Wednesday, August 4, 2010
THE POWER OF HUMOR
Conversation at the backyard barbeque ranged from family stories, to politics, to sports and weather. Then came a spirited discussion of the Catholic hierarchy who, in recent weeks, had expelled two kindergarteners whose parents were lesbians, refused burial to a woman priest, raged at nuns who had publicly disagreed with the bishops about health care legislation, been held under house arrest in Belgium while authorities investigated an alleged cover-up of pedophilia, declared that the results of their investigation of American nuns would be kept secret, excommunicated a nun in Phoenix who had allowed the termination of a pregnancy which would have killed both mother and baby, and finally published guidelines, not regulations, for handling of child abuse cases throughout the church. For some unknown reason the Vatican also coupled the crime of pedophilia with the apparently equally heinous crime of women’s ordination, declaring automatic excommunication for any and all involved.
As the litany of cases continued, the temperature of the group soared, until humor took over. One person suggested that we develop bumper stickers declaring, “Honk if you’re into Excommunication.” Another suggested a companion piece, “Honk twice if you prefer burning people at the stake.” Another proposed t-shirts proclaiming, “If women priests can be excommunicated…” on the front and, on the back, “…shouldn’t some clueless Catholic prelates be Ex-term-inated?” This launched, to escalating peals of laughter, a rapid- fire series of alternative mottos and strategies. The threat of excommunication used to be a really big deal, but at the corner of our lives where hierarchical ineptitude has intersected with a crescendo of episcopal arrogance, something profound has happened. Our hierarchy has become an object of ridicule.
Something similar happened in South Africa shortly before the end of Apartheid. And it also preceded the destruction of the Iron Curtain in Eastern Europe. There comes a moment when the governed withdraw their consent. That’s what seems to be happening, chuckle by chuckle, in thousands of Catholic backyards today.
Humor has power.