Posts Tagged ‘Archdiocese of Chicago’

One Good Catholic School Transcending

Wednesday, January 22nd, 2014

Late in the evening of 1/21/14 I joined parishioners and supporters of Our Lady of Victory Catholic School in Chicago, for which I serve on the board, for part of an overnight prayer vigil to preserve the school. For this purpose the school gym had been converted temporarily into an all-night meditation chapel.

OLV School awaits word on or about 1/24/14 whether the Archdiocese of Chicago will approve OLV’s three-year financial plan so OLV can remain open.

Working with the OLV community has been an inspiring movement and moment of grace–a remarkable combination of prayer, good will, fundraising, and networking!

The peacefulness of the OLV vigil transcended for me the contemporaneous 1/21/14 release of the Chicago priest abuse files.

I sometimes think that Christ foresaw such abuse in his Agony in the Garden, and still chose to suffer and to die for us so that we could be redeemed from such miserable sin.

© Copyright 2014, Albert J. Schorsch, III
All Rights Reserved

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A Day of Atonement for Blasphemy in a Seminary, 40 Years Later

Saturday, December 8th, 2012

Today, on the Eighth of December, for Catholics the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, memories bring me back to another December the Eighth forty years ago. For me, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception has become something of a day of atonement. Please let me explain why.

In a recent post I mentioned my unhappy college experience in the late 1960s and early 1970s at Niles College Seminary, the former college seminary (campus closed 1994) of the Archdiocese of Chicago, and specifically cited a beer party on the feast of the Immaculate Conception, December 8, which the students had given a mocking and vulgar name.

This name was the “Immaculate F_ _ _ Party,” and this party began on December 8, 1972 at one of the Niles College residence halls, Thomas Merton Hall. Chicago’s John Patrick Cardinal Cody learned of this party in 1979 due to a dispute among the clergy when someone leaked the word to him, and ended it.

But for a time this party drew a few from around the Chicago seminaries and the archdiocese to stage a beer blast at the college seminary on a rather theologically inappropriate night, a night intended for the mystery of faithful love, the feast of the Patroness of our country, Our Lady, as Vatican II called her, the Mother of the Church.

Drinking by seminarians and some priest faculty at Niles College was always problematic for me. The young priests in my own boyhood parish had “taken the pledge,” as did many newly ordained priests of the 1950s and early 1960s, not to drink alcohol until the age of thirty.

The multiplication of alcohol in rectories was one of the unacknowledged changes of the Vatican II era. Witness the account from Margery Frisbie’s biography of late Msgr. John J. “Jack” Egan, when he was assigned as pastor of Chicago’s Presentation Parish in 1966:

There were some surprises for Jack, even in himself. “I’ll never forget the first night. I went up to (Father) Jack Gilligan’s room. Father Tom Millea and Father Jack Hill were there. I can’t imagine myself doing this or saying this. They were having a drink and there was a bottle of Scotch on top of the dresser. Now, we’re on the third floor of the rectory and here’s the new pastor, saying, ‘Fellows, do you think we should have a bottle out in public like this?’ I turned them off. I remember them looking at one another, thinking who the hell let him in. They had just got rid of Monsignor McCarthy, an old conservative, and now this guy comes along, Jack Egan, whom they know!”

Jack describes his reversion to prototype domineering Irish tyrant as “a certain type of rigorism that did occupy my life when I was given positions of authority up to the time I was at Presentation. I think I’ve lost it. I hope I’ve lost it, he says now. He had exploded at his surprised young associates in their own rooms on their own time. “Here was a man trained in YCS, YCW, the Christian Family Movement, and in community organization all through the fifties and sixties. Now I go into that parish as a pastor. I practically forget all my training. Why? Because I was scared.” Jack admits. He was scared of the huge responsibility he’d been given. Driven by that fear and by his gut hankering to succeed, he momentarily parodied himself. But he didn’t please himself. His bona fide style was eliciting cooperation, not demanding conformity. Jack Hill, now resigned from the priesthod, doesn’t remember the Scotch story. He remembers Father Egan greeting his new associates, “Well, guys, I’m home.”

Margery Frisbie, An Alley in Chicago: The Ministry of a City Priest, 1991, Sheed and Ward, Kansas City, pp. 183-184.

The moral argument to allow the 1960s young priests to drink hard liquor seems to be, “Can’t a guy have a drink in peace on his own time at the end of the day?”

But imagine what the Church would be like if Mother Teresa gathered her nuns together each evening, not for an hour in the presence of the Holy Eucharist, but around a bottle of Scotch. This contrasting, non-liquor ridden ideal of holiness never seemed to have taken root among a certain number of Chicago clergy of the 1960s and 1970s: “Sometimes, a guy just needs a stiff drink.”

For some among the post-Vatican II clergy, being free to drink alcohol was an essential expression of independence and freedom.
But this freedom only went so far. One friend has told me that a priest close to him left the priesthood for the very reason that he tired of coming back to his room and drinking alone each night.

The anti-authoritarian attitude of a few of the faculty in control of Niles College in the late 1960s and early 1970s, was similar. Although officially there was not supposed to be liquor in Niles College seminarians’ rooms, this rule in time was ineffectively enforced, and in some cases, and at some times, a faculty member’s refrigerator might provide beer to whomever among the older students wished to pop open a can.

It is difficult to reconstruct, after the word “enabler” permeated the culture in the 1980s, the prior particular attitude of “concerned let-be” inspired by the work of psychologist Carl Rogers in the 1960s that would let alcohol and some drug abuse run rampant through a college seminary. When coupled with Niles College’s late 1960s idiosyncratic interpretation of the humanistic psychology of Abraham Maslow that assumed that young undergraduate men, left unimpeded by any significant authority structure or limits, would grow inevitably to maturity without any pathology, seems to us today as incredibly naive.

But the formations approach at Niles College during the late 1960s and early 1970s was inspired by the highest ideals then current on the freedom of the human spirit.

A close reading of Eugene Kennedy’s contemporaneous contribution to the 1970s “priest study” (Heckler, Victor J., and Eugene C. Kennedy. 1972. The Catholic priest in the United States: psychological investigations. Washington: United States Catholic Conference), reveals such a strong focus on maturity and self-actualization, that pathology, outside of immaturity, was hardly considered as a possibility. But pathology is precisely among those things that we would up inheriting from the 1960s and early 1970s Niles College.

It is true that no authority was just about the only authority that the Viet Nam era young man, even the seminary young man, would accept. Hindsight is indeed 20/20, so it is easy to compute now that, if one mixed dozens of young undergraduate men into a seminary that at the time offered a deferment from Viet Nam military draft (and did not ask young men who no longer intended to study for the priesthood to leave the seminary in any systematic way, but let them stay for four years during which a few did little else but party), coupled with the widespread availability of alcohol and drugs, in rooms that offered little privacy, among formations faculty some of whom were still in their young 30s, and placed very few limits on the young men, with some students obtaining liquor from the faculty themselves, that literally all hell would break loose.

The high ideals of the seminary faculty, formed amidst a deep and resentful reaction against their own authoritarian pre-Vatican II training, were contradicted regularly by the disordered reality of the seminary they shaped.

I prefer not to recall how many times at the college seminary that I found a classmate retching with his arms wrapped around a toilet, or passed out on the floor near his own vomit or pee, or hovering at the door of another student in a state of buzzed obsession, or stiff and stupefied unable to walk, or crouched weeping in a stairwell in inebriated panic, or worse, in a state of soused rampage seeking to beat another student. Indeed, our only Latino classmate was driven from the seminary by the relentless, intoxicated vendetta of a bully whom to my knowledge was evidently never disciplined, because, apparently, he was one of the “boys.” I recall first meeting a noted theologian as he collapsed, “drunk on his arse,” on a nearby couch in the seminary rectory. I remember hearing of one fellow so drunk–perhaps this is apocryphal–that he could not find a part of his anatomy–“It’s gone!”–and who broke down in grateful tears when someone helped him “find” it. I particularly remember the “crying in his beer” soliloquy of a student whom decades later was jailed for pedophilia–not the misnamed abuse of a teen or a young adult–but real pedophilia with young children. How he was ever ordained I will never know.

