Friday, August 24, 2012

Dolan to Tampa: Listening for the Alternative Voices in American Catholicism

Two reminders of the voice of the American Catholic church that will not be represented as His Eminence delivers the final blessing on the Republican national gathering (and on Paul Ryan and his Randian disdain for the least among us and adulation of the rich) in a few days:

Bill Moyers offers a video clip reporting on the recent tour of the "nuns on the bus" who toured areas of the nation in which grinding poverty is a real-life, everyday experience for some people, and in which American religious women--the folks now under attack by the leaders of the Catholic church--live among and minister to the poor.  As Sister Simone Campbell stresses in this clip, it's vitally important, as we seek to build a good society, that we hear the voices of everyone--and, above all, of the least among us.

And at Catholic Moral Theology, David Cloutier turns the spotlight on the "problematic" recent statement of Paul Ryan's bishop Morlino that gives cover to Ryan's Randian economic philosophy, which is at odds with the most fundamental emphases of Catholic teaching about economic justice.  As my posting on this document also noted, Cloutier notes that Morlino appears not to understand that the right to private property is "most definitely not absolute" and is "constantly qualified" in Catholic social teaching.  It is qualified, as Cloutier notes, by "the universal destination of goods"--that is, by the common good. I offered a long stream of citations to demonstrate how central this insistence on qualifying the right to private property by reference to the common good has always been in Catholic teaching.

As I also noted, and as Cloutier also points out, Morlino appears not to have a firm grasp of the term "intrinsic evil."  This is a term now used by some politically driven Catholic bishops to try to strongarm Catholics into doing the political bidding of the hierarchy.

But those hierarchical members using this term to score political points play fast and loose with it as they try to elevate certain carefully selected items from the agenda of the religious right--e.g., abortion and same-sex marriage, or even, for Morlino, questions about the right to private property!--to a non-discussable, non-negotiable category on whose basis good Catholics must make political choices, while they treat other equally binding moral concepts--e-g., the obligation to put the poor first--as matters of prudential judgement.

The bishops and those who collude with them in making these distinctions are playing political games (see, e.g., Michael Sean Winters's curious waffling here about abortion as an "absolute" evil but attacks on social safety nets for the poor as "different") that have little to do with defending core principles of Catholic teaching and everything to with shilling for a particular political party.  And for the super-rich who pull the strings of that party.

In this way, they have succeeded not only in making the witness of people like Sr. Simone Campbell marginal in American Catholicism: they have well-nigh obliterated that witness from the church.  I am not among those who imagine that a schism is down the road in American Catholicism.  Too many American Catholics are far too ill-informed and, frankly, poorly motivated to take concrete steps to move away from a church whose leaders have betrayed our core values.

In my view, the gradual shriveling of the American Catholic church on the vine is far more likely.  In key respects, what some commentators call the "institutional church" is simply shriveling up now, and the gross partisanship of the current leaders of the church, which overtly and shamelessly serves the super-rich, will merely accelerate that process, and will assure that only a minority of Catholics remain really active in the American Catholic church in the future.  Those Catholics will include a core of well-heeled partisans now driving the actions of the hierarchy.  They will also include true-believing right-wing younger Catholic ideologues who have been very badly served by catechesis in the period from John Paul II to the present, and who imagine that the right-wing and highly Americanized version of "true" Catholicism they've been spoon-fed in their home-schooling programs and reactionary Catholic colleges funded by the super-rich is the real thing.

What I do see happening, however, as His Eminence blesses the GOP and Ryan's bishop distorts Catholic teaching to give the v-p candidate cover, is what might more accurately be called a tacit schism in the American Catholic church, as more and more Catholics who understand perfectly well what the gospels say about Jesus and his solidarity with outcasts, and what Catholic social teaching has always said about these matters, disengage.

As we stop lending any support at all to an institution that betrays the core values it has long taught us.  As we stop giving any money at all, attending religious services, participating in ministries, etc.  As we look for eucharistic hospitality and spiritual nourishment in religious groups whose values are more in harmony with those our own church has long taught us, but which our current leaders insist on betraying, even as they chide us for being unfaithful to "the" Catholic tradition.

As I said several weeks ago, if I were asked to give advice to a young gay person who was thinking about joining the Catholic church at this point in time, I could not in conscience encourage him or her to make that particular religious choice--though I respect each person's right to follow his/her conscience, and I recognize that what goes on in the soul of any individual in relationship to God is beyond my knowledge or my grasp.

I would not advise any younger gay person to join the Catholic church in the U.S. now because, quite simply, even though a large percentage of American Catholics support the rights of gay and lesbian human beings, the top leaders of the Catholic church have insisted on making this institution entirely inhospitable to those who are LGBT.  And in the face of persistent appeals to stop the cruelty, they have, instead, doubled down on the gestures of unwelcome.

His Eminence's GOP blessing in Tampa will do nothing at all to reverse these gestures.  To the contrary . . . . 

The graphic is Fritz Eichenberg's "Jesus in the Breadline"; though Eichenberg was Jewish, he converted first to Zen Buddhism and then to Quakerism, and was also strongly influenced by Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker movement.

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