The Twilight Zone

by Phyllis Zagano

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Narrator: There is a fifth dimension beyond that known to man. It is a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man's fears and the summit of his knowledge. This is the dimension of imagination. It is an area we call the Twilight Zone.

Female presenter (off): Other people call it the Roman Catholic Church. 

(Fade to red and black)

We could go on with the script, but it is too predictable. OK, it's not the whole church, but there is most definitely a Twilight Zone out there, and it is growing.

Imagine, if you will, the discussion in the Pontifical Council for Culture about the Man Ray bondage sculpture it used as a logo for meetings about women:

He: It was presented by an expert and it shows the way women are in society.

She: Are you kidding? Did you miss the fact that today's largest-grossing movie is the bondage jamboree "Fifty Shades of Grey"?

He: We are keeping it.

(Fade to black and blue)

The council's cardinal president really did defend using that illustration. He really did refuse to remove it. He also brushed aside complaints about the council's airhead infomercial asking for one-minute videos about women's lives.

Explanation: Complaints only came from the United States and Canada.

Translation: Ignore those uppity North Americans.

No kidding. An ostensibly well-educated Roman Catholic cardinal defended the insults he presided over. Worse, he does not understand the insults. He simply does not get it.

He is not alone. The alternative Catholic dimension is beyond anything you know in space and time. It exists in the minds of too many new clerics bounding out of seminaries, birettas in hand, ready to straighten out the mess caused by taking women seriously. You know, all this business about women being equal to men, even working as professionals (gasp!) outside the home!

Give me, as they say, a break.

Everybody's talking about it. No one is doing anything about it. The pope has warned against poorly formed priests and clerical careerists. Yet the wave against normalcy continues. Who is minding the chancery?

More to the point: What are they teaching in seminaries about women, about sex and sexuality?

Do they prefer shadow to light? Do they speak more from fear than from knowledge? Do they teach more with superstition than with science?

Consider, if you will, the San Francisco pastor now banning female altar servers in his downtown parish. His associate priest handed out a confession "guide" to schoolchildren too young to pronounce — or understand -- words like "sodomy" and "masturbation."

Consider as well in your attempt to understand where these priests are coming from the recent report in Commonweal magazine from a young man who left seminary with vivid memories of strange discussions about sex, sexuality and women.

Finally, consider the fact that priests still get away with jokes about single women and about mothers-in-law before they prattle away at their unprepared homilies.

There is too much of this stupidity going around, too much fear of women, and too much ignorance, misinformation and childishness.

The People of God deserve so much more.

Even so, the future of this Twilight Zone is assured. The lace warriors use all manner of social media. A legion of blogger-priests paints the Internet 50 shades of red, whining about altar servers and chapel veils while not so secretly wishing for a closet filled with silk brocade vestments. Their followers staunchly defend ... what? What? What?

Christians are moving through Lent gently, turning away from sin and toward the Gospel. But the bureaucracy chugs along in its own dimension, ignoring the retrograde backdrop, unknowing of the ways ignorant clericalism crushes the hearts and minds of women looking for the truth.

That bureaucracy does not know the Christ. That bureaucracy does not know itself. If it did, if that bureaucracy knew the Christ and if that bureaucracy knew itself, it would not be in the Twilight Zone. Nor would it be so murderously cruel to women.

[Phyllis Zagano is senior research associate-in-residence at Hofstra University. She will speak March 11 at University of Illinois, Chicago; April 16 at Mary Immaculate College in Limerick, Ireland; and April 18 at the Cork Theology Forum in Ireland. Her newest books are Mysticism and the Spiritual Quest: A Crosscultural Anthology and Sacred Silence: Daily Meditations for Lent.]

Editor's note: We can send you an email alert every time Phyllis Zagano's column, Just Catholic, is posted. Go to this page and follow directions: Email alert sign-up.

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