Here’s the headline version of the relevant story: a Catholic high school hires a vice-principal who is (whether known or not to the school) a practicing homosexual. As part of the terms of his employment, he signs a contract obligating him to publicly abide by the teachings of the Church. At some point later on, he “marries” his boyfriend, a public repudiation of those teachings that earn him the termination of his employment — whereupon the Catholic students at the school rebel.
Suppose you were the pastor, or even the bishop. What would this tell you about the state of affairs in the local church, or in the Church in America more broadly, or the Church in general?
Things are worse than they look. How does this happen? Let’s consider the options:
- “We just need to reach out and explain the Church’s position to them. They’ve never heard the Church’s teachings on the sanctity of marriage enunciated before.” Really? Despite, at a minimum, several years in a Catholic school and, presumably, for most of them at least, being brought up in the Church, with at least weekly Mass attendance and regular religious education? Despite all this, they’ve never once heard what the Church teaches about matrimony? If true, that’s not something that can be waved away. It’s a problem.
- “They’ve heard the Church’s teachings before, they just don’t believe them because they’ve never been explained effectively.” So we are to believe this sort of thing isn’t a problem because it’s attributable to the Church’s own incompetence at passing on the faith to the next generation? Which is, somehow, magically, also not a problem?
- “These kids were scandalized by terrible formation by unorthodox catechists.” Well, that’s certainly plausible. It’s also a problem.
- “The Church has done everything it can to explain its teachings; there’s just no overpowering the conditioning of the modern world.” And that’s a problem.
My point here is not to criticize but to direct our attention to the fact that things are worse than they look, that there is no way to wave this away or spin it positively, that despite rivers of happy-talk flowing from the Vatican and from the Catholic Answers / EWTN echo chambers, souls are in danger of being lost, not just outside the Church but within it, too. Our children are being conscripted by the enemy, not at the peripheries but in the heart of our institutions, and the best we can do is plaster on a slightly wider phony grin. “Things are better than ever!” Lord, have mercy on us sinners.
Stories like this are what make me suspicious of all the talk about evangelization. Suppose that, today, we created the perfect succinct argument for Catholicism, or wrote the perfect, most convincing book, or found the perfect, most charismatic speaker to inspire the atheist hordes to conversion — and suppose furthermore that a million people showed up at the doors of their local parishes asking to enter RCIA. What then? Would we simply hand them over to the very same catechists by whom this generation of Catholics was formed? We can’t even get our own children to listen to us!
I increasingly suspect that we are beyond the point where arguments, blueprints, conversations and dialogues can work, because we are beyond the point at which a merely natural and human prudence can make things right. We are at the point now that nothing short of either a serious moment of metanoia or a dramatic encounter with divine justice can turn things around — a point where evil is so metastatic that its ultimate defeat is now reserved to God alone. Maybe Bishop Paprocki had the right idea: we need fewer arguments and more exorcisms.