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If Our Bishops Have a Charism, It’s Tone Deafness

As viewers of our most recent podcast probably picked up on, I’m a fan of humor — even sometimes when dealing with serious topics. But there’s a need to read the audience, and to understand the context of the situation.

Today I came across an example of how not to use humor. Or, I should say, attempted humor — because, as I sometimes have to tell my kids, “Jokes are usually funny.”

Our subject is a video advertisement for the Bishop’s Services Appeal for the Diocese of Lafayette, Louisiana. At a moment when Catholic Bishops are facing a massive deficit of trust from the faithful, it seems obvious to me that their fundraising attempts should be sober, restrained, and focused strictly on the needs that will be met by the money raised — or go unfunded without it.

And yet this, for some unfathomable reason, is what the Diocese of Lafayette decided to go with instead:

The video was posted to the diocesan Vimeo account by Blue Rolfes, the Communications Director for the Diocese. A little googling tells me that Rolfes spent nearly four decades as a local news anchor for KLFY TV 10 News. One would think a veteran of the TeeVee business would know better.

On the one hand, her experience shows. The production values in the video are quite good. The lighting, camera work, and directing all show the work of an experienced hand.

The problem, however, is the script. I’ll give a brief synopsis, for those who haven’t watched the video:

The video begins with a close up shot of a man’s hands filling out an envelope. The voiceover narration says:

“As I sit here and fill out my pledge card for the Bishop’s Services Appeal, I can’t help but recall the day I met Max. It was the 7th Sunday of Ordinary Time. Pews were filling up, and Mass was about to begin. Little did I know how much my life would change…”

First of all, did anyone else hear a record scratch at “It was the 7th Sunday of Ordinary Time”? I mean, the whole point of Ordinary Time is that it’s entirely forgettable. Unlike the wisdom of the old liturgical calendar, that gave us Sundays that fit into the context of important feasts of the liturgical season, Ordinary Time is just so…Ordinary.

But I digress.

So we cut to the “life changing” experience our narrator is talking about. A man walks into a parish to pray before Mass, and is harassed rather loudly and tenaciously by several other parishioners, who have no problem being disrespectful to his stated desire for silence so that he can focus on his time with God. They’re too busy trying to guilt trip him into giving money to the Bishop’s appeal.

Then there’s a heavenly voice saying his name, but it turns out not to be an angel or saint. Just a  condescending 8 year old girl with an iPad who brushes off the beleaguered man’s observation that he doesn’t think “you’re supposed to bring a tablet into church” with a dismissive wave of the hand. “Let’s stay focused, Peter.” She quips. She then turns his attention to her portable screen and guides him through a multimedia sales pitch — still in the moments before Mass — until he gets up, utterly convinced, and starts shouting about how he’s going to give to the Bishop’s appeal this year. He even manages to interrupt a choir doing the kind of polyphony you’d be hard pressed to find in most diocesan parishes these days. And then, Bishop J. Douglas Deshotel makes a cameo to close the deal, erasing any hope that he mustn’t have signed off on a video created in such poor taste.

But let’s return to the admonition for Peter to “stay focused”. He had been attempting to pray — and he said as much. But that wasn’t where his attention was needed, apparently. As the second wave of the sex abuse crisis continues to grow in the public consciousness, it’s hard not to see this line as representative of many bishops’ attitudes toward the concerned faithful. “Stay focused,” they might as well chide us. “Don’t be distracted by our failings or your desire to live the faith. Give us your money.”

If Peter was smart, he would have said no.

Cardinal “Cheeshead” Dolan Attempts Metaphors

And this isn’t the only tone deaf video put out by a bishop that I’ve seen in the past 24 hours. There’s also this doozy from Cardinal Timothy Dolan, posted on Super Bowl Sunday:

Then-Bishop Dolan in His Sunday Best

Dolan after patting his trusty recliner and telling us the relative position of his television to where he’s sitting, goes on to wax poetic about the “Super Bowl of life” and reminds us that Jesus is “the greatest quarterback of all.”

Really, Your Eminence?

This aw shucks blue collar bonhomie is, at the best of times, condescending. At worst, it is flat out insulting to the millions of Catholics who are angry, fed up, and sick to death of being talked down to by bishops who seem not to care about their fundamental interests — whether those interests are the protection of children or seminarians from clerical predation, the restoration of orthodoxy, the protection of those good parishes and priests who are trying to give their flocks the real truths of the faith, or, as is most often the case, all of the above.

For Dolan, the Cheesehead was worth multiple public appearances.

When I was in college, one theology professor of mine — Dr. Regis Martin — was eminently quotable on a number of topics. Twenty years ago, he related with revulsion an anecdote about a priest who offered Mass wearing, if memory serves, a Pittsburgh Steeler’s Jersey. I didn’t write down the context, but I did write the quote: “So he dressed up like some damn football star,” Dr. Martin thundered from his lectern, “and tried to say Mass that way…the Eucharist is not football.”

He said something else, once, that I think perfectly encapsulates this smarmy, wink and a nudge sort of banalized approached to the faith: “This has become a bourgeois Catholicism, a religion of suburban good cheer. A bubble-gum chewing religion.”

A religion of suburban good cheer. A bubble-gum chewing religion. I think perhaps Dr. Martin was giving too much credit.

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