Tectonic Shifts

June 11, 2013 at 5:34 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments
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Paul Baumann’s review essay in the June 3rd essay of The Nation is noteworthy on several counts. An article by the editor of the liberal Catholic journal, Commonweal, about a new book, Evangelical Catholicism, by George Weigel, “the neo-conservative leader of American Catholicism’s war on Vatican II,” as Baumann describes him, would be noteworthy in itself. That it is an incisive analysis of the crisis facing the American church makes it doubly so.

But to grasp the full significance of this review you need also to understand that it appears in a magazine that published some of the most anti-Catholic articles in the post-World War II period. Written by Paul Blanshard, one of The Nation’s editors, they were eventually collected in a book, American Freedom and Catholic Power. In The New Anti-Catholicism, scholar of American religion Philip Jenkins says that Blanshard’s plan of resistance against Catholicism in that book echoed the anti-Catholic proposals of the Ku Klux Klan. Yet now we have a nationally recognized Catholic journalist publishing about Catholicism in that magazine and even offering pointed criticisms of the institutional church there.

Baumann begins by situating Evangelical Catholicism within the context of the American bishops’ fevered opposition to Barack Obama’s first-term agenda, including their attack on the University of Notre Dame for inviting Obama to give their commencement address in 2009. The bishops’ opposition culminated in the “Fortnight of Freedom” attack on the contraceptives mandate of the Affordable Care Act during the 2012 campaign, followed by their rejection of two successive compromises the administration proposed on same. This uproar reveals how “deeply divided and directionless the once formidable and coherent” American church has become, tutored as the bishops are by neo-conservative intellectuals. And, Baumann assures us, if Evangelical Catholicism is any indicator, the divisions are only going to get worse.

For those mercifully unfamiliar with Weigel’s legacy prior to this latest book, Baumann provides a helpful overview, noting, for example, Weigel’s rebuttals of the US bishops’ fine 1980s pastoral letters, “The Challenge of Peace”and “Economic Justice for All.” The much more conservative successors of those “Vatican II” bishops seem to have completely swallowed Weigel’s neo-con arguments, however, almost passing a pastoral letter in the summer of 2012 that described the economic downturn as a result of the nation’s moral failings–divorce, same-sex marriage and of course, abortion. Regulations of financial institutions or how to allocate public funds to the needy are questions of individual conscience, however. This, Baumann tells us, bears a “striking resemblance” to Weigel’s recommendations in Evangelical Catholicism.

Weigel’s “evangelical Catholicism,” we learn, is the successor to the “tribal Catholicism” of previous centuries, where bishops stressed building churches and hospitals and supporting the poor. Instead, the Catholics of the future will “speak of their faith in an evangelical idiom once considered Protestant…(in which) ‘friendship with the Lord Jesus’ will be as integral as Mass on Sunday.”

Moreover, according to Weigel, this new Catholicism is essential to the survival of human rights and democracy. Conversion to Catholic natural law morality is the only way forward.
Baumann, not exactly a Nation secularist, agrees that the Aristotelian/Thomistic tradition has resources to offer American democracy. But, he assures us, that’s not all we need as we deal with our increasing multiculturalism. Weigel is the avatar of rigid and reactionary approaches to such diversity, Baumann tells us, and Evangelical Catholicism/em>is a repetitious diatribe. The cause of our current crisis is not, Baumann argues, the “permissive morality of liberal elites, but our economic system.” The Vatican II fathers taught that the only way forward for the church is to let modernity in even as we engage it critically. But Evangelical Catholicism advocates closing as many doors as possible.

The first “tectonic shift” in all of this is, of course, the publication of an article by a Catholic journalist in a once virulently anti-Catholic magazine. The second is the call by an extremely conservative American Catholic for an “evangelical Catholicism” that is seriously far removed from the sacramental Catholicism of previous millenia. And the third? That the US bishops are falling for such neo-conservative propaganda. As Baumann observes, almost parenthetically, Cardinal Dolan, the president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, recently hired as his spokesperson one of the political consultants from Sarah Palin’s presidential campaign. (Palin, you may recall, is a former Catholic who converted to evangelical Protestantism and seems less than committed to Catholic social justice teaching.)

