Reading this article on William Luse’s blog has gotten me thinking more and more about some recent events.  The article, actually an interview transcript, is from 1981 and reproduces a conversation between William F. Buckley and Malcolm Muggeridge.  In this conversation, Muggeridge discusses his reasons for not being Catholic (he did eventually convert, but that is beside the point).  His reasons for not becoming a Catholic, despite his belief in purgatory, papal infalibility, the Creed, his own admiration for the saints, his own opposition to contraception, etc., is that he did not see the Church as actually believing what it said about contraception.

This is quite problematic.  This problem is not one of simple, conventional hypocrisy.  That kind of hypocrisy is easily resolved: a man with the highest and noblest of principles will undoubably fail to live up to them at times.  Some people try to make this an excuse to abandon those principles altogether, but it is fairly transparent that this is incorrect.  The shock at discovery of hypocrisy comes from the failure, not from the thought that one would have such principles to begin with.  The hypocrisy that Muggeridge seems to have seen is different.

It is a lack of moral honesty.  Muggeridge saw a Church that taught against contraception–with a wink and a smile.  A Church where officials were concerned with making sure that their own alleged beliefs were not carried out.  It is not that the priest in question, who wanted Muggeridge to allow the distribution of contraception, believed that contraception but failed to live up to that believe.  Rather, he did not believe that it was wrong to use it, and he attempted to subvert the very principle that he, as a Catholic priest, was required to believe.  In short, he was a liar.

Now, when Obama spoke at Notre Dame, I had a conversation with a formerly-Catholic agnostic who has shown a great respect for the Church and Her teachings in the past.  This agnostic told me that she no longer thought that the Catholic Church was “good at all.”  Though in fact many bishops did speak out against Obama’s speaking at Notre Dame, this fact did not erase the reality that the many priests at Notre Dame did not do anything to stop Obama from speaking there and receiving an honorary degree.  In fact, they brought it about.  For someone who is not already a member of the Church, but who respects the Church for Her stance against abortion, this is a crushing blow to that respect.  Suddenly the Church is not an organization that opposes abortion, but an organization that can’t get its act together and that talks out of both sides of its mouth.

I have, and I’m sure any readers who might happen upon this post have, met priests and other “officials” in the Church who do not believe and even who act against what the Church teaches.  These are not hypocrites who fail to live up to their own high standards, but rather hypocrites and liars who try actively to undermine the truth.

I am not saying that they are “not real Catholics.”  That is an easy dodge of the issue.  They are real Catholics.  Some of them have studied, gone to seminary, and been ordained.  Some are even trusted by the Church with sensitive issues like the religious education of children.  Yes, they are heretics, but they are Catholics to themselves and to the world.  Thus, it is vitally important that when we discuss Church issues with anyone, that we remain true to our Catholic principles.  Little, weaselly words like “well I don’t agree with the Church on everything ” (perhaps you mean an issue like who to appoint Bishop of San Diego or something) is heard by the non-Catholic listener as “it’s okay to disagree with the dogmas and doctrines of the Church.”  By accepting the name Catholic and receiving Holy Communion, we acknowledge the truth of the Church’s teachings.  If we believe otherwise, we are creating a scandal, whether we wish to do so or not.

A picture of John Paul II among religious images.

A picture of John Paul II among religious images.

Ever since discovering Arturo Vasquez’s blog I have found myself thinking a great deal about Catholic culture: what it is, what it should be, and how we can achieve it.  I want to go over the issue in more depth soon, and I am really hoping to start blogging on a more regular basis.  However, for now I wanted to re-post something that I commented to Mr. Vasquez’s blog, on this post about “Vintage Catholic Culture.” I am concerned about the fact that to find Catholic culture in our modern world it is sometimes necessary to rush in in a “cafeteria” like manner.  However, I wonder how important it really is that our (small “t”) traditions be authentic.  To use a commonplace example, even if your parents never put an orange in your Christmas stocking, it still might be nice to do it as a “tradition” for your children.  Particularly for people who are lost in a sea of modernity, without any authentic traditions of their own, building some or taking some from other people might be the only options.  So, for now and without further ado, here is what I posted to Arturo Vasquez’s blog:

I’m finding that this discussion seems to revolve around two false opposites. On the one hand, Arturo Vasquez points out that many white American Catholics, even Traditionalists who profess to care about culture (in a way that “Conservative” Catholics never seem to), but are loath to accept and even sometimes denigrate the Catholic cultures around them, usually Mexican and Filipino. On the other hand, Jeff Culbreath seems intent on building a Catholic culture out of existing Anglo-American culture, a kind of retroactive conversion of a long-Protestant tradition. A sort of inculturation, only with “divorcee” rather than “virgin” cultural elements.

