Saturday, December 31, 2016

Lack of Prophetic Witness in U.S. Catholicism As Trump Presidency Approaches: Astonishing Indictment of Pastoral and Lay Leaders of U.S. Church

In a posting at Common Dreams today entitled "Throwing Roses to Hitler," Abby Zimet writes,

Despite a long tradition of political neutrality and conservatism, many Mormons are reportedly upset at the planned appearance of their iconic Mormon Tabernacle Choir at the inauguration of a sexist, racist, intolerant, moronic alleged president-elect who "DOES NOT reflect the values of Mormonism and does not represent its diverse 15+ million members worldwide." Charging that Trump betrays the church's principles and values, almost 30,000 Mormons have signed a petition to protest the scheduled performance and demand it be cancelled. 
One heroic singer has gone further, and after days of painful soul-searching has resigned altogether. In an impassioned open resignation letter and Facebook post, Jan Chamberlin explains that over many sleepless nights, "I've tried to tell myself (that) I can continue in good conscience before God and man," but ultimately determined, "I could never look myself in the mirror again with self respect...It will appear that Choir is endorsing tyranny and fascism by singing for this man." Chamberlin goes further, drawing parallels with Nazi Germany and its "gargantuan crimes": "Tyranny is now on our doorstep; it has been sneaking its way into our lives through stealth... Evil people prosper when good people stand by and do nothing." "For me, this is a HUGELY moral issue," she ends. "I only know I could never 'throw roses to Hitler.' And I certainly could never sing for him." Jan Chamberlin, lead the way among so many appalled souls.

And yet, as Chris Morley astutely notes in a comment here this morning,

While Mormons have a Change dot org petition where they can publicly register their dissent from the Tabernacle Choir's endorsement of tRump, why is there no equivalent for catholics opposed to Cardinal Dolan's shameful public blessing?  
The squelching from US catholic intellectuals of all verbalised opposition to Cardinal Dolan's participation seems to demand a mass assertion of catholic dissent #NotInMyName.  
I've searched for news of significant opposition to Dolan's participation to find nothing. Washington Post tells us most inaugurations have only had one or two religious leaders participating yet tRump needs six.  
I wondered if there were any signs of guerilla resistance to be found at Dolan's Twitter or Facebook [account] ... but found nothing.

Chris is right. I've found what he finds as I've searched for glimmers of dissent by U.S. Catholics protesting the choice of a former U.S. Catholic Bishops' Conference president to stand beside several prosperity-gospel preachers and right-wing evangelicals and offer Donald Trump a blessing on behalf of the U.S. bishops on inauguration day. Lay Catholic intellectual leaders wish to pretend that Dolan is simply being a bipartisan good guy, being his avuncular, jolly self (but can anyone say "Milwaukee cemetery fund" as that deceptive meme is trotted out all over again?), in supporting Trump's inauguration.

They should know better: Timothy Dolan will be offering Donald Trump the blessing of the U.S. Catholic bishops on behalf of the Catholic community of the U.S. on inauguration day. And if Jan Chamberlin and Mormons protesting the participation of the Tabernacle Choir in the inauguration are correct in their claims about what this action represents, it will involve American Catholics in evil. It will make American Catholics complicit in the evil this administration will very certainly do once Trump is in office — evil we can see very clearly lurching down the pike if our eyes are open.

This is scandalous in the extreme. It's scandalous that American Catholicism now lacks any prophetic voices to stand against the evil that Donald Trump's presidency represents. It's scandalous that other religious communities as deeply conservative as Catholicism has become under its past two popes and the bishops leading American Catholicism — the Mormons share Catholic pastoral leaders' aversion to abortion and same-sex marriage — have a strong prophetic voice that is alive and well within their religious communities. While American Catholics, through their pastoral leaders and lay intellectual leaders, are ominously silent, even as they pretend that Donald Trump deserves their blessing because he's "pro-life" in some dreamland that appears to exist only in their fevered imaginations.

As I told you two days ago, lay Catholic intellectual leaders, the best and brightest the U.S. church has to offer, are, in fact, badgering and trying to silence fellow Catholics who have dared to say anything critical about Dolan's choice to give Trump his blessing. If we needed any further evidence of their willingness to walk lockstep with the bishops even as the bishops offer a blessing to Donald Trump, we have it now — in spades — in how they're behaving following Trump's election.

Complicity. In evil. 

And so this brings us back to that essay by Catholic theologian Massimo Faggioli that I highlighted for you in October, prior to the elections. Faggioli notes that the Trump phenomenon points to a crisis in American Catholicism that is not different in kind from the crisis in American (white) evangelicalism, and is, in fact, perhaps even more acute than the crisis of American (white) evangelicalism. He states that the 2016 election is important for the following 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 then he goes on to say,

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.   

None of this has changed now that Trump has been elected, with 3 in 5 white American Catholics casting their votes for Donald Trump. That fact has made the crisis only more acute — and the acuity of the crisis is on full display in both the decision of Timothy Dolan to offer Trump the blessing of the U.S. Catholic bishops at Trump's inauguration, and in the ominous, complicit silence of American Catholics, especially the lay intellectual leaders of the U.S. Catholic church in its academy and journalistic sector, as this takes place. 

