The Rittenhouse Review

A Philadelphia Journal of Politics, Finance, Ethics, and Culture

Wednesday, April 17, 2002  

Deranged or Clueless?

Just when The Rittenhouse Review decided to write a piece about Linda Chavez’s obvious incompetence as an analyst of Middle East politics and American foreign policy, we ran across a particularly ignorant -- even for Chavez -- article that the would-be Secretary of Labor wrote about the current situation facing the Catholic Church.

Now Chavez, who is married to a Jewish man -- Christopher Gersten -- whose name she has not assumed, is either Catholic or Jewish, and Hispanic or not (she cannot, by the way, speak Spanish, and her mother is an "Anglo"), depending upon who’s asking or which organization she is addressing. This week, Chavez apparently is Catholic, piously arguing in the Jewish World Review that the accusations of sexual abuse against Catholic priests represent the greatest threat to the Church since Martin Luther’s 95 theses.

She may be right about that, though her failure to mention either Vatican II or the disintegration of the Papal States in her 700-word screed says all too much about her scant knowledge of the history of Catholicism and the Holy See.

No matter. If you’re a conservative pundit and you lack a real argument, just blame the media -- and/or “the homosexuals.” And don’t worry, your colleagues will support you.

Chavez has all but made a career of blaming “the media.” Her failure to become President George W. Bush’s Labor Secretary wasn’t her fault. It wasn’t because she employed illegal immigrants in her home, it was because the “liberal media” got nosey about the household help. Chavez acted as if she were the first politico to fall victim to this phenomenon, apparently blissfully unaware of the ordeal experienced by Zoë Baird, President Clinton’s first nominee for the position of U.S. attorney general.

So, with one stroke of a pen, or one screech into the dictaphone, Chavez informs us that “the media” (of which she is, at least peripherally, a part) is deceiving us about the problems in the Catholic Church: “The news media has treated this story as if it were exclusively about pedophilia -- but it is more complicated than that. Most of the victims were not young children, but older boys, and many of the priests involved were homosexual men.”

In the event our readers haven’t noticed, this is the new party line among political conservatives, whether Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, or Chavezist. It’s “more complicated” than pedophilia, they say. But rather than analyzing the asserted complexity of the matter, they retreat, arguing that actually it’s quite simple: It’s the homosexuals’ fault.

Worse, says Chavez, “The media, by and large, have chosen not to delve into this aspect of the story for fear of being labeled homophobic.” That’s odd, since we at TRR can’t seem to get through any national or regional newspaper (and we read many thereof) without hearing some variant of Chavez’s complaint.

Chavez tell us that in two "important" books -- The Changing Face of the Priesthood by Rev. Donald Cozzens and Goodbye! Good Men by Michael S. Rose -- “[b]oth authors acknowledge that homosexuals have become a significant faction within the Roman Catholic clergy.” Horrors. Presumably, if Chavez were a regular communicant with even the most basic observational capacities, this would have been apparent to her many years ago.

Chavez relies on Ron Dreher, a senior writer at National Review, a man who by his own admission has been a Roman Catholic for all of nine years (falling short of our esteemed editor by roughly three decades). Dreher, Chavez says, has reviewed a pre-publication copy of Good-bye, Good Men. Why Chavez didn't buy and then read her own copy of the book, which the author is hawking on his own web site, is not entirely clear.

In any event, Chavez reports -- via Dreher -- that the book “reveals a seminary underworld in which homosexual promiscuity and sexual harassment is rampant, in which straight men are marginalized and demoralized, and seminarians who support the Church’s teachings on sexuality and the priesthood are persecuted, even to the point of being sent off, Soviet-style [sic!], for psychological evaluations.” (We'll have to wait to get the review copy we're hoping for to determine whether the reference to Soviet psychiatry comes from Chavez or Rose, but we're betting it's the former.)

It's no surprise that Chavez has fixated on this issue. During her wildly unsuccessful 1986 campaign for a U.S. Senate seat from Maryland, Chavez became so desperate that she publicly urged her Democratic opponent, Barbara Mikulski, “to come out of the closet and debate the issues important to the people of Maryland.”

Chavez’s pathetic appeal to the electorate’s crudest instincts was a complete failure: She garnered a mere 39 percent of the vote. Miss Mikulski has since been re-elected to the U.S. Senate two times, in each election winning a stunning 71 percent of the popular vote and overcoming opponents who, as far as TRR can recollect, did not believe it was necessary to wallow in the gutter to wage an effective campaign against the incumbent.

