A report from our mole on the Topics-to-Go lecture by "'loyal' dissident theologian" Fr. Charles Curran yesterday, March 24. He promises more later.
Once again, I ventured into the deep and attended the Kansas City Catholic dissenters’ Topics-to-Go lecture series at the All’s Souls Unitarian Universalist "Church." And once again, I sacrificed a morning of my life (a beautiful spring morning, by-the-way) to hang out with a bunch of liberal gray-hairs.
You guys really need to start paying me for this. Really! At least cover the cost of the almond croissant and coffee I got at Napoleon’s Bakery to carry me through the ordeal. And give me five bucks to put into the "freewill offering" basket so they can pay airfare for the next dissident to Kansas City (don’t worry…I wouldn’t really do the latter).
So now I’m flipping through 15 smallish pages of notes looking for something interesting to say about Fr. Charles Curran’s talk. This time a professor was talking, so there were some outrageous things said, but not in a particularly outrageous way, unlike the antics of Bishop "Just Tom" Gumbleton (or Sister Joan Chittister and Kathleen Sebelius) last year. I’ll get to the summary in a moment, but as with the other talks, the most interesting things were the setting, the crowd and the Q&A session.
The setting was more subdued than last time. The only literature available as you walked in was a Voice of the Faithful brochure and a free copy the current issue of National Catholic Reporter (more on that later). I didn’t see literature or hear any new announcements about the KCSJ People of God organization that they were trying to start last year. The auditorium was as it was last time, except that additional chairs were set up in the foyer so that the huge crowd could be comfortable as it spilled out of the auditorium (it never did, BTW. There were a good number of empty seats. Attendance has fallen off since "Just Tom’s" talk in the heady early days of their project).
The front wall of the "sanctuary," the UU’s auditorium, still had that 25-foot tall nonrepresentational fabric-and-rope thingamabob that reminded me of a woman’s reproductive system. I used to think that there’s no place in this world for nonrepresentational art of that sort. I was wrong. The UU "sanctuary" is the perfect place for such a thing. This time I also noticed that beside the podium was a hoop-and-lamp doo-dad which is the UU logo. However, the lamp wasn’t lit. Rather fitting for it to be there in front of a dissident priest. And rather fitting that the lamp’s fire was out.
Anyways, the crowd was—as noted above—gray. Very gray. Lots of old women, fewer old men. A dozen or so younger folk (out of a total of around 200 people). And lots of women (old and young) dressed like men, with their hair cut like men. I didn’t sit next to anyone this time—there were plenty of seats available, but the woman down the row (30 to 40-ish, with the regulation manly haircut, manly khaki pants, and manly white button-down blouse) was apparently a true believer. She chortled at the typical applause lines (e.g., from Fr. Curran, "We tend to idolatry, making God in our own image, but we really don’t know what She looks like!") and guffawed and sighed at all the right places.
There was another amusing incident (amusing…like all of this…in a dark sort of way). Before the lecture started, the leader of the pack stood up and announced that there were copies of Curran’s book, Loyal Dissent, available in the back. Then she announced that someone had accidentally been given an autographed copy of the book, and she asked everyone who bought a book to examine theirs to see if there was a greeting scribbled to Sister Farrah Far-Out. Some guy raised his hand, and Sister Far-Out herself marched up to make the exchange. Her habit was indistinguishable from that of most of the other women in attendance: Regulation haircut, khaki pants, and a white button-down shirt. Perhaps they’re all sisters of the same order?
Anyways, there were no Roman collars in sight (certainly not from Fr. Curran, a suit-and-tie priest all around), but I recognized the former pastor of a midtown KCMO church behind me, and I also recognized my parents’ former rural pastor (now, I think, at some JoCo assignment…one of the "Holy Something-or-Other" parishes that seem to run together in my mind). I tried to get a couple of solid orthodox priests I knew to attend with me, and ask a few difficult questions, but I suppose Saturday morning confessions and other duties—or perhaps good sense—kept them away.
Now, I should discuss my talk, but I’ve just got to jump ahead. I’ll get to the bulk of Curran’s talk later in this email…or perhaps in the next. The Q&A session featured two or three queries and comments from the audience (two from some of the few members of the audience under 60), expressing fear for their progressive movement in the face of …. people like us: young conservative Catholics. One young woman (conspicuous due to her rather feminine haircut) asked "I look around, and I see a striking age difference here. We all see it. Most people who are young see things in black and white and are more conservative and legalistic. What are we to do?" A second woman, whose appearance I didn’t note and don’t recall, said she was concerned about the lack of youth in the room and asked "What do you think about the future of loyal dissent?" A third guy…thirtyish…stood up and announced that he was not so conservative as he used to be, and asked Curran to comment on "conservative dissent" on issues like bringing back--gasp--the Latin Mass.
In response to the first question, Curran took a mild track. He acknowledged that there was danger in certitude, and also that it was important that "groups like this" got together and dissenters drew support from one another. However, said Curran, it’s important that we all get along: it’s a big Church, and there is a need for Diversity as well as Unity. Curran then moved a little farther down the trail and cautioned the first questioner and the audience about the dangers of young Catholics looking for certainty, and he likened the conservative revival to the upsurge of evangelicalism that has eclipsed moderate protestantism in the last 40 years.
(Here, I noted that it was highly unusual…if not unheard of…for the dissenters to describe reactionary Catholic nuts like me as a source of "Diversity." Usually the Topics-to-Go crowd seems themselves as the sole source and arbiter of Diversity. We’re not ordinarily scored as "Diverse" notwithstanding that we’re often a minority of one in a room such as this).
To the second and third questioners, Curran opened up a little more, noting that keeping the interest of youth is a problem for every Church of every demonination. He noted that the average age of the subscribers to National Catholic Distorter was 67. That’s right….67 (!)...and they’re struggling to get younger readers. He sees real problems in the future. Curran’s suggestion was that younger people are too busy playing soccer-mom to get involved like the gray-heads in the room.
(Here I repressed an urge to jump up and answer the obvious question. So dissenters aren’t reproducing? Imagine that! I wonder if it has anything to do with disregard of the "non-core" teachings about artificial contraception? Or with the attitude of religious indifferentism? Too busy enjoying themselves to trouble with more than one designer child and too busy celebrating themselves to give that one designer child a solid leftist formation. Fr. Charlie oughta come to Blessed Sacrament. It’ll scare the hell out of him.)
Anyways, I have a few chores to do, so I’m going to postpone the writeup of the whole talk until latter on. I will say, though, that at the end of the talk, I lingered a little bit in the corner, pondering mischief. Do I kneel down and ask my parent’s old pastor for a blessing? Or perhaps as Fr. Curran? After all….St. Francis said that his first act on meeting a particular wicked priest would be to kiss his hands, because of their indellible sacerdotal character. Naw, I decided…my chaplain describes sacramentals as "spiritual bullets," but there seemed to be something wrong with firing such a bullet off in that setting.
Your unjustly-paid correspondent.