The Independent Newsweekly
|Today's Take: NCR's daily Web column|
|Each weekday over the course of a week, a member of the NCR staff offers a commentary on one or more topics in the news. It's our way of introducing you to some of the people carrying out the NCR mission of faith and justice based journalism.|
|November 5, 2002||
Vol. 1, No. 145
by Arthur Jones, NCR editor at large
We fast forward now to the U.S. Catholic church of 2103. There is an enormous debate -- a huge church-state fight -- dominating CSN (Computer Screen News).
The Vatican is squared off against the government of the United States over the fate of Fr. Zal, the last celibate diocesan priest in America. He is in his 40s, a typical American of his generation: California-born, his grandparents were Polish-Japanese and Irish-Costa Rican.
As the seminary's curriculum had been limited anyway to Vietnamese and Spanish speakers, Fr. Zal did his training in Lagos, Nigeria, at the all-Africa, all-World English-speaking seminary.
And in a history-repeating epic (Michigan history), Fr. Zal was assigned to St. Filibert's Church in Eruption, Mich. Eruption is the adjoining city to Vulcan, Mich. (In Vulcan, in 1938, I kid you not, St. Barbara's parishioners held their popular priest, Fr. Simon Borkowski, a prisoner in his rectory for seven weeks rather than let him be transferred. The 24/7 picket line was a scene of serious injuries as those determined to rescue the priest and send him to the Salvatorian Seminary were beaten off. He was eventually freed and transferred.)
With the election of Pope Maribundo Heriberto of Mindanao, Philippines, in 2101, and his decrees endorsing communities calling forth the celebrant from among the worshippers at each liturgy, the other 37 celibate Catholic diocesan priests in the United States had packed their silks, personal altar cloths, ironing boards and altar rail-lock keys, and joined en masse the EEs - the Extreme Episcopalians, a significant group ministering to tens of thousands of people in Ogden, Utah and Jonestown, Guyana.
Papa Mari told his curia he wanted the Eruption, Mich. issue resolved.
The Vatican-vs-United States fight was over rights to the final remains of Fr. Zal -- an endangered species covered by the U.S. Acts of 1981, 2037 and 2099 -- his vestments, and his habitat, the church and rectory of St. Filibert's.
The U.S. government, in its majesty, was invoking U.S. law to claim him and the Eruption buildings for the Smithsonian's American History Museum.
Though Fr. Zal is in good health and far from dead, and has a significant following as the only priest in the 20 contiguous northern states of his consolidated diocese, the government had entered its claim early to prevent unseemly wrangling at the time of death.
The impasse has dragged on between the Congregation for Hasty and Nasty Decisions and the U.S. Justice Department for a decade. Now a decision is reached surprisingly quickly.
Fr. Zal, asked to tell Americans about himself on Computer Screen News, appeared before the cameras and said, "I'm gay."
The Congregation for Hasty and Nasty Decisions told the U.S. government, "you can have him."
And the Smithsonian is building an entirely new museum in Eruption, Michigan around Fr. Zal, his church and rectory.
Arthur Jones' e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
© 2003 The National Catholic Reporter Publishing Company, 115
E. Armour Blvd., Kansas City, MO 64111
TEL: 1-816-531-0538 FAX: 1-816-968-2280