Wednesday, November 10, 2010


This one is a little late getting to you – about a week late in response and also very late in the day today. Today is my day away but there were many meetings at the parish and so no time to play.

So anyway, last week in a letter to the editor of the Akron Beacon Journal, Patricia Tallon Hanson writes, “Is it any wonder that Catholics are leaving the fold and are disheartened by their faith? For the Vatican to waste time, effort and probably our hard-earned money to research what religion Bart and Homer Simpson practice is absurd (‘Vatican declares Simpsons Catholic,’ Oct. 20)

“With local parishes closing and the number of practicing Catholics dwindling, I would think the Vatican could use its time and money in better ways.”

Imagine the scene: Deep in the heart of the Vatican in a secret basement room not unlike the office shared by Mulder and Skully in the X-files, there are pale faced, bug-eyed clerics spending hours doped up on caffeine carefully researching each and every episode of The Simpsons, taking notes, reviewing each scene, looking for any little gesture, any remote hint that might tie these characters to the Catholic Faith. Though the Church could use these priests in closing parishes or send them out to mission territory, they sit in the glow of a monitory, stacks of Simpson DVDs on the shelves, notes posted on the walls, and sign on the door, “Simpsons Research Center – Saint Jude Pray for us.”

In reality, the Vatican had no connection to any study except that the paper picked up the storyy and printed it. The true author admits that the L’Osservatore Romano (the Vatican paper that carried the story) exaggerated the story. Others noted that the paper probably ran the story in (a failed?) effort to connect with modern culture. The blogosphere has been all abuzz with opinions on the matter from unmerited triumphalism to accusations that Catholics are just being greedy.

According to the Catholic News Service, “The Vatican newspaper column, titled "Homer and Bart are Catholic," referred to a nine-page scholarly analysis of the cartoon in the Oct. 16 issue of the Italian Jesuit weekly La Civilta Cattolica. That article, titled "'The Simpsons' and Religion," asserted that the series "is one of the few television shows for kids in which the Christian faith, religion and questions about God are recurring themes."

The idea of a Vatican Research Team on the matter then is on the level of Urban Legend. The Vatican wasted no time, no talent, and not a wooden nickle of anybody’s hard earned money save for the effort of putting the article in its newspaper as a human interest story of sorts.

I can’t imagine (though neither can I prove it either way) that the Jesuits spent too much time or resources on it. But is it “absurd” for someone to look at modern culture on behalf of the Church and make comment on it? We’ve been in that business for over 2,000 years.

Finally on the comment that, “With local parishes closing and the number of practicing Catholics dwindling, I would think the Vatican could use its time and money in better ways,” it is important to remember that the whole Church is not experiencing what we are by way of Church closings. In parts of Florida for example they can’t build churches or schools quickly enough. Because we are experiencing difficult times does that mean the whole Church must go into mourning? That may sound harsh but life goes on.

Lessons to be learned here: First: Stay humble. Don’t go about bragging about anything that isn’t true. Everyone knows that Simpsons are not Catholic and that fact is easily disputed and the claimant is by it brought to task as the L’Osservatore was.

Second: Check your facts before deciding to be angry or developing a hard opinion which you give publically.

The better question: The whole upset over the Simpsons turns out to be a red herring. The truly absurd notion is that anybody could leave the Eucharist over such a thing. But the truth of the matter is some people feel so hurt in the Church now that they are blind to the glorious gift of the Eucharist entrusted to a fallible institution. What better things could we be doing to help them remain close to Christ as the Eucharist? (But that wouldn’t get printed would it?)


Cracked Pot said...

Well, Father . . . you did "Simpsonize" yourself a few years ago. What do we make of that?

Otherwise, thanks for being a "truth buster" on this one. Sadly, the Church has many critics nowadays, and a little thing like "the facts" doesn't seem to get in their way.

We need this kind of apologetics almost as much as we need lessons on defending the teachings of the Church.

Michelle said...

(The word verification was "ventdo" -- and vent you did!)

I'm glad you posted this even if a bit late in the cycle!

The last question really is the kicker! My two cents? Better preaching, that might help!

ck said...

People assume (or reporters at the NY Times hope you assume) that L’Osservatore Romano is the official mouthpiece of the pope. Not long ago L'Osservatore Romano published an article praising the beatles and the American press jumped on that story too.

You and I know that it is ridiculous that the pope would make a statement about the Simpsons or the Beatles, but I have no doubt that a non-Catholic would believe it. It's the "Vatican newspaper" after all.

Trad Tom said...

The author of the letter to the ABJ is/was an acquaintance of mine. I told her she was a knucklehead, that she didn't know the whole (non)story, and that to throw in church closings, etc. was silly emotionalism.

I don't think she's talking to me any more.