I think I see problems with both approaches, but they are difficult to pin down, and I think they are rooted in aesthetics and even mere preference to a large degree. Culbreath, and many others (including me some days) don’t want to lose the good things that are part of “American culture.” Things like good old-fashioned music, picnics, Fourth of July celebrations, the whole “apple pie” Americana is attractive, particularly to fully assimilated Americans without a competing set of cultural traditions. Unfortunately, these American traditions are tainted with both Protestantism and consumerism: they come from old Protestant America, and were perpetuated and perhaps altered beyond recognition by the consumerist culture. “Catholicizing” them might be even more difficult than converting the Celts or the Aztecs (in their respective times) was: the Celts and the Aztecs, for all their faults, had not heard of the Church and were thus not immunized against it. That old-fashioned American culture has the twin disadvantages of having grown up in an anti-Catholic environment that knew what the Church was and rejected it, and of being largely extinct or co-opted by people who want to make money off of it.

However, to Mr. Vasquez I have to say that we are not all lucky enough to have a tie to Catholic tradition in our own families. Some people convert out of a real desire to become Catholic and receive the Sacraments, but have no where to go for culture. I read somewhere that Senator John Kerry’s grandfather, a Polish Jew, converted under such circumstances. His answer was to “turn Irish” by adopting an Irish name and trying to blend in with the largely Irish Catholic community. Now, perhaps this was easier for him than trying to create some kind of “Jewish Catholic” culture that has never actually existed (a project that, while interesting, would be fraught with danger). However, it seems odd for a man to give up his own traditions so thoroughly, along with his old religion. I know for one that I, a white Catholic convert living in California’s Central Valley, would be laughed at by everyone if I tried to “turn Mexican.” Thankfully for me I have a connection, more tenuous I suppose than Mr. Vasquez’s but more real than a typical convert, to real Catholic culture: my mother was the “broken link” in the Catholic chain, and so I have grandparents from the “Catholic ghetto,” as well as family that still remembers the “old days” of Irish American Catholicism.

However, many American converts don’t have even that. They have nowhere to go but the hard road that Jeff Culbreath proposes. As much as they might like to lay claim to the sorrows and glories and agonies and joys of Mexican, or Portuguese, or Irish, or Filipino, etc., Catholicism, they simply don’t have access to it. If they try to make their Anglo culture “Catholic” they are pretending and making something up that never was. But if they try to join some other culture, they are pretending to belong to something that really doesn’t include them. I know that Mr. Vasquez doesn’t have the answers, and neither do I, but it is a very real and pressing problem for converts.

I recently heard it suggested that what those of us who love the Traditional Latin Mass really need is a worldwide Traditionalist diocese, that would give us our own friendly bishop(s?) our own set of priests, our own parishes, and ultimately would circumvent the many problems that occur within the “mainstream” church.  It is certainly an appealing idea: we look at the status of the Eastern rite Churches and sometimes feel almost envious.

However, I maintain that as Traditional Catholics we must hope for the older form of the Mass to be fully embraced by the Latin Rite of the Church.  In my opinion, if every Latin Rite parish in the world had a TLM, we would be much better off.  However, this will not be accomplished by having our own seperate diocese.  We need the mainstream church, and the mainstream church needs us.  A Traditionalist diocese would not foster growth in the Traditionalist movement: new Catholics would almost all come first into their local diocesan structures, and some few would “discover” our existance later on.  In effect, by creating a Traditionalist diocese we would give those who dislike Catholic tradition a great gift: our complete marginalization from the life of the rest of the Church.

Before the mass was changed, every Latin Rite parish had the TLM.  Now, there is a new form of the Mass.  I do not believe that it will go away, and it certainly won’t and shouldn’t go away by being supressed by the Pope.  However, what we can hope for is full equality within our own rite of the Church.  Latin Mass Parishes, like those of the FSSP, are excellent and should be encouraged with prayer and financial support where possible.  However, we should also be encouraging (in the same ways) diocesan priests who wish to add a TLM to their already busy schedule of masses in the parish.  We should hope that someday the parishes around us will all have the TLM, and that the average Catholic is frequently nourished by the rich spirituality and tradition of this form of the mass.

