Saturday, January 12, 2008

re: Wow, I'm Behind and some thoughts on The Catholic Situation at the University of Toledo

I am so embarrassed. I didn't realize until my friend Jack pointed it out (he's always got my back) that I have not updated my blog in months. A recent article of mine appeared in Touchstone, and my byline said that I "maintained a blog." Well, I am going to try to make good on that statement. To this end, I am including the record of an exchange that occurred between me and the University of Toledo's Chair of Catholic Studies, Dr. Richard Gaillardetz. It makes for interesting reading, and I thanked Prof. Gaillardetz for taking the time to read my thoughts in the school's newspaper. The bottom line is that, in my most humble of opinions (after all I am a medical student and not a professional theologian, however much I wish I were) Catholicism at UT remains somewhat tepid.

Perhaps I was a bit shrill in my column and overstated the case somewhat, but the fact remains that to some extent some Catholic UT students, faculty and staff are entirely comfortable with a kind of Catholicism minus the Magisterium (the one whose head is in Rome, that is), catechesis without the Catechism (quote this, and expect to be jeered at UT, oh and don't touch the Canon Law), and Catholic morality without the difficult business of embracing the Church's teaching on sexuality and responsible parenthoood (i.e. contraception, IVF, homosexual acts, self abuse, premarital genital contact, cohabitation, all remain evil, that is, they are incompatible with the abundant life to which Our Lord calls us and contrary to the spousal meaning of the body).

To argue for the Church's teaching on sexuality, soteriology, or evangelization marks one a "fundamentalist." The wrongheaded assumption is made that to believe, internalize, and practice the Church's teaching on these topics is to become a repressed Puritan, a Feeneyist, and an actual fundamentalist. Such slinging has no place in a university, but for whatever reason it sure has a foothold here. It is so hard to even present the positive teachings of the Church on sexuality, the preferential option for the poor, and the salvation of those outside of the Church, and any number of other topics. To some, it's either feast or famine: a person couldn't possibly believe that sexuality is a good, beautiful, exciting!, and holy thing while also denying the moral goodness of condoms, "queer love," masturbation, and cohabitation; you either believe all non-Christians are going to heaven and deny the existence of hell (even that Hell is always held before us as a real existential possibility, as in von Balthasar) or you are a backward rube who thinks that only Christians are on their way up and the massa damnata is everyone outside the walls of your local parish.

I call the majority Catholic position at UT "the fallacy of excluded middle Catholicism." Coupled with a kind of new clericalism (nb: not anti-clericalism) this is a dangerously absurd position. Not to mention it is just hokey. Where is the intellectual depth of Augustine and Aquinas, the literate repartee of Chesterton, and the loyal-to-the-Magisterium faith of Mother Theresa? Where is the love for the Church as Christ's Body and why the disdain for anything that suggests authority? But here again, for fallacy of excluded middle Catholics there is no such thing as an authoritative Church: it is either an authoritarian Church or a democratic Church (neo-ultramontanism or a skewed understanding of "sensus fidelium").

Practically, this leads to a situation in which faithful Catholics (the "other side" must hate this term, but really, what else can we be called?) are marginalized and marked dangerous. Faithful Catholics again do not exist: for the FOEMers, there are either aggressive, angry, raucous, fundamentalist Catholics or "Catholics like unto us," benign, polite, and welcoming. The problem is that the welcoming ends where fidelity begins.

A 22 year old married Catholic with two kids is either a liturgical pariah (or worse, a novelty): stared by fiery eyes out to the vestibule as soon as one of the kids makes a peep. If you talk about evangelization and mission (cf. Pope Paul VI, John Paul II, the Second Vatican Council, the Catechism, or most recently the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith) you are an advocate of "proselytizing." Notice the not so subtle conflation of "to proselytize" with "to evangelize." There can be no middle aground again: it's tracts and tempers or else quietism and syncretism.

But I digress: Please enjoy the exchange. I do like intellectual (especially theological) debate: the problem is that is so very hard to come by here. Remember you can always e-mail me at

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