Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Liberalism and Catholicism

Coming up Catholic in fifties and sixties America affected me deeply and still does. My parents were of Boston-Irish-Catholic-Democrat stock and I was inculcated with the attitudes and beliefs common to that demographic - all cemented by eleven years of Catholic education. I accepted it as most kids do, then began to question it as most adolescents do. After that came seductive, intellectually-fashionable ridicule of conservative Christianity, and especially Catholic teachings of the Magisterium. For more than a decade, I avoided mass except for weddings and funerals and didn’t realize that many bishops and priests as well as rank and file Catholics succumbed to those seductions. I was shocked to discover in 2002 and 2003 that thousands adolescent boys were sexually assaulted by hundreds of homosexual priests and bishops who hid their debauchery for decades. Liberals have fixed the Catholic Church in America about the same way they fixed cities like Detroit. The American Church has bumped along the bottom for about a decade but is lately showing signs of resurgence.

East Side of Detroit today
When I’m at Sunday mass in a different town or city I’m careful to look over people in the pews and gauge demographics. Usually I notice gray or bald heads, few young families with children, and a lack of enthusiasm. That was not the case, however, when I attended mass a few weeks ago at St. Ignatius Parish on Grand Cayman Island. There, my wife and I were a distinct minority: I noticed very few older, white people like us in attendance - and there was lots of enthusiasm from the young, mostly dark-skinned people who proliferated in the pews, in the choir, and on the altar. They were native Cayman Islanders of mixed white and African ancestry and what looked like immigrants from India, the Philippines, and elsewhere in Asia. They chanted ritual responses as if they really believed what they were saying and they sang with gusto. It was the refreshing and encouraging Catholic heritage of work done by missionaries from Portugal, Spain and France over five hundred years. Though things may have been bleak for Catholics in the United States and Europe lately, the Church elsewhere in the world is growing and strengthening.
Catholics in Hanoi
The struggles within the American Church parallel those of America itself. It’s left versus right - and the left has been ascendant in both arenas. I don’t know if it’s just coincidental, but strong leftist influences both political and religious have come out of the Chicago area. Chicago and Boston are similar with their strong Irish-Catholic-Democrat traditions. Politics and religion have been closely mixed for more than a century, and there has been a profound right-to-left drift in the past four decades. That trend, however, may have peaked.

President Obama came out of Chicago in 2008 and was invited to speak at nearby Notre Dame - the flagship American Catholic university - shortly after his inauguration in 2009. Of all the various Catholic institutions, its colleges and universities have drifted furthest from traditional teachings, and Notre Dame is no exception. Whenever Catholic issues like the death or election of a pope are in the news, liberal networks have invited liberal priests like Chicago’s Father Andrew Greeley and Notre Dame’s Father Richard McBrien to provide color commentary. Then there’s the infamous Father Michael Pfleger. He the Chicago Catholic sidekick of President Obama’s friend and mentor Reverend Jeremiah Wright.

Here in 2012, however, it looks like religious and political liberals are beginning their descendancy. While the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) endorsed Obamacare in 2009, they’re changing their minds in 2012 as President Obama is forcing them to pay for contraception and abortion-inducing drugs. USCCB President Timothy Dolan has virtually declared war. That he’s a conservative and was elected by his fellow bishops is promising. Dolan is smart, engaging and tough. Obama won’t be able to cajole him or push him around. Obama won the Catholic vote in 2008, but isn’t likely to in 2012.

Father Pfleger was suspended briefly by his Chicago bishop, Cardinal George, last spring but reinstated a month later. If he continues to challenge Catholic doctrine the next suspension won’t be brief. Racy novelist Father Greeley got his coat caught in a cabbie’s door and sustained a head injury from which his recovery has been very slow. Father McBrien’s book “Catholicism” has not been endorsed by the USCCB for doctrinal reasons. Not sure who the Mainstream Media will invite any of them when next they need a liberal priest to echo their prejudice against conservative Catholic teachings.

Liberalism lost it’s appeal for me both politically and religiously over twenty years ago. The USCCB has been slower to come around but better late than never. Let’s hope their new movement rightward picks up momentum.

I have a strong feeling it will.

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