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Archive for August, 2011

What the "Nice Fornicators" Lose

From The Catholic Thing:

The Allegory of Chastity by Hans Memling (1430-1494)

Cutting Yourself With Your Own Knife

by Anthony Esolen

How does the practice we have been calling in recent columns Nice Fornication hurt those who practice it? How do they, as Chaucer put it, cut themselves with their own knives?

A good book could be written on this matter. They commit, objectively, a mortal sin. If they engage in this with full knowledge, they sever themselves from friendship with God. If they practice contraception, they separate sexual intercourse from the possibility of giving life, severing the act from its biological and theological meaning.

Whether they do or not, they behave with blithe irresponsibility toward the child they may conceive. They mimic marriage, and accustom themselves to some measure of deceit. They allow hedonistic experimentation to take root in the heart of the marital act, so that even after they are married they continue in the habits once established. For one of the curses upon those who pretend to be married when they are not is that they may feel no different after the ceremony.

Since all along they have justified themselves by a feeling of “being committed,” rather than by a public vow or a conferred sacrament, they will be helpless to understand why that vow should remain in force when the feeling disappears. You cannot treat the vow as a mere formality while you are fornicating, and then as solemn and eternally binding afterwards. It cannot be both. If it is a mere formality, the marriage itself is but a pleasant fiction. If it is solemn and eternally binding, then it demands that we behave accordingly, and not pretend with our bodies that we are married before we have made that vow.

But instead I should like to discuss one great blessing that the Nice Fornicators lose. I’ll illustrate it by a story.

When my father was engaged to my mother, he had to spend two years in the army first, and then when he returned he had to wait a little longer for my mother’s youngest sister to graduate from high school. That was because my mother was working to support the family, and would naturally quit that job once she was married. He loved her dearly, and he was a quiet young man, a tad on the lonely side, and deeply devout. Maybe he felt unsure of himself and wanted a guarantee of her love.

He asked her for the honeymoon before the marriage. I’m pretty sure he did so half wanting her to turn him down. These were two good-looking young Italians, healthy and strong. My mother was in a quandary. She spoke privately to the parish priest about it, and in a firm and kindly way he reminded her of the beauty of chastity, and of the solemnity of the act of marriage, which God had blessed in the beginning. So my mother in turn reminded my father of these things, and they preserved their innocence for the wedding. I was born eleven months later.

My father wasn’t one given to flights of poetry, but he thanked my mother ever afterwards for being strong when he was weak. I imagine them, in my mind’s eye, approaching the altar of the church where I and my brother and sisters were baptized, where we received Holy Communion, and were confirmed. They would there take one another fresh, as if made by the hand of God in the beginning. They would place God, in the order of time and the order of devotion, first in their marriage.

All the time before this moment, meeting one another and courting, going to dances, writing letters, would fade into relative insignificance. They would now know one another, as Adam and Eve, for the first time. Every chaste marriage is thus like a new creation, as if we were granted a vision of what it is like to be, as Charles Péguy describes Mary, “younger than sin.” They would be bound to one another in the holy vow, with God saying, “Be fruitful and multiply!”

And they left the church not as people old with the pseudo-knowledge of sin, but as youths, in mind and heart and soul a boy and a girl, ready to begin the world. My father and mother could say to one another something incomparably precious. It was not simply, “I will keep myself only for you,” but “I have kept myself pure in the sight of God, and now before God and man I give myself entirely to you forever.” Their lovemaking was born from the seed of the sacrament. And it flourished.

On the day my father was to die, we were gathered around him at home. He was sitting in his favorite chair in the parlor. He could no longer eat or drink.  Sometimes he fell into a light sleep, but mostly he was awake. My cousins had stopped by to make their farewells. The priest had been by to give him the sacrament.

Early in the evening his breathing grew heavy and erratic. We surrounded him, touching him, calling his name. My mother placed her head next to his. She was the only woman he had ever known, and he had known her only as coming from the hand of God. And now he was going back to God. He whispered his last words into her ear. “I love you,” he said.

Anthony Esolen is a lecturer, translator, and writer. His latest book is Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child. He teaches at Providence College.  