Chavez, in a stunningly bizarre turn, quotes none other than dirty-book-writer Andrew Greeley for support. “The laity, I suspect, would say it is one thing to accept a homosexual priest and quite another to accept a substantially homosexual clergy, many of whom are blatantly part of the gay subculture,” says Greeley, once considered a liberal heretic, viciously mocked by politically conservative Catholics like William Bennett and politically conservative Protestants including George F. Will.

For her part, Chavez asserts -- with no justification or explanation whatsoever -- that “the Vatican cannot afford to adopt a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy with respect to homosexual priests.”

She adds, again without explanation, that “lifting the ban on celibacy” (a position which, by the way, is not necessarily advocated by TRR), “would only exacerbate the problem, not eliminate it.” But couldn't one make the case that eliminating the prevailing vows of chastity might enduce more straight men with marital intentions to become priests, thereby entering semenaries in numbers large enough to squash the "homosexual underworld"?

Not enough priests? This is a shame, we agree. But who’s responsible? According to Chavez, no surprise: it's the homosexuals, the same men who are filling the seminaries and the pulpits of American Catholicism. “[W]ho is to say that the culture that apparently pervades many seminaries in the United States and elsewhere does not share the blame for the drop in vocations?” asks Chavez.

Who’s to say, indeed. And odd, isn’t it, that conservatives who blame gay men for the decline in priestly vocations have no explanation for the waning interest of women in pursuing vocations, an issue that has barely been addressed in the last 10 years.

It can't possibly be the fault of Catholic parents who practice artificial contraception in defiance of the Church’s teachings. We read: “Every action which, whether in anticipation of the conjugal act or in its accomplishment, or in the development of its natural consequences, proposes, whether as an end or as a means, to render procreating impossible is intrinsically evil” (Cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2370 and Humanae Vitae, 14; Emphasis added.)

Not so different from “intrinsically disordered,” that. Actually, to us, "intrinsically evil" sounds worse that "intrinsically disordered," but that is a subject for another day.

We at TRR concede that we are "Cafeteria Catholics." (Who came blame us? The Catechism runs to 900 pages in our edition.) Members of the punditocracy, whether of the left or the right, will make no such admission. For example, many of those bemoaning the presence of gay priests are fervent supporters of capital punishment. Often these oracles have only one, two, or three children. Gersten and Chavez, despite being married for 36 years, are the parents of just three children. We mention this not to pry into the Gersten-Chavez marriage, but to point out that the declining average size of Catholic families has resulted in parents -- eager for grandchildren and worried about support during their senior years -- becoming averse to promoting vocations for their children. This disinclination becomes more pronounced if the family has only one male offspring whose task is to “maintain the family name.”

And we suppose the decline in vocations cannot possibly be the fault of Catholics who marry outside the faith, a matter the Church regards with grave concern:

“Differences of confession between the spouses does not constitute an insurmountable obstacle for marriage. . . . But the difficulties of mixed marriages must not be underestimated. They arise from the fact that the separation of Christians has not yet been overcome. The spouses risk experiencing the tragedy of Christian [sic] disunity even in the heart of their own home. . . . Differences about faith and the very notion of marriage, but also different religious mentalities, can become sources of tension in marriage, especially as regards the education of children. The temptation to religious indifference can then arise.” (Cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1634)

Furthermore, since we have no record of Linda Chavez’s husband having converted from Judaism to Catholicism, the implication remains that Chavez has failed to live up to the urging of the Catechism. “In marriages with disparity of cult the Catholic spouse has a particular task: ‘For the unbelieving husband is consecrated through his wife. . . .’ It is a great joy for the Christian spouse and for the Church if this consecration should lead to the free conversion of the other spouse to the Christian faith.” (Cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1637. Emphasis added.)

But never mind. Chavez has reached her own conclusion and the failure of the Church “to deal with this current crisis” will result in “massive defections” among the faithful. As her essay presents no strategy for dealing with said crisis, other than the none-too-subtle implication that gay men be thrown out of the clergy, it’s not evident what course Chavez recommends to avert these defections.

It takes a deranged mind to conclude that throwing all gay clerics out of the Church would be a good idea. After all, the same books that Chavez glowingly cites as evidence of a gay "underworld" in America’s seminaries also maintain that as many as one-half of American priests are gay.

Rather than applauding gay men for keeping Catholic churches, schools, hospital, missions, and charities going, these gay priests, celibate or not, are to be condemned, chastised, and exiled. Thus, if we follow Chavez’s implied solution -- ridding the priesthood of gay men -- we would likely see some 40 percent to 60 percent of American parishes shutting their doors. Whether she realizes this or not, her recommendation would have the same effect she purports to dread, namely the “massive defections” of Catholics. Only this time the faithful would leave not because of any disagreement with the Church, but because they have no place to go, the Church having determined that the needs of the communicants should be sacrificed in the name of political orthodoxy.

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