Monday, January 05, 2009

Fisking Christina

Christina Odone, mouthpiece of those Catholics who shelter under the wing of The Guardian rather than Holy Mother Church, has done some finger-wagging in the direction of the Holy Father. I'm sure he's shaking in his elegant slippers at the piece. It is one of the most execrable pieces of 'journalism' I have seen in a long time, mixing misrepresentation, ignorance of Catholic teaching and thwarted bile in a equal measures. Needless to say this makes a cocktail that is difficult to stomach. My comments are in red.

Over the past few months, the Vatican has been quietly canvassing Lord Guthrie, the former head of the armed forces, John Studzinski, the millionaire philanthropist, and a handful of other influential British Catholics on who should succeed Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor upon his imminent retirement. From the telephone conversations and one-on-one meetings, it is clear what Pope Benedict XVI expects of the man who will lead Britain's more than four million Catholics: courage, patience, PR nous and an unshakable respect for liturgical tradition. As of last week, we also know one quality the Pope is not seeking in prospective candidates: tolerance towards lesbians and gays. [Tolerance of gays and lesbians is an article of the Catholic faith, if you read your catechism. What I think you mean, Ms Odone, is promotion and that we cannot do]

In his Christmas address to Vatican staff, Benedict XVI inveighed against the harm done by "gender theory" (he likened it to the threat to the planet caused by the destruction of the rainforest), which teaches that the distinction between male and female is down to cultural rather than biological influence. [and you have a problem with that?] Most of the faithful billion-plus Catholics who pay close attention to every word the Pope utters must have drawn a blank: gender theory, perhaps a familiar concept to some Ivy Leaguers, is unknown in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro and the slums of Calcutta. [I think many of the people of Rio and Calcutta probably have views about homosexuality which you would find uncomfortable, Ms Odone] The media, however, quickly bridged the knowledge gap and interpreted the papal message as a coded attack on homosexuals. [They were wrong, it was an attack on the likes of Peter Tachell and Patrick Harvie] Gender theory questions the patriarchy and sex-based discrimination; its critics, ergo, must support both. [It is also based on outmoded and theories incompatable with Catholic thought - it draws on discredited ideas of Freud, Lacan and Foucault]

Such flawed logic is perhaps inconceivable to Benedict XVI, a powerful intellect and brilliant theologian. Yet he must have known that to raise the issue of sexual identity was to provoke yet another examination of Catholic teaching on homosexuality. [I'm sure he has no problem with that. The Truth has no fear of exposition]

Gay men and women have for millenniums filled the ranks of the church's holy orders, schools and administration; they have celebrated the Catholic vision in music, paintings and writing.[Yes, and....] Catholic teaching might condemn sodomy as the sin that cries to the heavens for vengeance, yet Catholic parishes, universities and seminaries would grind to a halt if gays were banned. [Are you saying that all these gay Catholics do not try to live chastely? Do tell. Point out where in Catholic teaching gays are banned] Church rules might forbid same-sex unions, yet Christ's first and foremost commandment was to love one another. [Love is all you need, man. Is this is profound as it gets, Christina? He also had some unpleasant words involving millstones around necks and better if people were not born than lead others into sin. It might be a good idea to bear that in mind]

These contradictions present a tremendous challenge to gay Catholics (lay and ordained) who must somehow fit into a community that views their proclivity as an abomination, and to heterosexual Catholics who wonder how to stay loyal to an intolerant church. [Show me where in Catholic teaching the word abomination is used. Show me.] It is just the kind of challenge a bold and sophisticated theologian such as Benedict XVI could wrestle with. [So he is wrestling with it. You would rather he shut up and didn't?] It is a challenge echoed in every corner of the complex Catholic edifice. [I suspect it is not being discussed over the breakfast tables of Coatbridge on a regular basis]

The church offers certainties, but trades in questioning; it holds up virgin births, eternal life and resurrection as unquestionable truths, yet inspires great scholars like Cardinal Newman to pronounce that theology is constantly evolving. Papal infallibility was only introduced 200 years ago, [untrue - it was defined in the 19th century. It's been around a lot longer, much as gravity was around before Isaac Newton] clerical celibacy was unknown among the first Christians [and your evidence for that is? Unknown? I don't think so. Do you remember the name Paul of Tarsus?] and the state of limbo was dumped only last year. [Never defined as doctrine, so liable to be dumped] No wonder that supporters of women's and gays' ordination, both banned by the church today, hope that Catholic teaching will change. [They wait and hope in vain, as do you]