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Abp. Dolan Addresses Youth in Madrid

This morning Archbishop Dolan offered a 30 minute catechesis to young, English-speaking pilgrims in Madrid.  It is worth listening in full but fast forward to 24 minutes in to hear him at his best.  Our faith is in a Person…in fact three Persons and everything else is oriented toward that Truth.

http://player.soundcloud.com/player.swf?url=http%3A%2F%2Fapi.soundcloud.com%2Ftracks%2F21315883&g=1Archbishop Dolan’s Catechesis talks at World Youth Day by palmermj


William Oddie from UK Catholic Herald Responds to Weigel

Here’s a thoughtful response to George Weigel’s article (posted below) in which he calls for a wholesale replacement of Irish bishops and charges Ireland with being the epicenter of European anti-Catholicism:

Sorry, Mr Weigel: the Irish Church has problems, but to call Ireland the ‘epicentre of European anti-Catholicism’ is simply wrong

There’s an obvious distinction between the governance of the Church and the essence of the faith
By William Oddie on Thursday, 4 August 2011
Sorry, Mr Weigel: the Irish Church has problems, but to call Ireland the ‘epicentre of European anti-Catholicism’ is simply wrong
Abuse survivors confront Archbishop Diarmuid Martin outside St Mary’s Pro-Cathedral in Dublin (Niall Carson/PA Wire)

I had not meant to return so soon to the subject of the crisis in the Irish Church, for though this is something I care about very much for personal reasons, I’m still an Englishman and this isn’t my business. But the American George Weigel has now written with ponderous weight on the subject, and I cannot simply ignore his piece, since people are influenced by what he says and somebody has to say something about it. After his epic and authoritative biography of the late pope, Weigel now speaks plausibly about a wide variety of subjects. And he’s a great one for the well-turned phrase which arrests attention.

He has now outdone himself with an opening sentence to an article in the respected National Review (which in Buckley’s time I wrote for myself sometimes), a sentence which, though certainly striking, is quite simply wildly untrue. The article, disrespectfully entitled “Erin go bonkers” (“Erin go brach”, of course, means “Ireland forever”) opens thus:

While America’s attention has been absorbed in recent weeks by domestic affairs, something quite remarkable has become unmistakably clear across the Atlantic: Ireland – where the constitution begins, “In the name of the Most Holy Trinity” – has become the most stridently anti-Catholic country in the Western world.

Well, now. The point is, of course, that the current crisis in Irish Church affairs, involving certainly an unprecedented fury against Ireland’s bishops and also against Vatican bureaucratic procedures – of which Enda Kenny’s late performance was the most striking example – is not about Catholicism at all. Incidentally, though the invocation of the Holy Trinity at the beginning of the Irish constitution certainly implies that Ireland is Christian, those behind the constitution (who also devised a national flag implying peace between Ireland’s Catholics and Protestants) were well aware that the Island of Ireland is home to more than the Catholic majority, and as Mary Kenny pointed out recently in an article I quoted on Monday, the constitution nowhere says that the Irish state is officially Catholic.


The flaw in Weigel’s article is very obvious: to be anti-clerical isn’t necessarily to be anti-Catholic. Later in his piece, Weigel asks the question “How on earth did this most Catholic of countries become violently anti-Catholic?” Well, of course, it didn’t. To be strongly disenchanted with your own bishops is hardly to be anti-Catholic (and it may indicate precisely the reverse).

But Weigel isn’t saying that the Irish are turning against the excessively deferential way in which they themselves have treated their bishops (and high time too, some might say) he’s actually saying (get ready for this one, it’s a corker) that “Ireland has now become the epicentre of European anti-Catholicism”.

The online version of this piece attracted a furious riposte:

Sitting here in Ireland, rather than thousands of miles away, I take serious offence at this inaccurate and misleading article.

“violently anti-Catholic”?

Firstly, Ireland is 85 per cent Catholic, and while there are many who have turned from their faith in despair, there is no violence (other than the priests who are obviously still quite content to rape and torture children as shown in the reports recently published) and there is no anti-Catholic actions – other than fully justified disgust that the organisation we have trusted for so long could be so lacking in any moral authority. As an 85 per cent Catholic country, one which I might add has been embroiled in fights for religious (Catholic) freedom for near on 800 years in one shape or another, we would need to be self-loathing to fill your inaccurate description of us.