When the press picked up on the “Woodstock” or “blame the 1960s” aspect of the John Jay study, Sr. Mary Ann Walsh, RSM, of the USCCB reacted strongly against this analysis. Fortunately, Sr. Walsh cannot be expected to know even a fraction of what went on at the late 1960s/early 1970s Niles College, which did at times did indeed vie to out-Woodstock Woodstock.

One night working at an apostolate for troubled teens, I cleaned up a drunken young man’s vomit off the floor, and returned to Niles College only to find the dorm faculty on vacation and the dormitory filled with drunken and carousing seminary students and female guests.

I recall in particular one Spring day in 1970 when no priest appeared to say the morning Mass at Niles College, and a number of us enlisted our holy teacher of dear memory, the late David J. Hassel, SJ, who walked at our request directly from teaching us in his classroom to the chapel and celebrated Mass. (I highly recommend Fr. Hassel’s book, Radical Prayer: Creating a Welcome for God, ourselves, other people, and the world.)

Perhaps the most infamous “prayer service” at Niles College of that era was the Easy Rider-inspired ritual, which culminated with a motorcycle barreling up the aisle. I remember opening the windows to release the fumes from the chapel. At Niles College, aggiornamento apparently meant opening the windows of the church to let the smoke out.

Niles College of the late 1960s and early 1970s was in many ways a social experiment in the establishment of a free, permissive environment, an experiment–based upon an incorrect reading of John Henry Newman and a probably correct reading of Jean-Jacques Rousseau–that not only failed, but that had terrible and costly later consequences in the number of abusers who arose from that environment.

Theoretically, it appeared that the students were expected to develop leadership by being cast into a chaotic and disordered maelstrom. In reality, some forms of order were never established, and great damage was done to some. (By the grace of God, a few other amazingly holy priests somehow survived Niles College). While many of the academic faculty of Niles College were proven, scholarly, and holy men, the formations faculty included men just a few years older than the students, some of whose perplexed attitude toward authority and alcohol mirrored that of the late Monsignor Egan in 1966.

One of the most difficult decisions I made was to remain at Niles College after my first week in the Fall of 1969, a week of what seemed endless carousing and partying by the students long into the night, making study all but impossible unless one hid in a remote corner of the seminary.

I remember sitting in the yard a few hundred feet opposite my dormitory and praying for a long time about my decision, since the college I had chosen was the most contradictory of seminaries. (One of my dear friends, now a missionary priest, was actively discouraged by his father from entering Niles College because of its reputation, so a number of us had advanced warning about what we called “The Niles Experience.”)

During my time of prayer, I reasoned that if I was called to be a priest in Chicago, and if Niles College was the pathway, and if the Devil himself had scrambled the seminary, I would ask God for the strength to persist and to live on to change the seminary for the better. (I was indeed blessed to return to much quieter though still troubled Niles College as a lay faculty member years later, 1992-94, until the day it finally closed and moved to another location under a new name.) I coped at Niles College during my own college days by throwing myself into volunteer work at mental hospitals, and at child care and correctional institutions.

Although it was in many ways unfortunate for me that I decided to remain at Niles College in 1969, by three years later, in the week of early December, 1972 when I had the opportunity to graduate early in the upcoming January, and I had made the decision to leave the Chicago seminary, I remember finding a flyer announcing the December 8, 1972 beer party and showing it to a friend. I debated with myself whether I should throw away the flyer, and simply purge myself of the memory. I first threw the flyer out, but later retrieved and archived it. I have never been able to purge myself of the memory, because of what such a beer party on such a holy feast represented for a seminary.

The Immaculate F_ _ _ Party served as a metaphor for me of how a seminary could go almost completely awry, and dishonor its very purpose and the source of its integrity.

With the passing years I came to view the choice of the evening of the feast of the Immaculate Conception for a beer party as an intentional “poisoning of the well” within the seminaries, a not so subtle rejection of Marian devotion and the place of Our Lady in Catholicism, part of a vain attempt by change agents within the seminary to form the illusive “unclerical clergy.”

By attempting to wipe out traditional “clericalism,” which included certain lifestyle practices meant to sustain clerical virtue, seminary change agents opened the doors to clerical vice.

I recall the mockery at the time that both students and faculty had for things Marian, such as the rosary, the color “Blessed Mother Blue,” Marian hymns, prayers, novenas, the Pilgrim Virgin, Lourdes and Fatima, and such organizations as the Blue Army. Seminary students in the early 1970s, unless they were Latino or Polish, where overt piety was tolerated as ethnic heritage, were mocked if they prayed the rosary. Earlier, one pious one close to me was purged from the seminary because of his “authoritarian personality” and Marian devotion by a priest who was finally almost 50 years later revealed as an abuser.

Niles College was quite a change from our early high school days in 1965 at Quigley Seminary North in Chicago, where as freshman (called “Bennies” because Benjamin was the twelfth son of Jacob, and the cycle of high school seminary in Chicago to priesthood took twelve years), we were encouraged to pray the rosary at least once a day. Quigley even had a club called the Beadsmen, who prayed the rosary after school or in between classes.

A seminary friend from that era of the 1970s tells the story of how he placed a statue of the Blessed Mother five separate times in an empty niche in the hallway near his room at the then St. Mary of the Lake Seminary in Mundelein, IL, the major seminary of Chicago, and five times it was removed, despite his public pleas to the contrary. He finally painted Mary’s image in the niche, where it reputedly remains to this day.

As a student at Niles College of the late 1960s and early 1970s, I like other students served as subject, whether witting or unwitting, in someone else’s social experiment: the construction of an experimental seminary “without rules” in which the students had to form their own social order.

A long-time and holy faculty member at Niles College, Fr. Stanley R. Rudcki, penned in 1995 an article on Niles College in the New Oxford Review entitled, The Tale of a Dead Seminary. I recommend this first-person account by a man of prayer, music, and culture who taught at Niles College from its beginning in the early 1960s to its end in 1994.

In an “Catholic samizdat” article entitled “Deconstructing the Seminary” on the Chicago seminaries that I privately circulated in 1996 and 1997 after years of reflection and after my own return to teach at a later (1992-4) Niles College when I interviewed key witnesses, I wrote:

If it is not an old proverb, it should be–that you should never poison a well, because one day you may desperately desire to drink from it. This adage brings to mind something of a Prometheus in reverse: while it takes a powerful titan to steal fire from the heavens and free humanity from the gods, any trickster can poison a well and sicken a village. In [recent] decades, a number of American seminaries have seen their wells poisoned–by intent, by neglect, by hubris, or by circumstance–and have become for a time sickened villages. These sickened villages have contributed to the many problems besetting the Church. During these decades, some unfortunate American seminaries have been run by faculties including titans and tricksters: titans who sincerely and tragically embraced bad ideas, and tricksters bent on the eradication of a lifestyle which they hated. From year to year bright-eyed young men called to priesthood by the example of Jesus of Nazareth have been forced to maneuver their way through the subtleties and hidden agendas of sickened seminaries. For the sake of these young people, one task of our age is to rebuild the sickened, deconstructed seminary. . . .

What happened? Nothing less than the continual deconstruction of what once was the largest and arguably the finest Roman Catholic seminary system in North America. This deconstruction, far from being the solely the result of demographic and cultural change, was also the result of conscious change-agency in Chicago seminary education. This change-agency included a reduction of the perennial or classical tradition and the by-passing of canonical requirements for seminary activity and conduct. This reduction was accomplished by a subtle dialing down of the thermostat of seminary tradition. . . .

Enough. I now take a big step back from my 1996 words above, and consider, with the perspective of the aging grandfather that I now am–and I never wish to claim to be anything other than a sinner–that while the Catholic seminaries of Chicago have in many ways been reformed thanks in great part to Francis Cardinal George, OMI, Archbishop of Chicago–and thankfully Our Blessed Mother is honored again in the Chicago seminaries–we as a culture have still not learned the “sobering” lesson of the corrupting effects of alcohol abuse on both the young and the old, and the importance of confronting this deadly disease as the public health challenge that it is.

Alcohol abuse provides a turbulent gateway to violence, to sexual abuse in particular–the National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism estimates that each year “97,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 are victims of alcohol-related sexual assault or date rape”–to injury to hundreds of thousands of young adults and to death for over 1,800 young adults in the USA annually, with 25% of college students reporting that alcohol abuse interferes with their studies.

