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Ehh…What’s Up, Pope?

It takes one to know one, so I admit it: I am a wise guy from Chicago. I grew up in the city where all the guys were wise guys. So it is easy for me to spot other wise guys. When I see Catholic dissenters who call themselves “progressive,” I see what I call a “Bugs Bunny theology.” Because Bugs is the quintessential wise guy, I submit him as the model for the Catholic left. Apropos to this image, the Catholic conservative or “rightwing” typically plays the role of Elmer Fudd, Marvin the Martian, or my favorite, Yosemite Sam.

Call to Action meetings offer good examples of Bugs Bunny theology. At the group’s last national convention Dr. Elizabeth Schussler-Fiorenza gave a keynote address full of wise-guy (sorry, wise-gal) cracks, as reported in the National Catholic Reporter (11/13/98, 6). “We are the people of God, made in her image and likeness,” Dr. Schussler-Fiorenza said. Her audience chanted “We are the people of God,” over and over, like a mantra. She also said, “It is ironic that in defense of the Roman imperial structures-which, we may not forget, had crucified Jesus-the hierarchy has insisted that the Church is not a democratic community.”

It takes a wise guy/gal to claim that the hierarchy defends Roman imperial structures that are connected to the people who crucified Jesus. Of course, these wise guys snicker at the thought that the Catholic hierarchy is subtly responsible for killing Jesus. It might as well also be blamed for trying to kill the efforts of the wise guys who want to democratize the Catholic Church. In this paradigm the reforming, progressive proponents of democracy want what Jesus wanted, and the oppressive, patriarchal hierarchy is martyring them.

Then Schussler-Fiorenza sprung a verbal trap worthy of Bugs Bunny’s traps for Elmer, Marvin, and Sam: “Whenever I mentioned women, I used it in the generic sense so as to include men, the word she including he, and the word female including male.” According to NCR‘s account, the audience applauded amid “gales of laughter.”

Catholics on the right are often infuriated when they hear these and other smart-aleck theologies. Like poor Elmer Fudd, the chump par excellence, they fulminate at non-priests preaching at Mass or alternative “eucharists” where a man dressed in vestments is chased away until he is willing to dress and act like everyone else at the meaningful liturgy. When NCR editor Michael Farrell insists that the “Call to Action” crowd is not composed of “trouble-makers,” “flakes,” or “radicals” but rather “the salt of the earth,” (“Perspectives,” 11/13/98, 28), conservatives are apt to throw down their rabbit guns, turn red with anger, and shout, “Oooh, those wascally wabbits!” Geeky, space-cadet conservatives may drone like Marvin the Martian, “This is not in the catechism, this is not in canon law, I will take you to my leader if you do not stop.”

However, the Bugs Bunny theologians are masters of the comeback. They know how to play to the press with assertions like, “All we want is modernity, democracy, women’s rights, a voice in the church, a step to the future, yada yada yada.” Since the intended audience assumes democracy is the best form of government-in fact it is my choice for secular government-the Bugs Bunnies win the media battle. When the conservatives attack “progressive” liturgical abuses, an earnest person says, “Hey, Doc, are you against artistic, personal, modern expression?” The Yosemite Sams of the right stomp out, frayed and blackened, yelling, “Lowdown varmints!” Meanwhile, the Bugs Bunnies walk away unscathed, snickering, “What a maroon!”

I have a suggestion for all the Elmers, Marvins, and Sams: Don’t play their game. Pope John Paul II has been confronted personally by Sr. Theresa Kane and has dealt with Bugs Bunny theologians like Hans Kung, who recently blasted Fr. Johannes Metz for sharing a podium with Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. His Holiness refuses to play the Elmer Fudd role. He mostly ignores the Bugses or removes them from teaching in the name of the Church and continues on with his own magnificent agenda. He focuses on evangelization, teaching the faithful, and offering the depth of Catholic wisdom to a confused world. And the confused world responds. The pope gathers huge crowds wherever he goes. The wise guys/gals do not. The young flock to John Paul II by the tens of thousands; the young are essentially absent from Call to Action, the Women’s Ordination Conference, and other Bugs Bunny organizations.

If the Pope avoids playing the Marvin the Martian game, so can the rest of the Church. We need to be about the task of preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Sinners in need of reconciliation, despairing people in need of hope, bruised and battered people in need of love are the focus of the Catholic believer. Such people are attracted to the orthodox Catholic faith because it is true, good, and full of integrity. The Bugs Bunnies do not offer a message of real depth; the Catholic faith expressed in Sacred Scripture and the Catechism of the Catholic Church do have depth.

By the way, another similarity the ” progressives” share with Bugs Bunny is that their hair is gray and white. Unlike Bugs, they will not last through the ages

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