That these crimes were committed by those who are meant to be the guides in life and one’s spiritual journey is sad, but in fairness the Irish congregation did put in place some (relatively soft touch) guidelines for the safety of children and reporting of crimes by clergy. What is unacceptable to many here is that the Church authority – the Vatican – would interfere and advise that same congregation (ie the Vatican’s staff as such) that those were not rules to follow but instead just things to discuss.

My good Lord! How dare they.

And for that matter – how dare you. What on Earth gives you the knowledge and authority to state “Ireland has now become the epicentre of European anti-Catholicism”? …. Or is it simply that you have failed to research your subject properly?

…We are more Catholic than you would comprehend.

Weigel’s article is partly based on a common American error about Europe, the notion that it’s really all the same country with a few different languages in it. Another comment under Weigel’s piece made the point rather well, I think, pointing out

… an error that is made all too often by American pundits or “experts”, and that is to refer to Europeans as a single group with the same culture and attitudes …a measure of how [“expert”] any American really is [is] that he can look at all these countries in Europe and say to himself “yeah, they’re pretty much the same”.

Weigel has a quick tour d’horizon of the reasons for the secularisation of a few formerly overwhelmingly Catholic countries, which leads him to a bewildering conclusion: “Once breached, the fortifications of Counter-Reformation Catholicism in Spain, Portugal, Quebec [not European, not a country], and Ireland quickly crumbled. And absent the intellectual resources to resist the flood-tides of secularism, these four once-hyper-Catholic nations flipped, undergoing an accelerated course of radical secularization that has now, in each case, given birth to a serious problem of Christophobia…”

Christo WHAT? WHAT phobia? What is actually a crisis in the governance of the Catholic Church in Ireland has now become a general European hatred for the Saviour of the world. As one of my Scottish critics vividly commented recently about something I’d said: “Sheessh!!!”

Weigel’s plan for the reform of the Irish Catholic Church is to clear out most of the Irish bishops and import a load of foreign bishops who understand nothing of Ireland or the Irish, to sort everything out: “Men of indisputable integrity and evangelical passion who have no linkage to this sad, and in some instances tawdry, history are needed to lead the Irish Catholic reform for which Benedict XVI has called. I know no serious observer of the Irish Catholic scene, anywhere, who disputes the necessity of clearing the current bench of bishops; I also know no one who thinks that a reconfigured Irish episcopate, even one leading fewer dioceses, can be drawn entirely from the resident clergy of Ireland today.”

And why is that precisely? No reason is given. And where are the bishops to sort this out to come from? The US, perhaps? Maybe the gruesome results over the last 20 years of self-confident American efforts to tell other people how to run their own affairs might be thought to rule this out? England perhaps? That’s all the Irish need, a few English voices telling them what to do. I think we’ve been there before: it didn’t work. The point is, Mr Weigel, that the Irish spent 800 years shaking off foreign tutelage: they’re certainly not going to accept it now.

The real point about the Irish people is that they have not become disenchanted with the Catholic religion at all; it’s precisely by the moral standards of the Catholic religion that they are now judging all too many bishops and some, a small minority but still far too many, clergy. The child abuse scandals themselves have brought no decline in Mass attendance. On the contrary, far from being the “epicentre” of European anti-Catholicism, the practice of the Catholic religion is one of the highest in Europe.

As Michael Kelly pointed out in the Irish Catholic in April: “Decline in Church attendance in Ireland happened long before revelations about abuse and the subsequent cover-up. Polls show that in 1981 a staggering 88 per cent of Irish people attended Mass at least once a month, with 82 per cent attending weekly. By 2006 that figure had slipped to just 48 per cent for weekly Mass attendance while that figure climbs to 67 per cent when those who attend at least once a month are factored in. Subsequent polls have been fairly consistent, putting weekly Mass attendance somewhere between 45 per cent and 48 per cent. These are remarkably high figures by western European standards (the latest figures for Italy are 22 per cent and approximately 10 per cent for France).”

So, Mr Weigel, I think it’s back to the drawing board for your “epicentre of European anti-Catholicism”. I don’t know where that would be: but it’s certainly not Ireland. Anti-clericalism, maybe…