The scope and scale of the college-age alcohol abuse statistics today are dumbfounding. See them again here.

Alcohol and other drug abuse has not changed greatly over the past decades among the young. Alcohol and drug abuse helped lead to the wild late 1960s, early 1970s days of buzzed stupidity at Niles College Seminary. It was in this environment that a few ill–later to be abusive–men were educated and later unfortunately ordained. The Catholic generation of today, and the generations of tomorrow, will continue to pay the price.

While others debate many of the liturgical or doctrinal changes of Vatican II, few concentrate on the cultural changes, like the proliferation of useless meetings, or the introduction of microphones and sound systems, or especially the impact of alcohol abuse among the clergy and in seminaries.

Much has happened in the seminaries since the 1970s that led these church institutions to come to terms with alcohol abuse among seminarians and clergy. But the damage has been done.

So I agree in this respect with Sr. Walsh: The problem with Niles College during my years there, 1969-1973, was not so much the Woodstock culture. It was the alcohol abuse culture, one of the most powerful forces in human civilization, that still directly today affects by illness about one in thirteen adults and about one in four college students. Think of the wasted energy, resources, and all those student loans taken on by those with this terrible affliction. . .

Forty-some years ago, an idealistic group of change agents shaped, for what they were convinced were the best of reasons, a seminary without rules, but they instead succeeded in releasing one of the most familiar scourges known to man and to woman.

Although colleges and universities still struggle with widespread alcohol abuse to this day, seminaries are among the few institutions, if properly led and structured, that can minimize it.

Earlier this year, we buried a seminary friend from those days, who died, fifteen years earlier than his life expectancy, from the damage that the disease of alcoholism did to his internal organs. Binge drinking sneaked up on him in his later years, in a familiar progression for lifetime drinkers.

As he lay dying and we prayed at his side, I had time to reflect on the past five decades of his life, from a young, bright, promising teen, to an aged and broken physical wreck. His drinking habits were laid down, quite early in his life, in the Chicago seminaries.

“Albert,” he asked me, when he woke from a prolonged sleep, “Am I dying?”

“Yes, (his name), you are,” I said. “We’re here with you (and will pray with you, I thought).”

The disease of alcoholism and alcohol abuse is an attribute of the culture of death. This culture, and its effects, must be systematically eliminated from seminary and priestly life, for the sake of the bright and idealistic young men who begin the journey to priesthood, and for those whom they will serve.

The Immaculate F_ _ _ Party at Niles College Seminary on 12/8/1972 came but a few months after Pope Paul VI stated on 6/29/1972, “Da qualche fessura sia entrato il fumo di Satana nel tempio di Dio (The smoke of Satan has penetrated the Temple of God through some crack),” and expanded upon his remarks on November 15, 1972. But a few of us in 1972 were not then prepared to “put on the armor of God” because we had not yet learned our struggle was not with mere “flesh and blood” but with “Principalities and Powers,” as St. Paul warned the Ephesians (6:10-17). We were confronted then not only with the culture of death, but with the power of sin and evil.

So indeed, December 8 will again be for me, a sinner, a day of prayer and atonement, and also a day in which I am happy to report that Chicago seminarians can honor Our Lady once again, and learn from her who is so filled with grace that her “yes” to God helped promise us eternal life. May seminarians especially continue to turn to Our Lady as a paradigm of grace!

And may the Lord forgive our sins from the old, now dead, Niles College. . .

PS: Here is a link to the Office of Readings second reading for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, by St. Anselm. It was these truths that were denied to many of the seminarians 40 years ago —

From a sermon by Saint Anselm, bishop
(Oratio 52: PL 158, 955-956)

Blessed Lady, sky and stars, earth and rivers, day and night – everything that is subject to the power or use of man – rejoice that through you they are in some sense restored to their lost beauty and are endowed with inexpressible new grace. All creatures were dead, as it were, useless for men or for the praise of God, who made them. The world, contrary to its true destiny, was corrupted and tainted by the acts of men who served idols. Now all creation has been restored to life and rejoices that it is controlled and given splendor by men who believe in God. The universe rejoices with new and indefinable loveliness. Not only does it feel the unseen presence of God himself, its Creator, it sees him openly, working and making it holy. These great blessings spring from the blessed fruit of Mary’s womb.

Through the fullness of the grace that was given you, dead things rejoice in their freedom, and those in heaven are glad to be made new. Through the Son who was the glorious fruit of your virgin womb, just souls who died before his life-giving death rejoice as they are freed from captivity, and the angels are glad at the restoration of their shattered domain.

Lady, full and overflowing with grace, all creation receives new life from your abundance. Virgin, blessed above all creatures, through your blessing all creation is blessed, not only creation from its Creator, but the Creator himself has been blessed by creation.

To Mary God gave his only-begotten Son, whom he loved as himself. Through Mary God made himself a Son, not different but the same, by nature Son of God and Son of Mary. The whole universe was created by God, and God was born of Mary. God created all things, and Mary gave birth to God. The God who made all things gave himself form through Mary, and thus he made his own creation. He who could create all things from nothing would not remake his ruined creation without Mary.

God, then, is the Father of the created world and Mary the mother of the re-created world. God is the Father by whom all things were given life, and Mary the mother through whom all things were given new life. For God begot the Son, through whom all things were made, and Mary gave birth to him as the Savior of the world. Without God’s Son, nothing could exist; without Mary’s Son, nothing could be redeemed.

Truly the Lord is with you, to whom the Lord granted that all nature should owe as much to you as to himself.

Amen!

© Copyright 2012, 2013, Albert J. Schorsch, III
All Rights Reserved

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Dan Savage’s Brief Shining Moment

Friday, September 30th, 2011

A few years ago I attended for a time one of the world’s best business schools, and there I confirmed in “granular” detail (a B-school word) something I already knew: that after people reach a certain age, hardly anybody drinks certain brands of beer.

I have fond memories of these brands, not because I drank them–they had a taste that I never bothered to acquire–but because of their charming old advertising jingles and logos, and because of a silly joke my late Dad taught me when I was a little boy: “Albert, does beer make you smart?” . . . “It made Bud wiser.”

From a great business professor I learned of the herculean marketing efforts necessary to get people to keep drinking these beers, with inevitably diminishing returns as people reach the age of functional maturity. Just as car insurance companies know from long-collected empirical evidence that young people cannot generally make wisely considered decisions behind the wheel until about the age of 25, the major beer companies know, based upon similar research, that young people generally stop drinking their brand of beer by the age of 29–perhaps because they have finally made a few wisely-considered decisions. Therefore the big beer companies live and die by the tiny demographic margin generated by their ads.

One might say that these beers have each been branded as: “The beer America is still dumb enough to drink.”

We’ve all seen the beer ads with young, slim, attractive people having all kinds of fun in something of a Never Neverland of youth, where beer neither makes you drunk nor fat, and where the mere choice of a brand of beer impresses buxom and scantily-clad–and recently, clever and engaging–young women. Then some day reality hits, like the actual beer party that occurred when the cast of TV’s Cheers retired from the show, and some of cast got sloppy drunk by actually downing the amount of real beer equivalent to the fake beer that they pretended to consume on TV.

I have very unpleasant memories of these beers as well, and they have to do not only with the homeless alcoholics I tried to assist for over two decades, but also with the amount of swill consumed in the late 1960s and early 1970s by my contemporaries and some priest faculty at the now defunct Niles College Seminary, the former college seminary of the Archdiocese of Chicago and my alma mater of unhappy memory. “Come for the priesthood, stay for the beer” seemed to have been the watchword at Niles College.

While the priests of my early youth “took the pledge” not to drink until they were thirty, the uncorked “spirits of Vatican II” changed all that. Niles College in my unhappy college years was a particular locus of alcohol consumption by students and faculty alike, and quite a shock to my, I suppose, naively pious expectations formed in the minor seminary. I recall one day when the liquor delivery truck arrived at the Niles College rectory, and unloaded what seemed to be dozens of crates and barrels of booze for a faculty soiree. This being the Archdiocese of Chicago, I then prayed for Eliot Ness, Rico, Lee, and Youngblood to pull up in their 1930s roadster and bust the place, but my prayers went in that respect unanswered. One of my proofs for the existence of God is that somehow a number of holy priests were ordained in Chicago despite everything they experienced at Niles College during that era.

