In several previous Lay Pulpit articles, we have commented about Daniel Dolan’s “putting on the show” for his parishioners at SGG (St. Gertrude the Great Church). It has almost become a cliché. Well, it might be a cliché, but it is nonetheless true. “The show,” of course, includes plenty of pontifical pageantry, polyphonic music, and elaborate processions (the one on Palm Sunday, as we’ve noted before, comes complete with donkey). And SGG’s school is showcased as a “model of propriety”: kids in uniforms (girls’ skirts all “below the knees,” of course), and lots of photos depicting students performing “picture perfect deeds” on cue (to put in SGG’s Sunday bulletin and on its website, for all traddieland to see and admire). It’s all very impressive, very proper – and it looks very “Catholic.” Also, it’s all very nostalgic, “just like the good old days”: a walk down Catholicism’s “Memory Lane.”
Beautiful, I must say -- but what about Catholic morality, and especially about Catholic moral theology? Where does Terri Schiavo fit into their scheme? When Dolan dismissed watching porn on SGG’s school computer as “boys will be boys,” how “nostalgic” was this? When he ignored the complaints of numerous parents about the abuse of their children by SGG’s school principal (and his sons), where was Dolan’s sense of moral outrage? And when one of the school principal’s sons impregnated a fellow female student, was this too a case of “boys will be boys”? (One thing for sure: it was some piece of apparel other than the girl’s dress that got “below the knees” this time!) Does what happened here call to mind anything about the sixth commandment? And what were Dolan and Cekada thinking when they dissolved SGG’s satellite parish in Columbus, Ohio, sold it out from under its parishioners, confiscated their building fund and operating fund, and pocketed the proceeds? Did they, perhaps, stop to think what the seventh commandment had to say about that? Probably not.
What they were thinking about, instead, was how to maximize their monetary intake – and about how to make it happen. Caring about Terri Schiavo doesn’t make that happen; it’s not “good for business” -- but elaborate, impressive ceremonies are. P.T. Barnum-like hoopla is what it’s all about, folks: give ‘em the show; give ‘em -- not Catholicism -- but its caricature. And why? Because it works, that’s why. The SGG clergy (and those like them) know that there is a sizable critical mass of people out there who are gullible, and easily swayed by “spectacle.” They also know that if they clothe their quackery in ecclesiastical adornment and fulsome sanctimony, they can convince them that it’s “the real thing” -- and many of their parishioners have been swallowing this swill for so long, they can no longer distinguish it from the real thing.
That is why SGG’s parishioners can disregard Dolan’s “boys will be boys” comments, or ignore the abuses of SGG’s school principal and the immorality of his sons. That is why they can pretend that one of the principal’s sons did not father a child with a fellow student (even in the face of irrefutable DNA evidence). That is why they can pretend that SGG’s confiscation of the Columbus parishioners’ money never really happened (or perhaps they can even justify it). That is why they can pretend that Dolan and Cekada deserve $400-a-night “sabbaticals” in Santa Fe. When one is mesmerized, one will believe (or justify) anything. They have become like putty in their cult-masters hands: they’ll believe or do anything they say.
At SGG, it’s appearances that count: the dynamic duo can insist on the girls’ dresses being below the knees, while disregarding the fact that one girl’s dress obviously got above the knees. The cult-masters can wax poetic about “protecting our innocent children” on Guardian Angel Sunday, while ignoring the sadistic abuses that SGG’s school kids suffered at the hands of their school principal (and which caused half the parish to leave in protest). A student missing his homework merits being beaten with a wooden paddle, while another student’s impregnating a girl merits no punishment at all -- because he is the principal’s son. There is nothing wrong with Terri Schiavo being starved and dehydrated to death, yet an SGG student wearing a polka-dot headband in church (under her veil) was – according to SGG’s school principal -- “inappropriate”; and riding a roller-coaster was – according to one of SGG’s Latino priests -- a mortal sin.
This is the kind of twisted, puritanical mindset that reigns at SGG, both in its clergy and in its congregation. They not only cannot recognize good, but they condemn it, while condoning evil. For example, a man who got justifiably angry at the base lies that Dolan told about his deceased father (and who then called Dolan’s comments “bullshit”), was condemned by an SGG parishioner for using that word; she said that such language was “not Catholic” -- but, of course, she failed to grasp the fact that Dolan’s lying about the man’s father was certainly “not Catholic.” She also (obviously) forgot about Our Lord getting justifiably angry at times, and calling the Pharisees vipers and thieves. If she had been living back then, she probably would have been right in there with those Pharisees, condemning the God-Man Himself for using “inappropriate language.”
But that is what happens with people mired in a cult-centered mindset. They’ll do (and defend) whatever their cult-masters say -- approving just about everything they do (while overlooking every bit of wrong that they do). They’ll lap it up, as long as it “looks Catholic” and gives them that warm, fuzzy, nostalgic feeling of “the good old days.” And, of course, they’ll pay dearly for it: they willingly open up their pocket books for all the hoopla and pageantry that goes along with “the show.” But, of course, that’s what it’s all about: MONEY. The cult-masters put on the show for the money. On their websites (and from their pulpits), there are constant exhortations for “donations” and for “remembering us in your will” (SGG’s website even has a “donate” button, including one for “make automatic monthly donation”). Their latest fund-raising ploy is commemorative “stones” (pavers in SGG’s “cloister” area) that can be purchased for seventy-five bucks a pop(!). The soliciting game never stops there; it’s a well-oiled machine -- and it’s always in high gear.
