The Tone Set at the Top, Trickles Down
Frank Cocozzelli printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Sat Jul 09, 2011 at 01:52:28 PM EST
For many of us the face of the Catholic Right is not a pope, a cardinal or a bishop. In my case, it is my parish priest, who risks becoming (if he is not already) an agent of exclusion, censorship, and division in the Church.
Earlier this year I wrote about how my parish's pastor Father Michael Gelfant sermonized against American Catholics and dissembled on the awkwardly translated, but nevertheless soon-to-be-implemented Missal.  A visit to his public Facebook page revealed that his "likes" include Fox News, the "Notre Dame Scandal" (the protest against the University's invitation to president Obama to speak at commencement) and the Ayn Rand Institute-associated Tea Party Patriots.

What follows may sound more personal than a matter of Gelfant's Catholic rightism. But I think they are related.  I also think my experiences are may be more characteristic of many more American Catholics than most of us may think.

During the summer, Mass at St. Finbar's has traditionally been held in the former school auditorium, (which now serves as the parish center) because the upper Church becomes oppressively hot and humid.  The ground level space is not only cooler, but has an entry ramp offering easy access for those of us confined to wheelchairs.

But last spring, Father Gelfant decided that this summer, Masses would be celebrated downstairs of the main Church, effectively excluding some of us because there is no lift or ramp (only the Sunday morning 9 AM Mass is said upstairs).  I asked him about it at the time, and Father Gelfant assured me that there would be access to the downstairs Church.  We are now well into July and none has been provided.

The lack of access has made me wonder if the pastor is specifically trying to shut me out.  I don't like feeling that way, and I don't believe that is his specific intention (especially that I know of other disabled parishioners who require either a ramp or a lift to get downstairs)  - and yet that possibility still nags at me.  

But I am not the only one facing this and other disturbing questions.

Indeed, in light of one recent sermon, we are left to wonder if Father Gelfant has decided not merely to serve as God's representative, but as His replacement.  Gelfant declared that atheists have no right to heaven.  This greatly upset a friend of mine who has a family member who happens to be a non-believer.  I wonder whether Father Gelfant truly believes that selfish and warlike believers, for example, will enter the Kingdom of God while righteous atheists would not?  I wonder if he truly believes that God is unable to love and embrace those who have lost their faith, (especially those who lost their faith because of the failures of word and deed of some of his representatives?)

I was also recently left to wonder whether my parish priest had resorted to censorship (like certain high-profile Catholic Right activists.)  The day after New York State legislated marriage equality, Gelfant condemned the new law on the parish's Facebook page.  He claimed, among other things, that extending the right of civil marriage to gay people will destroy the institution of marriage altogether.  In response, I asked, how would the marriage of two gay people endanger my heterosexual marriage?  I added that as a Catholic, I was proud of both the governor and the legislature.  My comment was deleted and I was blocked from the parish's page.

Father Gelfant is what the leaders of my Church hath wrought.  They have set the tone and given us Gelfant, who in many ways epitomizes the divisiveness that has permeated the Vatican and trickled down in the Church since the ascendancy of Pope John Paul II in 1978.  The divisiveness has become more profound and driven deeper into the local church under the current pontiff.  In Madison, Wisconsin, Bishop Robert Morlino censured a thoughtful and faithful theologian.  In New York City, Archbishop Timothy Dolan disparaged dissent and calls for reform as "anti-Catholicism."  And in the Diocese of Kansas City-St, Joseph, Kansas Opus Dei Bishop Robert Finn declared war on religious freedom by describing Catholicism as "the Church militant" while proclaiming, "We are at war."  (Finn was not taking umbrage with a non-Catholic but with fellow priest, University of Notre Dame president Rev. John I. Jenkins for inviting President Obama to the school's commencement ceremonies).

I suppose I should not be shocked or even surprised by Father Gelfant since his fellow traditionalists in the Vatican have been quite clear in their desire for a leaner and meaner Church.  I guess I am just disappointed that the tone set at the top seems to have trickled down to my parish.