Part of the “Niles Experience,” as we then called it, included the ribald, over-sexed, curse-laden, scatological, sometimes homosexual dorm humor that persists to some limited degree today among the clergy of the Archdiocese of Chicago of a certain age and outlook. This dorm humor is very similar to the dorm humor that has traversed colleges and barracks since time immemorial. This humor was also heard annually at Niles College around a beer party in the 1970s on the night of the feast of the Immaculate Conception in the quarters of a divine, a party that had a particularly defiling name for the Immaculate Conception that was finally squelched when John Patrick Cardinal Cody, several years into the recurrent celebration, got wind of it due to a dispute among the clergy when someone passed the word to him in retribution. This party for me, despite the abundance of drink, was a spiritual Dead Sea of the Archdiocese, from which sulphuric smoke followed for Chicago. What the seminary hath sometimes wrought! O tempora, O mores. . .

The seminary system of the Archdiocese of Chicago not long thereafter played a part for a year or so in the high school education of MTV personality and sex advice columnist Dan Savage, who later completed his apprenticeship in dorm speech at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (coincidentally, the alma mater of Hugh Hefner).

(Let me add a disclaimer here that the fine faculty of Quigley Preparatory Seminary North, as it was then called in the early 1980s, were a stellar group who wouldn’t dream of planting into Mr. Savage’s head some of the things which have issued therefrom since. Ditto for the faculty at UIUC.)

While every college dorm seems to have a guy like Mr. Savage, he has since brought dorm humor to the world in ways the world might not have imagined possible through the means of his sex advice column and television appearances. Mr. Savage writes the way some co-workers talk together privately on the job or some college students talk together in the dorm, in a coarse manner similar to the dialogue on the current popular cable TV show about New York firefighters, “Rescue Me.”

This mode of speech represents the underside of American Catholic culture. It is the way many Americans, and many American Catholics–to the shock of our Baptist and Evangelical brethren and “sisteren”–do talk informally, so it speaks to American youth in a particularly powerful way because they think that this is the way that grownups really talk, which is to a certain degree unfortunately true. In part to counter this cultural phenomenon years ago, the Holy Name Societies were founded. I’m expecting Archbishop Timothy Dolan any day now to enlist members of the NYFD to re-up in the Holy Name Society en masse for this very reason.

Mr. Savage differentiates himself from a marketing standpoint by including in this common mix of dorm speech his own variations in homosexual humor, which apparently help to keep the curious listening to him. He dispenses advice to the lovelorn by rather gleefully engaging in intimate sexual detail and pop pseudoscience, while also from time to time publicly hurling rather direct and violent threats and insults at those who anger him for various reasons.

Dan Savage’s sometimes violent writing persona is usually not that present in his public presentations to students, where he displays more honey and less vinegar, to use the celebrated distinction of St. Francis de Sales. One reviewer called Mr. Savage a “cool uncle” after his September, 2011 UIC MTV taping. His target demographic appears to be teens and young adults who still drink that certain brand of beer and who are still struggling to make wisely-considered decisions.

Mr. Savage’s knack for describing the same old sexual plumbing in hip, kaleidoscopic detail should not deceive: he is a sexual plumber who apparently loves his work, not an engineer who deeply understands it. Witness his dumb advice for couples to have affairs to spice up their relationships, trumpeted by the New York Times this past Summer of 2011 as if it was the first time human civilization had heard such a brilliant suggestion.

(Reserved for further extended comment at another time: Dan Savage’s understanding of heterosexual intimacy is almost completely blind to the experience of committed, long-term bonding as experienced by the female, and of the complex role that hormones like oxytocin and other physical and psychological processes play therein. The pictures Dan Savage draws of female-male committed love are clumsy, sad cartoons crushed down by pathetic, strained adolescent slapstick. Like the writers of “Sex and the City,” Dan Savage from time to time superimposes a gay male paradigm on the female.

If it’s any consolation, Mr. Savage is in good company. Michelangelo had a similar problem, in that, with the exception of masterpieces like the Pieta or the lovely image of Eve wrapped in the arm of the Creator in the Creation of Adam on the Sistine Chapel, many of the Master’s images of females appeared as “males with breasts.”)

Mr. Savage gives the lighthearted secular version of the “sex talk” previously administered in Catholic circles by physicians like my great aunt to Catholic high school girls in the 1940s, by straightforward Jesuits like Francis Filas, SJ in the 1950s and 1960s, and by Catholic couples in the 1960s and thereafter of his parents’ generation, who, like his parents, would participate in Marriage Encounter or other Catholic family activities. Mr. Savage thus represents in a way the secularized terminus of this tradition.

But Mr. Savage’s admirers or fellow activists rarely view Mr. Savage in a holistic, complete manner to the point of confronting the violence of his language. Dan Savage is on record for his scatological public threat in TV journalist Paula Zahn’s direction in 2006, and for his shared popularization of a new word for the refuse generated by anal intercourse rather spitefully assigned to former US Senator Rick Santorum in retribution for the Senator’s moral and political stances. This word is designed to appear prominently when the former Senator’s name is searched on the Internet. The Senator has been reported to be asking Google for relief from this prank, which has made Dan Savage a hero to those who can’t abide the former senator. Recently, Dan Savage stated in a televised appearance that he wanted to f___ the s____ out of Mr. Santorum. While it is possible to study anal intercourse in “granular” detail and speak as many words for offal as legend claims the Arctic clans possess for snow, such a feat buries itself in piles of its own insignificance.

Again, just about every big college dorm has, and probably always will, have its own Dan Savage.

After years of writing for newspapers handed away for free and appearing as an occasional TV talking head, Dan Savage reached national prominence and a White House invitation through his anti-bullying campaign designed also to assist LGBTQ youth, It Gets Better. I have already commented in an earlier blog on the incongruence of a writer with a history of violent language starting an anti-bullying campaign.

Dan Savage’s anti-bullying campaign has allowed him to cross over from speaking at predominantly LGBTQ events to a more general audience. Mr. Savage has thus found his way into national magazines, television, and of course the college speaking circuit where he is currently touring and taping for MTV appearances in which he dispenses sexual advice in a live-question format. His MTV taping appearance at the UIC campus in September, 2011 was not well subscribed, and staff reportedly had to rope in passers-by, but the campus newspaper gave him the obligatory puff treatment, citing merely his “sarcasm” directed at certain politicians, since after all, he is a celebrity who brought MTV to the campus. In general, the college press has been very kind to Mr. Savage, and has downplayed the violence that bursts out in his writing and occasionally on TV.

(The John Paul II Newman Center at UIC–not by any means asleep at the wheel–has like many other astute chaplaincies about the country caught on to Dan Savage. The JPII Center responded to Mr. Savage’s UIC campus appearance a few nights later with a talk to students by Dr. Ken Howell and JPII chaplains.)

Mr. Savage’s promotional photos show him in his T-shirt as the familiar “jock” who may have just stepped out of his dorm or basketball court. Born in 1964 in the last year of the Baby Boom, he is 47. Like Dick Clark and Richard Roeper earlier and many other journalist-entertainer personalities who maintained the puer aeternus mystique as long as they could, Dan Savage works the youth media circuit. For this reason I predict that some day Dan Savage will host the New York New Year’s Eve celebration, and lead the countdown from 10 to 1. Valuing authenticity, I do not expect Dan Savage to wear a wig.

I also predict that later in his career, when Dan Savage can bring only an ever smaller demographic to market, he may appear late at night squeezed in between Time-Life infomercials and old Dean Martin roast highlights, perhaps hawking his own Dan Savage brand of heaven knows what (ala Mel Brooks in the film “Spaceballs”: “Dan Savage, the lunch box. . . Dan Savage, the flamethrower”), with a cryogenic Hugh Hefner propped nearby leering his frozen endorsement from within a glass catafalque graced with frolicking images of girls he may have known, but not quite loved.

