To quote a friend of mine, “Trying to understand Church issues through mainstream secular media is like trying to understand global economics through a 13-year-old girl’s Instagram account.”
In short, it just won’t happen. The personnel aren’t equipped, and likely don’t want to take the time to become equipped, to speak well and foster understanding about nuanced issues in the Church. They’re only after eyes, likes, and shares, (and I don’t know that they deny it) so why, OH WHY do we fall for this every. single. time?
A bit of background: Cardinal Raymond Burke, former bishop of the Dioceses of La Crosse, Wisconsin and St. Louis, respectively, and recognized defender of more traditional practices within the Church, gave an exclusive interview recently to a website dedicated to fostering the growth and strength of Catholic men–the New Emangelization. Find the full text of that interviewhere.
What happened next, to quote my wife: “Catholic figurehead says something. Media misinterprets. Internet explodes.”
What people who haven’t read the full text of his interview have heard from the secular media, basically, is this:
- Girls being allowed to serve at Mass have caused the priest shortage
- Gay priests are the reason for the sex abuse crisis
- The Church is too feminine/feminized
Here’s the thing, if that’s what he said, and it was in the proper context, and there’s no way that what he said was misunderstood, there would be a lot of cause for concern about Cardinal Burke being a public figure.
However, that wasn’t the case in the least. What the media wrote, because of their apparent ill feelings towards anyone seen as conservative or traditional in the Catholic sense, was not fully what he said, was taken tremendously out of context, and there’s a huge possibility for what he said to be misunderstood by people who don’t think critically about his words.
For starters, Cardinal Burke was answering questions and talking specifically about the plight of Catholic laymen in today’s society to a guy who runs a Catholic men’s website. He addressed many things that have caused the epidemic of lay men (i.e. not priests, bishops, deacons, etc.) exiting the Catholic Church in the last few generations, and many other things that have contributed to a general underdevelopment of Catholic lay men over the past several decades.
The common theme throughout Cardinal Burke’s entire interview was nuance. It’s complicated. Every issue he addresses can’t be reduced to a sound byte or a sentence, but when that happens, people misunderstand the context and meaning, then are outraged over something that he never said.
I’m suggesting that there’s no cause for concern about Cardinal Burke, because he’s making perfect sense. Maybe the media doesn’t want you to know that.
Here’s what Cardinal Burke actually said, and actually meant, with regard to those three points:
1. Girls being allowed to serve at Mass has caused the priest shortage.
Here’s the full excerpt:
The introduction of girl servers also led many boys to abandon altar service. Young boys don’t want to do things with girls. It’s just natural. The girls were also very good at altar service. So many boys drifted away over time. I want to emphasize that the practice of having exclusively boys as altar servers has nothing to do with inequality of women in the Church.
I think that this has contributed to a loss of priestly vocations. It requires a certain manly discipline to serve as an altar boy in service at the side of priest, and most priests have their first deep experiences of the liturgy as altar boys. If we are not training young men as altar boys, giving them an experience of serving God in the liturgy, we should not be surprised that vocations have fallen dramatically.
The first sentence in each of those paragraphs were the money-makers for the media, but they failed to include an explanation for the oh-so-telling qualifying words in his quotes.
If Cardinal Burke had said literally, “Girls being servers has led boys to abandon altar service,” or “Girls being servers is the sole reason for the loss in priestly vocations,” there would be a lot more to talk about. But there were other words included for a purpose–to put conditions on his statement and to indicate a different, and intentional meaning.
The operative words in question in these two sentences are “contributed”,”also”, and “many”. Those three words show the following things: First, the introduction of girl servers is only a part of the problem of fewer vocations. Second, there was something else he had spoken about previously in the interview that was perhaps a greater cause of boys abandoning altar service, namely the experimentation with liturgy and the loss of a robust family life, thus perhaps bringing a demand for girl servers. Third: Many boys didn’t abandon altar service, and are possibly still choosing to become priests based on that experience!
