Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Camels, Needles & the Obscenely Rich First World

You remember the New Testament bromide about its being more difficult for a rich man to enter Heaven than for a camel to go through the eye of the needle? Well, Pope Benedict XVI has raised the same minatory threat in his latest book, “Jesus of Nazareth”, appearing on his eightieth birthday, April 18, 2007.

Simultaneously, Cardinal Karl Lehmann, Archbishop of Mainz as well as head of the German Bishop’s Synod, is quoted in an interview in my local Weimar paper (Thuringer Landes Zeitung) that a living wage is an absolute moral requirement in Europe.

The so-called “red” Cardinal has been raising episcopal hackles for many years now. But the Pope’s new book is based on the significance of the parable of the Good Samaritan, who you may recall shamed both the thieves and the pious travelers who were too busy to aid a fellow traveler in distress. Rätzinger goes further than Lehmann.

He accuses the imperial European powers of being the “thieves” of recent history, whose brigandage did not end with the showoff “decolonization” that followed World War II. He further astonishes those who dismissed him as the cretinous Rottweiler of the Roman Catholic Church by contending as well that Karl Marx was correct in analyzing the alienation of prosperous Europe. This calls for some serious soul searching on the part of the West.

In addition to reluctantly agreeing with a Pope whom I dismissed as a medieval recidivist, I have a self-satisfying feeling! In 1949, as a graduating philosophy major at the Jesuit University of Detroit, I won the Midwest Jesuit Province annual essay contest with a bit of an ad hominem screed entitled, “Needed: More Red-blooded American Catholics,” by which I meant Detroit Catholics who competed with local Communists in their zeal for racial and social justice.

I don’t remember a single Jebbie on the faculty who encouraged this line of thought by congratulating me—except for my sociology professor, the Reverend John S. Coogan, SJ, who tried to talk me into switching majors (from philosophy to sociology) on the grounds of my term paper analyzing the split personality of the new Negro magazine,”Ebony”, with ads touting hair straightening agents side by side with editorial contents emphasizing ethnic identity.

Coogan was notorious in the Detroit area for taking on the Radio Priest, Charles Coughlan, who spewed anti-Semitism every Sunday on his broadcasts from the Shrine of the Little Flower in the Detroit suburb of Royal Oak, MI. The Dominican nuns at my boarding school, Holy Rosary Academy in Bay City, Michigan; were faithful every Sunday listeners!

My own ecumenical efforts were feeble indeed, such as talking to Catholic high school students under the aegis of the Catholic Interracial Council or “integrating” the Senior Prom at Eastwood Gardens by double dating with a “colored” couple.

Still, it pleases me to see Rätzinger catching up with newly octogenarianized me, also born like him in 1927. Then I went off to Cleveland to take a Ph.D. in American Culture at Western Reserve University. My Uncle Al, the Rev. Aloysius Mark Fitzpatrick, it so happens, was the editor of the local diocesan weekly, The Catholic Universe Bulletin. I would serve Mass for him at Madonna Hall, an old ladies home, and then go back to my digs in Newman Hall and write crypto-Marxist editorials for the Newman Club paper.

Word of my evil doings reached the Chancery downtown where it also happened that Bishop Krol was practicing his anti-ecumenical small-mindedness that he would soon bring to perfection as the Cardinal Archbishop of Philadelphia—where fate would have it I would spend my mature years after earning the Ph.D. at the University of Pennsylvania and Arcadia University.

The Chancery brass bellyached to Fitz as well as the Newman Club chaplain, Paul J. Hallinan. “What the hell’s wrong with your nutty nephew, Fitz, was the kernel of their complaints?” Uncle Al was not a fighter, so it fell to Hallinan to take up my defense. He was also working on a Ph.D. at U of Penn, with a dissertation on the first liberal bishop of Cleveland. His answer was curt and clear: “It’s a university, gentlemen. We’re seeking the truth!” Hallinan went on to be the first Northern Bishop in Charleston, S.C. since Reconstruction.

A lay committee met him at the airport, and on the trek into the terminal, their chief whispered to Paul that there was a big problem with their new Hospital. He feared that if they integrated it, they would loose their sponsors. Slyly Paul asked quietly, “Is it a Catholic Hospital?” “Oh yes,” his informant answered. “Gotta be integrated!” He told me this story when we had dinner after I did a story on the centennial of the Firing on Fort Sumter. He had heard that I was fronting for covert Communists at Reserve as the chairman of the newly formed Thomas Jefferson Forum.

It was founded by Ray Ginger, the biographer of Eugene Victor Debs, and his lawyer wife Ann Fagan Ginger, still an active leader in the National Lawyers Guild, often described as a Communist front. Ray was academically blacklisted during the McCarthy era, and took a teaching job in Canada, where he died prematurely in his fifties. I wasn’t yet a Marxist,but I did start subscribing to “The National Guardian” and reading it weekly soon convinced me for a while that Red was not Dead.

When I went back over Christmas to the U of D campus in 1949, I ran into my old metaphysics professor, the Rev. Rene Belleperche, S.J:, who greeted me hostilely, “I hear you’ve gone over to the Communists, Hazard.” Not exactly a Christmassy greeting! He was popular on campus less for his philosophical insight than for being the chaplain of the Detroit Red Wing hockey team!

Just like the Rector of Sacred Heart Seminary, Monsignor Henry Donnelly, was notorious for having once tried out for the Detroit Tigers! Commonweal Catholics came to call this aggressive identification with sports by a despised intellectual minority as the CYO syndrome. Donnelly caught me and Jim Van Slambrouck smoking after midnight in the Gothic Tower

"What are you two doing up here after midnight?” he asked testily. “Trying to learn how to smoke, Monsignor. Any suggestions?” He forbade me to return to the Seminary after the 1943 Easter Vacation. He said it was for that midnight lark, but Jim never got the hook. As I look back, I realize it was probably the first outbreak of bi-polar disorder that would complicate my early years as a husband and professor. I used to discombobulate my Latin teacher, Father George, by my out of control wisecracking, among other scholastic disorders!

Bishop Hallinan later asked me if I was back in the Church yet? With diabolical condescension, I sneerishly replied, “No, Father. My contribution will be persuading practicing Catholic to take their plastic saints off their automotive dashboard. It was nasty and childish. He then told me the big news: he had just been appointed the first Archbishop of Atlanta.

There he became an intimate of Martin Luther King, Jr. and broke my heart by dieing of hepatitis in his early fifties. He probably picked up the virus as a chaplain in the South Pacific during WWII. He was the first evidence I found that you could be both a questioner and good Catholic. Lehmann and Rätzinger seemed to be converging to a similar position.

It is clear that both the insanely polluted rapid modernization of China and the accelerating anti-egalitarian economics of the United States deserve the ethical condemnation of clerics like Lehmann and Rätzinger. That globalization is reproletarianizing the American middle class while executives now “earn” 500 more times what their workers do (even before you factor in globalization) is obscene.And that the religiously hypocritical Bush, whose achievement of millionaire status is contemptibly non-meritocratic is blasphemous.

And if the higher clergy can show the flocks how their religious truths indeed indict the First World in the world court of public opinion, we may achieve a humanization of public policy before Time catches up with the Hypocrats. Sadly the two leading national engines accelerating self-destructive climate change thumb their noses at the Kyoto protocols.

America’s transportation and primary/secondary education infrastructures are silently collapsing. And China is insanely polluting itself to the point of extinction. We need all the help we can get from religious leaders. Lehmann and Rätzinger may save us just in time, with a lot of luck from Heaven!

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