Monday, March 9, 2009

Things I Don't Get about the Center: American Catholic Centrists as Apologists for the Right

Things I don't get about the center: I've been scanning American Catholic blogs of the center today, and am finding--and this does not surprise me--a lot of folks in reaction.

To be specific, a hue and cry is developing about the persecution and misrepresentation of the Catholic church by those on the left. I expected this reaction, as one story after another breaks--the reaction to Benedict's rehabilitation of SSPX and Bishop Williamson; the failed appointment of Wagner to an episcopal position in Linz; the sudden sharp decline in numbers of Catholics in Austria and Germany; the open discontent of bishops' conferences in Austria, Switzerland, and Germany, with their willingness to do what the American Catholic bishops never do, criticize the papacy and the Vatican for the good of the church.

And now the story about the little girl in Brazil, about which I blogged yesterday. And the decision to name Gov. Sibelius of Kansas the nation's health czar. And today's rescinding of the prohibitions against stem-cell research.

In the view of some American Catholics of the center, the response to these stories on the left is full of venom against the church. The church is being persecuted. One has the impression that some thinkers of the center even imagine some of these stories are being manufactured to damage the church--as if the church is not adequately damaging itself through its unthinking alliance with the political and religious right, and its intransigent refusal to engage in dialogue with contemporary culture and with its own members committed to such dialogue.

To come to the conclusion that the church is under unprecedented attack, one has to partake, I believe, of that fortress-church mentality I described in my previous postings about Vatican II (here and here). The ecclesiology of centrists who are defending the church in the face of valid criticism at a point in history when there seems to be a cultural shift away from the political and religious right is essentially a fortress-church ecclesiology.

It assumes that the church is the embattled beacon of truth in a hostile secular culture out to get the church. It assumes an us and them mentality that simply does not reflect the viewpoint of millions of brother and sister Catholics who do not buy into the assumptions of centrist apologists for the church.

I think that this is ultimately what perturbs me the most about the ecclesiology of the knowledge class of the American Catholic center. The center (which is, after all, far to the right of where it was in the period following Vatican II) readily acknowledges kinship with Catholics of the right. They are "in." They are part of us, in our battle vs. them.

But the center simply writes off millions of brothers and sisters who do not partake of its assumptions about what it means to be church--to be church at this moment in history. These millions of brothers and sisters are outside. They are not part of us. They are part of them, in their maleficent crusade to destroy the church.

The defensive ecclesiology of many American Catholics of the center has far too little room for valid criticism of the church, even of the sort now emanating from the bishops' conferences of Austria, Germany, and Switzerland. But far more disappointing: it does not recognize how its inability to welcome, include, and listen to millions of brothers and sisters placed outside by its defensive ecclesiology undermines the most fundamental claims of the church about its catholicity.

Or about its commitment to charity and justice.