent there's no virtue, just external forms.

The book is clear on this one. The Temptation on the Mount is real or it's nothing. Acquiescence is an important issue in both the Annunciation and the Passion. It's repeatedly made clear that Christ could bug out any time, right up to the last minute. That's why it's a sacrifice.

How, then, can we believe that any soul could be deprived of the power to make virtuous choices, even if the mechanism of that deprivation were a compulsion to be inerrant? More to the point, how is it that Christ's Vicar on Earth could be more certain of choosing correctly and acting virtuously than his Boss was?

GInger, I hadn't seen that story, but it has an awful inevitability. It's all too clear that the church hierarchy has an unwholesome attitude toward those outside the priesthood, and that along with their falling vocation rates they have a quality-control problem. What kind of chuckleheads could think this state of affairs beats ordaining people who are female and/or married?

The scriptural basis for celibacy is strained and ambiguous, requiring a heavy framework of interpretation. What I find a lot less ambiguous is that Peter and Paul were both married men. As-you-know-bob, the formal imposition of celibacy wasn't for scriptural or spiritual reasons. It was to prevent alienation of church property.

I've been thinking about that in connection with the massive settlements paid out to victims of abuse, with more to come. What it puts me in mind of is the passage in Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address, where he addresses the cost of the war, and says "if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said 'the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.'"

Lincoln also said he hoped that wouldn't be necessary. Likewise, likewise.

#7 ::: Christopher Hatton ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2002, 12:01 PM:

I've said it before and I'll say it again: given that the Church transferred people across the country, and knowingly concealed criminal activity (and no, the parents had no right to accept "settlements" - really hush-money payments - on behalf of their kids when a criminal act is involved), the Church has become a criminal organization.

I don't know if RICO allows its assets to be seized, based on that. I'm certain RICO will never be applied to the Church, because we don't have very good separation of church and state (how come churches can serve wine to minors, but if I did it in coven circle I'd be locked up?), but I wish it could be.

I think Law (what a travesty that he's named that!) should be in prison. 20 years sounds about right.

#8 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2002, 08:08 PM:

Christopher, it isn't primarily a criminal organization, and the assets don't belong to the wrongdoers. Think of raffles, bingo nights, rummage sales, annual carnivals, and donations from parishioners.

One of the many churches in my immediate neighborhood has a tabernacle (an ornate container where the Eucharist is kept stashed) decorated with jewels that were donated in the late 19th C. by the parishioners, many of whom were immigrants. I've gotten to see it. It's one of those much-loved objects you can spot a mile off.

That same church owns a small adjacent patch of land with an undistinguished building on it called the Father Dempsey Center. I don't know who Father Dempsey was. The building gets used for the local food bank, and the battered women's shelter, and AA meetings, and adult classes, and the neighborhood kindershul, and probably sixteen other things.

Maybe the Brooklyn Diocese has wealth I'm unaware of, but what I see are a few bits of old splendor that usually turn out to have been given by the community to the local churches (i.e., the community), plus some working buildings that are part of the neighborhood ecology. Selling it off would hurt.

Are the amounts of wine used in ceremonies comparable? Communion is about as alcoholic as a rum-filled chocolate. If you got nailed for serving that much alcohol to minors in a coven circle, it'd be because someone wanted to nail you.

Which they do, of course; but you already know that.

#9 ::: Kevin J. Maroney ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2002, 10:58 PM:

As I'm sure you know, TNH-Bob, the point of Wills's book (and the sentence I quoted) isn't that it's shocking, shocking that Popes can sin;
but rather that it's upsetting that the Church has tried so hard to convince the laity that the Pope is beyond it. In years past, the sinfulness and falibility (specific and general) of the members of the church was a commonplace observation.

As to the RICO question, an organization doesn't have to be "primarily" a criminal organization to fall under the purview of RICO. That's one of the most awful things about RICO.

#10 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2002, 08:29 AM:

I know that, Kevin, and I know you know the rest of it. Sorry about that. I think that response crawled off my fingers and onto the keyboard because I've been wanting to say it. I should have been more careful where I aimed it.

I know the laity hasn't automatically been worshipful, or even respectful. I'm a defrocked medievalist. There are some robustly topical Last Judgements that have little figures in episcopal and papal headgear visible amidst the ranks of the damned.

I have a more personal acquaintance with churches run by a cabal of geezers who think they have the Holy Ghost nesting in their vest pocket.

#11 ::: Vicki Rosenzweig ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2002, 11:33 AM:

As we all know, the structure of the Catholic Church is a little odd by non-ecclesiastical standards: on the one hand, they're treating each diocese, often each parish, as an independent entity for financial purposes; on the other, the church is an elective monarchy, and if the Pope tells the bishop of Brooklyn to transfer your parish priest, the parish doesn't get to vote.

The other thing to note is that, yes, lots of parishes are poor, and if they have anything precious it's because the present or past parishioners saved their pennies to buy an adornment for their church. But (I got this from the Boston Globe, a month or two back, and their links melt into air) there are also chunks of property that belong to the church, not to a specific parish; that are worth significant money and/or bring in major income (things like conference centers); and that have been carefully incorporated separately even though they're being run by the diocese they were separated from. That looks an awful lot like a maneuver to take them out of the official assets of the diocese of Boston, even though they're still clearly under its control, and not connected to any parish, monastic group, or worshippers who use them or have a meaningful emotional connection to them.

It is, unfortunately, rather late in the day to point out that if Cardinal Law and Bishop Daily and all had done the right thing in the first place, we wouldn't be arguing over who owns the altar decorations. If someone comes to you and says "your employee molested my son", the appropriate response is "Shall I call the police?" not "please don't tell anyone, he's a good man, here's a check."

That, unfortunately, runs into all sorts of deep human tendencies to protect people we consider to be kin, whether genetic or emotional, and the related idea of "he's a good [fill-in-the-blank], he shouldn't be punished, he meant no harm."

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