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Some insist football is like a religion, but that is surely nonsensical. If it really were so, football fans would dress up in special clothing, travel to large and ornate buildings, join together in feasting and chanting, express praise for past heroes, scream and shout and cry like fanatics, and set aside one day a year for a great feast commemorating the biggest and best the sport has to offer. 

What's that you say? Oh. Right.

Of course, there are obvious differences. One is that many Americans are apparently willing to go to the rack (either this kind or that kind) for their team, make fools of themselves for their team, get into heated arguments in defense of their team—all of which would be considered narrow-minded, negative, triumphalistic, and fanatical if done for one's faith and church.  

Don't misunderstand: I have nothing against the Sacred High Day Super Bowl Sunday. I readily confess that I watched the commercials and I even caught some of the game, although I went to get some coffee during the second, unplanned halftime show. Personally, I thought the lights should have gone out during the first halftime show, which appears to have been inspired by a, well, nevermind.  

There have been a number of intriguing story lines over the past two weeks that have caught my attention, despite a schedule filled with time in Hawaii, golfing jaunts, and interviews with Vogue.. A couple of them even have something to with football. Here are a few short routes and a couple of runs between the tackles

• "Hey, God is on his side!" | Am I the only one who has wondered why ESPN and other entertainment networks have spent weeks giggling and snorting over a college football player's imaginary girlfriend but have a self-imposed gag order when it comes to a law-challenged pro player who has fathered six kids by four different women—and talks endlessly about "God"? Manti T’eo may have made some big and silly mistakes, but his sin was having all of this go viral before being a Super Bowl MVP, which is the ultimate "Ticket to Puff Questions Tossed by Adoring Media Types". 

• The Two Brothers | How about the Harbaugh brothers. Neat story in many ways. Did you know that Jim and John are Catholic? Speaking of Catholic brothers, how about the recent back and forth betweenCardinal Roger Mahony and Archbishop Jose Gomez? I want to be wrong, but something tells me the two clerics didn't watch the Super Bowl together. Plenty of strong and legitimate criticism has been leveled at Mahony, but I think TheMediaReport.com makes some worthwhile points in this recent post,including the following:

What may surprise most people is that Cardinal Mahony – who, incidentally, was himself falsely accused twice of abuse – has a notable history of trying to take a proactive approach to the problem of clergy abuse. Mahony became archbishop of Los Angeles in September of 1985, and he was soon addressing the issue of sex abuse. By June 1989, Mahony published the archdiocese's first formal written policies and guidelines for dealing with abusive clerics. In this respect, he was certainly ahead of many of his peers in the Catholic Church and many other organizations who oversee children.

Later, at the national bishops' conference in 1992, Mahony publicly expressed his concern about abusive priests, and he took the role of leading a meeting on the matter, even though the topic was not scheduled for discussion at the conference. Mahony also met with victims later that year.

Then, in 1994, Mahony instituted for the L.A. archdiocese a Sexual Abuse Advisory Board, which may have been the first board of its kind in the country.

More here.

• Failed Trick Plays | The failed fake field goal (say that ten times quickly!) by the Ravens in the first half was fun and unexpected; it was also the first fake field goal in Super Bowl history (for the record, there have not yet been any fake girlfriends in Super Bowl history). Speaking of failed trick plays, the Obama Administration rewrite of the HHS mandate has been seriously panned by many Catholic institutions and lawyers. EWTN, for instance, released a statement yesterday, which said, in part: 

We have analyzed today’s notice with our legal team from the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty and the initial conclusions are not promising. First, this is simply a notice of a proposed rule; it is not an actual rule that changes anything. Second, while the proposed rules might expand the mandate’s religious exemption for some organizations affiliated directly with the Church, it does not appear that EWTN will qualify for this exemption. Third, the proposed rules have not dealt with the concerns of self-insured health plans like EWTN’s. Today’s notice from the government simply kicks this can further down the road.

I cannot fathom having a government that "kicks this can further down the road." Can you? It appears the Obama administration is really struggling in all phases of the game: it did manage to pass a very unpopular healthcare bill, but it has been running out of good will (even among liberal supporters), and now its kicking game is suspect. If I had to guess on how this analogy will develop, I proffer that it will involve increased ticket prices, blackouts in many markets, and the threat of fines.

• The NCR is the USFL | Hey, kids, remember the United States Football League (1983-87)? I do, if only because it coincided with my four years of high school (that's right: I'm in my thirties now) and was all the rage for a short time. And why not? It was a fun, hip, and (for a time) marketing-savvy brand of football. Besides, the USFL wasn't interested in competing directly with the NFL (its seasons were in spring/summer), at least not at first. Naw, it was presented as authentic football, just as good and true and wholesome as football in the NFL. And it was mean to last; it was the real deal; it was too hip and happenin' to not succeed! But then Donald Trump and some others decided they wanted to go head-to-head with the NFL. And suddenly the USFL started to become unglued. It struggled. Then sank. 

The National "Catholic" Reporter is something like the USFL, posing as a mouthpiece for a legitimate, contemporary form of cutting edge Catholicism that isn't stuffy, old-fashioned, traditional, and hung up on all of those boring rules, precedents, and authorities.  Sure, NCR has been around a lot longer than the USFL; then again, the Catholic Church has been around for 2000 years compared to the NFL's 90 years. Granted, the analogy limps in some ways. For instance, the USFL was often entertaining and watchable, whereas the NCR is neither entertaining or readable, although I confess it is sometimes fun to read some NCR columns just to see what semi-literate college feminists are ranting about. Speaking of the NCR, Bishop Robert Finn recently wrote about that particular thorn in his episcopate side, stating:

When early in my tenure I requested that the paper submit their bona fides as a Catholic media outlet in accord with the expectations of Church law, they declined to participate indicating that they considered themselves an “independent newspaper which commented on ‘things Catholic.’”  At other times, correspondence has seemed to reach a dead end.