2. Homosexual priests are the reason for the sex abuse crisis.
Here’s the actual quote:
We can also see that our seminaries are beginning to attract many strong young men who desire to serve God as priests. The new crop of young men are manly and confident about their identity. This is a welcome development, for there was a period of time when men who were feminized and confused about their own sexual identity had entered the priesthood; sadly some of these disordered men sexually abused minors; a terrible tragedy for which the Church mourns.
It should be obvious, but nowhere does Cardinal Burke use the word “homosexual” to describe clergy who abused children. Granted, the cardinal was vague in his quote, but to suggest that he was implying that it was homosexual clergy’s fault for the crisis is a big stretch.
What I think he was pointing out instead is the clear indication that a normal, well-adjusted man doesn’t molest children, and that the men who committed those crimes had a disorder indeed. The point of mentioning this, I think, was to lament the sad reality that the Church failed both the abusers and the victims in part by not ensuring better formation for Catholic men.
Unfortunately, “Church remorseful over ill-formed men responsible for sex abuse crisis” doesn’t seem to garner as many clicks as “Cardinal blames gay clergy.”
3. The Church is too feminine/feminized.
Before Cardinal Burke said, “the Church becomes very feminized,” he had just finished outlining in 20 paragraphs (TWENTY!) the state of men in the Catholic Church, so to take this line on its own as some sort of woman-bashing, “antiquated,” chauvinistic point of view is something fit for an entitled college classroom, not an intelligent discussion of reality.
First, to explain a bit what Cardinal Burke spoke about in those 20 paragraphs, he began like this:
Unfortunately, the radical feminist movement strongly influenced the Church, leading the Church to constantly address women’s issues at the expense of addressing critical issues important to men; the importance of the father, whether in the union of marriage or not; the importance of a father to children; the importance of fatherhood for priests; the critical impact of a manly character; the emphasis on the particular gifts that God gives to men for the good of the whole society.
I still instinctively cringe a little whenever someone speaks ill of the radical feminist movement, because I’ve grown up in an American society and sat in college classes that see it as some sort of New Covenant, where women finally took control of the world from the hands of the greasy slimy men that had been holding them back forever and ever.
To be sure, in the United States a lot of what that movement created was a very good thing. With women being in the workplace holding jobs as more than secretaries and nurses, it was indeed an unjust reality that they were discriminated against simply for being women. To that point, believe it or not, Cardinal Burke commented:
Everyone understands that women have and can be abused by men. Men who abuse women are not true men, but false men who have violated their own manly character by being abusive to women.
Interesting that the media refrained from mentioning that quote.
Cardinal Burke is pointing to a crucial problem that occurred with the onset of radical feminism in the 1960s: that the Church addresses women’s issues at the expense of critical issues still facing men. There’s more than two answers to this problem, unlike our dichotomous, you’re-either-Conservative-or-Liberal American society tells us.
See, the Church being too “feminized” is just as big of a problem as if the Church were too “masculinized”. Women make up the majority service roles in the Catholic Church anymore, and the problem Cardinal Burke is pointing out is not that women shouldn’t be doing those jobs. It’s that men aren’t stepping up to the plate to serve their Church!
What the Church needs is to not be “anything-ized”. It just needs to be the Church.
If we all answered the call to serve how God has created us and wants us to serve, this problem wouldn’t exist, and in this case, men would be stepping up despite the societal pressures facing them.
What we have in Cardinal Burke is a man who speaks intelligently and complicatedly about issues that are crucial to understanding the heart of Catholic spirituality, but that in other ways also have a tendency to be hot-button when it comes to the media.
We must be willing to do our homework every time the media comes out swinging at something an unpopular churchman says. Cardinal Burke isn’t stupid, but one can only see that when reading the actual text of his interviews. Otherwise, the potential to mislead others by posting secular reports without prior research is too great.