Jun 272012

The leek: a satirical take

By Horace Heller Hedley, IV

Following its recent hiring of Fox News correspondent Greg Burke as official media consultant, the Vatican has continued its public outreach by establishing a new Office of Excommunications. The incoming director, Fr. Bartomeo Taccahaicca, has pledged to streamline the process of excommunication, currently bogged down by confused regulations, antiquated administrative procedures, and skyrocketing demand.

The Vatican has been scrambling to update its excommunication methods—little has changed since the Middle Ages—in the face of a steep increase in requests for excommunication in recent years. “In past centuries most excommunications were involuntary,” explained Roberto Delvecchio of the Pontifical Institute. “The demand for voluntary excommunication in the past few years has caught the Church off guard. The administrative structure is completely log-jammed.”  

While the involuntary excommunication rate remains flat, with no excommunications of priests from the sexual abuse scandal, and none expected from the recent investigations of U.S. nuns or the Girl Scouts of America, voluntary excommunications continue to grow apace. However, those Catholics seeking to formally renounce ties with an organization that they consider authoritarian, opposed to free thought, misogynist, supportive of governmental policies harmful to the most vulnerable citizens, and guilty of concealing thousands of cases of child sexual abuse, have found that organization maddeningly unresponsive.

“I had no idea that getting excommunicated would be such a damned runaround!” fumed Jennifer Hobson of Falls River, VA. “I spent the whole morning getting bounced around this phone tree, with all the messages in Latin, before I got to a person. That was two months ago, and I still haven’t gotten my parchment. So am I in, or out?  It’s a whole lot easier to get out of Facebook.”

While analysts hailed the Vatican’s new commitment to a more responsive management style as an important step forward, some questioned whether it goes far enough. “This new investment in customer service is a positive signal to the marketplace and the shareholders,” said Milton Battersby, senior partner of The Global Faith Finance Forecasting Group. “But I can’t see it reversing the long trend of erosion in the Church’s customer base, or the catastrophic loss of market share to their evangelical competitors. After all, getting customers out the door is relatively easy—the hard part is getting them in.”

Still, streamlining cumbersome excommunication procedures would serve the interests of both disgruntled would-be former Catholics and the Vatican itself. Pope Benedict XVI has expressed his preference for a “smaller, purer church” and a “winnowing” of persons he does not consider fully Catholic. It will be difficult for the Church to meet that goal without much more user-friendly excommunication procedures.

It is widely believed that Fr. Taccahaicca was chosen as Director of Excommunications because of his unusually rich experience in the secular business world.  A late vocation to the priesthood, Fr. Taccahaicca was formerly Vice President for Customer Care at Anthem Blue Cross / Blue Shield. He is expected to implement a sweeping modernization of the excommunication apparatus, including the delivery of excommunication documents by fax and in PDF formats, and via an interactive option offered on the new website anathema.com.

Yet it will take far more than a procedural overhaul to help the Church clear away the deadwood among its faithful. Church regulations are so arcane that even religious professionals disagree over what constitutes true excommunication. For example, when Donna Rogeux was ordained a priest in an unsanctioned ceremony in Lexington, KY, Church officials commented that, by the act of accepting ordination, she had “excommunicated herself.” Such latae sententiae, or automatic excommunication, supported by canon law, is occasionally applied to Catholic politicians who oppose Church policy—most recently, presidential candidate John Kerry.

This position, however, rankles excommunication hard-liners, like Monseigneur James Kirkland. “Hogwash.  Self-excommunication is a myth—a convenient theological fiction concocted as a cost-cutting measure, like the U-Scan at Kroger.  The believer is excommunicated when we say he is.  Period.”

The new Vatican department, dubbed by some critics “Office of the Holy See You Later,” is scheduled to begin operations next Advent.

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