Vatican, Kremlin, same thing?

Posted: May 13, 2002 12:00 AM
The Catholic Church continues to bleed. Her wounds were (mostly) self-inflicted, to be sure. Worse still, she is putting band-aids on them when surgery is required. For most it's a sad spectacle. For some it has become the opportunity to pounce on the wound in the hopes of exacting the maximum amount of pain. And then there are those who are out of control. Bill Keller, who was until a few months ago the managing editor -- the No. 2 hotshot -- at the New York Times, has now compared Pope John Paul II and his church to the Communist Party, a sick joke on such a great man who helped crumble that great evil armed only with his moral authority. Keller writes, "One paradox of the Polish pope is that while he is rightly revered for helping bring down the godless Communists, he has replicated something very like the old Communist Party in his church." The church is "intolerant of dissent, unaccountable to its members, secretive in the extreme and willfully clueless about how people live." While Soviet subjects joked that we pretend to work and they pretend to pay us, "For American Catholics, the counterpart is: They pretend to lead, and we pretend to follow." I'm sure Keller is well pleased with his analysis, except it collapses quickly under its own idiocy. American Catholics are not Soviet subjects. They do not suffer from forced obedience to their parish priest. They need not fear a concentration camp or a quick execution for disagreeing with the Holy Father. They have every liberty to disagree and every right to walk out of the church, never to return. But, much to jaded journalists' dismay, the church is not a democracy that gets to veto the Ten Commandments or achieves mass salvation by a CBS-New York Times poll. To paraphrase Ted Koppel's wonderful observation years ago, they weren't called the Ten Suggestions for a reason. But Keller is on a roll and sinks even further by rooting for John Paul's death as an occasion for the church's hostile takeover by the lifestyle left. He suggests "one reason many Catholics see the moment as ripe for reform is that this pope is on his last legs. Soon, the hope goes, a vigorous new leader may emerge. Maybe so. But like the Communists, John Paul has carefully constructed a Kremlin that will be inhospitable to a reformer." He has committed the offense of forming seminaries that are "begetting a generation of inflexible young priests who have no idea how to talk to real-life Catholics." One imagines that Keller is looking for the ecclesiastical equivalent to John McCain, a secularized savior who would throw out all that musty far-right orthodoxy and let in the utopian sunshine of man's perfectibility under "progressive" nostrums. But logic points in the opposite direction. That abusive monster Father Paul Shanley, that man-boy sex enthusiast,
rejected Catholic teaching. Wouldn't his victims be better off today with a priest who was "inflexible" on his vows of celibacy? The reasons for Keller's acidulous take on the Pope are revealed when he identifies himself as "what a friend calls a 'collapsed Catholic' -- well beyond lapsed." Keller claims no right to reform the church from within, but only as part of the "larger struggle within the human race, between the forces of tolerance and absolutism." Recalling the Crusades and the Inquisition, Keller condemns the Catholic Church for failing "small-c catholic values, which my dictionary defines as 'broad in sympathies, tastes, or understanding.'" But the Catholic Church is not a small-c church with a small-g god. For decades, Keller and his ilk have committed drive-by journalism on traditional religion, aiming to reconcile God to the arrogant conveniences of man, instead of reconciling repentant man to an omniscient God. Despite oafish media protests, media polls have found a broad mass of American Catholics agonizing and praying to cure the church of this sex-abuse sickness. They have refused to join Keller in collapsing away from their faith. These believers are not comforted by the conceit that when their time of judgment comes, they can tell God He had no idea of how to talk to them; that He failed to embrace the needs of "real life;" that He is a force for intolerance and absolutism. When they die, they hope to hold up their lives of noble devotion and sinful failure and trust God, not the New York Times, to welcome them home.