Throwing roses to Hitler . . . .

There are many roots to this crisis, clearly. One is the choice of the U.S. Catholic bishops, under the guidance of Pope John Paul II and Cardinal Ratzinger, later Pope Benedict XVI, to throw the institutional weight of U.S. Catholicism on the side of the religious right as it resisted women's rights and LGBTQ rights, and sought to destroy the prophetic witness of liberation theologies and theologies highlighting the social teachings of the Catholic and mainline Protestant churches. This resulted in a toxic politicization of Christian witness that collapsed all Christian witness to several "non-negotiable issues" — notably abortion and same-sex marriage.

It also placed the institutional weight of the U.S. Catholic church on the side of the historic racism in which the religious right movement was born, as white evangelicals resisted racial integration. American Catholics, and notably the lay intellectual leaders of the U.S. Catholic church, have been more or less unwilling to face their complicity in the deep racism that infects American society in every corner of the nation. The intellectual leaders of the U.S. Catholic church have chosen for decades now to pretend that it's possible for American Catholics to effect a "pro-life" alliance with white evangelicals, with their history of racism continuing right to the present, without making American Catholics complicit in that racism.

American Catholic intellectual leaders have spent decades now cultivating an alliance with religious groups infected with deep, overt racism and calling this alliance a holy "pro-life" alliance — and the election of Donald Trump by 4 in 5 white evangelicals and 3 in 5 white Catholics and Mormons is the ultimate bitter fruit borne by this pretending, and by this alliance. Sixty percent of white Catholics in the U.S. helped birth the Trump baby. They own that baby along with white evangelicals and Mormons.

The Catholic community, and Catholic intellectuals in the U.S. in particular, have long had a smug, superior, insular way of looking at their politicial alliance with conservative white evangelicals as innocent, as expunged of complicity in the sin of racism via the ostensible "pro-life" commitment shared by the two religious groups. White Catholics have imagined they cannot be implicated in the racism that gave birth to the religious right as white evangelicals resisted racial integration, even when they have chosen to walk lockstep with those same white evangelicals for purported "pro-life" reasons.

The willingness of white Catholics to vote in large numbers for Donald Trump puts the lie to the smugness of the Catholic community about what its alliance with right-wing evangelicals in the "pro-life" movement really means and has always, in fact, meant. As their pastoral and moral leaders, the U.S. bishops have purposefully, deliberately led American Catholics to this point, to a stance of such extreme political reaction that, through the presidency of Donald Trump, Catholics now will freely be participating in the great harm that this presidency threatens to do to many citizens of the nation and to the world itself, even as they pretend that this harm will be done in the name of an ethic of life. 

Let me say that again: through dumbed-down catechesis focused more or less exclusively on the "non-negotiable" evils of abortion and same-sex marriage, the pastoral leaders of the U.S. Catholic church have now led it to a point of complicity in serious evil that will be done, unbelievably, in the name of the "pro-life" ethic cited by white evangelicals and white Catholics as their reason for voting for Donald Trump. Nor can the lay intellectual leaders of American Catholicism in its academy and journalistic sphere be in the least exonerated from their responsibility for helping to create this situation — in helping to give birth to an anti-intellectual, reactionary, racist, misogynistic, and homophobic church that has borne the bitter fruit of white Catholic support of Donald Trump. Lay Catholic intellectual leaders have willingly collaborated with the bishops in bringing the church to this point, when they should have known better and should have done better.

The upshot: even the Mormons, as conservative as Catholics regarding key "non-negotiable" issues like abortion and same-sex marriage, have strong prophetic voices as Donald Trump's inauguration approaches. Catholics quite simply do not.

This is an astonishing indictment of both the pastoral and the lay intellectual leaders of American Catholicism. As people I have never met have told me on Twitter just today, in response to my pinned tweet that I have shared with you once again at the head of this posting and in response to various discussions on my Twitter feed of Catholic complicity in the evil that Trump's presidency portends,

1. "I can't believe they voted for him! May rethink my religion. It doesn't seem to value humanity anymore!"

2. "Personally I'm thinking of finding a non-RC church to attend supplementally for stronger social justice msg."

4. "[This is] why many devout Catholics I know have walked away from the church."

As I told you in one posting after another prior to the election, white Catholics would, it seemed evident to me, be a key constituency putting Donald Trump into the White House if he won the election (and I found myself lambasted more than once in Facebook discussions when I expressed the opinion that Trump would, in fact, be elected) — and this fact would raise in a very acute way the question of what's wrong with white Catholics in the U.S. As I also noted, the strong support of white Catholics for Trump illustrates "in the starkest possible way a grievous failure of pastoral and moral leadership among the U.S. Catholic bishops and among the powerful intellectual class of American Catholicism." 

And as I also predicted, not a jot or tittle of any of these data would result in open, frank, honest, wide-ranging discussion among American Catholic intellectual leaders of what all this means for American Catholicism, about the parlous state of the soul of American Catholicism at present — even as people keep walking out the door in ever-increasing numbers. And now Timothy Dolan, a former USCCB president, heads to the inauguration of Donald Trump to throw roses at Trump's feet on behalf of the U.S. bishops.

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