Friday, August 12, 2005

Ex Cathedra: Msgr. Clark's Fall from Grace and the Problem with Hardline Orthodoxy - Catholic Priest, Msgr. Eugene V. Clark, a hardline voice on behalf of Catholic orthodoxy, has been caught with his pants down in an unseemly adulterous relationship. Click here for the story.

Catholic blogger, Amy Welborn, has written a very moving article about how she, as an Orthodox Catholic, is reacting to the scandal and what it means for the Church and the faithful, and in particular for the Orthodox community that held Msgr. Clark in such esteem and that embraced him as a "voice in the wilderness" for Orthodoxy. Welborn doesn't defend Msgr. Clark, but she also doesn't strike an outraged or condemnatory tone towards the man. Welborn's piece is commendable for its humility; but the fact of its humility is also quite a departure from the cocksure infallibility characteristic of Orthodoxy's advocates and defenders.

In the comments section of her blog, I wrote the following, which represents my thoughts on Msgr. Clark's fall from grace and how it reflects what I see as the preeminent problem with Catholic Orthodoxy as practiced and promoted by its hardline advocates today:

I think the issue, the crushing disappointment, has less to do with recognizing the reality of the failings and sins of our clergy and Church leadership. I think we all are aware of that at a fundamental level. Nor is it really that such failings, when they come to light, are "faith-shakers" for us who are sure of our faith. Rather, it is the hubris and the lack of humility about our sinfulness coming from the "hardliners" (your term, not mine) that rubs the wrong way. Orthodoxy has the aura, whether deserved or not, of being cruelly rigid and unsympathetic, if not even unforgiving.

Some of the faithful who abide by the often difficult road of Orthodoxy take comfort in the stern, unyielding, and uncompromising leadership of the "hardliners" and appreciate when these hardliners take on "heterodoxy" (i.e. the propensity towards sinfulness) with such public vigor and certitude of moral superiority. Often times, it is the struggling "heterodox sinner" who bears the full weight of such "tough love" and is made to feel his sinfulness ever so poignantly by the outspoken and hardline defenders of orthodoxy.

And when one of the hardliners falls, it is not the "hardline" itself that is at issue, but a sense that, perhaps, maybe, the "softies" who are less quick to the "tough love" trigger finger with the struggling faithful need to be given a bit more public weight and validity in the pastoral work of the church.
In light of my recent interest in commenting on the behavior of our local prelates, I sincerely hope that local hardline advocates of Orthodoxy in the New Orleans Archdiocese learn a little lesson in humility from the Clark scandal, especially in terms of the manner in which it throws its stones at members of its own pastoral community.

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