Is American Catholicism at a Crossroads?
(What is American Catholicism?)
|By R. Cort Kirkwood||POSTED: 2/19/13|
President Obama Flanked by Three Stalwart American Catholics
(www.RemnantNewspaper.com) The resignation of Pope Benedict, The Washington Post opined in a piece by one Marc Fisher, means that “American Catholicism Is at a Crossroads,” as the headline warned readers.
Fisher never divulged what “American Catholicism” is. He offers no definition. But reading between the lines — or better, reading the lines — clarifies it. “American Catholicism” is that branch of the Faith in which a man can believe anything he wants and call himself a Catholic. “American Catholics” are generally alarmed, we gather from Fisher’s piece, about the Vatican’s “hard line” about such silly matters as women thinking they can be priests, jamming a scissors in a baby’s skull and using the distal end of the alimentary canal as an entrance, not an exit. These issues are “polarizing,” we learn, and the Post just happened to find a few voices to tell readers how “polarized” they feel.
The New York Times used the word “crossroads” in a headline over a similar piece that contained this boilerplate hooey: “The resignation sets up a struggle between the staunchest conservatives, in Benedict’s mold, who advocate a smaller church of more fervent believers, and those who believe that the church can broaden its appeal in small but significant ways, like allowing divorced Catholics who remarry without an annulment to receive communion or loosening restrictions on condom use in an effort to prevent AIDS. There are no plausible candidates who would move on issues like ending celibacy for priests, or the ordination of women.”
But the Post better explained the “polarization” that lies at the “crossroads:” a battle between the “liberals” and “progressives” on one side, and a “conservative” and decrepit Catholic hierarchy on the other, meaning the priests and bishops who defend church teaching on the “issues” that matter most of the secular left: priestesses, contraception, abortion, marriage and divorce, and homosexual sodomy. Note that all those issues are sexual.
Of course, all these disgruntled Catholics are merely trying to save the Church from itself, these stories assure us. If only those old fogies could see that. But the question the Post doesn’t ask is this: If one “disagrees” with every major teaching of the Church, how can he call himself a Catholic? That is the Gordian knot the Post cannot untie in its examination of “American Catholicism,” which really means American Catholics who, being more American than Catholic, think a vote can determine objective moral truth.
The Post’s first source was a sociologist who studies big things. “The latest surveys of American Catholics reveal sharp drops in weekly Mass attendance,” the Post reported, “a majority in support of legalizing same-sex marriage, and a large majority who say they do not look to the Vatican as the moral authority on sexual matters such as contraception, marriage and abortion, said William D’Antonio, a sociologist at Catholic University and author of a national survey that has tracked Catholic attitudes for 25 years.
“The laity are saying, ‘We can work things out for ourselves, these are matters for our own conscience, not questions where we just follow what the church is demanding,’ ” he said.
You don’t say? That’s what the laity are saying. They believe, like Protestants, in private judgment. Note here the implicit suggestion that faith and morals, again, are up for a vote, and that what the “laity are saying” about them matters to anyone but sociologists at Catholic University and scribes for the Post.
Whatever. The Post next called upon the theological insights of one “John Gehring, a churchgoing Catholic who works at Faith in Public Life, a liberal advocacy group in the District.” Gehring “says the only hope the church has of stemming the tide of disengaged American Catholics is for the hierarchy to ‘stop being the Church of No and once again put it at the forefront of social justice and helping the poor.’
“When being a good Catholic is defined on a narrow range of sexuality issues rather than a more positive, loving vision, it’s no wonder people are moving away,” said Gehring, 38. “For me personally, my relationship with my faith has been to engage critically, and for that, I’m told I’m a bad Catholic. Well, I’m not going anywhere, but there’s a real sense of sadness that my church acts as if Catholics were this embattled, persecuted minority.”
“Church of No” is code for wanting the option to sin sexually without having to confess, and the expectation that the Holy Father will overturn 2,000 years of dogmatic teaching on sexual matters. No real Catholic expects such a thing. For the record, Gehring is a left-wing activist and scrivener for the anti-Catholic Huffington Post. Gehring is not of course, a theologian.
Then the Post dug up “Nathan Gagnon, 29, a practicing Catholic in Gaithersburg,” who “watched as his parents divorced, contrary to church teachings. Now, he believes clergy should be more accepting of modern marital strains. ‘When a couple does feel frustrated,’ he said, they shouldn’t have to fear being ‘scorned’ by a priest.”
What young Nathan really means is that he wants his parents to have the “right” to divorce and remarry and yet to retain the “right” to receive Holy Communion. Like the rest of the “laity,” Gagnon doesn’t understand his faith. In refusing divorced and remarried Catholics Holy Communion, priests are not “scorning” them. Rather, those ministers are protecting such Catholics from receiving the sacrament sacrilegiously and condemning themselves to eternal damnation. Those ministers are also protecting themselves. On both counts, as well they should. The “divorced” couple without a declaration of nullity is still married in the eyes of the Church. We might recall that a large and influential Christian sect was founded upon such a case.
