cardinal looked grim. “This is the situation now,” he said. “One political
party is dangerous and the other is stupid.”
that was said in a private chat, it wouldn’t be fair for me to name the
speaker. But his comment expresses sentiments that probably are widely shared
in the American hierarchy today, as indeed they’re shared widely by many
Americans. Bipartisan disgust with politics is a sorry byproduct of our recent,
toxic election campaign. If the country should actually topple over the
infamous fiscal cliff, plenty of people would suppose both parties gave it a
The cardinal’s words also have
considerable relevance for the Church, underlining something that’s now more
clear than ever. While the Church is obliged to take both deeply flawed
political coalitions as facts, it has no natural home in either.
No cause for smugness here, though.
Before lecturing the parties, the Church needs to face up to internal problems
of its own, which requires recognizing what those problems are.
National Catholic Reporter, viewing
reality through the lenses of leftwing
Catholicism, accuses bishops who spoke out strongly during the campaign of “alienating”
all but a “small choir” of the faithful who agree with them on issues.
so. But maybe it’s just the Reporter and
its friends who are alienated. Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson gets closer to the truth
when he notes that, while 50% of Catholics overall voted for Barack Obama, the
seven-point shift away from Obama among white Catholics from 2008 to 2012 was “one
of the largest swings of any portion of the electorate.” In a close election,
he adds, it could have determined the outcome.
point isn’t that Catholic voting directly mirrors what bishops say. But at
least the outspokenness of some bishops seems not to have had the widespread
alienating effect the Catholic Reporter likes
to think it had. Still, leaving aside the parsing of the Catholic vote, it’s obvious that many American
Catholics just aren’t hearingor anyway
heedingthe Church’s message on the relationship of doctrine to politics
and the rest of life.
At their fall assembly in November,
the bishops approved a document on preaching that makes the familiar point that
a typical congregation today includes a lot of people who are “inadequately catechized.” Here is a delicate way of saying
even many who go to Mass don’t have a clear notion of what the Church teaches
and don’t see how it applies to them. That has deeply negative implications for
political behavior and nearly everything else.
Catholic teaching matters, this needs to change. The bishops should give early
attention to a massive, continuing, and intellectually serious programone not
directly tied to politics and the election cycleto educate Catholics in the
doctrine of their Church, including social doctrine and doctrine on human life
and marriage. Isolated statements in the face of election year passions aren’t
should be a part of this new effort but only part. Ongoing adult education is
essential. And the Church must reach out through the use of new and old media
to the dismayingly large number of Catholics who seldom attend Mass.
the Baltimore assembly, the bishops voted to create a new public affairs unit
in their national conference. It would do well to make this effort a high
priority. Then maybe all those newly well-informed Catholics would begin
working for the reform of American politics and the renewal of the social
can dream, can’t I?