But why do people fall for such pap -- with such blind obedience and groveling subservience? Why does traddieland seem to have a bumper crop of such people: green, gullible, easily deceived, and just itching to be exploited – willing fodder for unscrupulous impresarios? Dr. Droleskey, for instance, can do a hatchet job on an innocent man; and, as long as he finishes it off with one of his trademark mini-litanies, it’ll be taken by some for “good Catholic reading.” It seems that traddieland is full of people who, if they are fed a diet of misinformation, will react in kind: they’ll take sanctimony for sanctity, the show of holiness for holiness itself, and window dressing for the “real thing.” Are these people really that stupid -- that gullible? The answer is, “yes and no.”
Yes, some are -- but some aren’t: some act wrongly out of pride: many at SGG, for instance, certainly recognize by now what the dynamic duo are; they know that Cekada was wrong about Schiavo; they’ve seen (and recognized) his arrogance – but they are too proud to admit that they made an initial misjudgment – that they were “taken in” by him and Dolan. Instead of leaving SGG, they’ll invent some lame excuse to stay, such as, “Well, we know what they’re like, but we have to go somewhere for the sacraments” -- even though there are plenty of viable and legitimate alternatives elsewhere available to them. But they won’t leave. Even if Padre Pio were saying Mass next door, they’d ignore him, and still patronize the two vipers.
But that’s typical of today’s world -- not just at SGG, not just in traddieland, but everywhere. People don’t want to appear “foolish” -- to admit that they’ve “been had.” And if they do get found out (and can’t “get out of it gracefully”), they’ll just clam up and use the “stonewall” approach, or find some other way to ignore the embarrassing reality of the moment: the “Pamela” approach (see The Eleventh and Twelfth “Commandments”). The SGG folks are simply a representative microcosm of society in general – of a world that is long on “show” and short on substance – where the appearance of good passes for good itself, and where what is said and what is done are two different things: today, we are exhorted to “save the planet”” – by rescuing baby otters and preserving the habitats of kangaroo rats, while killing human babies and euthanizing our old. Today, it’s the planet’s flora and fauna, not its people – not Terri Schiavo – that are what counts.
Traddieland has, in large part, evolved into a disjointed patchwork of competing “centers,” each one a feudal kingdom unto itself, demanding fealty from its flock (and demanding adherence to such “articles of faith” as sedevacantism, “una cum,” and other exclusionary shibboleths to keep the sheep in the cult corral). They give their people the appearance of Catholicism, but not Catholicism itself: one can ignore every precept of Catholic morality, so long as one buys a commemorative paver stone (or some other monument to one’s ego), or underwrites the cult-masters in some other way.
Belloc spoke of the “calcification” of the Church in the late Middle Ages, where rites and rubrics -- the “letter of the law” -- took precedence over the spirit of Catholicism, eventually resulting in the Protestant Revolt. It now seems to be upon us again: what one says is more important than what one does. But Catholicism is more than elaborate rites and rubrics and “saying all the right buzzwords.” It is about Catholic morality, Catholic thinking, about actually being Catholic: caring for the sanctity of life – of Terri Schiavo’s life -- and about recognizing sin as sin, not as “boys will be boys.” For real Catholics, fornication is a sin; riding a roller-coaster is not. Real Catholicism is not about buying one’s way into heaven by purchasing a memorial paver stone or by saying the right prayers; it is about keeping God’s commandments. Being the right stuff, not saying the right stuff, is the real “bottom line.”
Worldly, self-seeking cult-masters will only bring ruin to Catholicism: bad trees do not bear good fruit. Goodness can only come of good men – men who are more interested in their (and others’) souls than in where their next gourmet meal or travel junket is coming from. Good men must take the lead; and they must rejuvenate today’s re-calcified Catholicism with real Catholic thought, word, and deed – not with sanctimonious pap, and showy pomp and ceremony. Perhaps then – and only then – will Catholicism stop splintering, and start to unite and heal. Until that happens, it will only continue its downward spiral into oblivion. The time has come to stop that downward spiral: to weed out the Barnumesque hucksters and the sanctimonious hypocrites.
But how is such a thing to be accomplished? – by some sort of ecclesiastical equivalent of the political “tea party” movement, where concerned Catholics come together and “take back our Church” from such men? Or should it be a “from the top down” thing, requiring leadership from above? The answer is both: a good tree must have good soil in which to grow. But whichever form it takes, the leading and the following should be done by example -- as Our Lord did – and not by coercion, fear tactics, and “guilt-tripping.” And just as people have been led astray by bad example, so can they be reclaimed by good example. It can start small: a mustard seed, planted in good soil, grows into a mighty tree. In time, the good seed, properly planted and nourished, will prevail, and choke off the parasitic chaff who have been feeding off the faithful for so long.