Ah, Father Z

In every community, you are going to have the folks on the right-hand side of the spectrum.  These are the people who don't want anything to change, ever, and have little time for folks that maybe want to consider tweaking some stuff.  They exist in all institutions, from government to Star Wars fandom.  It is important to have folks like this, because they act as a break on the equal and opposite tendency to blow everything up and re-invent the wheel at every turn.  So, traditionalists are not a bad thing, at least not per se.

I say this as a preface, because I don't want anyone to get the idea that I am picking on traditionalist Catholics, or taking the position that they are illegitimate.  I don't believe that.  I do think, however, that traditionalist Catholics make themselves an easy target.  Moreso than many traditionalist sides, traditionalist Catholics seem to be operating in a world that they have created for themselves, one that is at times only tangentially related to the real world that the rest of us inhabit.  They have their own set of talking points and narrow causes that are often incomprehensible, let alone persuasive, to a broader audience--even the broader audience of Catholics.  In my experience, everyone who is Catholic knows the goofy traditionalist in their parish, but in the old days they would be somewhat isolated and easy to deal with via benign neglect.  But now with the advent of media like EWTN and the internet, it seems to me that these folks have coalesced into a more cohesive, and wackier, gestalt.

Which brings me to Fr. Z.

Father John Zulsdorf, a/k/a Fr. Z, is a blogging priest.  He appears to be a professional blogging priest, as he does not seem to be doing any sort of pastoral work sans blogging.  His blog represents a very traditionalist point of view on almost all conceivable topics, but it goes far deeper than that.  What is notable about Fr. Z is that he seems utterly unaware of, or else completely uncaring about, the fact that what he is saying appears to most non-traditional Catholic readers to be thoroughly nuts and divorced from reality.  Reading a Fr. Z piece is sort of like reading a really good article in The Onion, where you question periodically whether the piece is serious or satire.  Except, in Fr. Z's case, it's never satire, and it certainly isn't satire for his dedicated commenters, They are a key part of the Fr. Z Experience, as they are often even more on an island that Fr. Z is.

If you want to get a handle on the ethos of Fr. Z and his commenters without wading through the entire website, I would highly recommend checking out this post.  What I particularly enjoyed about this post, and the associated comments, is their comprehensive nature.  While ostensibly about Communion for divorced and remarried persons, and the upcoming Synod which promises/threatens to address that issue, the post manages to hit every conceivable conservative Catholic talking point, regardless of its relevance to the ostensible topic.  It is almost like one of those games were someone tries to work a certain word or phrase into a conversation that would seem to be ill-suited to it ("I bet you can't work the phrase 'religion is the opiate of the masses' into the conversation with Uncle Steve about the tomatoes he just picked from his garden.").  Yet, Fr. Z and his posse manage to complete to cycle.  See how full your Traditionalist Catholic Talking Points bingo card would get:

1.  Everything is ultimately the fault of the gays and/or sluts.  Fr. Z: "Therefore, the underlying debate is about sex outside of marriage and about homosexual acts."

Bonus Point--coining, and then using, the term "homosexualists."  See Kathleen10, 5:23 pm.

2. Everything is ultimately the fault of people using birth control.  See anilwang, 12:28 pm ("Every single modern problem in the Church today has to do with the Humanae Vitae revolt").

3.  References to Muslim Jihadists, apropos to nothing.  See OrthodoxChick, 7:45 pm. ("There’s nothing particularly Catholic about 'Faith Formation.' Heck, the muslim jihadists undergo 'faith formation.'") [I particularly liked this one].

4. Reefer Madness.  See HeatherPA, 2:01 pm. ("Our daughter is living with a drug dealer, and they may 'get married' next year by a Protestant pastor. . . . She eagerly awaits the legalization of marijuana in our state.")

5.  Shunning your Children for Their Choices.  See id. ("we are living the pain of not seeing our infant grandchildren (or eldest daughter) because of the situation you describe. And it is so HARD, especially when everyone else, and I mean everyone else in our lives are disgusted with our 'strict stance.'") [Protip:  If everyone in your life thinks you are wrong about something, there is a non-zero chance you are in fact wrong.  Wisdom of the crowds and all of that.]

6.  Why Aren't We Talking About Hell Any More?  See Nicholas, 11:15 am. ("This is what happens when talking about the reality of the terribleness of sin and hell are skipped over and the only things we here about are fluffy bunnies and rainbows."); tm30, 12:29 pm ("I don’t want to be too facile about this, but this wave of support for making a charade of Jesus’ teaching on the indissolubility of marriage must be coming from the possibility that many bishops no longer believe in Hell.")

7.  "God, I thank you that I am not like other people" [Luke 18:11]  See bbmoe, 11:34 am. ("Just when I think I've heard it all, someone reveals to me something about their personal life and relationships that sets me back on my heels. All I can say is that I know that there are some people who are truly confused about Church teaching . . . and there are some who simply blow off the teachings while still belonging to KOC [Knights of Columbus], leading CRHP [No idea what this stands for] groups, receiving ALL the sacraments.")