In light of the number of recent expressions of concern, I have a responsibility as the local bishop to instruct the Faithful about the problematic nature of this media source which bears the name “Catholic.” While I remain open to substantive and respectful discussion with the legitimate representatives of NCR, I find that my ability to influence theNational Catholic Reporter toward fidelity to the Church seems limited to the supernatural level. 

Which is amusing, in a way, as the NCR has long been intent on rejecting fidelity to anything hinting at any suggestion of the supernatural, the divine, or the politically incorrect. 

• Fourth Down Failure | Oh, wait, I stand corrected: Michael Sean Winters of NCR does believe in miracles! This is akin to a Ravens' fan insisting that the fake field goal play at the end of the first half actually worked, even though it resulted in the ball being turned over on downs. Winters, you'll recall, got tackled for a big loss a year ago when he was blindsided by the 320-pound HHS Mandate, and was so shaken up that he accused the Obama team of cheating, saying, "I accuse you, Mr. President, of dishonoring your own vision by this shameful decision." 

Now, however, most or all has been forgiven: "It is really nothing short of a miracle. And, it is a particular kind of miracle, the kind that happens in politics too infrequently, when a decision that has no real political justification is, nonetheless, taken because it is the right thing to do." In other words, the fake field goal worked! They ran it just like the coached drew it up! It looked neat! But did it get the first down? Winters: "Before I get ahead of myself, let me offer a big proviso and say that I am not a lawyer, and so I will wait to hear what some of my lawyer friends have to say on the subject before giving it a full-fledged, 'Distinctly Catholic' imprimatur." Hmm. Let's if I understand this correctly: "It's a miracle, but I've not actually verified what really happened. But I want it to be a miracle, so..." Gotcha. Here's my modest suggestion: spend some time trying to find anything from the Obama administration that actually moves closer to Catholic moral teaching, especially in the realm of sexual morality. Anything. Good luck. You just lost the ball on downs.

• "Spot Us Thirty Points and We'll Play Ball!" The Oregonian interviewed Archbishop Alexander Sample a couple of days ago, asking him questions about various hot button topics. Some of it is fine, and he certainly handles the questions well. However, some of it is a bit ridiculous. For instance, this question: "The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, says you've 'done nothing to distinguish' yourself from 'the overwhelming majority of Catholic officials who continue to minimize and hide clergy sex crimes.' How could you be more transparent in regard to this issue?" Yeah, and also tell us if you've stopped beating your wife yet! What? You're not married? Then who are you not beating? 

Here's a question for the reporter: "Why do you accept SNAP's assessment? What special authority does that group possess in assessing such things? Why do you assume they are correct in judging what is "transparent" and what is not? There is a definite undertone of "guilty until proven innocent—by me and my five best friends" to these sort of questions. I supposed I'd have an easier time with such questions if there were more interviews asking pointed questions presented by The Survivors Network of Those Abused by Public School Teachers.

Another example: "Women are active in the archdiocese, as teachers at every level of education, as parish administrators and volunteers. Catholic sisters have played and continue to play a major role. Some of these women have organized to challenge the church to use their gifts more effectively. How do you see the role of women in the church?" Bishop Sample gives an excellent answer, but that shouldn't detract from the loaded nature of the question, which assumes nothing but good faith and pure motives on the part of "these women", while hinting at the exact opposite on the part of the bishop. Why, I bet that if the archbishop had six kids by four women, there would be a question about it!

 Catholic World Report's interview with the next Archbishop of Portland, Oregon, will be posted later today. Here's a, um, sample:

CWR: You’ve been involved in ordinations for the Fraternity of St. Peter, which celebrates the traditional liturgy of the Roman rite.  What do you like about the pre-Vatican II rite of the Mass, and will we be seeing more of it in Portland?

Abp. Sample: I appreciate the Tridentine liturgy.  I am 100% a product of the Second Vatican Council, in that I grew up in its wake, and all my formation was post-Vatican II.  Therefore, my fondness for the Tridentine liturgy is not based in nostalgia.  Having been exposed to it, I’ve gained a great appreciation for it.

What sparked my interest in it was Pope Benedict’s 2007 motu proprio "Summorum Pontificum" [granting greater freedom to priests to celebrate the Tridentine liturgy].  I thought, “I’m a bishop of the Catholic Church, and it’s my responsibility to know how to celebrate Mass according to both the new and old rites.”  I’ve learned the Tridentine liturgy, and have since celebrated three Pontifical High Masses, and Masses for the Fraternity of St. Peter and the Institute of Christ the King (in Florence, Italy). 

I believe that Pope Benedict wants the Extraordinary Form of the Mass to influence liturgical reform, to lead to a reform of the reform, because in some areas we’ve gotten off track.  He wants the pre-Conciliar liturgy to help shape the new liturgy and help reconcile us with the past.  If the Tridentine Mass was once beautiful, it cannot now be harmful.

 The Tridentine Mass certainly has many strengths; for example, it clearly stresses the sacrificial nature of the Mass.  It also draws many young people who did not grow up with it.  They’re discovering their heritage and tradition.  It’s providing them with something they’re not finding in the ordinary form.  We need to pay attention to that.

When I arrive in Portland, I’ll find out the status of the Tridentine Mass, and see if there are stable groups who want it.  As their archbishop, I’ll do what I can to make it available.

More to come soon! 

 
About the Author
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Carl E. Olson is editor of Catholic World Report and Ignatius Insight.
 
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