The Post also found a priest, Jose Eugenio Hoyos, “director of the Spanish Catholic Apostolate of the Diocese of Arlington and a native of Colombia. He said the recent emphasis on transparency and helping those who have been abused has positioned the church for an American pope.”
“This is an opportunity for us Catholics to demand a pope with origins in the United States or Latin America,” he said. “Just like in the United States we now have an African American president, the church also needs a change. We need a pope who is ours, a pope who speaks about pupusas, about tacos, about horchata.”
What, pray tell, do pervert priests have to do with pupusas? Nothing. The Post merely gave Hoyos the chance to strike a blow for multiculturalism at the Vatican. Help Wanted: Billion-member organization needs new chief executive. We encourage a diverse workforce and seek qualified minority candidates. EEOC employer.
This drivel is what passes for reporting about the Roman Catholic Church. And it won’t surprise anyone to learn that Post columnist E.J. Dionne offered a special column about his expectations, and those of his ilk, when Pope Benedict took the helm of Peter’s bark: “Liberal Catholics (myself included) thus greeted Benedict’s election as pope in 2005 with a certain alarm. In the end, Benedict was somewhat less conservative than liberals feared — and somewhat less conservative than conservatives hoped. His most important encyclicals were decidedly progressive on economic matters, and he put far more emphasis on God’s love than on His judgment.”
Dionne believes Pope Benedict is a man of “paradoxes.” That means Dionne agreed with some things the Pope said but not all. And you don’t need a degree from the Gregorian University to know which things Dionne liked about Benedict:
The paradoxes of Benedict — and perhaps of Catholicism itself — were visible in two statements he made last Christmas. Progressives could only welcome an op-ed piece he wrote for the Financial Times on Dec. 19 in which he declared that “Christians fight poverty out of a recognition of the supreme dignity of every human being, created in God’s image and destined for eternal life.” He added: “They work for more equitable sharing of the earth’s resources out of a belief that — as stewards of God’s creation — we have a duty to care for the weakest and most vulnerable. Christians oppose greed and exploitation . . . . The belief in the transcendent destiny of every human being gives urgency to the task of promoting peace and justice for all.” Yet he followed this with a Christmas message denouncing gay marriage, declaring that gays and lesbians were turning their backs on the “essence of the human creature” and denying “their nature.”
Of course, we all understand what Dionne and Fisher mean when they say “liberal;” i.e., heterodox Catholics who want Rome to approve buggery, abortion and priestesses, open borders and big government. And we understand “conservative” to mean mostly orthodox Catholics who oppose those evils, but who support this country’s insane imperial wars.
That neither Dionne nor some conservatives and libertarians — the latter of whom received a sound tail-whipping from Christopher Ferrara inThe Church and The Libertarian — approve of everything the Holy Father says is unsurprising. The Pope is not a “man of paradoxes;” he is a man of faith who upheld the constant teaching of the Church on matters economic and social. In American parlance, that means he would be called a “liberal” on economic matters because he teaches that tycoons are obliged to pay a just wage, and that government should, if necessary and in keeping with the principle of subsidiarty, feed and otherwise help the poor. He would also be called liberal because he does not support American military adventurism. But it also means he would be called a “conservative” because he will not — and indeed cannot — change the constant teaching of the Church on matters sexual: divorce, abortion, contraception and homosexual sodomy. Yet those political terms are meaningless. The Holy Father, as J.L. Liedl wrote at Ethika Politika, is neither “liberal” nor “conservative.” He is Catholic.
For the media, “polarization” in the Church always refers to leftists who never stop talking about those sexual matters on the one hand, and Catholic priests and bishops, again, who defend the immutable Magisterium of the church on the other. You rarely if ever see the media echo the plaintive cry from neoconservative Catholics who feel alienated or complain about “polarization” because Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI opposed the American war in Iraq, or because Church teaching is firm on the duty of employers to pay a just wage. Recall two of the four sins that cry out to Heaven for vengeance: the sin of Sodom and defrauding a laborer of his wages.
Yet while Church teaching on both matters is firm, only one of the two is black and white: sexual morality. A “just wage” can be one thing in one country, and another somewhere else, depending on the cost of living. It has no set definition. Two Catholics can disagree about it. They can disagree about Social Security or Medicare without disagreeing about society’s obligation to help the poor. And they can disagree about foreign policy. They cannot disagree about abortion, sodomy, and divorce and remarriage, which are always grave sins. They are what they are. Every real Catholic knows this. The late polemicist Joe Sobran explained it this way: All rebellion against the Church is, ultimately, sexual. Sobran noted that leftists never complain about Church teaching on greed or gluttony. It’s always about sex.
A very good priest once offered a homily that went something like this: “When people ask me whether I am conservative or liberal, I say, neither. I’m a Catholic.” Like the Pope.
“Liberal” Catholics, whom the media never find in short supply, aren’t. They want to be — they are — Protestants. Private judgment is their doctrine. No old pope will tell them what to do. Fair enough. The Faith survived for 1,500 years without you. It doesn’t need you to save it.
When we get to those “crossroads,” please detour and join the rest of the unfaithful departed.
R. Cort Kirkwood, the author of Real Men: Ten Courageous Americans To Know And Admire, is a regular columnist for The Remnant.