Our prayers go out to the families of John F. Kennedy Jr. and his wife, Carolyn Bessette Kennedy, and her sister Lauren Bessette who died in the July 16 plane crash off Martha's Vineyard. With sadness, though, we noticed that many of the public tributes to them seemed to emphasize their celebrity status, but little else.
It was difficult, of course, not to be touched by the poignant memories of the only Catholic family ever to occupy the White House. It was first lady Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy, John Jr.'s mother, who introduced many Americans to Vatican protocol, by dressing in black, with headdress, when she met the Pope in Rome. And it was John-John himself who offered an unforgettable salute as his father's coffin passed by, in the sorrowful days after Dallas.
Yet it wasn't for the glory of political power or the celebrity glory of the world that the Kennedys and their kin were created. They, like all of us, were created for an even greater glory in heaven.
The tragedy of July 16 is a reminder that even the rich and famous don't need the attention of our praise so much as the intentions of our prayers.
* * *
The news from the San Francisco Bay area regarding Bishop George Patrick Ziemann's sexual relations with a priest is shocking, deeply disappointing and a grave betrayal of trust to the Church, the people of the Santa Rosa Diocese and the whole body of the faithful. It need-n't, however, be a blow to our faith in Christ or the Church.
That isn't because we don't expect our priests and bishops to be holy. We have every right to. It is because we know, always have known, that sins small and large are part of the human experience.
So what do we mean when we say that the Church, in addition to being “one,” “catholic” and “apostolic,” is also “holy”?
It is clear that we cannot mean the unstained holiness of its members or hierarchy. The bishops are successors to the Twelve Apostles, and the Twelve weren't without fault at some of the most crucial moments for the Church. When Christ was arrested, it was because one apostle betrayed him with a kiss. Another denied him three times. The rest fled from Gethsemane.
Still, the Church's holiness is seen readily in its members, Mother Teresa and Pope John Paul II being the most high-profile examples. And then there are the parish priests who minister to us every day, the religious sisters, parish lay leaders and Catholic communities who look after us — all offer an unsung service that witnesses to the Church's holiness.
The Church's holiness also shines in its works: hospitals, labor unions, schools and some of the world's greatest cultural achievements are among the contributions Catholics have made to the world. In recent times, the flowering of the new ecclesial communities testifies to the Church's enduring call to holiness. Its holiness also shines in its sacraments. These are holy and bring holiness, regardless of the personal merits of any one of their ministers, because they carry the grace of Christ.
So, while it is appropriate to be outraged by what happened in Santa Rosa — the scandal it causes, the degraded picture of the Church hierarchy it paints — it is important to remember that Christ can triumph even in the midst of such poor human instruments. He has before.
* * *
We reported last week on the case of Ryan C. Berry, a married Air Force first lieutenant who balked at the prospect of working alone with a woman in a small, underground missile-launching center for extended periods. Beyond the matter of avoiding scandal and near occasions of sin, the case is also about military readiness and safety in the new coed armed forces.
Berry's objections — supported by military Archbishop Edwin O'Brien — clearly have a strong moral case. But they don't necessarily depend on the Catholic faith alone. There was a time when common sense would have dictated separating men and women for lengthy assignments in such close quarters. Berry's fears, moreover, are not unfounded: Rumors of illicit goings-on in such missile silos already abound in the military.
Then there's the national security consideration. Letting a man and woman share such close quarters isn't appropriate in an isolated facility which deals with doomsday weapons. If any military situation demands military officers who are undistracted, it's this one.
Finally, there also seems to be a double standard in play. Wiccan believers (that is, witches) can practice fertility rituals, replete with sexual symbols, on Army bases (see last week's Register, Page 2). So why can't the military also allow its officers to avoid temptations against chastity in missile silos?