Downton Abbey to Vatican City: a New Year’s Refection

Over the Christmas and New Year’s holidays, I watched a number of Downton Abbey episodes, watching the unfolding lives of the aristocratic Crawley family and their servants in post-Edwardian England. A lot of real human drama. Plenty of material for a serious meditation on the meaning and purpose of human life. And good British drama for an old Yankee.

One afternoon, however, I sat rather lazily in front of the fireplace and re-read Pope Benedict’s Christmas Message with its dire warnings that gay marriage is destroying “the essence of the human creature” and that gay marriage, like abortion, and euthanasia (I call them the contemporary Roman Catholic “intrinsic evil trinity”) is a threat to word peace. Then I put another log on the fire and switched back to Downton Abbey, where, amidst all the human joys, downfalls, hopes and sorrows, there was, of course no mention of the gay-marriage-abortion-euthanasia evil trinity.

Then a little insight.

What would happen, I wondered, if during the coming season of Lent neither the Pope nor any bishop would be allowed to use the words “gay marriage, abortion, euthanasia”…….and for U. S. bishops one could throw-in one more intrinsic evil no-no term: “birth control.”

Think about it.

If our bishops could not groan, protest, and cry-out about gay marriage, abortion, euthanasia, and birth control, what would they talk about?

What message would our hierarchy proclaim for millions of people hungering for genuine spirituality? For a taste of the Divine? Would they be tongue-tied and speechless? Or would there be a new Pentecostal-type inspiration….little tongues of fire flickering over every episcopal miter?

Would young people turn, for a minute, from their smartphones and iPads, shaken by a new message?

Would our young people see visions and our elderly men and women dream good dreams? Would the Pope have something fresh and invigorating to “tweet” from his pontifical iPad?

As my favorite poet said…….

“Last year’s words belong to last year’s language
and next year’s words await another voice.”


Reactions to Levada Letter

Reactions about my letter to Cardinal Levada have been strong and generally positive.


No reaction yet from the addressee….


I did get one very angry letter from a fellow who sent an email with very large letters: “JUST WHAT DO YOU WANT THE CHURCH TO DO?!!!”

My answer is two things:

(1)    I want Church leadership to clean up its act in the way it handles sex abuse in the Church, and

(2)    I want Church leadership to begin to listen to and address the faith concerns of contemporary people. And I have two examples of what I mean:

First example:

This week the New York Times reported about groups of young people in Moscow called “roofers.” I would like the Church to pay attention to people, young and old, like the roofers. The Moscow roofers are young people, more than a couple thousand now, who climb to the tops of high buildings in search of privacy and solitude away from the crowds. Oleg Muravlyov, 17 years old, explained what roofers are all about: “It is too bad that people are mixing us up with vandals. We aren’t doing any harm to buildings. Our goal is not destruction. We are driven by a wish to think about what’s really important in our lives, outside the hustle of business. It’s a delusion that today’s youth are cynical. We have the same spiritual values as previous generations.”

Second example:

Crispian Wilson, a young man from England, wrote this week in a letter to The Tablet: “Conventional wisdom has it that young people are leaving the Church because they are more interested in consumerism than faith. While that may be true for some, as a young Catholic, I do not recognize that in my peers, Catholic or otherwise. Many care passionately about such issues of global justice as human rights, climate change and poverty reduction. However, they do not believe that the Church cares about these issues; indeed they often feel that it is an illiberal force working against them. In particular, they see hypocrisy in a Church that calls you to ‘love your neighbor’ while ignoring women, victimizing and stigmatizing homosexuals and hushing-up serious sexual-abuse scandals….If the Church wants to re-evangelize, then it will need to appeal to these people: intelligent, active people who want to do good in the world and be part of something that matters….True re-evangelization requires us to listen to the immensely complex world and re-examine our own judgments on the true meaning of the Gospels.”

“Perhaps if we do that honestly,” Crispian concludes, “we may find that we are able to find solutions that will bring new energy, vigor and life to the Church.”

 Amen indeed!

John Greenleaf