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Vanquishing my Lenten death in Madrid

Gary Caruso | Thursday, February 23, 2012

Count me among the scores of Catholics who greeted Lent this year by barely giving a damn. I have been numbed by our American bishops’ recent stodgy obstinacy and refusal to oppose once again a modern complex issue without offering measured modern solutions.

They follow Pope Benedict XVI, who last month callously pronounced the family unit so fundamental for the development of individuals and states that gay marriage “threatens human dignity and the future of humanity itself.”

Call me crazy, but the future of humanity ain’t going into decline from the small percentage of gay couples who adopt children, period.

With the Catholic Church dwindling throughout Europe and North America, parishioners — in my archdiocese Hispanic heritage members — either quit attending any church or moved to the “feel good” offerings of the relatively new so-called megachurches. These churches offer the “how to get out of debt” and “how to better raise your children” or “how to be born again and beam with joy and confidence” feelings not presented by the Roman Catholic Church. So many flee because of the Vatican’s tone-deafness to the modern needs of parishioners.

The Vatican need not move from Christ’s core values, but for God’s sake, it should at least realize the next pontiff better revise out-of-date, man-decreed dogma that is seen by the flock as simply silly. For example, currently, another religion’s married priests can convert and become a married Catholic priest. Furthermore, Eastern Orthodox priests can marry. Where is the universal and modern consistency?

Politically, newly elevated Cardinal Timothy Dolan sends mixed messages to publicly elected Catholics. Notre Dame graduate and Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell is considered a good pro-life politician for opposing abortion, but not considered an outright killer for executing a convicted woman with an IQ of about 72 — especially when McDonnell, and only McDonnell, held the authority to stay her execution. Are bishops outraged over the actual death of a living person through a preventable execution, or are perceived forced contraception rules more outrageous to them?

Purely put, Jesus reached out to accept rather than reject. Little today is as black-and-white as when the Bible’s chapters were selectively assembled by our — as a fellow Eucharistic minister at St. Matthew’s Cathedral likes to call them — “old-men rulers.” The inconsistencies of man-made policies and constant backwards thought persist from our Vatican “old-men rulers.” Dolan proves that it will continue as he enters the College of Cardinals. With bombast Irish bravado he swore during a “60 Minutes” television interview never to support marriage for priests.

Others leave Catholicism for a myriad of unreasonable conditions perpetrated by the Church. Divorced Catholics face huge hurdles if they care to remarry. Contraception sometimes is necessary as a medical remedy to regulate a Catholic woman’s debilitating irregular cycle rather than prevent pregnancy. Tax-exempt American churches oftentimes discriminate using religious freedom claims while also “double-dipping” by accepting public funds for services. Unfortunately, Church leadership prefers to preach about how to exclude.

In Illinois, while accepting public funding, bishops sued to prevent gays as foster parents. The Catholic Charities threatened to end all services to the poor. Fearing that their philosophical differences might provide “special rights” afforded to others, Notre Dame refuses to include sexual orientation in workplace anti-discrimination clauses and refuses even to recognize gay students on campus.

Our church leaders must collectively become more like Jesus who did not give a damn to sit with the hated Gentiles, eat with tax collectors and speak to prostitutes. Otherwise, leaders alienate Catholics like me who reach out to everyone without nuanced conditions.

For me, Fat Tuesday is typically the time for one last-ditch party before personally contemplating a Lenten sacrifice and preparing for death on Good Friday. But I spent Fat Tuesday in Spain. I had no Lenten plans, no proposed sacrifices and no desire even to consider Lent — that is, until I wandered through the corridors of Madrid’s famed national art museum. The Museo del Prado houses iconic masterpieces by Spanish artist Francisco Goya. I happened upon his so-called “Black Paintings” collection — scenes painted nearly 200 years ago directly on the walls of his house and never intended for public display.

“The Dog,” his simplest but most powerful of paintings teared my eyes. A drowning dog’s head peers for help at his owner’s shadowy figure against a dirty-yellowed backdrop. It gazes above the dark depths and unidentifiable waterline. It is visually lost in the vastness of the overall painting’s size. While everyone assumes that the dog will drown, I see myself in that painting peering at the Church, which optimistically saves both itself and me from our current conditions. Our paths, like Lent, may survive our sacrifices if each of us has the courage to vanquish death within our existences.


Gary Caruso, Notre Dame ‘73, serves in the Department of Homeland Security and was a legislative and public affairs director in President Clinton’s administration. His column appears every other Friday. He can be contacted at [email protected]

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.