While critics see in these contradictions nothing but a towering hypocrisy, Catholics - indeed all non-evangelical Christians - believe that these conflicting messages inspire the questioning and prayer that constitute life's journey. [Critics will always look for the mote in the eye of the Holy Father] Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, put it beautifully in his Christmas message when he said that to step into a church is to find a place and silence that make questioning possible. [Well, very poetic and all that, as one would expect from Dr Williams, but how exactly do the views of a bearded schismatic layman help me?] The doubts of questions, as well as the certainty of answers, are the twin pillars of faith. [Doubts may be inevitable but as a pillar of faith? That's stretching it.] Those who only see the first are tormented and lose heart; those who see only the second risk an odious fundamentalism. [Fact is most of us have the first and are comforted by the second]

Many Catholics, as they grapple with these dilemmas and await theological enlightenment, adapt church teachings to their own circumstances. [Which ones? Thou shalt not kill?] Thus, they get a divorce, despite the Vatican's ban, and practise contraception, ignoring Rome's teachings. [Turning vices into virtues is hardly theological enlightenment and risks one's mortal soul] The constant infraction of such rules makes for a theological evolution of sorts. [Which is just how 'progressives' view the moral life, I suppose. If I do what I want, when I want, often enough, it won't be a sin any more] I remember, when I was editing the Catholic Herald, discussing the pill with a wise, elderly priest: "I haven't heard anyone confessing to using birth control in the past 20 years," he told me. [Which begs the question: what was he telling them from the pulpit?] It didn't mean that Catholics had stopped using contraception - they had simply stopped regarding it as a sin. [Shall we try that with adultery? Or oppression of the poor?]

Bishops and diocesan information officers around the globe have spent a great deal of time over the past few days in damage control. [The damage was done by lazy editors in the secular press who wilfully misreported. It's not the first time that's happened, as you know] They point out that the Pope never even mentioned the word homosexuality in his address. This is literally true, but smacks of casuistry. [Hmmmm. Literal truth becomes casuistry. Now I see where you are coming from.]

As a sophisticated public figure, Benedict cannot ignore the consequences of raising, even in the most indirect fashion, the subject of sex. The one "S" word in an address of more than 5,000 can hijack the entire message. [Yeah, shut up about sex, OK Ratzi? Leave that stuff to Guardian commenters] Yes, this is a sad indictment of our salacious times, but just as in Regensburg two years ago, when Benedict's Muslim audience saw a slight in his quoting a Byzantine emperor's description of Islam's flaws, the western liberal audience last week pounced on the implied attack on homosexuals as unnatural. [How revealing: the Western 'liberal' Catholic is as touchy as yer offence-prone Mohammedan. Well I suppose this is The Guardian] The papacy cannot be reduced to a PR exercise, but no missionary can afford to ignore the basic rules of presentation.

Even if Benedict XVI never meant to tackle the issue of homosexuality, the timing of the message was spectacularly ill-judged. [I said, just shut up Ratzi, OK?] The world is slumping into an economic downturn that has humbled even financial giants. [No money, so sodomy must be OK, right? Just to cheer ourselves up] Millions risk losing their jobs and their homes. [and that affects their sexuality, just how? More or less likely to be gay because the FTSE drops 15%?] For the first time in decades, consumerism seems shaken. [Good] Even the most unthinking, bling-crazed WAG must be wondering if there isn't more to life than shopping at Prada and hanging out at Bijou. [Good] People in the developed world, infatuated with the here and now, cocksure about the benefits of high-maintenance capitalism, now find themselves having to embrace the same humility and openness that people in the undeveloped world have long adopted as norm. [Not before time]

Here was a golden opportunity for a church leader to invite the frightened, the curious and the confused to sample a different way of life. [He did] The Pope could have explained a set of values that have seen out recessions, depressions, bear and bull markets. [HE DOES]He could have welcomed outsiders to come and feel for themselves the warmth of a community that believes everyone deserves love - and forgiveness. [HE HAS DONE, FOR CRYING OUT LOUD!]

