I was thinking about Julia Flyte as I read the recent essay by Cardinal Robert McElroy in America. Lady Julia is a central character in Evelyn Waugh’s novel Brideshead Revisited. Married to a divorcé, and living out of wedlock with Charles Ryder, she has a near breakdown late in the novel when her callous brother explains why he cannot bring his fiancée Beryl to Julia’s house: “It is a matter of indifference whether you choose to live in sin with Rex or Charles or both — I have always avoided enquiry into the details of your ménage — but in no case would Beryl consent to be your guest.”
Julia’s response is powerful for expressing her awareness that, as much of an ass as Bridey might be, “He’s quite right. . . . He means just what it says in black and white. Living in sin, with sin, by sin, for sin, every hour, every day, year in, year out. Waking up with sin in the morning, seeing the curtains drawn on sin, bathing in it, dressing it, clipping diamonds to it, feeding it, showing it around, giving it a good time, putting it to sleep at night with a tablet of Dial if it’s fretful.”
This confession anticipates her final conversion of heart as her father is dying, a conversion that Charles could see coming “all this year,” and portending the end of his relationship with Julia.
I’ll come back to Waugh, who in 1947 wrote a penetrating analysis of Brideshead for MGM, which was thinking of making a filmed version of the story. But first to Cardinal McElroy. The central concern of his essay is with the “structures and cultures of exclusion that alienate all too many from the church or make their journey in the Catholic faith tremendously burdensome.” Much of what he says of these exclusions will strike most Catholics as reasonable: certainly the poor, racial minorities, the incarcerated, and the disabled have all, in various ways and at various times, been marginalized in unacceptable ways. The cardinal also notes that the “church at times marginalizes victims of clergy sexual abuse in a series of destructive and enduring ways.”
What does it mean to speak of “structures and cultures of exclusion” in these contexts? The meaning will vary from case to case, but it is worth spending a moment on the last mentioned. For one might judge that in, for example, the case of Fr. Marko Rupnik, structures and cultures of opacity, secrecy, prestige, lack of concern for procedural justice, and the marginalization of women religious contributed to an egregious series of harms and a remarkable (and repulsive) valorization of the man who perpetrated those harms. Catholics might indeed hope that the institutional structures and culture that made such abuse possible over so many years will be the object of serious scrutiny and reform among the members of the hierarchy.
More surprising, and controversial, is the turn Cardinal McElroy makes late in his essay in a discussion of “exclusion” of those whose lives are discordant with the Church’s sexual teachings. Discussing those “who are marginalized because circumstances in their own lives are experienced as impediments to full participation in the life of the church,” the cardinal notes that these “include those who are divorced and remarried without a declaration of nullity from the church, members of the L.G.B.T. community and those who are civilly married but have not been married in the church.”
Cardinal McElroy is not, as he makes clear, discussing those who, having remarried, now live chastely, or those who, experiencing sexual desires or orientation toward acts at odds with Church teaching, live in continence. Rather, his concern is with those who because of their acts are “excluded” from the reception of the Eucharist. That, he argues, is at odds with the Church’s witness to “radical inclusion and acceptance,” which cannot be predicated on a “distinction between orientation and activity….”
Full story at The Public Discourse.