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The Tone Set at the Top, Trickles Down

Originally posted at Talk to Action.

For many of us the face of the Catholic Right is not a pope, a cardinal or a bishop. In my case, it is my parish priest, who risks becoming (if he is not already) an agent of exclusion, censorship, and division in the Church.

Earlier this year I wrote about how my parish’s pastor Father Michael Gelfant sermonized against American Catholics and dissembled on the awkwardly translated, but nevertheless soon-to-be-implemented Missal. A visit to his public Facebook page revealed that his “likes” include Fox News, the “Notre Dame Scandal” (the protest against the University’s invitation to president Obama to speak at commencement) and the Ayn Rand Institute-associated Tea Party Patriots.

What follows may sound more personal than a matter of Gelfant’s Catholic rightism. But I think they are related. I also think my experiences are may be more characteristic of many more American Catholics than most of us may think.

During the summer, Mass at St. Finbar’s has traditionally been held in the former school auditorium, (which now serves as the parish center) because the upper Church becomes oppressively hot and humid. The ground level space is not only cooler, but has an entry ramp offering easy access for those of us confined to wheelchairs.

But last spring, Father Gelfant decided that this summer, Masses would be celebrated downstairs of the main Church, effectively excluding some of us because there is no lift or ramp. I asked him about it at the time, and Father Gelfant assured me that there would be access to the downstairs Church (only the Sunday morning 9 AM Mass is said upstairs). We are now well into July and none has been provided.

The lack of access has made me wonder if the pastor is specifically trying to shut me out. I don’t like feeling that way, and I don’t believe that is his specific intention (especially that I know of other disabled parishioners who require either a ramp or a lift to get downstairs) – and yet that possibility still nags at me.

But I am not the only one facing this and other disturbing questions.

Indeed, in light of one recent sermon, we are left to wonder if Father Gelfant has decided not merely to serve as God’s representative, but as His replacement. Gelfant declared that atheists have no right to heaven. This greatly upset a friend of mine who has a family member who happens to be a non-believer. I wonder whether Father Gelfant truly believes that selfish and warlike believers, for example, will enter the Kingdom of God while righteous atheists would not? I wonder if he truly believes that God is unable to love and embrace those who have lost their faith, (especially those who lost their faith because of the failures of word and deed of some of his representatives?)

I was also recently left to wonder whether my parish priest had resorted to censorship (like certain high-profile Catholic Right activists.) The day after New York State legislated marriage equality, Gelfant condemned the new law on the parish’s Facebook page. He claimed, among other things, that extending the right of civil marriage to gay people will destroy the institution of marriage altogether. In response, I asked, how would the marriage of two gay people endanger my heterosexual marriage? I added that as a Catholic, I was proud of both the governor and the legislature. My comment was deleted and I was blocked from the parish’s page.

Father Gelfant is what the leaders of my Church hath wrought. They have set the tone and given us Gelfant, who in many ways epitomizes the divisiveness that has permeated the Vatican and trickled down in the Church since the ascendancy of Pope John Paul II in 1978. The divisiveness has become more profound and driven deeper into the local church under the current pontiff. In Madison, Wisconsin, Bishop Robert Morlino censured a thoughtful and faithful theologian. In New York City, Archbishop Timothy Dolan disparaged dissent and calls for reform as “anti-Catholicism.” And in the Diocese of Kansas City-St, Joseph, Kansas Opus Dei Bishop Robert Finn declared war on religious freedom by describing Catholicism as “the Church militant” while proclaiming, “We are at war.” (Finn was not taking umbrage with a non-Catholic but with fellow priest, University of Notre Dame president Rev. John I. Jenkins for inviting President Obama to the school’s commencement ceremonies).

I suppose I should not be shocked or even surprised by Father Gelfant since his fellow traditionalists in the Vatican have been quite clear in their desire for a leaner and meaner Church. I guess I am just disappointed that the tone set at the top seems to have trickled down to my parish.

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One Response

  1. Here’s the bottom line for me – the priests, bishops and pope himself can’t be trusted, so you have to make your own decisions between you and God.

    Priests raped children by the thousands. Bishops covered it up, then lied about it. They both continue to ignore or malign the victims, and use high powered lawyers to beat them out of money for therapy in court.

    This was the simplest decision in God’s world – and the simple answer was to tell the truth, not care about money, and pay whatever it cost to get therapy for the children that were raped. Instead, they have taken almost a satanic approach by raping children, lying about it, and ignoring the victims.

    Only 5-10 priests in the entire world have spoken up against the way they handled it, which means none of them are doing what Jesus would do.

    If the Catholic church understood anything about God’s messages, they’d sell every church and feed the hungry in the world, which would be the greatest gift the Catholic church could give to the world.

    Instead, the current priests and bishops are leaving an embarrassing legacy, so people are leaving their church. It shocks me that the remaining congregation hasn’t figured this out yet.

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