Instead, Benedict XVI issued a message that could be, and was, boiled down to a finger-wagging warning against a vulnerable minority. [Only by the wilfully blind or The Guardian commentariat -which amounts to just about the same thing] Many Catholics, even among his most devoted disciples, must be issuing a moan of exasperation, none more so than the candidates to succeed Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor. [Many Catholics like the Pontiff's clarity of thought and exposition of eternal truths] These men stand to inherit a position that propels them to the centre of public life in an overwhelmingly secular society that will treat them with suspicion, if not downright hostility. [That is their job as successors of the Apostles. They are lucky they do not find themselves subject to the persecutiuon of the likes of Diocletian. Perhaps that is not a long way off. If they couldn't take a bit of a tongue-lashing - if you'll excuse the phrase - from Peter Tatchell, they shouldn't have signed up] Given the make-up of today's Catholic church, at least some of these men are bound to be gay; given their candidature, their service to the church cannot be doubted. [It isn't, so long as they are faithful to Catholic teaching]

As the personification of this apparent contradiction, the future cardinal will need to tread carefully. And, it would seem, without much help from his boss. [Well faithful Catholics can't really expect much help from the likes of you, can they?]

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Blogger Mac McLernon said...

Excellent! Your comments made Cristina Odone's piece almost bearable...

Can she really be so deluded as to believe that she's Catholic?

2:42 PM  
Blogger Ttony said...

You made one mistake. Rowan isn't a layman; he's a Druid.

8:38 PM  
Blogger Londiniensis said...

Bravo Paulinus! Christina Odone is rapidly supplanting Brigid Brophy in my estimation as the most odious female vermin that nature ever suffered to crawl upon the surface of the earth.

1:49 AM  
Blogger Martin said...


Wonderful fisking.

There is something in that article that really angered me, right at the start. Sir John Guthrie might be a very pious and humble man who has had high status in the secular world thrust upon him against his wishes; but a widow living on pension credit in the Elephant & Castle knows just as much as about appointing bishops as he does.

Is Odone's brand of Catholicism one that is expressly elitist, where the hierarchy hobnob with dukes and squires? As an altar boy in Our Lady of Perpetual Succour some decades ago, I suffered a violent emotional reaction to seeing the three rows of seats at the front carrying a sign that said 'Reserved'. This did not compute with previous teaching.

At St. Aloysius College, I once sat through a sermon by the late George Earle, later outed as a child molester, in which he sonorously intoned upon our duties as 'children of the rich', as if we were all back in the early days of the Counter-reformation and the Jesuits were still training Wallenstein and Tilly. I didn't know who he was talking about then - and the most prominent Old Aloysians of recent times have been Ianucci and the Kohli boys.

Who are these 'consulted'? Are their prayers more likely to be heard than ours?

7:00 AM  
Blogger universal doctor said...

Superb! how execrable self- righteous and deluded, and what a disgrace to the name she bears.

4:36 PM  
Blogger Paulinus said...

Yes, I've never quite got the 'prominent Catholic layman' stuff. You are either lay, or not. Errr...that's it.

James MacMillan could claim some prominence as a Catholic layman, but I suspect he won't be consulted over the appointment of Catholic bishops (nor, I might add, should he be). Prole background, went to a non-denominational school. You get the picture.

Part of Odone's bile is that she is very much now outside the tent and has, since the election of the current Pontiff, taken every opportunity to piss into it, if you'll excuse the phrase.

You are absolutely right about the hobnobbing with squires and dukes. The difference now is that the place to hobnob is Islington, around the scrubbed pine dinner tables of the NuLab elite or quaffing fairtrade merlot with sandal-clad Guardianista Quangocrats.

The flesh creeps.

5:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here you, i've got a pine dinner table!

Other than that, a smashing piece of work there fella. Gaun yersel.

Christna Odone. More UK Gold than News 24. (It's the same old crap trotted out time and time again)

7:49 PM  
Blogger Paulinus said...

More UK Gold than News 24.

LOL. Not sure it quite works though. they have some good stuff on UK Gold which is more than can be said for Odone.

7:52 PM  
Blogger leutgeb said...

I'm glad I'm not the only one who is mystified by the 'prominent Catholic layman' bit.

Surely the clergy know who's who in the world of the clergy, so why ask people who are at the top of their professions (or aristocrats)and happen to be Catholics? Weird.

10:12 PM  
Blogger Jackie Parkes MJ said...

Great post!

7:24 AM  

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