Thursday, May 31, 2007

Ain't separation great?

"She cannot at her own whim simply enter or leave her religion." So ruled the Malaysian judge who refused Lina Joy, a Catholic convert from Islam, permission to change her religious affiliation on her government ID card. Instead the judge told her she must go to the Islamic law, or Sharia, court and declare herself an apostate, which is likely to get her sent to a "rehabilitation center," according to the New York Times. Conversion to Christianity is illegal under Islamic law. In Muslim-majority Malaysia Muslims must use Shariah courts for certain matters; everyone else uses the civil courts.

There are loads of issues here, from the imperialism that often accompanied Christianity to the ever-escalating "war of civilizations" that some insist on fanning. But I think one thing that all should be able to agree upon is the freedom to choose and practice one's religion. Clearly, some Muslims in Malaysia disagree, and quite frankly there are plenty of American Christians who want to enforce "Judeo-Christianity" here, with the Ten Commandments posted in public buildings (especially courts) and insist that everyone at least sit through prayer in public schools. Religious coercion comes in many forms.

Let's face it: The separation of church and state is a really, really good idea, both for church and state. The case of Lina Joy is one reason why.

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Extra, extra: Sex toys incompatible with Catholicism

There's a new addition to the list of things employees and volunteers at Catholic churches simply cannot do: sell sex toys. No, really.

According to the AP story, Linette Servais, 50, played the organ and sang with the choir for 35 years in her parish of St. Joseph's in New Franken, Wisconsin, but was recently dismissed because she worked for Pure Romance (you'll have to find the link yourself), which sells "spa products and sex toys" at parties attended mostly by women. (Think Tupperware, only for another room of the house. I wonder if the spa products sell as well as the, um, other stuff.) Servais said that she began working with Pure Romance after suffering sexual dysfunction, the result of a bout with cancer.

"After I got over the initial shock, I prayed over this a long time," she said. "I feel that Pure Romance is my ministry." Well, canon law says people have a right to their ministry...

The pastor's reasoning was a little sketchier. "Linette is a consultant for a firm which sells products of a sexual nature that are not consistent with Church teachings," Father Dean Dombroski wrote in a letter to parishioners. (This week in "Pastor's pondering..." Well, it might make for good bulletin reading during homily time.)

Now where is that in the Catechism again? I mean, they used to call these sorts of things "marital aids," and I think the magisterium has no real objection to their use by married people--though most bishops would probably prefer they not be discussed. And the woman did have cancer. This man had better hope he doesn't have any sexual skeletons in his closet--not even a dirty magazine or a stray click of the mouse.

I'm afraid I'm going to have to add this to the overzealous prudery category. And to simple silliness. And to general lack of concern about the sexual well-being of women. And probably to a lack of awareness about issues of sexuality in general. Or the effects of cancer and treatments for it on libido and sexual function. I should stop...

Besides, it's not like she was selling the stuff in the parish basement.


Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Spinning the Latin liturgy

John Allen is reporting in the International Herald Tribune that the Tridentine Latin Mass is on its way back in, and soon. Indeed, there have been significant signs that the "old liturgy" would soon be designated an "extraordinary universal rite," with the "Novus Ordo" of Vatican II becoming the "ordinary universal rite." (Which means, most likely, that any priest could up and decide to celebrate in Latin any time he wants, bishop's permission or not.) Allen, seemingly the press apologist for the Vatican of late, spins this benevolently: "Though some details remain vague, one point seems all too clear: When the decision officially comes down, its importance will be hyped beyond all recognition, because doing so serves the purposes of both conservatives and liberals within the church, as well as the press." Allen goes on to stake out his typical middle ground, pedantically explaining why this is a victory neither for the right nor the left.

I beg to differ. The restoration of a rite that garnered only three affirmative votes at the Council, compared with more than 2,000 in favor of reform, is nothing less than a repudiation of Vatican II, and a capital act of hubris on the part of the pope. No decision of this pastoral magnitude should be made on one's own, whether one is the bishop of Rome or not. The groups who have been clamoring for this restoration are small indeed, and the Tridentine liturgy is widely available in many places. There is no pastoral need to elevate it in this way. The "need" is merely ideological.

Unfortunately, not only will it probably happen--despite the strenuous efforts of many European bishops to stop it--but simultaneously the English vernacular liturgy will soon be dealt another crushing blow with the introduction of new, painfully archaic, and highly Latinized translations. Bishop Donald Trautman of Erie has labored long and hard to stop this train wreck, most recently in America magazine, but he, and the rest of us, are likely soon to be run over by it.

So sorry, John, I couldn't disagree more.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

From red Guccis to flip-flops

In kind of a big deal, the Vatican is restoring its Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, which was folded into the Pontifical Council for Culture back in 2006, according to the International Herald Tribune. At the time, its terrific Muslim expert, the English Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald, was sent packing as the papal envoy to Egypt and the Arab League, a move some saw as a demotion (and a rebuke?). Many commentators (this one included) judged the change as a huge mistake--a sign that the Vatican was going to try a hard line with world Islam--and it seems the Vatican has seen the light. No word yet on whether Fitzgerald will make a triumphant return to the Curia, but in light of the pope's still-delicate relationship with Islam, let's cross our fingers.

Good thing B16 doesn't have to face reelection. We'll never forget how that flip-flopping thing stuck to another Catholic. But let's hope he sticks to the Guccis for his actual footwear. It is nice to know, however, that at least the papal administration can admit a mistake, unlike some others I could mention.

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