While Dan Savage has pronounced his atheism from time to time, has made a gross comment about Pope Benedict XVI’s derriere in 2009, and has criticized the Canadian Catholic Bishops for their advice against anal sex in January, 2011, Dan Savage appeared again on the Catholic radar in the Fall, 2011 when his name was associated with a series of symposia entitled “More than a Monologue: Sexual Diversity and the Catholic Church” scheduled for Fall, 2011 at Fordham, Yale, and Fairfield universities, as well as Union Theological Seminary, where Mr. Savage is anticipated to speak on or about October 1, 2011.

Former New York Times writer and former Commonweal Magazine editor Peter Steinfels, who happens to be Dan Savage’s first cousin once removed, was chosen to be the moderator of the 9/16/11 Fordham event, and shared his reflections on the first More than a Monologue symposium on the dotCommonweal blog. Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights president Bill Donohue issued a preemptive criticism of the symposia on 9/15/11, as did the Cardinal Newman Society a few days earlier.

Peter Steinfels and I swapped exchanges on his blog from 9/23-9/25/11 on the violent and threatening nature of some of Dan Savage’s statements.

Now that Mr. Savage has reached national prominence and a bigger MTV gig, his overriding fiduciary obligation will be to bring to MTV the demographic group both dumb enough to watch him and also dumb enough, perhaps, to drink the beer and purchase other products being advertised during his programs. Since human gestation continues to generate people under the age of 25 who haven’t yet learned to make considered decisions behind the wheel of life, and won’t switch away from the swill they’ve been drinking until they are about 29, his success in this regard is almost guaranteed. However, I said “almost,” because Mr. Savage appears to not be able to contain his clever and uproarious wit.

(Here is a representative video vignette from Dan Savage’s presentations, containing his short comments on coming out to his mother within a Catholic context. Notable in the story is that the local priest rushed to the Savage home to calm Mrs. Savage down, and announced that he the priest was gay as well.

The rest of the video clip branches to a discussion of a sex act not for younger or impressionable viewers. But the quick shift of topic and mood is revelatory. Seconds after a heartfelt comment about his mother and something of a plea for understanding from the Catholic side, Dan Savage breezily advises a young woman who cannot sustain satisfactory suction in a sex act for her boyfriend to enlist the help of a mechanical pump. While this may have been just another day at the office for “America’s leading sex advice columnist” Dan Savage, this rapid, sad segue from soulfulness to hedonism bespeaks spirits restless and lost.

So tell me: To hear such a conflicted message was worth the Catholic Fairfield University to bus its students from Connecticut to New York for Mr. Savage’s appearance on 10/1/11?)

Like the old joke about the University of Chicago of the 1950s, where once atheists and agnostics taught the Catholic philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas to Jewish students, Dan Savage’s MTV show features a homosexual giving sex advice to mostly heterosexuals so viewers will stay tuned and buy cars, beer, or consumer package goods, or CPGs (a B-school acronym). For this, Dan Savage will probably be handsomely paid, as long as he can keep the show going. He can then endow the charities and causes of his choice until his demographic dies off (or grows up) and his infomercials inhabit the late night hours into perpetuity.

When I taught at Chicago’s St. Ignatius College Prep in the early 1980s, I taught Dan Savage’s generation of young Catholics roughly at the time of the discovery of HIV. I told my homosexual students that they were especially loved children of God. But I also taught all my students the Church’s teaching that sexual intimacy belongs for believing Catholics within a lifelong, marital, heterosexual relationship. To my former students and advisees who trusted to me their homosexual identification, I conveyed love and affirmation of their intrinsic capability for caring creativity on behalf of their family, friends, and the common good. I deeply regret that I did not more vigorously warn more of the young people whom I knew years ago away from anal intercourse, and share with them a more detailed vision of chastity, since now unfortunately, a few of them are dead. Any intimate action that requires a series of precautions against disease and injury is inevitably subject to error, and therefore inevitably subject to disease and injury.

The message that the Catholic Church offers, that of a life of chastity, is seen by some, both heterosexual and homosexual alike, in the same spirit of the definitive poem on the subject of joy-killing clergy by the poet William Blake (1757-1827). This is the first document that I had my high school students read during sexual morality classes in the early 1980s:

The Garden of Love

I went to the Garden of Love,
And saw what I never had seen:
A Chapel was built in the midst,
Where I used to play on the green.

And the gates of this Chapel were shut,
And `Thou shalt not’ writ over the door;
So I turn’d to the Garden of Love,
That so many sweet flowers bore,

And I saw it was filled with graves,
And tomb-stones where flowers should be:
And Priests in black gowns were walking their rounds,
And binding with briars my joys and desires.

A Catholic response to the sentiments expressed above can be based upon the knowledge that, to the Catholic, the Garden of Love is not simply the Garden of Sex, but a much more broadly defined Garden of Love in the divine image.

To some engaging in sexual love outside the bounds of Christian love, the Christian admonition to their sexual intimacy is: Stop, and find another way to love.

This admonition is consistent with John 8:11: “Neither do I condemn you. Go, [and] from now on do not sin any more.”

This admonition almost never goes over well initially, whether it is from John the Baptist telling Herod to stop sleeping with his brother’s wife (result, the Baptist dead), to St. John Fisher defending the marriage of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon (result, St. John Fisher dead), to a parent advising a child not to cohabit prior to marriage, to a parent advising a child, “I love you and will always love you, but what you are proposing to do appears to be a sin that will harm you, to that sin I cannot agree, and I will continue to pray that you stop and find another way.”

These are not easy words to either live by or to deliver.

A number of writers, including the psychiatrist Miriam Grossman, MD, who unlike Dan Savage actually treated well over 1,000 college students, have pointed out that the same developmental forces that militate against young adults making sound decisions behind the wheel, militate against their making sound decisions about sexual intimacy.

This means that parents and grandparents and other close relatives should continue to play a necessary role in the successful growth of young adults, contra to the 1960s existential ideal of the fully-equipped 18-year-old leaving home and substantive conversations with Mom and Dad forever. With this in mind, Dan Savage’s parting advice to a UIC student fell a little flat:

“Someone will come along,” he said. “So much of love and relationship is kismet and chance. Your moment, and you will have many of them over your life, hasn’t come.

“Just chill.”

The Catholic parent’s message and the Catholic Church’s message to a young person contemplating sexual intimacy outside of heterosexual marriage can be summed up as:

“I love you, but I cannot consent to the damage that sin may do to you. Please stop and reconsider.”

The Catholic call to conversion, heard long ago by St. Augustine when the little singsong voice called to him to tolle, lege, tolle, lege–take and read, take and read–has not changed in centuries:

And do this because you know the time; it is the hour now for you to awake from sleep. For our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed; the night is advanced, the day is at hand. Let us then throw off the works of darkness [and] put on the armor of light; let us conduct ourselves properly as in the day, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in promiscuity and licentiousness, not in rivalry and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the desires of the flesh. Romans 13:11-14

Romans 13:11-14 calls upon believers to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ” and to leave the hedonism of orgies, drunkenness, promiscuity, licentiousness, rivalry, and jealousy–similar to the dorm lifestyle and dorm values prolonged in “alumni” singles districts in many major cities–for good.

But if one decides to stay in the virtual moral dorm, Dan Savage’s advice is right there online or down the street in a free newspaper to tell how to keep having lots of mindless fun.

The virtual moral dorm has important economic and political drivers with an interest in keeping young adults morally anesthetized and suspended without life commitments so they can remain ready, predictable consumers and contained within known and politically sure, manipulable boundaries.

For that reason, today’s young adult generation is the most heavily marketed and propagandized in human history. Little do young adults know the extent to which almost every consumer choice they face has been pre-selected from afar by sellers of clothing, entertainment, consumer goods, transportation, and housing. Similarly, political manipulators work to ensure that the strong peer orientation of teens be prolonged as far into the future life of the young adult as possible, since this trait enables easier generational manipulation by any number of Internet and media-enhanced political efforts. Likewise, this generation of young adults, with the exception of a rare TV show like “7th Heaven,” has almost never seen an intact, heterosexual family within a traditional marriage depicted on television on a continuing basis.

The humor that young adults consume has been infused with the presence of the unfortunate sitcom stereotype of the outrageous homosexual clown (which some day will be seen as inappropriate as the Stepin Fetchit character), who like the Shakespearean fool will say anything at any time to anybody. This generation of young adults has thus been carefully prepared to think that someone like Dan Savage, despite his lack of Shakespearean wit and artistry, is funny and entertaining. Because in his role as “America’s most popular sex advice columnist” Dan Savage brings together both consumer and political interests, his role as moral anesthetist and political agent temporarily has placed him in the cultural catbird seat–as long as those who like what he says don’t grow up.

