Wednesday, July 30, 2008

A Tragic Vindication

I just read an article in the California Catholic Daily called, “In 1968, something terrible happened in the Church”. The author, Cardinal James Francis Stafford talks about his experience as a priest in 1968 in Baltimore.

He discusses how the open, public Dissent to Humanae Vitae, the papal encyclical affirming the ban on artificial birth control was strategically planned by the clergy of the time (at least in that area). His story tells how he was the ONLY one among the priests present for a meeting in St. William of York Church in August of 1968 who would NOT agree to sign the "Statement of Dissent" to be published in the Baltimore Sun.
"My expectations of the meeting proved unrealistic. I had hoped that we had been called together to receive copies of the encyclical and to discuss it. I was mistaken. Neither happened. After welcoming us and introducing the leadership, the inner-city pastor came to the point. He expected each of us to subscribe to the Washington “Statement of Dissent.” Mixing passion with humor, he explained the reasons. They ranged from the maintenance of the credibility of the Church among the laity, to the need to allow ‘flexibility’ for married couples in forming their consciences on the use of artificial contraceptives. Before our arrival, the conveners had decided that the Baltimore priests’ rejection of the papal encyclical would be published the following morning in The Baltimore Sun, one of the daily newspapers.

The Washington statement was read aloud. Then the leader asked each of us to agree to have our names attached to it. No time was allowed for discussion, reflection, or prayer. Each priest was required individually to give a verbal “yes” or “no.”

I could not sign it. My earlier letter to Cardinal Shehan came to mind. I remained convinced of the truth of my judgment and conclusions. Noting that my seat was last in the packed basement, I listened to each priest’s response, hoping for support. It didn’t materialize. Everyone agreed to sign. There were no abstentions. As the last called upon, I felt isolated. The basement became suffocating. By now it was night. The room was charged with tension. Something epochal was taking place. It became clear that the leaders’ strategy had been carefully mapped out beforehand. It was moving along without a hitch. Their rhetorical skills were having their anticipated effect. They had planned carefully how to exert what amounted to emotional and intellectual coercion. Violence by overt manipulation was new to the Baltimore presbyterate.

The leader’s reaction to my refusal was predictable and awful. The whole process now became a grueling struggle, a terrible test, a Peirasmòs. The priest/leader, drawing upon some scatological language from his Marine Corp past in the II World War, responded contemptuously to my decision. He tried to force me to change. He became visibly angry and verbally abusive. The underlying ‘fraternal’ violence became more evident. He questioned and then derided my integrity. He taunted me to risk my ecclesiastical ‘future,’ although his reference was more anatomically specific. The abuse went on.

With surprising coherence, I was eventually able to respond that the Pope’s encyclical deserved the courtesy of a reading. None of us had read it. I continued that, as a matter of fact, I agreed with and accepted the Pope’s teaching as it had been reported in the public media. That response elicited more ridicule. Otherwise there was silence. Finally, seeing that I would remain firm, the ex-Marine moved on to complete the business and adjourn the meeting. The leaders then prepared a statement for the next morning’s daily paper."

There is more if you have the stomach to read it.

This makes me sick. This makes me want to cry, and I've been pretty numb lately.

I LIVED in the Baltimore Archdiocese in 1968! I received my first Holy Communion in the Baltimore Archdiocese in 1968! I attended St. William of York as an adult.

Now I I have some inkling of what my rather large extended family must have gone through emotionally and spiritually during that horrible, confusing time. Now I know what in the world happened to my own Catholic upbringing. Now I know why, even at 7 or 8, I sensed that something precious was being snatched away from me. After that year, our Catholic reading books were taken out of our Catholic school, to be replaced by run of the mill non-religious ones. The sisters stopped wearing their habits. And, apparently, the priests stop respecting the Holy Father.

In 1968, our faith was systematically stolen from us from the inside.

May God have mercy on all our souls.


Cygnus said...

Wow. Just wow. Thank you, Cardinal Stafford, for your Thomas More-like courage.

Fr. Z has been discussing how the National Catholic Reporter has been trashing Humanae Vitae up one side and down the other, as if the Church were a democracy. This just in; It's not.

ladycub said...

I was a parishioner at St William of York in 1968 (6 years old almost 7). I remember when the sisters changed their names and stopped wearing the habit. I also remember that many sisters left the convent altogether.
This whole thing explains a lot of the gaps in my Catholic education and upbringing.
Thanks for posting this!

Dymphna (4HisChurch) said...

Hey, Cyg and Ladycub. I thought of you both as I was posting this. It really makes me want to cry. I think it is truly a miracle that the Baltimore Archdiocese got any vocations out of our generation at all--thank God for them!

I always *knew* that something "big" happened around that time. I've "known" it from the very beginning. Now I know what.

Marilena said...

good thing i was too little at the time!

Dan Sealana said...

This is one of the reasons I'm so glad I joined a religious order that makes it a point to be faithful to church teaching. Discerning a vocation is already tough enough. I'm glad I don't have to worry about my fellow brothers/priests playing fast & loose with the rules.

If I started openly speaking again church teaching here where I am, the priests would lovingly tell me to pack up and move back home. :-)

Dymphna (4HisChurch) said...

We are so blessed now to have some wonderful religious orders of both men and women.

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"Slavery ended in medieval Europe only because the church extended its sacraments to all slaves and then managed to impose a ban on the enslavement of Christians (and of Jews). Within the context of medieval Europe, that prohibition was effectively a rule of universal abolition. "— Rodney Stark

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