Those who who will not defend their beliefs with discourse are signaling the weakness of their own positions.

by Frank Cocozzelli on Sat Jul 09, 2011 at 01:58:26 PM EST
I sympathize with the loss of your parish (for all intents and purposes it is no longer yours). The type of pastor you describe is becoming the norm. So Catholics have just walked away and joined other Catholics in intentional Eucharistic communities - a fast growing loose confederation of Catholic parishes no longer answerable to the bishop.

by Betty Clermont on Sat Jul 09, 2011 at 07:14:58 PM EST
Betty, you know I have great respect for you but on this point we disagree.

The only real course of action is the most difficult: to stay and fight. As I've pointed out before, for us to leave is to play right into their plan. Our presence throws a monkey wrench into their vision of a strident, exclusionary Church. Beyond that, our increased engagement can even thwart them.

by Frank Cocozzelli on Sun Jul 10, 2011 at 10:04:39 AM EST

I was under the impression that starting a different, less authoritarian version of Catholicism might be the only alternative. But, after seeing the imaginings of Fr. McCloskey, it is certain that your way, to stay and fight for a more decent and humane Church, is the right route to take. To see their battle plans laid out so graphically is, to me, astounding. To do otherwise would be to accept defeat.

I stand corrected.

by trog69 on Sun Jul 10, 2011 at 02:37:43 PM EST
It's just a different approach; that's all.

by Frank Cocozzelli on Sun Jul 10, 2011 at 08:11:25 PM EST

Regardless of what we think the bishops may or may not want, I respect that each Catholic has to follow his/her conscience as to whether their presence provides tacit assent to the systematic torture of children and corruption. Whatever you think can be accomplished by sitting in their pew, Frank, can also be accomplished outside of buildings owned by the institutional Catholic Church.

by Betty Clermont on Mon Jul 11, 2011 at 05:15:05 AM EST

I haven't quite seen the equivalent of your pastor, but have come close. Finn has shown he's not ready for prime time, with his mishandling of the Fr. Shawn Ratigan case. The whole issue with the ramp represents thoughtlessness at best, and a pastor who is unwilling to put himself in another's shoes.

by khughes1963 on Sat Jul 09, 2011 at 11:18:09 PM EST
Isn't that part of the core of much of what we face anyway... the lack of empathy?

Not only do people think "this couldn't happen to me", but they also refuse to show caring for others and their situation.

(For America, I lay most of the blame at the feet of the old Calvinist doctrine of "poverty = God's punishment for sin, wealth = God's favor".)

by ArchaeoBob on Sun Jul 10, 2011 at 09:56:45 AM EST

You point to something, there is an increased meanness and lack of empathy in our society, and a decay of the concept of the common good. People are only valued for their monetary worth or ability to consume, not for the things they can contribute for others. We Catholics are not Calvinists, and in fact I find Calvinism far too legalistic for my taste, but the Catholic Right has absorbed this ethos that poverty means God's punishment and wealth means God's favor. It is rather like what has been called Social Darwinism, but which actually should be called Spencerism since Herbert Spencer and not Charles Darwin came up with the idea of misapplying evolutionary biology to social systems.

by khughes1963 on Sun Jul 10, 2011 at 11:27:04 AM EST
in our society seems to be condemned as "socialism". When even "Christian" leaders twist Jesus' teachings to support the Gospel of Rand, then we really do have a problem.

I'm not a Catholic, nor even a Christian, but I do (as Thomas Jefferson did) view the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth as worthy of heed, and his lifestyle worthy of emulation. Unfortunately, it seems that many "Christians" do not.

by phatkhat on Sun Jul 10, 2011 at 04:35:59 PM EST

It seems a bit strange to me that the conservative elements of the RC church would buy into that thinking considering where it (in a sense) originated in the last few hundred years.  

However, considering that authority has been tied in Eurocentric cultures to wealth and power (authority), and their emphasis on authority, it does make sense that they'd buy into an ideology that associates wealth with "being Right with God".  After all, in their eyes authority must come from God after all (never mind it might be at the point of a gun/spear/excommunication and expulsion from society).

by ArchaeoBob on Sun Jul 10, 2011 at 07:56:17 PM EST

There is an article in today's paper about a Rev. Clement A. Hageman, who was a Roman Catholic priest in the southwest.  In it, it sounds like the RC hierarchy was trying to blame sexual abuse on the civil rights movement (and the associated increase in freedom in this country).  I've heard other arguments and blame by the hierarchy (including blaming liberals, the gay rights movement, women's rights, and even toward the victims) in past reports, but this is the first time it seems to be directed at "the unrest of the 60s and 70s" which I take as a subtle reference to civil rights.