Against these powerful forces of manipulation, the Catholic faith provides an invitation to grow into the fullness of human possibility through a life that values and honors procreation and the human beings who grow from it.

The Catholic message to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ” does not include the incitement to violence, the permission to bully, or the rejection of personhood or integrity. It is a call to continue to grow and to love. It is in the highest sense a loving, parental duty. “To put on the Lord Jesus Christ” is the last thing postmodern parents are expected to say to their adult children, but it is in many cases both the true and right thing to say.

It is also right to oppose violence toward youth. As contradictory as Dan Savage’s own violent speech and his anti-bullying campaign might be to each other, his opposition to violence toward youth is a Motherhood issue.

But one cannot at the same time ignore the violent speech of Mr. Savage, proclaim it basically a joke with little consequence, and simultaneously assign to Catholic teaching the blame for violence against homosexual and transgendered individuals.

Despite his periodic rejections of Catholicism, Dan Savage is in many ways embedded in Catholic culture. While this may be his brief, shining, public moment in terms of notoriety and success, his obvious talents and the powerful grace of God may lead him in other positive directions.

There is an old Portuguese saying, in the Augustinian tradition, that God writes straight with crooked lines. Dan Savage’s violent speech may paradoxically and indirectly succeed now in revivifying the Holy Name Societies, provoke parents to teach their children that anal intercourse (whether for males or for females) is a bad thing, and cause a serious rejection of the work of Alfred Kinsey. But I also suspect that Dan Savage is capable of directly accomplishing a lot more good beyond the positive spin-offs of his anti-bullying efforts. This is worth a prayer or two.

(Left for another time will be a comment on how the definition of bullying is being ideologically expanded to proscribe religious objections to homosexual sex acts. Without mentioning Mr. Savage by name, President Obama referred to Dan Savage’s anti-bullying campaign during his 10/1/11 speech to the Human Rights Campaign, one of the leading LGBTQ rights organizations. If you do not think that the US is headed toward the proscription of religious objections to homosexual sex acts as the laws are enforced in parts of Canada, watch the President’s speech and think again).

Postscript:

Fairfield University provided transportation for its students from CT to travel to NYC on 10/1/11 to hear Mr. Savage say, according to the blogs:

“We have got to ignore the b___s___ in the Bible about gay people, just as we’ve learned to ignore what the b___s___ in the Bible have said about women, about polyester, about farming and about slavery. . . . ”

“They can’t see past our homosexuality to see our shared and common humanity, which is hugely ironic considering how many those priests behind those pulpits are gay. . . . ”

“For many LGBT people, faith is at once the affliction and the solution.”

Here’s an account of Mr. Savage’s 10/1/11 Union Theological presentation from the Fairfield Mirror. When a complete video or text appears, I will update the above information.

====

I hope that the “More than a Monologue” series does not become simply “Another Monologue” by those who disagree with the Catholic teaching on sexual intimacy. While some have noted that the Catholic ministry Courage is apparently missing from the symposia, I should add also that Chicago’s Emmaus Ministries (for male prostitutes) also is apparently not included. To those who claim that the Catholic Church ignores ministry to male prostitutes, it should be noted that Cardinal Francis George wrote the introduction to the book, Streetwalking with Jesus, by Emmaus Ministries founder Deacon John Green.

One of initiators of the “More than a Monologue” series is Prof. Paul Lakeland of Fairfield University, who has stated, “None of these conferences has as its agenda to attack the church’s teaching on homosexuality.” Prof. Lakeland is no longer a Jesuit, but is rather stern in his own way about certain teachings of Catholicism.

In a Huffington Post article on 5/10/11, Prof. Lakeland made very clear his own differences with Catholic teaching on homosexuality:

When the Church requires life-long celibacy of all people who are not heterosexual (the demand it makes of homosexuals who wish to participate fully in Church life), it imposes a sanction which is, in effect, the imposition of a life of less love and human relationship than is available to heterosexual Christians. A call to be less loving, body and soul, is a call to be less in the image and likeness of God.

Sed contra, Prof. Lakeland. A call to chastity is to be more faithfully committed and loving with one’s sexuality, and a call to celibacy is to be more like unto Our Lord Himself. Why must we be afraid to heed God’s call to such perfection? Are not all Christians invited to be perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect (Matthew 5:48)?

To imply that one must be sexually active in order to be fully human denies the humanity of Christ himself, not to mention those who either have lived saintly celibate lives like the Little Flower, Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face (a saint who is herself a great help to the sexually afflicted), or those who have struggled alone with their sexuality through a long life like Michelangelo, but whose faith, art, and creativity transcended their suffering.

Perhaps Michelangelo himself should be given a chance to speak on this very subject:

At times, pure love may justly be equated
With fervent hope; nor need it be deceived
If by all human loves the heavens are grieved,
Then to what end was the whole world created?

If I indeed honor and love you, Lord,
And if I burn, it is a heavenly calm
That emanates from you and makes me warm;
Such peace is far removed from all discord.

True love is not a passion which can die,
Or which depends on beauty that must fade;
Nor is it subject to a changing face.

That love is true and holy which finds place
Within a modest heart, and which is made,
Far above earth, a pledge of love on high.

Sonnet LX(ii), from The Sonnets of Michelangelo, Translated by Elizabeth Jennings, 1970, Doubleday, NY, p. 97.

Prof. Lakeland’s apparent teaching that one must be sexually active in order to be fully human is what I have called the “gospel according to Molly,” after Molly Bloom of James Joyce’s novel Ulysses. This is an old, mistaken idea which swept through Catholic seminaries in the 1960s.

Prof. Lakeland in 2008 on the H-Catholic listserv called Humanae Vitae and Mulieris Dignitatem “two of the most destructive of recent Catholic documents,” and cited the idea of “non-reception” of dogma, a recurrent theme in his work, which also invokes his own characteristic appeals to the sensus fidelium. In my response in July of 2008, I challenged his position.

Here is a the text of my first reply to Prof. Lakeland:

Editor’s Subject: H-Catholic: Reflections on Non-reception
Author’s Subject: Reflections on Non-reception
Date Written: Mon, July 7, 2008 7:44 pm
Date Posted: Tue, 07 Jul 2008 21:59:46 -0400

Colleague,

The theory of non-reception has long intrigued me when it is invoked to justify withholding unpopular Christian teaching.

If non-reception inevitably leads to “ecclesial irrelevance,” then what are we to make of–

* “Love your enemies, forgive those who hurt you, bless those who persecute you. . . ”

* “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. . . ”

* “Unless you eat the flesh and drink the blood of the Son of Man, you shall have no life in you. . . ”

* “He who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery. . . ”

* And the one that Peter initially “non-received,” which earned him the “Get behind me, Satan” comment from Christ:

“The Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and rise after three days. . . ”

Each of these teachings has had a long history of non-reception among Christians and non-Christians alike. Does that make them “ecclesially irrelevant”? And if not, what is the difference between these controversial teachings above, and other controversial Church teachings?

As Garry Wills noted in his 1978 book _Inventing America_, the US Bill of Rights, when parsed into survey questions, is often rejected on key points by large percentages the US population. In light of this, I struggle to understand what makes the theological theory of non-reception a persuasive idea.

I have observed over the years arguments similar to Prof. Lakeland’s as transmitted to H-Catholic on 28 Jun 2008 07:59:48, “Better to let them [non-received teachings] die the death and make it easier for a future pope to unsay the damaging parts of them.” To argue in such a manner seems to counsel a norm of silence on unpopular Church teaching.

I submit that there has been indeed a norm of silence among certain Catholic leaders on Humanae Vitae for more than a generation. I have observed this silence especially among the cohort recently passed of leading “labor priests,” who prior to their deaths became much more outspoken on the abortion question, while expressing some degree of regret for their roughly two to three decades of silence on it. They were, to a degree, conforming to a norm of silence, and to a degree for a time shared agreement with Prof. Lakeland’s apparent proposed norm of silence on un-received teaching. This phenomenon I began to describe as “The Stealth Church,” which through systematic patterns of silence attempted to nullify unpopular Church teaching.

