They are the worker bees who cluster in ecclesiastical hives.
They are the faithful company men who thrive in the downsized world of denominational bureaucracies.
Call them what you will, but an anonymous Roman Catholic priest has written an insider's guide -- a kind of "Primary Liturgical Colors" -- to understanding many modern priests. According to "Father X," too many shepherds are quietly guiding their flocks toward major changes in how they live and worship.
The key word is "quietly," because he calls these priests and bishops the "tames."
"In most controversial situations tames hedge their bets by showing mild support for both sides, ... only declaring allegiance when it is clearly to their advantage to do so," writes the priest, an educator writing in The Latin Mass, a conservative quarterly. "Tames are capable of professing directly contrary opinions within a matter of hours. ... Tames are liberal in liberal dioceses and conservative in conservative ones, but are willing to sing the same song as whatever group they find themselves part of -- whether it be a carload of fellow priests on the way to a beach house or a dozen older women at a communion breakfast."
The only thing the publisher would say about Father X is that he teaches in Europe and has had "quite a bit of exposure" to the American scene. The Latin Mass -- based in Ridgefield, Conn. -- has published a dozen or so previous anonymous articles by priests.
"I don't even tell my wife who half of these Father Xs are," said Roger McCaffrey. "In this case, it's a pretty delicate situation and I don't want to blow his cover."
- While the article focuses on Catholic priests, many of its details will apply to others. Tames are found wherever leaders stifle painful debates and promote gentle compromises. They make fine politicians and poor judges. So how does one detect a tame?
- Tames exhibit highly refined "people skills," yet, paradoxically, avoid the ties that bind, writes Father X. Why? Tames are, above all, ambitious and strong friendships "draw one apart from the crowd, and being out of the mainstream, on the margins, is something a tame cannot tolerate."
- It's impossible to discuss the priesthood without mentioning sexuality, since homosexual activists now claim that 50 percent or more of U.S. priests are gay. "Being tame is not itself a sexual orientation," stresses Father X. However, when gays and straights clash, tames dwell in an "emotional No Man's Land. This is not because tames waver between competing appetites like bisexuals, but because any definitive involvement risks isolation, and isolation terrifies them."
- Tames skillfully change their opinions and tastes to blend in. They may, for example, change clothes four or five times a day. But they are not true "chameleons, because in a sharply contrasted environment they will not adapt themselves to the majority if the minority clearly has greater power and prestige. Always and everywhere, tames will go with a winner."
- Because they are both energetic and highly flexible, tames easily slip into the ranks of diocesan management and often become bishops. In short, their single-minded emphasis on career gives them staying power. "If tames make up only 30% of a seminary entrance class, they may well compose 70% of those still working as priests 10 years after ordination," writes Father X.
- Tames may clash with loud liberals as well as traditionalists. But in an age in which orthodoxy is under cultural attack, the tame tendency to compromise usually produces incremental victories for progressives, writes Father X. When push comes to shove, tames act as if peace and quiet matter more than creeds and clarity.
"Tames have a morbid lack of curiosity about the first principles of things: metaphysics, the grounding of moral arguments, dogma," he concludes. "A tame may hold an office that obliges him to defend some moral or dogmatic principle as inviolable and he may do it competently, but always with an eye to the occasion; even defense of principle ... is itself not principled but simply a means to realize some practical good."