Approaching the millennium with hope
Gary J. Caruso
In the year 999, thousands nervously crammed onto the Vatican grounds as the pope celebrated midnight mass on Dec. 31. Many had sold their possessions, believing that the end of the world would come when the year 1000 arrived. To the relief of everyone present, the 10th chronological century passed peacefully into the next millennium. The years following have yet to see the coming of the end of the world.
Today, as we approach the transition into the next millennium, the world's religious "goofies" are at it again with predictions of doom and destruction. Jerry Falwell, for example, announced months ago that he has stored "plenty of canned goods and ammunition." Militia groups and those with generally "unusual" beliefs are bracing for the big Y2K meltdown. Fringe groups from across the political and religious spectrums will make this New Year's celebration one to remember.
But fringe groups are not the only ones who at times have acted with careless, rigid, reckless or downright inhumane treatment against others. Upon reflection of the past millennium, we Catholics at times have had our share of goofy moments and crusading causes. Most notably were the inquisitions, beginning with Pope Gregory IX and running beyond Pope John XXII.
As we evolve into a more sophisticated society, the lessons learned are oftentimes lost during the heat of a recent moment. Our sights must be set on the future, and our leaders must revolutionize our actions so that people, not doctrine are our primary concern. Vatican II under Pope John XXIII forever changed and somewhat modernized the Church. That modernization, along with the drastic decline of religious serving the Church, helped fuel a freedom Catholic university administrators have enjoyed until the recent efforts of bishops to have the Vatican control higher educational institutions.
It is ironic that Notre Dame, for example, strives to portray itself as "the" Catholic university in the United States by strictly and conservatively adhering to Church dogma. Using such an approach is a tactical and convenient method to justify denying those who seek a nondiscrimination clause that includes sexual orientation.
While some portray the Notre Dame administration as mini-inquisitors in modern-day clothing, others agree with the administration that the Church's mission is not negotiable. We "cafeteria Catholics" would like to think that the Church could be like a big tent that can include everyone. However, the realization is that at any given moment actions are taken according to the philosophical rigidness of current leaders. We "K-mart Catholics" are not as cheap with our religion as dogmatic Catholics would like to portray us, and we seek the coming of a new John XXIII who can update Church dogma with some practical application.
Fighting AIDS in Third World countries is an issue our Church must soon address in a reasonable way before this great plague rivals the Middle Ages. Not weighing the positive medical consequences of contraception in these ravaged countries belies past explanations. All sexual contact is not solely intended for procreation. Thinking that the absence of a contraceptive device validates a couple's urges, especially while in the state of marriage, is a naive and hollow excuse that defies biology. Furthermore, maintaining the position that the impeding of the procreation process is wrong, even when an epidemic rages with the under-educated population of the Third World, is in itself backward thinking. Ignoring the need to educate and immediately stop the spread of AIDS is almost like condemning the least educated to death.
Twenty years ago, Right-To-Life supporters vehemently opposed artificial insemination and experimentation of animal tissues. Today, pig hearts are implanted into humans, thus giving them added years of quality life. Many families have only begun with the help of artificial insemination. Think how it must feel for that son or daughter who is alive today to contemplate what may not have happened had the thoughts and fears of two decades ago been set in stone. To my way of thinking, some "cafeteria scientists" are to be congratulated.
Discrimination and AIDS are but two of many issues the Church and society must approach in more imaginative ways during the next millennium. Unfortunately, changes will take time — maybe not until the next John XXIII-type of thinker is elected Pope. It may be a generation or two away. It may be a century or two from now. Regardless, we should celebrate the passing of this millennium with the hope that the future holds remarkable achievements yet to come when our future leaders adapt accordingly.
Gary J. Caruso, Notre Dame '73, is currently serving in President Clinton's administration as a Congressional and public affairs director and worked at the U.S. House of Representatives for 17 years. His column appears every other Friday.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.
All Viewpoint Stories for Friday, December 3, 1999