Jesus. Mary, and Joseph.

From the New Breed of Catholics, O Lord, Deliver Us

January 10, 2012 at 2:28 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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To fully understand this post, there are some things about me that you should know. To wit, I am an “Irish-Catholic” of  a certain sort. My father’s mother, Rose Ronan, was an Irish immigrant who died when he was nine, at which time his father, the rotter Tom, vanished. Dad dropped out of high school after the ninth grade to join the Civilian Conservation Corps; the Irish aunts who had been raising him could no longer afford to feed him. After “The War” Dad worked shifts at the Philadelphia Electric Company, and eventually became the president of his IBEW local. Sometimes, at the dinner table, he would announce to my brother and me, “If you ever vote Republican, or cross a picket line, you will go to hell.” I consider this the beginning of my theological education. I was well into high school before it dawned on me that being Irish, being Catholic, being a Democrat, and being pro-union were not all one thing. One of my favorite stories from all of US history is how the Bronx’s Ed Flynn, one of the last great Tammany Hall bosses, worked to get FDR elected and to establish the New Deal, a program modeled on the social welfare that the Irish/ Democratic/Catholic machine delivered to its own.

So when, back in December, I came across an article in the Times titled “Newt Gingrich Represents New Political Era for Catholics,” I very nearly retched. I leave it to the pundits to comment on Newt’s six-year affair with the woman who eventually led him into the RCC and will  stick to Newt’s social positions, nearly all of which are at odds with Catholic social teaching. Take for example his advocacy of child labor as a means of undercutting the janitor’s union (perhaps he thinks that if my Dad had done more janitoring in grade school he wouldn’t have had to live off  government give-aways in the CCC ). Then there’s Newt’s deleting a chapter on climate change from his latest book even as the current “green pope,” Benedict XVI, calls on all people of good will to work to stop it. Or consider Newt’s $30,000 an hour non-lobbyist income from Freddie Mac; this is not, let me assure you, what the church means by a “living wage.”   Newt, baptized by a cardinal, seems to be more like the Piccolomini princes of the Renaissance, seduced by the church’s power and intellectual grandeur,  than like the nuns and priests and laypeople of my father’s generation of Catholics (and of my own)  laboring, as Jesus said, to bring “good news to the poor” (Luke 4:18).

Newt, of course, is not the only instance of this new breed of Catholics, or the Times article wouldn’t speak of a “new political era.” There are lots of others. Take, for example, Paul Ryan. Ryan’s budget is based in the same neo-liberal economic assumptions that inspired the British government to let a million Irish starve during the Potato Famine, so as to protect them from the dangerous notion that the world owed them a living. But Newt, somehow, is more offensive to me than all the others, sitting in basilicas listening to his wife sing in massed choirs before he goes out to preach a gospel of greed and dishonesty across the US.

I suppose I should just count my blessings: Sarah Palin, at least,  has abandoned holy mother church to share her wisdom and example with “Bible-believing” Christians around the world.

Gabby in the Crosshairs

January 10, 2011 at 10:03 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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If you’re anything like me, you’ve been following pretty closely the condition of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, shot in the head by an assassin at close range Saturday. Thanks God she seems to be pulling through.

There’s been a lot of commentary about the incident. A good bit of it focuses on the extreme rhetoric of American politics. The New York Times in more than one article suggests that the Right and the Left are equally guilty of using violent, polarizing language.

However, I myself haven’t come across any progressive rhetoric that encourages shooting Tea Partiers, along the lines of the crosshairs image that appeared on Sarah Palin’s blog. Have you?

And in case you’re wondering what this has to do with American Catholicism: I am profoundly grateful that Sarah-baby left the Catholic Church for an independent Pentecostal church years ago. If only Christine O’Donnell would follow her.

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