By Charlie Johnston
As you have surely noticed, I am struggling a bit. It is not that there is not enough to write about, but that there is too much, an information overload. In the 60s and 70s there were certain absurdist and political thrillers and farces, both on the big screen and in novels. Catch-22, Dr. Strangelove and Being There were all examples of the genres. They were all written so overly broad that no one was expected to take them seriously, even if they had a serious underlying point.
I have been being prepared for these times all my life and I am still astonished at the furious intensity with which it is all coming down – and the utter absurdity that we are expected to listen to with a straight face. I have talked with several people about how, if you just pull up the Drudge Report at any random moment now, things that used to be highlights in year-end reviews are routine. Shoot, things that are so grotesquely absurd that they would be shockers in a full decade of news are now part of our daily routine. In fact, I’m going to pull up Drudge right now and just pick five or six insane items. (For those of you who don’t know, Drudge does not write original material on the site; he simply provides links to existing stories from various news sites):
- – This as the president insists he will not bother getting the approval of Congress for a deal – something Constitutionally required.
- Paris Balks at US-Iran Nuke Deal – Seriously, this deal is so bad even the European surrender caucus can’t stomach it.
- Mid-East in Free Fall – Four Arab countries, led by Saudi Arabia, have launched war against terrorist Jihadists who have taken over Yemen – which even this week the American administration continues to call its great success.
- Saudi Arabia Considers Going Nuclear – The deal Pres. Obama insists on doing is so bad Saudi Arabia and Egypt are the first in a coalition of Arab states publicly discussing forming agreements with Israel for mutual protection.
- US Military to send Special Forces to Infiltrate 7 Southwestern States in 8–week Drill – My home state of Colorado is one of the seven to which 1,200 Special Forces personnel will be sent to infiltrate and operate undetected among the general population. I am not making this up.
- Taylor Swift Named Top Female World Leader – I almost didn’t include this, figuring it had to be a ranking by some teeny-bopper magazine. The ranking was made by Fortune Magazine. Seriously.
Like I said, this is just taken from some top stories from the screen shot that is up as I write. I haven’t touched on Russia threatening to invade the Baltics. Greece threatening to go belly up and take all of Western Europe with it, Muslims protesting for the right to enforce “Sharia Law” in America, or any of a host of other insanities now taken for granted as the new normal. I keep expecting the late Peter Sellers to come toddling up and a director to yell, “Cut!” (For you youngsters, Peter Sellers was an actor who often played roles in political farces so broadly drawn they were not expected to simulate reality).
My struggle right now is primarily to figure out how to write about things in a way so that the forest does not get lost for the trees. The trees have gotten so unearthly and surreal, it is easy to get caught up gawking at them and lose sight of the big picture in these last moments before complete chaos and, thus, lose sight of how to endure and help others do the same.
Oddly, I got a little calm this afternoon when I stumbled upon an old episode of The Love Boat on television this afternoon. The old series from the mid-70s to the early 80s was a light-as-fluff comedy every week that featured three romantic stories unfolding on a cruise ship. For its time, it could be suggestive, always had a few bikini-clad girls, and characters were frequently up to some scheming mischief. A couple of things struck me on watching an episode for the first time in 30 years. First was how innocent it was. No matter how much the scheming to begin with, the characters assumed that love always trumped lust – and the fundamental search was always for true love and human kindness, which ultimately transformed any schemes. Second was that I was not subjected to any lectures disguised as plot lines on ‘rape culture, white privilege, inter-gender rights, marriage equality,” or other such nonsense that completely occupies the chattering class as the world collapses. The art of a period (particularly the mundane, conventional art – of which TV series are one form) reflect the common mores of that period. It startled me to realize that just 30 years ago, we did not just believe in truth, justice and the American Way: we presumed that was the fundamental answer to most problems. As the world gets darker, we spend much more time screeching about inane things. We are not as honorable a people as even the scamps among us were just over 30 years ago.
I have not been unmoved by the unspeakable scandal that happened in the Diocese of Metuchen, New Jersey. You have undoubtedly heard of the teacher at a Catholic High School who was fired by the Diocese for posting on her Facebook Page that she believed marriage is the union of one man and one woman, blessed by the Church. It is bad that Christians should be targeted by the government and by activists for trying to live their faith with fidelity, but to have officials of the Church join with the wolves in the attack is shocking. When such a shocking thing occurs, I like to give it a few days, to let people get their sea legs. I have had to do crisis management for a few officials in front of the media, and I know how confused things can get the first few days – and how people can say things they regret.