Thus, while I am fully supportive of personal parishes for the TLM (which would then free other priests to start TLMs at their own parishes) I find the idea of a “personal diocese” overly seperatist.  I fear that it would foster greater division (in the minds of regular Novus Ordo attendees) between “trads” and “regular Catholics.”

If anyone has any thoughts on this matter, please discuss in the comments: I would love to see what others think on this issue.

Before I begin this post, I should probably start by saying that I am no authority on the subject.  If you find this post looking for advice on how to follow the Church’s teaching, I am not competent to give that.  Rather, the purpose of this post is to pose that very question: how may a Catholic work out the complex moral issues surrounding the “adoption” of frozen embryos.  The process itself is this: there are embryos which have been created, but not used, in the process of in-vitro fertilization.  Such embryos will either be discarded, used in research, kept frozen indefinitely, or “adopted” by couples or individual women who will implant the embryos and possibly bring them to term.

First, I will explain what many non-Catholic liberals think of “Snowflake” adoptions: the embryos are not people, and are therefore not adopted.  Rather they are purchased (which is, in fact, what happens legally).  Some of the more extreme sorts (who I read on the Daily Kos) seem to think Snowflake adoptions are a sinister plan by President Bush to reward Christian families with babies to indoctrinate, while denying children to gay couples (or something along those lines).  The arguments against Snowflake adoptions from non-Christian perspectives are normally utilitarian (we could use them for research!) or ideological (this is being done by the Christian Right!).

The arguments about it from the Catholic perspective are somewhat different.  I believe all faithful Catholics can acknowledge that creating embryos outside the act of sex inside of marriage is immoral.  The debate comes in when we discuss how to deal with the embryos that exist.  The Church has not spoken on the issue, though they have spoken on enough related issues that we can attempt to get the sense of what the Church would want us to do.  I have heard faithful orthodox Catholics arguing about this issue, and I will repeat the three positions that were raised in the discussion here (mind you, no one in my recent conversation took any of these positions fully, but I will present each position in its “purest form,” so to speak.)

One position taken was this: these embryos never should have been created in the first place.  To implant them in a woman who is not biologically connected with the embryo further seperates reproduction from sex (which is already one of the major problems with in-vitro).  Implanting them is also likely to result in them being treated as property, an overabundance being implanted, and soforth.  Leaving them frozen is contrary to their dignity as human beings, and it is not natural for human beings to exist for as long as a frozen embryo to exist.  Therefore, they should simply be destroyed and entrusted to God’s mercy.

Another position was the following: the embryos’ creation seperated the sexual act from reproduction, and implantation would further seperate the two.  Destroying the embryos would be an active killing of thousands of human individuals.  Therefore, they ought to simply be left frozen until they are destroyed either by natural deterioration or disaster.

A final position was that they should be available for implantation.  Destroying them and leaving them frozen are both contrary to human dignity, as is embryonic stem cell research.  Thus, women who chose to have them implanted, and especially families that raise the children, are doing the right and heroic thing.

Each position seems to have certain problems.  The first idea, to willingly destroy the embryos, has a fairly clear downside: namely, that we would be willingly destroying human beings.  I suppose it would serve to eliminate the danger of further seperating the sex act from reproduction, but it would also spell the destruction of embryos whose existance, while far from ideal, does not seem to constitute any kind of torture or even unpleasantness.

The second idea has the huge advantage of being passive: it does not constitute taking a sinful action.  Neither is it a sin of omission, as few would argue that women have a duty to adopt frozen embryos.  However, leaving these embryos in existance but frozen seems to be contrary to their nature, as they are suspended, unable to die or develope.

The third idea seems to rest on one crucial hinge, and one more minor one.  The crucial hinge is whether Snowflake adoption is seen as seperating the sexual act from reproduction, or whether the act of creating the embryos in the first place entirely caused that separation, and the adoptive mother is simply making the best of a bad situation.  One could make legitimate arguments either way, though I tend to think that the sin is in the creation of the embryo, and not its implantation.  The other problem is that often multiple embryos are implanted, usually far more than will likely be brought to term.  The reason this is a minor problem, in my mind, is that using either of the other alternatives the embryos will die without any chance to develop.  Perhaps this option accelerates their deaths, but it also gives them a chance.