Two recent popes have now made Humanae Vitae a centerpiece of their teaching. It is being taught worldwide to tens of millions of persons through the new Catholic media. It will certainly remain a centerpiece of Catholic teaching beyond Prof. Lakeland’s generation. When I began teaching again in Catholic schools twenty-eight years ago, I re-read and accepted Humanae Vitae’s teaching, reflecting that if I were to teach in a Catholic school, I should teach the faith completely as it is officially taught, or not teach in a Catholic school. I stand by this teaching today.

Forthright rejection of certain teachings in Humanae Vitae, such as those rejections as direct as those of Garry Wills, are rare among Catholic scholars. The stealthy answers, standing behind surveys and theories of non-reception as proxies, seem to me much more likely.

. . . .

I’m actually tempted to submit a paper on community life and urban development to the Notre Dame conference. But alas, administrative duties will probably stand in the way. . .

Cordially, with All Rights Reserved,

Albert J. Schorsch, III
Chicago, IL

You can read the complete exchange over the period 7/8-7/10/08 at the H-Catholic log.

The current collision of Prof. Lakeland, Peter Steinfels, and the topic of Dan Savage in Commonweal Magazine Internet space may represent something else: that Dan Savage also may mark the logical cultural terminus of the “Commonweal Catholic,” who rejects many of the Church’s teachings on sexual morality, and who, based on social justice claims, attempts to inhabit a position of moral superiority and exceptionalism within a Catholic Church he or she in fundamental ways rejects.

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Below, in case they are some day erased, are my side of the postings to the Peter Steinfels blog at dot.Commonweal:

Albert Schorsch, III 09/23/2011 – 3:04 am

Perhaps readers might consider the record of violent and threatening language invoked by Dan Savage before praising his wit. For some documentation, please see my post at–
http://sanityandsocialjustice.net/?p=4025

In Christ,
Albert Schorsch, III
Chicago, IL

Albert Schorsch, III 09/23/2011 – 10:39 am

Left out of the response above to Dan Savage’s statement “And I will personally track down and s_____ in the mouth of the next cable-news anchor” was his statement, “Consider yourself warned, Paula Zahn.—Dan.”

Understanding rage is one thing, but naming a specific individual in print after expressing the intent to track down and commit a very defiling form of battery upon another, is by any standard a violent threat. There are plenty of other examples of violent and threatening language directed at individuals in Mr. Savage’s statements, a few of which I documented in the blog previously referenced, including his recently broadcast statement that he wanted to “f___ the s___” out of a former US senator. This former senator BTW did not take it as a joke.

In Christ,

Albert Schorsch, III
Chicago, IL
All Rights Reserved

Albert Schorsch, III 09/24/2011 – 2:44 am

Agreed that LBGT voices must be heard in the Church. The academy, including the Catholic academy, is one place to listen and to share. No argument there. But there is no way to square the circle and urbanely bracket Dan Savage without confronting publicly and directly the violence of his language. This violence must be openly, clearly, and unequivocally repudiated if useful dialogue is to continue. This violent speech does not belong in the academy, nor in public discourse. This violent and outrageous speech may just be witty schtick now to Cousin Dan, but violent and threatening speech such as his is destructive also to the cause of LBGT. Mr. Savage might consider beginning his Retractations, and do a little 12 Step to get off the violent language thing. It would certainly help the credibility of his anti-bullying campaign. (I’ll reserve the rest of my comments to my own blog at another time.)

In Christ,

Albert Schorsch, III
Chicago, IL
All Rights Reserved

Albert Schorsch, III 09/25/2011 – 1:14 am

Peter,

Thank you for your thoughtful response. I want you to understand my intent, so I lay down my barbs, and regret the one directed to you above in the form of the words “Cousin Dan.”

I have contemplated long and hard and have also written about the Christian duty to “disarm the aggressor”: “The defense of the common good requires that an unjust aggressor be rendered unable to cause harm (CCC 2265).” While these words are written about the duty of the state, we each play a part in achieving this common good.

While Dan Savage your cousin has proclaimed his atheism from time to time, you know him personally, and I do not. I began to pray for him a few weeks ago, because his celebrity has catapulted him beyond the stage of a naughty niche sex advice columnist in newspapers handed out for free, and an occasional TV talking head, to a cultural figure known to tens of millions, whose every word–ever–would be scrutinized, and who very likely will be cauterized in the process because of his–at best–careless bandying of violent language. But this violent language must be opposed, and, if you will, actively “disarmed,” because of the threat that such language poses to the common good. Dan Savage, after all, speaks to millions of teens and young adults.

I have come to the position that each Christian has an immediate, positive duty to speak out and act against unjust aggression within our own frame of influence, sooner rather than later. I regret not taking a much firmer and public stand when I first read Dan Savage’s violent words several years ago. So I have recently been making others aware of Dan Savage’s violent and threatening language in the hope that this language would not enter the heart of our culture, but remain forever recognized as disrespectful to human dignity.

It is rather sad, that–like Reynold Hillenbrand, George Higgins, Ed Marciniak, John J. Egan, Commonweal’s James O’Gara, all the way to EWTN’s Mitch Pacwa, SJ–Dan Savage was for a time a “Quigley boy,” an attendee at Chicago’s now former minor seminary. What is sad is that if the wisdom of our Faith were embraced by Dan Savage, he would not say the violent things he continues to say.

You and I have most likely not had the pleasure of meeting, but I did meet your spouse Margaret a few decades ago in Chicago when she was promoting Commonweal. We share, I believe, Eugene Kennedy as a teacher. I have major differences on life and other issues with Commonweal, and I ceased for those reasons to support Commonweal as an institution long ago after years of regular readership. So we can thank the Internet, or perhaps more than the Internet, that I found your blog when I searched for “Dan Savage Catholic.”

“Dan Savage Catholic” is a rather good prayer, so I’ll leave it there.

(I’ll have more to say about this at my own blog when time permits.)

In Christ,

Albert Schorsch, III
Chicago, IL
All Rights Reserved

© Copyright 2008, 2011, Albert J. Schorsch, III
All Rights Reserved

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The Reconciliation of Fr. Pfleger and Cardinal George

Saturday, May 21st, 2011

Here are the texts of statements of Fr. Michael Pfleger and Cardinal George witnessing their reconciliation, at the Archdiocese of Chicago website as of 5/20/11.

There will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need of repentance” (Luke 15:7).

This is wonderful news for us sinners!

© Copyright 2011, Albert J. Schorsch, III
All Rights Reserved

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Saving Father Pfleger

Wednesday, May 4th, 2011

Fr. Michael Pfleger, a Roman Catholic priest of the Archdiocese of Chicago, was suspended on 4/27/11 in a letter from Francis Cardinal George, Archbishop of Chicago.

Several writers have seen either power, personality, politics, or a simple difference of opinion between Cardinal George and Fr. Pfleger. These writers have followed the beaten path of previous conflicts regarding Fr. Pfleger and his bishop on race, or Left vs. Right, or conservative Catholicism versus a more liberal Catholicism.

But few writers have outlined the predicament of Fr. Pfleger as set down by Cardinal George himself, who presented Fr. Pfleger with a clear choice, and asked for a declaration: Did he either choose to remain a Roman Catholic priest, or did he not? Did he, Michael Pfleger, believe as a Catholic believes?

The first time I saw Michael Pfleger in public action was one Sunday evening early in the 1970s, when he brought the Precious Blood parish choir to our alma mater, Niles College Seminary, then the college seminary of the Archdiocese of Chicago. Clothed in a white turtle-neck, Pfleger accompanied and directed from the piano an enthusiastic and happy group of young people. I recall that one of the songs performed by the choir was “O-o-h Child,” written by Stan Vincent, which had earlier hit the charts in a recording by the Five Stairsteps. If I’m not mistaken, others among the songs may have been the gospel song, “I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say,” and also the song “Everyday People,” popularized by Sly and the Family Stone.

In 1976, a year after Fr. Pfleger’s ordination, I was providentially asked to direct this same wonderful choir, and did so for the better part of two years. This work took me in and out of the Rockwell Gardens public housing “projects” in Chicago, and into friendship with some beautiful young people and their families. Many of these children maintained a deep admiration for Fr. Pfleger, although in some cases, their parents took a more cautious, wait-and-see approach toward him.

