Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Another Modest Proposal (Modeled on Jonathan Swift)

By Susan Zeni

Given the heat that’s been generated on both sides of the upcoming amendment on gay marriage, it’s time to apply some common sense to the discussion. I, myself, have no personal interest in the outcome of this amendment, truly. I attend Sunday mass, confess my sins, and give to the poor. I am not perfect, but I am a good Catholic, as most of you are, wanting to do the right thing, yet feeling unsure about what the right thing actually is. I have wearied myself with years of thinking on the subject and now offer my humble thoughts, which are not wholly original, but provide solid and real answers to a lingering concern. My sixteen years of Catholic education also qualify and, indeed, obligate me as a speaker on this issue. According to church instruction, I am capable of performing the first three spiritual works of mercy as I have proper tact, knowledge, and training to do so.

Here is a plain and straightforward list of new, but substantially traditional, ideas to break the current impasse:

1. First of all, each parish, with the bishop’s approval and foresight for allocating resources, could erect six pillories in the sacristy, directly behind the communion railing. I advocate this placement so that the faithful will have no difficulty moving to the communion rail during mass and will not be troubled by inadvertent contact with those who are being pilloried. We must draw a clear line between those who are saved and those who are still on their way to perfect conduct and ought to be shamed for their offenses.

2. Secondly, the chosen six who will serve as models for us all – in forgiving offenses willingly and bearing wrongs patiently – ought to be gay. Each parish would, of course, have the power to decide whose heads and arms would bear the honor of confinement – whether, in the name of equal representation, three women and three men will be installed or if six men might be honored first since they are primary in the natural order of things and ought to assume their customary position in the hierarchy of being. Of course, six lesbians with their heads shaved could also be locked into place since they might evoke images of Joan of Arc and inspire the laity to rouse themselves, as they have in the past, to extraordinary acts of courage, to speaking up for friends who are in need of support against those who would misuse power.

3.Third of all, there is an absolute beauty in this scheme, a win-win situation for all. The names of the pilloried could be written on their foreheads as is their absolute due, but the details of the real crimes that have been committed could be displayed on placards hung around their necks. And as is customary, the real offenders need not be named but only referred to as Father X, or Bishop Y, or Cardinal Z with a careful tabulation of each one’s offenses on the suspended placards. Will this not prove a perfect surrogacy, letting those who are being pilloried serve as substitutes, as deflectors of blame, so that those who must continue the work among the faithful can carry on without stain of character? It is true that blame, like energy and matter, is never destroyed. It is merely transformed. So if blame there is, let’s discharge it in the least harmful and most efficient way. Two sinners--one stone, is this not a tidy way to seek atonement?

4. And we will demonstrate mercy for those who are pilloried. Do remember that in the past, those who were accused were set out in the public square in all kinds of weather. The rabble tossed rotten vegetables and other gross materials, which present delicacy does not permit our naming. By housing the pilloried in a warm and civil place, we will demonstrate the progress which has been made since those barbaric times.

5. And certainly, I think everyone agrees that this will be more cost-effective in the long run. How much can six wooden structures, such as these, cost? Yes, of course, if each local parish were to demand six or more structures, or round it up to an apostolic twelve, there might be a real budget problem. But surely, surely, these wooden structures are much cheaper in the long run than the millions that might be spent on lobbying for the new amendment. We might, as well, provide employment for the honest, out of work carpenters among us since Jesus, himself, might be out of work in today’s marketplace. Then, too, the visceral disgust some people feel about the sins of the accused could be so much more openly and honestly expressed. One could truly hate the sin but love the sinner as he or she would be present in full view in all his or her humanity.

6. And if there are savings to be had, perhaps that money could be distributed to the faithful in North Minneapolis who have not yet recovered from last summer’s tornado or to those who are hitting the soup kitchens hoping for something to sustain them through this economic downturn. Mary Jo Copland of Sharing and Caring Hands has been carrying on for years in the name of Jesus, and she could use a few more dozen toenail clippers and foot-washing basins as she ministers to the poor soles on our downtown streets.

7. And might this not foster more true ecumenism with sister churches throughout the area? Other followers of Jesus, who believe in compassion and brotherly love, could be invited in to common viewings of the pilloried and save themselves the extra time and energy it would take to conduct such campaigns on their own. And again there would be one-on-one contact with those in the stocks and perhaps some distorted images of the pilloried would be dispelled. Certainly, most compassionate people know gays and lesbians who deserve to be treated with respect. And will not talking to immobilized gays and lesbians create an aura of security for those who might be afraid of such persons, having perhaps never really talked to any? Pinning down the offenders will provide a good venue for a fruitful exchange of ideas.

8. And finally, there will be ample opportunities to perform corporal works of mercy, especially for those miscreant priests, gay and otherwise, who have taken to speaking up. Such priests can be re-assigned long shifts in which they are obligated to take care of the scapegoats in the stocks. They will not have time to mislead the faithful and might not even require overt silencing. They can be worked mercilessly, without anyone’s even knowing it, can take on the duties for which they were originally ordained: to visit the captive, feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, shelter the distressed. The church, too, would benefit from the good PR these priests would generate – good shepherds tending to their flocks, rather than to the things of Caesar. Of course, this might actually provide the straying priests with a true means of salvation, but as saved people ourselves, we have to hope for the best for all, to always love the sinner, not the sin.

I can think of no objections that will be raised against this proposal. The advantages are so obvious and so many. What was hidden will now be made clear. Voters can focus on the real issues of the day, rather than be manipulated by those who would abuse power. Worthy surrogates will shoulder the blame for the nameless among us. Money that lined the pockets of politicos and lobbyists will be distributed among the poor. Good carpenters will be provided honest employment. And good priests will continue to speak up, whatever the cost, for truth and justice.


  1. Susan, you are wonderful. Jonathan Swift would be proud about the homage. We do live in strange times.

  2. What a terrific piece -- I hope this gets wide readership -- Zeni makes her point in a most clever way -- refreshing and on the money. Paulette

  3. I certain see no objections to implementing this proposal--how worthy the motives and how fitting the means.

  4. edited update sans typo: I certainly see no objections to implementing this proposal: how worthy the motives and how fitting the means.