Am I picking up something new/different, or have you encountered this before? ews33?Title=Accusations-of-Abuse-by-Priest-Dating-to-Early-1940s& amp;tc=ar

As an additional point, I've talked with several women (all walkaways) who as little girls were raped by their preachers/pastors (in fundamentalist/dominionist churches - not RC).  I've heard of but never met men who suffered through the same experience.  From what I've seen, the public perception that it's a "Roman Catholic thing" is completely off base (of course), and the commonality I see between all of this is a strictly authoritarian (and really uncaring) church structure.  I wonder if there has ever been formal research showing a connection between sexual abuse of children (and sometimes even powerless adults) and a strict authoritarian structure?

by ArchaeoBob on Mon Jul 11, 2011 at 10:57:08 AM EST

"...effectively excluding some of us because there is no lift or ramp."? If you want to be there, be there. Put out a call for friends to really give you a lift and carry your butt down stairs. Do something other than whine. You might make it dramatic and have them strap you to a litter before they carry you down and then prop you up in a prominent place toward the front. Stop short of having them nail you to a cross before carrying you down. That one's been used.

by Ian Reid on Sun Jul 10, 2011 at 01:29:03 PM EST
the point, that indeed, the religious right has determined that empathy and "Common good" are not things to strive towards, but things to be crushed underfoot, as if Mr. Cocozzelli is a parasite and those without means are to be silent because they aren't blessed by God.

Otherwise, what a despicable and base thing to say.

by trog69 on Sun Jul 10, 2011 at 02:23:55 PM EST
in reality, you can't tell the difference unless they 'fess up'.

And that speaks worlds about how cruel and vicious the dominionists are.

by ArchaeoBob on Sun Jul 10, 2011 at 08:41:33 PM EST

Again we see how the lack of non-verbal cues in written posts can be a great hindrance to communication. I read this as a call for non-violent direct action ~ crudely and ineptly stated, certainly ~ but indicative of the way young people speak to each other these days. If one ignores the glib, insulting language, it could indeed be urging Mr. Cocozzelli to rally like-minded friends who could assist him in demonstrating to the priest that he refuses to be either excluded or silenced. Think of the paralyzed man and his friends in Mark 2 ~ if you can't get in the door, tear off the roof!

by MLouise on Sun Jul 10, 2011 at 08:59:41 PM EST
The "whine" part is a bit much, regardless.

by trog69 on Sun Jul 10, 2011 at 11:06:17 PM EST
at the language use suggests you're right.  Most of the words and the way they're put together show hostile and belittling emotional overtones.  Either it's trolling to illustrate the point (doubtful), or the person is just a typical dominionist/fundamentalist "Christian" troll.

I get much the same on a regular basis, if I make the mistake of going around conservatives/"Good Christians"/fundamentalists/dominionists.  It gets really irritating and frustrating when people callously dump things on you and push you... in my case the usual is "You can do more than you think", "Everyone hurts a little now and then", and so on.  The speaker usually has never experienced chronic pain, and sometimes not even severe pain.   Pain so bad that the muscles in the affected area are paralyzed.  Pain so bad you can't breath or think.  (This all is caused by pushing past my limits.)  They also think an aspirin or tylenol fixes everything when you hurt... but it won't touch pain like that (or the migraines I used to get).

I've even had them tell me that I'd never really experienced pain and needed to know what it was like - but those jackasses shut up when I tell them I've had over a dozen different kidney stones in my life (probable genetic tendency).

Like I said, it's sad when you can't tell the difference between exaggeration and the real attitudes.  And it's offensive that those people think they follow Christ.

by ArchaeoBob on Mon Jul 11, 2011 at 10:44:44 AM EST

After 56 years of being a Catholic, I have decided to leave the church.
For the last 10 years, I have waited and hoped for some sort of change. I became a lay Minister in hopes of expanding my knowledge base and hoping to serve my church.
I can't wait any longer.
I want a church that practices inclusion and tolerance.

I can no longer in good faith support the doctrines and the stance of the church. The sex abuse scandal was the end for me.

I am not sure where I will end up, but I will make sure the church I seek will be more in line with my view of how Christ would treat his fellow man, today, instead of relying of 2000 year old vision of the church.

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