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Friday, April 29, 2005

Hello-oh? Pope Is Dead

I know that most of you probably read The Howler and don't need any reminding, but this one is a particularly good observation and I haven't heard anyone mentioning it. Tim Russert has turned his show into a religious seminar for the last month and a half. Last week really was the final straw. Here's Sommerby:

THROUGH THE TUBE DARKLY: Refresh us—when exactly did Meet the Press become an openly Catholic program? Last Sunday, for the third time in the last five weeks, Tim Russert devoted his entire show to a religious discussion. Early on, Russert popped this question to Father Thomas Bohlin, U.S. vicar of the conservative Catholic group, Opus Dei:

RUSSERT (4/24/05): Father John McCloskey, who was also an Opus Dei with you, was on this program. He has a Web site where he predicted basically in 2030 that the number of Catholics would go from 60 million to 40 million; almost a smaller and purer church. Is that, do you think, the vision of our pope? [Russert’s emphasis]

No, Russert’s emphasis didn’t make sense, but it was quite pronounced. Moments later, we heard from Joseph Bottum, one of two other guests whose bull-dog conservatism made Bohlin seem like a poodle. Bottum responded to the claim that the Catholic hierarchy needs to consult with Joe Sixpack more often:

BOTTUM: I'm not sure that there's any solution in all of that... I'm not sure it's any solution to the problem the church faces addressing the concerns that arise in a democratic experiment like the United States. We have characteristic abuses, as I said, that are going to happen in these places. And the church needs to be to some degree countercultural, to stand against that and to speak out and say, "We can't kill our babies."

Did we say conservative? Yes, when Bottum discussed the “characteristic abuses” that occur “in these places,” he was referring to democracies—to “places” like the U.S.!

Question: Were we the only ones who gazed with surprise at Sunday’s Meet the Press discussion? Who wondered what this odd debate had to do with the American news agenda? Who wondered why we were hearing this on NBC’s one weekly news hour?

SISTER MARY AQUIN O’NEILL: I'm grateful for an opportunity to return to the question of truth. Truth is another name for God and so it cannot be something that we possess. It's something that we hope to dwell within. The truth is always larger than we are, greater than we are. And it is not something that we can attain by ourselves.

Say what? O’Neill seemed like a very nice person, but were we the only ones wondering why this rumination was occurring on Meet the Press, which was once a well-known news show? In fact, we found ourselves puzzling again and again as the conversation veered into the weeds. For example, why was Father Joseph Fessio, siting in Rome, saying this on a one-time news program?

FESSIO: The point is if Jesus Christ is the bridegroom of the church, if God has sent his son to us as a man to unite himself in a marital act, a nuptial act to his whole people, to make us one flesh and one body with him, there's something very deep and mysterious about that. It's what the church has always taught is that, not that men are better than women, not that men should be given more honor than woman, but that men image forth the bridegroom because Christ is essentially someone who's married to us, and therefore you can't have a woman who gives that iconic image of Christ who's the bridegroom of the church.

But why exactly is that “the point” on a weekly news program? And why exactly was this a topic for such a weekly show:

O’NEILL: Frederic Herzog wrote many years ago that the two things that distinguish Catholicism are the sacraments and the Blessed Mother, Mary. They are both under siege right now. And the sacraments are in trouble because we don't have ministers. That's the question for me. We must find a way to solve that. The people are hungry for the sacraments, and without the sacraments, we don't have the church.

That’s a perfectly fine conversation—but what was NBC News presenting it? O’Neill continued, but what was the connection between her rumination and the traditional Meet the Press?

O’NEILL: I believe that one of the most important things for this church now is to really act on Christici Fidelis Laici, where we were told there's a complementarity between the laity and the ordained. Complementarity means one cannot trump the other. And so, in all the questions that the church faces, the lay-people and their experience and their insights have to have an equal place at the table with those who are ordained.

Of course, you know how these news shows can be. Once one guest opines about Christici Fidelis Laici, everyone has to spout off:

BOHLIN: I think there's another way of looking at this whole issue, which is the way that John Paul II has looked at it, coming out of Christici Fidelis Laici, the great document on the lay-people in the church, which is that, really, talking about priests, bishops, Catholic professionals, is talking about an infinitesimal portion of what the church is, and really, the forefront of the battle of the church is waged by every baptized person. And that's what's has to be—that's the battle. That's where the battle is, where those people are.

For ourselves, we don’t have a view on this great document. Meanwhile, why would the Meet the Press audience have a dog in the following hunt?

RUSSERT: But if you're a sacramental church, you need priests to administer the sacraments. And if there's a shortage of priests, what do you do?

Why can’t “our pope” just figure it out, then tell us what we should do in “these places?” In the meantime, why couldn’t Russert spend a few minutes on the actual news, which might affect the actual American people, the people who live in such lands?

But enough of the negative! In the good news department, the very ’umble Parson Meacham was there, preaching the gospel according to Newsweek:

MEACHAM: If you are a person of faith, particularly in the United States, you live in hope. You live in the hope that one day there will be a God who will wipe away all tears from your eyes and there'll be no more pain, an image from Revelation that's drawn from Isaiah. And if people of faith are to play a role in the public square, they must, I believe—a humble layman's opinion—they must practice humility and be—understand that the peace of God does passeth all understanding and that no one has, I believe, a monopoly on truth.

Of course, this ’umble layman is always inspiring. Just consider this earlier bite, where he ’umbly impressed with his detailed knowledge of every known item of scripture:

MEACHAM: You know, in the words of the Elizabethan Prayer Book, we are all seeking the means of grace and the hope of glory, and the road by which we—the road we take to attempt to do that can be different and obviously have been throughout history. I would draw a distinction between the teachings of the church and ultimately the broader force of Christianity. There is a sense, I think, of—as God said to Job in the Old Testament in the longest sustained monologue from the Lord in the Bible, "Where were you when I laid the foundations of the world?" So he should not be presuming to act as though we know everything and that we understand all truth.

In fact, St. Paul said, "For now we see through a glass darkly, but then face-to-face. Now, I am known in part, soon I will be known in full." So we are all on a journey. St. Augustine defined this as the soul's journey back to God. And my sense is, the more that Benedict XVI can speak in the spirit of the past week as opposed to the past generation, he will become a force for at least an ecumenical spirit if not reconciliation.

Let’s face it—Meacham really isn’t the man to be talking about “longest sustained monologues.” Or, as we normally paraphrase Meacham, Blah blah blah blah harrumph zzzzzzz.

Meachum is, of course, the dunce who wrote:

The uniqueness—one could say oddity, or implausibility—of the story of Jesus' resurrection argues that the tradition is more likely historical than theological.


I was rather stunned by Russert's show this past week-end. It was, after all, Justice Sunday, a "religious" event that was actually newsworthy. Russert spent the hour talking Catholic theology instead. And it wasn't as if we hadn't just spent five long weeks with wall to wall religion on all the networks covering every possible issue that could be of interest to anyone who hadn't actually taken vows --- which I'm expecting to see Little Russ do any day now. That priest shortage is a big problem. His pope needs him.


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