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... otherwise you might be forced to take seriously the foolishness that seems to dominate the internet, the airwaves, and the supposedly serious, important newspapers of note. So, as something of a humor break (and, no, I'm not going to reference the Grammys or the State of the Union Address, despite the ripe material), here are some stories that had me chuckling—and also grimacing—recently.

• On the day the news broke in Rome, Cliff Kinkaid of the conservative group, Accuracy in Media, penned a rather breathless piece titled, "Pope’s Possible Successor Promotes Marxist for Sainthood". When I first saw the headline, I thought it must be refering to some Italian or French Cardinal. Nope, not at all:

American Catholic Cardinal Timothy Dolan, reported to be in the running to replace Pope Benedict XVI as the head of the Roman Catholic Church, is usually described as a “conservative” because he has strongly criticized President Obama’s attacks on religious liberty and federal intrusions into church affairs. But Dolan is also the leader of the campaign to promote Marxist Dorothy Day for Sainthood.

One report asks, “Could Timothy Dolan Become The First American Pope?” Dolan, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB,) is considered the voice of U.S. Catholicism.

But Carol Byrne, author of The Catholic Worker Movement (1933-1980): A Critical Analysis, says Dolan manipulated a vote by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops last November to move forward with the canonization of Dorothy Day, even though The New York Times itself noted that some of the Bishops said “she had an abortion as a young woman and at one point flirted with joining the Communist Party.”

In other news, it was recently revealed that one of the Church's greatest Doctors was a New Age-y gnostic who had a long-time, much beloved mistress. But, hey, who cares about St. Augustine's life prior to conversion when we have Dorothy Day's life prior to conversion? The funny thing, however, was that Pope Benedict XVI, in his February 13th Ash Wednesday general audience, said the following:

The ability to oppose the ideological blandishments of her time to choose the search for truth and open herself up to the discovery of faith is evidenced by another woman of our time, the American Dorothy Day. In her autobiography, she confesses openly to having given in to the temptation that everything could be solved with politics, adhering to the Marxist proposal: “I wanted to be with the protesters, go to jail, write, influence others and leave my dreams to the world. How much ambition and how much searching for myself in all this!”. The journey towards faith in such a secularized environment was particularly difficult, but Grace acts nonetheless, as she points out: “It is certain that I felt the need to go to church more often, to kneel, to bow my head in prayer. A blind instinct, one might say, because I was not conscious of praying. But I went, I slipped into the atmosphere of prayer … “. God guided her to a conscious adherence to the Church, in a lifetime spent dedicated to the underprivileged.

Uh. Whoops. For more about Day and her cause, see the January 2013 CWR essay, "Dorothy Day: A Saints to Transcend Partisan Politics", by Leslie Fain.

• It is deeply touching to witness the New York Times go out of its way to give advice to the Catholic Church in the wake of Benedict XVI's surprising resignation. And it makes perfect sense, doesn't it? The Catholic Church was established by the Incarnate Word and has only been around for a couple of thousand years, so it follows that it might need some advice from a venerable, ancient institution such as The Grey Lady. Cue up some Bill Keller and learn how the Church might be able to survive a few more years (cross your fingers and expand the marketing budget!):

It needs to tweak its marketing, straighten out its finances, up its recruiting game and repair its battered brand. ... One question on the agenda might be, to borrow a Michael Useem analogy, does the Vatican want to be Nokia or Apple? Nokia’s strategy is to sell everyone on the planet a $20 phone. Apple’s is to market a much pricier product to a more elite, high-income market. Does the Catholic Church change its standards to be more inclusive, or does it hold its dogmatic line and appeal to a smaller but loyal base? Or can it strike a balance? Either way, it’s time for a reckoning.

Goodness—let's hope the Holy Spirit can manage! In the meantime, the Times has helpfully gone out of its way to ask some pressing questions: "What will he be called? Will he keep his white robes and trademark red loafers?" Alas, some folks who should know better have been sucked into the Vortex of Questions You Should Keep to Yourself:

Benedict stunned the world last week when he said that he would retire on Feb. 28, a decision he said he had made “in full liberty and for the good of the church.” Even as the Vatican has tried to play down the confusion, saying that Canon Law provides for a clear transfer of power if a pope resigns, the implications of Benedict’s act remain unclear.

“What is the status of an ex-pope?” asked Ken Pennington, a professor of ecclesiastical and legal history at the Catholic University of America in Washington. “We have no rules about that at all. What is his title? What are his powers? Does he lose infallibility?”

Really? This has to be one of the more embarrassing quotations I've seen this past week. Prof. Pennington apparently doesn't understand that once the Holy Father's resignation is effective on February 28th, he is no longer pontiff. Period. As Dr. Edward Peters states,

As of the effective time of his resignation the pope will enjoy the same status in the Church as would any retired cardinal over age 80 (he will not vote in the conclave to elect his successor); he will hold no office in the Church.

The holding of office is key language, especially when it comes to papal infallibility. Here is what Lumen Gentium says about the topic:

And this infallibility with which the Divine Redeemer willed His Church to be endowed in defining doctrine of faith and morals, extends as far as the deposit of Revelation extends, which must be religiously guarded and faithfully expounded. And this is the infallibility which the Roman Pontiff, the head of the college of bishops, enjoys in virtue of his office, when, as the supreme shepherd and teacher of all the faithful, who confirms his brethren in their faith, by a definitive act he proclaims a doctrine of faith or morals. (par 25; emphasis added)

A pope can exercise papal infallibility. A former pope cannot. I know it's complicated. Think through it slowly. Then, if need be, you can ask:

Still, many remain puzzled by the larger implications. “From a theological point of view, how can a person be considered to be infallible and not be infallible anymore?” Mr. Pennington asked.

Easy. Five words, Mr. Pennington, five words: "in virtue of his office". If he ain't in the office, he ain't got it.

• Meanwhile, down at the Dissenter's Five & Dime Store, some fella by the name of E. J. Dionne, Jr., is getting frisky and edgy, which is likely meant to cover up for his failure to be orthodox and doctrinally learned:

In giving up the papacy, Pope Benedict XVI was brave and bold. He did the unexpected for the good of the Catholic Church. And when it selects a new pope next month, the College of Cardinals should be equally brave and bold. It is time to elect a nun as the next pontiff.
 
Now, I know this hope of mine is the longest of long shots. I have great faith in the Holy Spirit to move papal conclaves, but I would concede that I may be running ahead of the Spirit on this one. Women, after all, are not yet able to become priests, and it is unlikely that traditionalists in the church will suddenly upend the all-male, celibate priesthood, let alone name a woman as the bishop of Rome.

Oh, that's sooo clever. Yawn. Am I only one who finds the giggling and posing of post-modern heretics to be incredibly dull and predictable? Dionne reminds me of the "cool" kids in junior high, who think that emulating reality television characters and hip-hop "musicians" is, like, wow, so awesome, dog. At least many of the ancient heretics had the decency to actually take their beliefs seriously. Dionne is so obsessed with pleasing the "in" crowd that he's willing to smirkingly write about "running ahead of the Spirit". There's nothing funny, ultimately, about publicly renouncing the settled doctrine of the Catholic Church (even while giggling), as heresy is serious business, even if the heretics act like little more than boring laughingstocks.

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