You remember the most important of all Saul Alinsky‘s ‘Rules for Radicals,’ right? Sure you do; it’s #13, that people generally don’t swing into action unless they are convinced that all the angels are on one side and all the devils on the other.
Well, sadly for me, I never think that, though being on a team does look like a lot of fun. So once again, here I am, re: Komen vs. Planned Parenthood, having joined the conversation all right-minded for once, only to find myself unable to maintain the popular view in the face of complete capitulation on the other side.
So, too, can I see all the way to the other side of the fence on Obama’s decision to force Catholic institutions to violate church teaching by purchasing contraceptive coverage for their employees.
Oh, I continue to think, just as I wrote last week, that the decision as it stands is unconstitutional, as well as a personal betrayal of the president’s Catholic allies and terrible politics in an election year.
But what I heard back from the many readers who disagreed with me was not so much a defense of the decision as free-floating anger at the Catholic Church — its sex abuse scandals, its art treasures, its “male dominance.” And of these, only the art can be defended.
Tuesday morning, on MSNBC, George Weigel made a good point about what a “tribal” reaction there had been to the Obama decision among Catholics across the political spectrum — heightened, he thought, by how weary we are of the beating the Church has taken over the last decade.
But the Church can also be her own — that feminine pronoun feels particularly off in this case — worst enemy at times. And some of the incursions most keenly regretted by Catholics have come from our own bishops.
Just Monday, I got a call from my best friend growing up, who was upset about the forced resignation of the longtime pastor of St. Mary’s Parish, in Mount Carmel, Ill., our hometown. His offense: Praying from the heart during the Mass, paraphrasing rather than reading directly out of the Roman Missal
Surely not, you say? Must be more to the story? No, as it turns out, Father Bill Rowe, whom I’ve known for many years, had indeed been cashiered by the Diocese of Belleville over his habitual rewording of prayers.
“I feel like I’m in the center of a hurricane,’’ he said when I reached him.
The decision was made by Bishop Edward Braxton, whose name might be familiar because he made national news for dragging out an 11-year case against the diocese, which finally paid out $6.3 million last August to one of the victims of a priest sex offender who attacked children in five different parishes over three decades, and yet was repeatedly transferred by Braxton’s predecessors.
Braxton’s office did not return a phone call seeking comment on Rowe’s forced resignation, and he has also declined to talk to the local and St. Louis press.
But two Sundays ago, Rowe said, instead of saying “Lord our God that we may honor you with all our mind and love everyone in truth of heart,” he subbed in these words:
“We thank you, God, for giving us Jesus who helped us to be healed in mind and heart and proclaim his love to others.”
He had been warned about making such switches, most recently ahead of the official changes in the English translation of the liturgy, which went into effect in November. But it still came as shock last week, when Rowe, who is 72, got the two-sentence letter that he was out after 18 years.
Technically, Braxton is doubtless in the right; Church teaching does say that priests can’t “deviate” from the liturgy, though yes, that is hard to hear from a bishop who energetically defended his diocese after far more inexcusable deviations. And unlike the predator priests, Rowe doesn’t think he’ll be reassigned.
It’s thanks to my unrelievedly positive experience at St. Mary’s, where the priests helped us put on school musicals and drew a straight line between Jesus and the have-nots in this world, that the church has always to me been a refuge and a rock, even if I do see some pretty funky things growing on it. Church fathers would do well to honor that sort of connection, too, though they often don’t.
There are just under 8,000 people in our town, and more than 1,000 have signed an online petition to the bishop, begging him to reconsider. The most moving testimony, for me, came from a school boy who told the Mount Carmel Daily Republican Register that when Father Bill was around, he felt safe.
But then, the church is not a democracy. And Bishop Braxton, unlike Barack Obama, doesn’t have to worry about being reelected.
Melinda Henneberger is a Post political writer and anchors the blog, ‘She the People.’