Saturday, April 25, 2015

Who Would Jesus Shoot?

I leave the country for a few weeks and I guess I cannot trust my diocese and bishop to keep themselves out of the funny papers while I’m gone.  The hubbub?  Fr. Ed Fride, pastor of Christ the King parish in Ann Arbor, sponsored and started holding concealed pistol license (CPL) classes at the parish presumably with emphasis on answering those vexing doctrinal questions, “Who would Jesus shoot?” and “What would Jesus carry?”

As a personal parish of Lansing Bishop Earl Boyea, Christ the King is not confined to territorial boundaries as are most diocesan parishes.  It prides itself on being a “charismatic, contemplative, Eucharistic and Marian” oasis within the diocese.  I think Fr. Ed was just trying to expand that "points of pride” list to include other terms typically associated with Jesus such as “kick-ass,” take no prisoners,” and “combative.”   That’s quite a spiritual weapons journey for Ed, a former Vietnam War Conscientious Objector…from pacifist to pugilist.

To give you some idea about the parish in question, rumor has it that Domino’s Pizza Founder and uber-orthodox sugar daddy of Ave Maria University, Tom Monaghan, also bankrolls this uber-orthodox parish.  This seems plausible since Christ the King, Ann Arbor sits across the road from Ave Maria Radio and adjacent to Domino’s Farms.

Nonetheless, despite the large preponderance of politically conservative parishioners at Christ the King, some folks took exception to using their faith community’s space…named after the Prince of Peace…for target practice.  They complained and Pastor Ed responded by sending a multi-page meandering epistle entitled, “We’re Not in Mayberry Anymore, Toto!” to parishioners.  

To call this letter “fear-mongering” would be very kind.  It’s a combination of him expressing his paranoia and trying to bully parishioners into sharing it by enshrouding it in pseudo-theological justification.  For example he explains that one female parishioner said having CPL classes (which include several hours of shooting practice) on parish grounds made her fearful and that he responded by asking if she feared rape.  He continues explaining that we have a moral duty to protect our families and, evidently, he believes that makes a theological case for carrying concealed weapons…because if you don’t and someone you love gets raped, it’s your, not the perpetrator’s fault…  Well, come to think of it, that example does reflect the “blame the victim” mentality expressed by the hierarchy regarding children raped by priests, but I digress.

I'm trying to imagine confessions with Fr. Ed.  "Bless me Father for I have sinned.  It's been three weeks since I fired a gun."  Or, "Father, I tried to turn the other cheek to my oppressor."  "Bill, you know that is a sin.  Your penance is to go buy a gun and carry concealed....oh, and two Our Fathers and Three Hail Marys while you're doing target practice.... I hear it improves your aim.  Our Blessed Mother is a huge fan of blasting your enemy and will guide your hand."  

I guess Fr. Ed did not get to the part in the gospels where Jesus tells his companions to sheath their weapons and even repairs the physical damage done by one of his buddies in the Garden of Gethsemane.  Or maybe he just doesn't understand it.

I applaud Bishop Boyea for canceling the remaining CPL classes but I hope he is also examining the fitness of this priest for ministerial work.  Ed’s judgment lapse in sponsoring the classes, holding them on parish property, writing a lengthy bizarre letter to parishioners filled with twisted theological ideas as well as harboring and cultivating seemingly irrational fears might signal it’s time for Fr. Ed to retire and enjoy a quiet life of prayer. Bishop Boyea has certainly revoked other priests' faculties for lesser ills.  But I think all those priests tended toward Democratic Party political alignment, so perhaps voting Republican in secular politics washes away priests' shortcomings in this bishop's eyes.

By the way, Fr. Ed teaches theology at Siena Heights University and serves on the diocesan school board in addition to leading this rather large parish.  I believe he also regularly speaks on EWTN.  My point is he’s pretty prominent and in a position to influence many people.   Therefore his pseudo-theological mutterings are cause for grave concern if not scandal.  This is bigger than a mere “oops, I forgot to pickup my dry-cleaning” kind of mental lapse. 

Ed’s half-hearted statement about ending the classes hardly convinces one that he understands what he did was wrong…  He basically just says that the bishop is in charge and the bishop says no.  There’s no apology or explanation for his strange letter.  There’s no expression that he realizes he’s a bit paranoid.  There’s no statement that he made inappropriate comments.  

I listened to an April 22, 2015 Catholic Connection radio show from … you guessed it … Ave Maria Radio (carried on EWTN also) in which Al Kresta, the CEO of Ave Maria Communications analyzes the situation along with the show’s host, Teresa Tomeo.  Listening to this station and show were both firsts and eye-opening for me.  I could not figure out how to fast-forward to the segments on Fr. Ed and guns so suffered through listening to a lengthy segment about a new Catholic fashion magazine for girls.  The show's host seriously said she likes to be "faithful and fashionable" equating what I might call "empty vanity" with "adorning your body as a temple of the Holy Spirit."

Anyway, managing to avoid having my mind numbed by the fashion mag segment's appalling theological distortions, I listened intently to the segment about Fr. Ed.  Al said a couple of notable things that gave me pause for reflection:
1.  Al, who is a parishioner at Christ the King parish, felt holding the class on parish grounds was inappropriate – repeatedly saying that it just fed this image that conservatives are merely all about loving God and guns.  Um…if the image fits….???
2.  Al clearly seemed to feel whoever leaked the story and the letter to the Detroit Free Press was a traitor.  In Legion of Christ style secrecy he felt that it was a private discussion to occur within the parish “family.”  I guess the other billion+ Catholics around the world who might be interested in this perversion of their faith are not considered part of Al’s family….???
3.  Al repeated several times that Fr. Ed is beloved and mentioned that he is responsible for 23 priests coming from that parish.  Aha! Suddenly I understand the painfully poor quality of paranoid younger priests in our diocese… 

The show's combination of "fashion and guns for Jesus" interspersed with medically questionable attacks against hormone therapy (aka "birth control") and advertisements promoting cult-like messages to patronize cult-like businesses and denigrate mainstream medical professionals gave me pause to marvel that the bishop saw the CPL classes as crossing some line.  To me it was all varying shades of twisted truth and untruths bordering on paranoia and aimed at cultivating fear.  I had difficulty distinguishing degrees of difference and nowhere heard "good news" unless one equates fear and illogical thinking with "joy, peace and love."

Perhaps this prevalence of fear-mongering based upon strange theological interpretations which has become rather mainstream amongst clergy of late is why a friend told me when he reads stories like the CPL class he no longer has any confidence in the bishop to even bother contacting him.  His instinctive reaction is to yank his children out of Catholic school to protect them from this kind of irrational thinking.

With the Vatican finally forcing convicted criminal Bishop Finn to resign, I wonder how warm Pope Francis will be to Fr. Fear-monger's antics?

As an aside, Ann Arbor is home to the University of Michigan, rival school to Michigan State University and The Ohio State University.  It's a very affluent place with a high concentration of academically gifted people.  The crime rate is pretty low unless you consider trash talking rival schools a felony.  And, even if you do, I don't know that it warrants use of a gun in response.

Finally, I don't have time to record this but Fr. Ed inspires me to re-write lyrics to a popular hymn, "Be Not Afraid."  Perhaps I'll call it "Be Quite Afraid."

You shall cross the barren desert but you shall not cross unarmed
You shall wander far in safety only in your fantasies
You shall speak your words in foreign lands and shoot those who don't understand
You shall see the face of God in your ammo

Be quite afraid
I go before you but you
Still need to pack
'Cause I ain't got your back