I would be quite interested in anyone’s ideas or information on this issue.  My suspicion is that the Church will not speak on it: any interpretation the Church would take would be frought with the possibility of misunderstanding and deliberate misinterpretation.  If the Church sided with the first option (in my opinion the least likely), it would look like the Church out of every secularist’s nightmare, screaming “Sacrilege!” and destroying (babies/research opportunities).  If it were to chose the second option (which is essentially what it choses by not clarifying this issue) confusion would continue, and Catholics would act according to their individual consciences, but sometimes without considering the Church’s teaching at all.  If it were to chose the third, it would risk making it look like the Church approves of in-vitro now, and that a Snowflake-like plan can always exist just to keep things from getting out of hand.  Here the Church risks appearing too liberal, and seeming to approve of in-vitro in certain circumstances.

I welcome anyone’s opinions on this issue, especially if anyone has thought of an alternative theory to the ones above.  Again, I am no expert on the subject, so I am mostly looking to learn from those who might be.

Yesterday I had the opportunity to attend the PentecostMass at St. Anthony of Padua in Fresno.  I greatly regret that I don’t have any pictures to post, but some of the ushers were taking pictures which will hopefully be on the Latin Mass Society’s website soon.  Also, they might end up in the Fresno Bee, as I understand the usher was going to send some to them.

What really struck me as I was at Mass was how easy it is to understand, at the Tridentine Mass, that the priest is not acting as himself but rather as Christ.  The vestments and the ritual take away his individual personality.  This is actually a good thing: he returns to being himself, a humble man, for the sermon, and then after mass when we all talk to him and thank him for saying mass for us.  However, during the mass and especially the consecration you can see that he is not simply behaving as a man, he is acting as Christ.

It seems that in my hiatus from blogging Fr. Darren Zehnle tagged me for a couple of memes.  Allow me to give my answers here, before any more time goes by without answering them.

First up, Five Things I Love about Jesus:

1. The fact that he saved us from damnation.

2. The fact that he came to earth as a real man, not as some apparition, like a pagan god.

3. The way he prayed, even though he was already God.

4. That he can make us saints.

5. That he loves us more than we could possibly love him.


Then, a book meme (my favorite type!)

One book that changed your life:  Tolkien: Man and Myth by Joseph Pearce.  I read this my first year of high school, and I wonder whether I would have become Catholic without it.  I had already read The Lord of the Rings, and this book taught me that Tolkien was Catholic.  It made sense to me that he would be, and after that I always felt that if I were to become a Christian, I would be a Catholic as well.

One book that you’ve read more than once: The Lord of the Rings is an obvious answer, but it’s true.  I’m re-reading it currently, in fact.

One book you’d want on a desert island: If I could get something like The Complete Works of All Catholic Authors then I might be almost satisfied.  Otherwise, I don’t really like the idea of being stuck on an island without books.  I want to be a little like Atrus from the Myst video game: my deserted island would have an ornate, well-stocked library.

One book that made you laugh: Stories of Our Century by Catholic Authors, an old book from Image books that I picked up at a used book sale.  Some stories were serious, some were funny, some were sad, but they all gave me a slightly humorous look at what a Catholic culture might be like.

One book that made you cry: I can’t think of one right now.  Usually books make me happy or angry (in a constructive, let’s fix this kind of way).  I don’t usually get too sad from reading books…maybe I should read more novels.

One book that you wish had been written: Rule Hibernia. An alternate history where Ireland remains independent (perhaps Brian Boru is not killed at Clontarf) and allies with Spain, and this alliance competes with the British-Portuguese alliance for control of the New World.

One book that you wish hadn’t been written: Anything that started a false religion.

One book you’re currently reading: Dumbing Down Our Kids by Charles Sykes.  Given that I want to be a teacher, this book is filling me with desire to change the way the education system works.  Also, desire to homeschool any children I may have in the future.

One book you’ve been meaning to read: Manalive by G.K. Chesterton.

Now, I will tag anyone who reads and wants to play.  Feel free to put your answers in my comments if you don’t have a blog of you own.

Short post: Do you ever wonder why people who seem like they should have no opinion one way or the other about the TLM seem sometimes to be bitterly opposed to it?  I have wondered, frequently, why it matters to liberals in the Church whether people who aren’t them go to a TLM.  I rarely hear anything from them along the lines of “the TLM is theologically wrong.  I want people to stop going to it so that their souls will not be in danger.”  Rather, the opposition comes usually from people who don’t care much about theological truth.  They often react more like angry barbarians attacking an old enemy that they thought was dead than like concerned Christians looking out for their brethren’s welfare.

(Note: I’m saying “people who dislike the TLM.”  As in those who want it suppressed.  Not merely those who don’t choose to attend it.)