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Out in Orange County , they’re preaching fire and brimstone. "Rebellion, grave disobedience, and mortal sin," the pastor of St. Mary’s by the Sea in Huntington Beach, California, thundered to his congregation in the church bulletin.

Now, ever since Jonathan Edwards preached "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God," American pastors have known that, every once in a while, you have to pitch it hot to stop the backsliding of your parishioners. And backsliding the people have been in Orange County¯to the point where many of them openly kneel during Mass.

What are they doing out there in California? We’ve got an abortion industry slaughtering millions of babies, we have two generations of churchgoers so badly catechized they can’t tell the Bible from The Da Vinci Code , and an Orange County parish is squabbling about kneeling during Mass?

The ironies are almost irresistible. The people who roiled the Catholic liturgy into some disastrous mixture of the language of Entertainment Weekly and the solemnity of P.T. Barnum are badly placed to object to the diversity of some parishioners kneeling, and it’s a little late in the day for the folks who brought us liturgical dance to be invoking the language of "rebellion, grave disobedience, and mortal sin."

Still, it is a scandal, in the literal sense. The divisions in the parish have been reported in the Los Angeles Times , and the Church is made a laughingstock. I imagine there were some parishioners who weren’t just kneeling; they were kneeling with intent ¯to shame and embarrass their pastor and other parishioners. And I’ll bet there were some parishioners who standing in the same way¯to be noticed by others, to make a comment, when the Blessed Sacrament itself is exposed on the altar, demanding everyone’s reverence and attention.

Bah. Various reports suggest that the diocesan bureaucrats in Orange County are as iconic 1970s-style-reform Catholics as the world still contains: Diversity is the highest good, they proclaim, as long as it’s our kind of diversity. But let’s not forget the reality of a parish so embittered that nobody seems to be watching the Mass. A good pastor would never have let it reach this point, and a good bishop would certainly have solved the problem of a bad pastor long before it made the pages of the Los Angeles Times .

I’ve been meaning to mention "The Ironic Catholic" blog for a while now. It’s kind of like The Onion , only without massage parlor and escort service ads.

Try this entry , for instance: "Eccentric, Possibly Unhinged Woman Admits She Has Not Read The Da Vinci Code ." Or the series of attempts to employ Smokey the Bear to sell Catholic messages:

In addition to which :

In “Dechristianizing America,” Richard John Neuhaus examines the curious and complex ways in which analysts of American life—mainly, but not only Jewish analysts—seem determined to ignore the confusedly Christian character of this society. This reflection in the June/July issue of First Things touches on subjects of long-standing controversy that cannot be ignored in trying to understand how our public discourse contributes to our misunderstanding of who we are. Isn’t it time for you to subscribe to First Things ?

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