In 1990, with several hundred others I marched with Fr. Pfleger around Cardinal Bernardin’s home over the issue of the closing of Quigley Seminary South. Fr. Pfleger was already then the Chicago media’s favorite priest. He drew attention, he divided opinions, and he was, in the eyes of at least one Chicago op-ed writer, very good looking in his own blue eyes and vestments on a Sunday morning.

Over the years, Fr. Pfleger became something of an institution. Like his mentor Fr. George Clements, he learned to play the press as a foil against the Cardinal-Archbishop of Chicago. With St. Sabina’s parishioners and supporters, the parish and school have become a forceful presence in the community. Fr. Pfleger grew close to national civil rights figures, politicians, and figures like Louis Farrakhan Muhammad, whose antisemitic statements have been well-established. But Fr. Pfleger lost much of his political standing after his controversial mockery of Hillary Clinton during the 2008 presidential campaign.

Several times during Francis Cardinal George’s tenure as Archbishop of Chicago, public discussion arose whether Fr. Pfleger should step down as pastor of St. Sabina parish in Chicago, in keeping with the pastoral term limits established and agreed in the 1970s by Chicago’s presbyterate and its Archbishop.

Here is the original text of my earlier letter published on this subject:

February 18, 2002

Chicago Sun-Times

Dear Editor:

It’s understandable that Catholics would like a good pastor to stay a few more years, but it’s not possible, or fair to others not so fortunate.

People who say they can’t go to church or contribute any more if a Rev. Mike Pfleger or Rev. Jack Wall stop being their pastor don’t realize how much they have weakened their pastor’s credibility. After two decades of pastoring, if Frs. Wall and Pfleger have a majority of parishioners who give and pray and do good works because of them personally and not because of Jesus Christ, they have indeed failed as religious leaders, and should not remain in any case.

The Good Lord said, “One man sows, another reaps.” This saying conveys something of the mystery of the Church’s endurance throughout the centuries. By holding on to a pastorate, a Catholic priest risks weakening the meaning of his own ministry, risks encouraging a cult based upon his own personality, and can lessen the sustaining power of the Gospel itself to guide his people.

Sincerely,

Albert Schorsch, III

While Fr. Pfleger has differed with the Catholic establishment, he has apparently never, ever, publicly bucked the civil rights establishment, even to the point of refusing to rebuke the Rev. Jeremiah Wright when Wright invoked the malicious lie in 2008 that HIV was invented by the US government to destroy African Americans.

Then Sen. Barack Obama’s unequivocal 2008 rejection of Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s HIV-US government conspiracy theory was not joined by Fr. Pfleger, who somehow laboriously reasoned at the time that both the Senator and the Reverend could both be simultaneously right.

While known for his opposition to handguns, Fr. Pfleger did not in 2008 rebuke the more deadly HIV-US government conspiracy theory, shown by scientific research to prevent HIV victims from seeking treatment. No one should be taken seriously who spouts such harmful and nonsensical demagoguery as Wright did about a deadly disease, misinforming some of the public who then avoid medical help. Wright’s HIV conspiracy theory deserves every bit of opprobrium that comes its way. But on this point in 2008, Fr. Pfleger was substantially silent, and refused to be drawn into criticism of Wright’s spreading of this divisive, vicious, and hurtful HIV-US government blood libel.

Neither has the press reported any significant public statement from Fr. Pfleger against abortion in the African American community. Had Pfleger ever spoken such a condemnation, his friends in the media, in government, and in politics would have dropped him completely. If a single, dramatic pro-life, anti-abortion statement ever passed Fr. Pfleger’s lips, there would be no more microphones for Fr. Pfleger (except perhaps on Relevant Radio or EWTN), no more cameras, no more Tavis Smiley interviews.

Robert McClory has likened Fr. Pfleger to Msgr. Reynold Hillenbrand. But Hillenbrand publicly defended Paul VI’s encyclical Humanae Vitae, losing many of his friends in the process. Fr. Pfleger has done no such thing.

To the chagrin of the Right, Cardinal George has taken his time with Fr. Pfleger. But the Cardinal’s long journey toward suspending Fr. Pfleger is best explained in light of the Cardinal’s concern to “save the soul” of Fr. Pfleger.

Our history teacher back in the day at Niles College, Fr. Martin Nathaniel Winters, STL, MA, used to say that it took brains to be a heretic, and that most so-called heretics were actually too dumb to effectively frame an heretical position. It appears that Fr. Pfleger is no heretic.

St. Thomas Aquinas taught that the sin of heresy is a sin against faith, but that the sin of schism is a sin against charity. Fr. Pfleger may be in schism.

Cardinal George framed with his typical clarity the question for Fr. Pfleger: Is he willing to be a Catholic priest? —

Now, however, I am asking you to take a few weeks to pray over your priestly commitments in order to come to mutual agreement on how you understand personally the obligations that make you a member of the Chicago presbyterate and of the Catholic Church.

Cardinal George’s question, demanding a clear choice in an age founded on equivocation, is both unheard of, and truly unheard to the point of being completely missed. He asked, in effect: Take your time, but answer me clearly, Are you a Catholic, and a committed Catholic priest willing to live out that commitment in obedience to your bishop?

The word “obey” here has a biblical, theological meaning over and above that of the notion of authority as power. This difference most commentators have likewise missed.

Jesus, the Son, obeyed the Father and carried his cross. As bishop, as “head,” Cardinal George is asking for a similar kind of obedience. This obedience is the key to Catholic Christian identity, and especially to priestly identity. It is this very obedience that leads to salvation. Cardinal George’s intent therefore appears to be the saving of Fr. Pfleger:

Son though He was, He learned obedience from what He suffered; and when He was made perfect, He became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey Him, declared by God high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.
(Hebrews 5:8-10)

Without such obedience–the obedience of Christ–despite a thousand laying on of hands, there is no Catholic identity, and no Catholic priesthood.

© Copyright 2002, 2011, Albert J. Schorsch, III
All Rights Reserved

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Chicago’s clerical monsignor tempest in a teapot

Sunday, September 12th, 2010

Recently, Francis Cardinal George of Chicago nominated 20 priests of the Archdiocese to receive the honorific title of “monsignor,” and these appointments were confirmed by the Vatican.

A small number of outspoken Chicago clergy called this move “divisive,” ostensibly since only a few clergy were singled out for this honor. Actually, Chicago’s almost 30-year-old practice of rarely nominating priests in leadership positions or known for their distinguished service for this honorific title was one of the principal vanities of leading “Americanizing” Chicago clergy, who looked to reduce formal ties with the Pope, in itself a more divisive act.

One usually needs a score-card to understand the finer points of clerical infighting, where up is usually actually down, and right is actually left to the Nth degree, etc., so I’ll explain. The title monsignor implies a direct personal relationship of service to the Pope. When Cardinal George acted to restore these ties by the reactivation of the monsignor title, his act was called “divisive” — for ending a previous division.

The last thing that the dying cohort of Americanizers (who dream of an American Church separate from Rome) among the Chicago clergy want to see is loyalty and commitment to the Pope, much less money sent in Rome’s direction.

But since the Americanizers do not have the intestinal fortitude to actually form a separate American church, they content themselves by maintaining symbolic vanities, like the abolition of the monsignor title. When such symbolic vanities are removed, they respond with pique and vituperation.

When one looks at some of the priests honored with the title of monsignor in Chicago’s history, such as Reynold Hillenbrand, his predecessors such as Francis A. Purcell and Joseph T. Kush, his contemporaries John M. Hayes, Harry C. Koenig, and Ignatius McDermott, and his students Daniel Cantwell, George G. Higgins, William J. Quinn, and John J. Egan, there is no doubt that these men deserved public recognition. They were distinguished priests who brought honor to the Chicago presbyterate. The priests honored with the same title recently are similarly distinguished. These have and will bring similar honor.

So pipe down, SNAP (which spits in the clerical soup whenever anything happy might be happening among the Catholic presbyterate), and you vanishing Americanizers among the Chicago clergy should take a deep breath. If we cannot honor clerical virtue, we will be left only with clerical vice.

© Copyright 2010, Albert J. Schorsch, III
All Rights Reserved

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