Magazine article Insight on the News

Epitaph for a Preserver of Orthodoxy

Magazine article Insight on the News

Epitaph for a Preserver of Orthodoxy

Article excerpt

They buried basketball coach Bob Knight's favorite cleric in the rolling greenery of south-central Indiana a couple of weeks ago. Bob Knight is, of course, one of the great coaches in sport. He is also one of sport's great characters, known for his adamantine principles and, not incidentally, his irascibility. Now, alas, when he blows, there will not be a ruddy-faced cleric in Roman collar standing by the bench, eyes cast heavenward.

The Rev. James P. Higgins was an unassuming priest who somehow left a profound mark on most of the eminences he encountered, though he was infinitely more at ease with ordinary people, ministering faithfully to their needs, spiritual and otherwise. His sudden death from a heart attack encourages me to enter a debate that I missed when the pope came to Denver and the American media treated orthodox religious views -- whether Catholic, Protestant or Jewish -- as quite shocking.

"A Troubled Church in Changing Times" was the theme of most of the coverage. It is a hackneyed line that has been resorted to by boob journalists for decades in reporting on orthodox institutions. "Times," of course, in this century have been changing since roughly August 1914, and the orthodox churches have changed hardly at all.

What did the commentators expect? Is the pope supposed to cheerfully relinquish centuries of teaching based on Scriptures held to be the word of God and take up the belief system of the modern American progressive? But what is that belief system? There was a day when the belief system of the American liberal was at least coherent. Now it is idiotic with contradictions: obsessed with child abuse, but also with introducing homosexuals into the Boy Scouts; insistent that women are the same as men -- strong and self-reliant -- albeit terrified by a lewd glance from the local sexual harasser. Show me a prized liberal value and I will show you a high-minded liberal pompously contradicting that value.

Even defenders of the Roman Catholic Church, such as columnist J. Dionne of the Washington Post, cannot defend the church as being anything other than a fine social welfare movement in need of a few corrections. Drop the bans on abortion and birth control, end celibacy, admit women to the priesthood and clean up this mysterious mess over child abuse, and, Dionne believes, the church will get on with its noble role of progress: guaranteed human rights (ever more human rights, and animal rights, too), educational opportunity, improved dental care, sex education and all manner of personal counseling. …

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