Where Have I Been Part 2: Attack of the Killer Fundamentalists

What finally drove the nail in the coffin of my participation in parish life was Catholic Fundamentalism. Our parish is known for its rather liberal clergy. "Rather liberal" in the sense that they were at least externally welcoming and laid off the fire and brimstone about homosexuality and birth control. That's almost as much as we can hope for these days -- not to have to listen to fools opine on what they do not understand.

In fact, my parish housed not one, but four fairly liberal-minded older priests -- two retired, and two nearing retirement age. But 2 years ago, inexplicably, a spry 84-year-old nun – who had earned masters degrees in theology and education -- who lead the religious ed program was sacked. Even more inexplicably, she was replaced by a 24-ish young man who had just got his degree from Franciscan College at Steubenville, that hotbed of Catholic pinheadedness. The pastor hired him to run the half of the religious ed program for the older kids -- 6-12. My poor son was enmeshed in these programs, and passed along a great deal of the information I came to know.

They don't call it "Stupidville" for nothing. The brand of Catholicism -- if indeed it is even orthodox -- that this young man brought with him to the parish is unbelievable -- literally. It is though he was transported directly from 1952. His piety is a brand of wild-eyed myticism and closed-eyed biblical literalism. And he has supporters! He and 2-3 others (a youngish “Mom” type and a former member of a religious community) have formed a clique of like-minded folk who have infiltrated every part of church life and run espionage attacks on those who disagree with them. One or another of the supporters attends every parish book club and meeting, denouncing people as heretics and reporting them to the bishop. What the Bishop's office does with these complaints is beyond me, but I do not suspect this group is being held to accounts by any means. Better to keep the laity off balance battling charges of heresy than to deal with anything, correct?

The group’s ideas would be hysterical, except that they go unchallenged. While claiming to represent True Church Teaching, the group teaches precepts that are not found in any catechism. Some examples:

  • They screamed at one of the elderly priests -- a man who taught religion at the college level -- because he said that the Creation story in Genesis is not a scientific tale of 6 literal 24-hour days. This got him labeled as a heretic.
  • They claim that DNA tests have been made on the consecrated host, the results of which confirmed that there was "life" (implication: human life) in the wafer.
  • Their hardly ever refer to Scripture or Church teaching, but to the phantasmagorical "revelations" to various Catholic mystics – the childish kind who at Mass "see" sad angels who have no offerings to bring to the Lord because the people don't pray.
  • They believe that everything the pope says is infallible.
  • While supporting “micro” evolution – to account for the various species of dogs -- they oppose “macro” evolution that gives rise to new species

The list goes on and on. Maddeningly, each of their positions is actually contrary to Church teaching:

  • The Catholic Church does not teach that a literal interpretation of Scripture is the best way to understand the intent of the authors
  • The Church teaching on Transubstantiation (that the apparent elements of the host are unchanged, but its inner substance is transformed into the Body of Christ) remains in force. DNA tests would show that the wafer was made of wheat
  • Mystics may receive private revelations, but these almost never form the basis of public teaching and must be scrupulously examined to ensure they do not contradict the public revelation of Christ's life and the Church's teaching on it
  • The pope speaks infallibly (and rarely) only when he does so ex cathedra on matters of faith and morals
  • The Church does not oppose the idea that evolution may describe the way God creates.I am not bothered by the fact that some people believe crazy things.

I am bothered by the reaction of supposedly sane people to their lunacies. This kid and his cabal of fanatics are not only wrong, but they are divisive and destructive of the peace of the Church. They are, in effect, doing the work of the Devil -- the diabolos -- whose mission is to divide. As such, they should not be coddled and tolerated, but shown the door, asked to repent, and prayed for. The reaction of the "People of God" is just as bad. Only a few (including ourselves) have complained to the pastor and pulled our kids out of the program. The rest, unwilling to stick their necks out or show "disloyalty" to the Church, are nonetheless showing disloyalty to the truth and to Church teaching by trying to get along – keeping their kids in the program for the few months necessary get them confirmed, or whatever. Don't count on ordinary people to save the Church -- they are too preoccupied with a cowardly attempt to stay out of trouble, while they court it in other, more sinister forms.

Anyway, the ascendancy of the fundamentalists is what finally drove us out of the parish but not (thankfully) out of the Church. Our little intentional community is an oasis of faith and hope and love in a Church that dishonors the meaning of all three words. Talking about love doesn't substitute for the hard love of telling the truth to liars. Talking about hope does not substitute for giving people hope by actions that bring relief. Talking about faith does not substitute for standing up for faith when it is under attack.