8.  Pseudo-Macho Posturing About Being "Hardcore."  See Supertradmum, 12:42 pm. ("When Humanae Vitae came out, I knew it would separate the real Catholics from the false ones. And, it has.")

9.  "The Gall of that Slut to Wear White."  See yatzer, 1:38 pm.  ("I suppose that all this is relevant to the fact that I have been to only one real wedding in the last few years. Everybody else has already been living together for a good while, and often own a house together; some even have kids together.")

10.  We Should Never Have Stopped Saying that Everyone Else is Going to Hell.  See St. Donatus, 2:49 pm. ("Until the Church returns to teachings that the Catholic Church is the ONLY means of Salvation, Catholics will continue to just wonder [I presume he meant "wander"] away, whether spiritually or physically.")

11. Opus Dei is Good For What Ails You.  See Rachel K, 5:36 pm. ("Yes, absolutely. And that is why we need to refer back to the document 'The Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality' which was produced by Cardinal Trujillo (RIP). In it are the clearly articulated ideas of St Josemaria Escriva [The founder of Opus Dei]. . . .")

12.  Potshots at Women Who Want to Be Priests.  See Fr. Z's comment to msokeefe, 7:29 pm.  ("That'll work [referring to the idea of allowing parish priests to deal with divorced & remarried couples on a case-by-case basis]. He'll entrust the task to a newly remarried 46 year old woman who wants to be a priest.")

13.  Alluding to the Idea that the Present Day is Much Like Nazi Germany.  See Massachusetts Catholic, 7:33 pm.  ("I've often wondered how Dietrich Bonhoeffer felt as he watched his fellow churchman rush into the embrace of the Nazi party.")

14.  Potshots at Nancy Pelosi.  See Fr. Vincent Fitzpatrick, 8:25 pm.  ("Read the following paragraph again [about "scandal"], holding in your mind’s eye the image of Cardinals O’Malley, Dolan, or Wuerl, or Archbishop Chaput, or almost any bishop in the U.S. (other than Archbishop Samuel Aquila and about a dozen others), giving Communion to Nancy Pelosi, Joe Biden, John Kerry....") 

15.  References to "Secular Humanism."  See Sonshine135, [9/23] 9:58 am.  ("This is a societal issue that stems from a hardcore belief in secular humanism.")

Bonus Point--racist stereotypes about welfare queens.  See id. ("I have known of several minority couples that wouldn't get married, because they would lose one government benefit or the other.")


Really, my only disappointment with this post is that there are no references to firearms.  You see, Fr. Z is a big fan of guns, as can be seen, e.g., from this post that came out soon after Newtown.  One might wonder whether it is appropriate for a man who has dedicated his life to the Prince of Peace to seem giddy at the idea of a pastor raffling off an AR-15 to his congregation.  But, I guess, one might also wonder if the wonderer is a Godless communist for daring to criticize Fr. Z for reveling in the smell of gun cleaning solvents "after sending a couple of hundred rounds down-range. . . ."  It smells like Victory, or so Col. Kilgore tells me.  Besides, how else are people going slaughter their neighbors looking for food when the inevitable apocalypse that Fr. Z warns us about comes to pass, save for your church-obtained assault rifle?  Riddle me that, Brady Coalition.

I mean this with the utmost sincerity--I enjoy reading Fr. Z's blog.  I understand that he views his writings with total seriousness, but I find it hilarious.  But I find it hilarious because I understand what they are talking about enough to know that they portray a narrow slice of the pie that is Catholicism.  Others looking in from the outside would not get that, and would see someone like Fr. Z in the way he sees himself--a direct mouthpiece for the only correct vision of what Catholicism stands for.  That is, to put in charitably, not a good look for Catholicism.  If the Church is serious about being an institution that seeks to reach the four corners of the world and not just a safe segment of the Elect (and sometimes I doubt it is serious), people like Fr. Z are an affirmative impediment to this project.  The phrases "turn off your audience" and "descend into self-parody" could have been coined with Fr. Z and his commenters in mind.

The problem is not that folks like Fr. Z exist--as I said in the beginning, people like him exist in all human endeavors.  The problem is that the official leadership of the Church, especially here in the U.S., looks like a warmed-over, more circumspect version of Fr. Z.  As long as outsiders can believe that Fr. Z is saying the things the bishops and cardinals wish they could say publicly, Catholicism is only going to appeal to those folks who have already bought into their constrained vision of the world.


Anonymous said…
I might not be a smart man, but this Fr. Z has much better comments on his blog than you have on yours.....
Andrew of MO said…
Yes, because reactionary blowhards are such great commentators, Anon.

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