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The Oscars and the New Cardinals

by Daniel O’Rourke

The entire world has again endured the Investiture of new cardinals in Rome and the annual Oscar Academy Awards in Hollywood. I must admit there was a time when I had a fleeting interest in these two reoccurring international extravaganzas. Now, however, they seem more like the Roman bread and circuses: superficial diversions and distractions from the real issues confronting the church and world. Think of the worldwide financial meltdown, or Syria, Iran and Afghanistan. Or even matters closer to the Academy and the Roman Church, like plummeting movie attendance and pedophilia.

Yet these two diverse, glitzy superparties have much in common. Aging White men control both and both place an exaggerated emphasis on dress. For the cardinals it’s the silk robes, the silly slippers on their aging feet, and the “red hats” on their graying and balding heads. For the actresses at the Oscars it’s the colorful V-necked, strapless, backless, off-the–shoulders gowns on their young, sultry bodies. Both also have their jewelry: rings for the cardinals, necklaces for the glitterati. Of course, there were differences too. The cardinals appeared Medieval; the actresses were definitely twenty-first Century.

I guess it’s my Catholic roots, but all that Vatican foppery makes me nauseous. The Church is far, far from Jesus. I once heard Karen Armstrong confess to a theological fantasy. (There are lots of fantasies of another kind about those actresses, but back to Armstrong’s theological one.) In her wild reverie, Armstrong dreams of meeting Jesus and taking him on a guided tour of the Vatican. Jesus would cry and say, “What in God’s name have they done to my church?”

Jesus would be turning over in his grave – if he had one. As for his Apostles, they were ordinary working stiffs. They wouldn’t recognize a red silk robe if they reeled it in with their fishing nets and neither would their wives.

I freely admit that the Catholic Church has an admirable record in serving the world’s poor and needy. Its charities, schools and hospitals have been in the forefront for workers’ rights, prisoners’ rights, social justice and human dignity. But Blessed Mother Teresa caring for dying untouchables in Calcutta or Saint Damien ministering to lepers on Molokai are far from Rome – and not only geographically.

But back to the Oscars and the investiture of cardinals, they both had their stars. Meryl Streep won best actress for her brilliant portrayal of Margaret Thatcher in “Iron Lady.” The cardinal star was the charismatic and outgoing Timothy Dolan, the now Cardinal Archbishop of NewYork. His humor even made the Pope smile and the Italian press have labeled him “papabile” as a possible future pope. But I wouldn’t bet on it, as Dolan himself said with self-deprecating charm and humor, “The Mets have a better chance of winning the World Series!”

More significantly, though, are whom the Oscars and Rome passed over. The Academy nominated the actress Viola Davis for best actress in “The Help,” but she did not receive the award. (She lost it fair and square to Meryl Streep.)

Then there’s the outspoken Diarmuid Martin, Archbishop of Dublin. He’s the only bishop in Ireland whom the people trust. Snubbing him was not fair and square at all. In a just church, the Pope would be kissing him on the cheek and plunking a red hat on his head. But in the sex abuse scandal in Ireland Martin cooperated with the government’s investigation. He gave 65,000 files on child abuse cases to the Murphy Commission – files his predecessor had refused to turn over. In so doing he infuriated the Irish bishops and angered Rome. Last Sunday Archbishop Martin told the full, sordid story to Bob Simon on “60 Minutes.” He teared-up when speaking of the young, innocent victims.

The Motion Pictures Academy and the Vatican have much in common. They both put on dazzling opulent shows, but some of it is rotten and rancid.

Retired from the administration at State University of New York at Fredonia, Daniel O’Rourke lives in Cassadaga, New York. His column appears in The Observer, Dunkirk, NY on the second and fourth Thursday each month. A grandfather, Dan is a married Catholic priest. His new book, “The Living Spirit” is a collection of previous columns. To read about that book or send comments on this column visit his website


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