But when Bishop Paul Bootkoski finally spoke on it, he made it worse. He mutilated the words of Pope Francis to make it seem the teacher had committed an offense rather than his diocese.
He dissembled, making it seem as if they had not fired her before agreeing they had – and arguing they were right to do so. If her lawyer is telling the truth, at the time he was dissembling, school officials were angrily telling her she would, under no circumstances, be allowed to return. That would mean the Bishop was baldly lying when he first dissembled. Finally, he smeared those who defended the woman as just trying to get media attention. Bishop Bootkoski hit a grand slam of maliciousness here – attacking the faithful, betraying the faith, bearing false witness against Pope Francis, and maliciously smearing any who dared ask for justice.
I did a little research to see if there had been similar instances in the Bishop’s past or whether he had performed any notable service for the faith. I like to get a sense of a man…to see his entire career to get an idea of how much benefit of the doubt there should be. As many recall, I was – and am – a defender of Cardinal Timothy Dolan. Yes, he acted clumsily in dealing with the homosexual movement. Many thought he should have quit the field of New York’s St. Patrick Day Parade. Some made a good case, but others condemned him for not forbidding homosexual entries – not bothering to find out that neither he nor the Catholic Church have ever had control of the parade. His only choice was to march or to abandon it. While sympathizing in some measure with some of his critics, I did not forget that as head of the USCCB, he DID have the steel to hold the line and not buckle under to the administration’s efforts to foist phony “compromises” to force Catholics to swallow the mandatory abortion and contraception portions of Obamacare. It was a sustained effort I have not been accustomed to seeing from the assembled American Bishops. My point is that I am not quick to pile on to one who has shown past fortitude and courage, even if they fumble and stumble a little.
Bishop Bootkoski appears to be a journeyman ecclesial administrator. There is nothing strikingly negative or positive in his previous history. But now a time of decision has come. He made a bad decision to attack the faithful and betray the faith. Given a chance to clarify, he doubled down and smeared both Pope Francis and his critics in the process. His behavior in this matter has been utterly contemptible – and he deserves the contempt of the faithful unless he repents and lives his duty. If not, he must be removed.
I am thinking hard about this. I do not just want to note the wolves who have crawled among us in shepherd’s garb. We have absolutely heroic Bishops – like Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco, Cardinal Francis George, Archbishop Emeritus of Chicago, and Bishop Emeritus Rene Gracida of Corpus Christi. I had one good man who should know better speak of leaving the entire Church because of Bishop Bootkoski’s actions, arguing that the Church has betrayed us. The Church most assuredly has not betrayed us, but does it surprise anyone that there are traitors in the ranks? I have spoken, admittedly sometimes obliquely, of this since I started this website. It is not just among the laity that betrayal comes. I have always known that betrayal would come from some among the princes of the Church, just as it has since the beginning. But our faithful Bishops have the right to expect the faithful not just to condemn betrayal, but to support fortitude. All too often we are long on the former and short on the latter. Meanwhile, those of us in the laity have the right to expect our Bishops to defend both the faith and the faithful. The key for both clergy and laity is to stay with the Barque of Peter, defending it from all assaults, both from without and within. To quit your post is not to do what is right, but to abandon the Church in the hour of its greatest need. I will have more to say on this next week. I am gathering names to which letters must be sent, for if this Bishop does not repent of the ill he has done or is not removed from the post he has disgraced, it will be a scandal that will jeopardize the faith and the faithful.
Do not be surprised. This is among the things that must come. Pope Paul VI knew several generations ago that the smoke of satan had infiltrated the Church. There will be more things this year that will shock and dismay all of us. It is not enough to condemn, not enough to despair, not enough to protest. We must act in a way that builds up the faithful, that builds up the Church, and that supports the worthy Shepherds who are standing their post with fidelity. Contrary to what some think, that is the majority…and they will be significantly enervated to see that the faithful will rise with them.
So for now, I consider how to act in a manner that builds up the Church while removing the rotten timber.