Massimo Faggioli maintains that this "presidential election of 2016 is especially important for the Catholic Church itself for at least two reasons." "The first is that the reaction of the US bishops towards the competition between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump shows the paralysis created by the single-issue platform of official Catholic discourse."
And I agree, of course. But I find what Faggioli has to say about his second point far more thought-provoking. He states,
But there is a second reason why US election 2016 is crucial to the Catholic Church and it is the most disheartening fact of this campaign. It points to the intellectual and spiritual crisis within the Catholic leadership in the United States.
Political polarization within the Church is not new. But now it is undeniable that Church leadership is unable to address this division in a moment when one of the two candidates is unapologetically advancing a message of division and hatred – between men and women, between social classes, between races, between religions and between nations.
The kind of threat coming from Mr Trump should push Church leaders to elevate the tone of the debate and denounce his message of hatred that is disguised as an appeal to Catholic voters. Instead, Church leaders have been silent or have tried to paint the division among the faithful as an anti-Catholic conspiracy.
With only a few notable exceptions, the US bishops today are not teaching their people. That's because they are not learning from their people (which is nothing new) or listening to the pope (which is new).
And then he goes on to state,
American Catholics should not expect their bishops to endorse Hillary Clinton, but they do have a right to expect some help navigating the political crisis in their country. The inaction of Church leadership has turned the political crisis into an ecclesial crisis; or, rather, it shows that the two crises are intertwined.
The Catholic crisis that the Trump phenomenon has highlighted is not entirely different from the crisis American evangelicals are experiencing. However, the Catholic crisis could actually be worse.
Catholics cannot use the alibi that they don't have a unifying figure. Pope Francis, in fact, has been very clear about a number of Mr Trump's proposals. On the other hand, the silence of the US bishops concerning the Republican candidate's racist and divisive message is also part of the bishop's silence about the unity of the Catholic Church – its unity in the United States and its unity globally.
The main problem of the US Church is not only polarization, but also paralysis as the inability to understand how to walk a post-Christendom landscape without the crutch of the religious right. It took decades for this inability to come to the fore, which is a fruit of the dismantling of the political culture of the US bishops between Vatican II and the mid-1980s.
This is a Church where politically shrewd Church operatives (unworthy of the name of theologians or pastors) spent the last three decades talking about "cultural wars", "liturgy wars" and, more recently, a "Catholic civil war" fueled by Pope Francis.
And, again, I agree. But I think the analysis of what Faggioli rightly calls an "intellectual and spiritual crisis within the Catholic leadership in the United States" needs to be broadened. As Faggioli notes, the Catholic crisis at this point in American history, which is parallel to and connected to the evangelical crisis (due to the bishops' decision to ally Catholics with right-wing white evangelicals), and which may even be deeper than the evangelical crisis, has to do with "paralysis and inability to understand" how to live by and communicate authentic Catholic values in a post-Christendom landscape.
Faggioli's analysis focuses on the inability of the bishops as leaders of the American Catholic church to negotiate this crisis, to move beyond paralysis. I'd like to draw attention, too, to failure of the lay Catholic leaders in the powerful Catholic academic and journalistic sphere in the U.S. to offer good intellectual leadership to the Catholic community for a number of decades now.
There are many examples of that conspicuous failure on the part of lay Catholic leaders in the U.S., in the academic and journalistic sectors. As the U.S. bishops under the leadership of John Paul II and Cardinal Ratzinger mounted what was equivalent to a purge of gay members of the church beginning in the latter half of the 1980s, the large majority of lay Catholic leaders in Catholic academies and the Catholic journalistic sphere stood by in total silence.
They said nothing as fellow Catholics who were gay were told in very overt and cruel ways that we were unwelcome in the Catholic community, that our voices were not valued, that our contributions were not needed, that our jobs in Catholic institutions were not secure due to our sexual orientations. This purge of gay members of the Catholic community in the U.S. has resulted in a tremendous impoverishment of the church, in a narrowing of the voice of the Catholic community which makes it appear that only heterosexual males really have something of importance to say about what it means to be Catholic — and that their voices count above all other voices.
The end-result of this process, of the abdication of moral and pastoral leadership among lay Catholic intellectuals in the U.S.: as the possibility of a Trump presidency, which would be a disaster for women, people of color, poor people, LGBTQ people, etc., is being discussed in wider intellectual circles, the best and brightest lay Catholic leaders in the U.S. are seizing this moment in leading lay Catholic journals to talk about how marriage is all about men and women interacting with each other, and about how difficult that interaction is.
As if there have not been decades of productive conversations outside the Catholic realm about gender roles, about sexual orientation, about the nature of the institution of marriage . . . . As if such maddeningly parochial discussions, which are premised on toxic notions of gender complementarity that ignore the findings of the natural and social sciences for decades now, and which simply read gay folks out of the Catholic conversation as if they do not exist, do not deepen the pain felt by many of us who are gay and have Catholic roots at how the institution has chosen to treat us . . . .
Leadership in the Catholic community is about more than bishops. It's about lay Catholic theologians, too, about lay Catholic intellectuals teaching in Catholic academies and writing articles for Catholic newspapers. The intellectual and spiritual crisis of American Catholicism at this point in history, which Massimo Faggioli is quite correct to identify, must be laid at the feet not only of the bishops of the U.S. Catholic church, who have demonstrated colossally bankrupt pastoral and moral leadership for decades now.
It must also be laid at the feet of lay Catholic leaders in the U.S., who have also demonstrated in very overt and lamentable ways a lack of pastoral and moral leadership, a lack of commitment to building an intellectually vibrant Catholic community that welcomes many different kinds of voices — including the voices of LGBTQ human beings.
(I'm grateful to Jim McCrea for sharing this article with me.)
(I'm grateful to Jim McCrea for sharing this article with me.)
The quotation marks graphic is from Wikimedia Commons; Rhanyeia has uploaded the file to that site for sharing online.