A notice about a conference on the fragmentation of American Protestantism, to be held at Asbury Theological Seminary in September, has this interesting line: The conference "will examine the dynamics that led to the polarities within established Protestant denominations that have occasionally led to the establishment of new denominations." The interesting word is"occasionally."
There are now over 20,000 Protestant denominations, which means, on average, more than forty new denominations have popped up every year since the Reformation began in 1517. That's nearly one a week. If that is "occasionally," let's be thankful we haven't seen "frequently."
Two months ago we mentioned John Kippley's book Marriage is For Keeps. Here is another fine guide for the soon-to-be-married and the newly married: A Handbook for Engaged and New Married Couples, by Frederick W. Marks. Fr. Kenneth Baker, editor of the Homiletic and Pastoral Review, calls it "outstanding both for its practicality and for its fidelity to the Catholic faith." Fr. James S. Torrens, S.J., associate editor of America, lauds the author for tackling "certain subjects that are often skirted: for example, the effects of living together before marriage, the wisdom of breaking off an engagement at even the last minute if uncertain, the need for discipline in a couple's expenditures, and objections to birth control." The Handbook is available from Faith Publishing, P.O. Box 237, Milford, OH 45150.
Old canards never die. They just get recycled. One example: The Angelus, despite its Catholic-sounding name, is a Catholic-bashing newsletter issued by the Pilgrim's Bible Church of Augusta, Georgia. A recent issue recycled the story of Pope Joan and cited medieval writers who believed there had been such a person. (This is one of the few instances in which Fundamentalists assume the infallibility of Catholic writers.)
The beginning of the newsletter presents the thesis: If there had been a female pope, she could not have been ordained, so ordinations performed by her would have been invalid, meaning that ordinations and priestly actions descended from those invalid ordinations also would be invalid, which means that on their own terms the papacy and the entire sacerdotal structure of the Church have been corrupted. If you don't buy that, remember that "Jesuit educationalists and historians have well nigh buried" the facts about Pope Joan.
Translation: If we can't unearth evidence proving Pope Joan existed, it's because wily Jesuits buried the evidence too deep. Heads we win, tails you lose.
If the Fundamentalist end of the theological spectrum does not interest you, perhaps the other end will. Now is the time to make plans for this year's Call to Action national conference, which will be held in Chicago in November. You'll get to hear speakers such as these:
Anthony Padovano, head of CORPUS, an organization of married ex-priests, will speak on "The Reform Tradition in the History of the Church." Sandra Schneers, IHM, will explain "How Feminist Interpretation of Scripture is Helping Renew the Church." Charles Curran will talk about "Catholic Moral Theology and John Paul II," both of which, he thinks, are full of errors. Matthew Fox, in a humorous interlude, will explain "The Seven Chakras and the Mystics of Creation Spirituality." Jeannine Gramick (nun), Robert Nugent (priest), and Thomas J. Gumbleton (bishop) will give pro-homosexuality speeches. Sr. Theresa Kane, who insulted the Pope on his first visit to America, will consider "Transforming Patriarchy and Domination." Robert McClory, who writes for the National Catholic Reporter, will talk about "Birth Control: The Church's Albatross," while Richard Schoenherr, who has just written a book on the topic, will discuss "Celibacy and Patriarchy in the Catholic Church."
As is the case every year, the Call to Action conference is fixated on sex and suffers from the never-ending prospect of coming down on the wrong side each time the issue arises.
Going back to the other end of the spectrum we find Texe Marrs, who writes in his Flashpoint newsletter about "Freemasonry Unmasked in the Vatican." One of his sources is Sangre de Cristo Newsnotes, which he identifies only as "a Catholic publication" and which claims that "many of the highest Vatican officials are Masons, and in certain countries where the Church is not allowed to operate, it is the lodges that carry on Vatican affairs, clandestinely."
How much stock should one put in Sangre de Cristo Newsnotes? You be the judge: The publisher is Fr. Dan Jones, who for years has been under the impression that there is no pope now reigning. John Paul II and his three immediate predecessors have been anti-popes. But not to fear. Fr. Jones discovered that in fact there is a pope now reigning, and he goes by the name of Gregory XVII and lives in Quebec. He became pope when Jesus mystically appeared to him and announced his appointment. That seemed convincing to Fr. Jones, who, not long after announcing the finding of the true pope, got himself consecrated. Now he's Bishop Jones and is cited by Texe Marrs as an authority on things Catholic.
News of another orthodox Catholic apologetics ministry: The Gulf Region Alliance of Catholic Evangelism (GRACE) issues a newsletter called Come Home to Rome -- it is perhaps unique in that its articles are in English and Spanish -- and offers, in addition to audio tapes, a handsome t-shirt featuring a large monstrance and the line "Come Home to Rome." GRACE Ministries can be reached at P.O. Box 41636, St. Petersburg, FL 33743-1636.
Bill Jackson, who runs Christians Evangelizing Catholics, touted Peter de Rosa's book Vicars of Christ: The Dark Side of the Papacy. "A good friend sent me de Rosa's book to read several months ago. I found it fascinating -- after a while I realized it was too fascinating. All born-again Christians are somewhat familiar with the reality that the papacy has had some low moral ebbs. I have referred to them from time to time myself. De Rosa's book never stops."
And that's why the book is fascinating to Fundamentalists. Jackson admits that he doesn't know if what de Rosa writes is completely true, and he says he wonders "if getting carried away with too much sensationalism can destroy our heart for Catholic evangelism."
What he doesn't quite say, perhaps because he doesn't quite realize it in these terms, is that anti-Catholicism pushes sensationalism because it is Fundamentalism's pornography. Few Fundamentalists would think of looking through a dirty magazine, but they voyeuristically follow writings such as de Rosa's and of Fundamentalist Ralph Woodrow, author of Babylon Mystery Religion.
Sometimes you have to get past the headlines to understand what is going on. You might have seen the report of two women who were banned from two Catholic churches in Pennsylvania for praying the rosary.
Outrageous, you might have thought, but think again. Cynthia Balconi and Joan Sudwoj weren't just praying the rosary -- they were shouting the rosary. Arrested when they tried to enter one of the churches on Good Friday, they told police that their actions resulted from a sign from God, who told them to pray often and loudly because the world faced imminent tragedy. Saying "our mission is completed," they agreed to behave and attended Easter Mass without incident.
It is no coincidence that the women are members of the Bayside movement, which is based on visions supposedly received by Veronica Lueken at Bayside, New York. Diocesan officials have condemned the purported apparitions repeatedly as being without supernatural foundation and as teaching doctrinal errors, but Bayside still has a large following.
The Spiritual Counterfeits Project, based in Berkeley, is an Evangelical group that is at times recommended to Catholics who have relatives involved with cults. Such recommendations should be reconsidered. SCP's Winter 1995 newsletter comes down hard on Marian apparitions, lumping the authentic with the bogus and claiming that Lourdes and Fatima are promoting a "false Jesus and Mary" and that apparitions recognized by the Church are part of the New Age movement.