James Carroll considers the loss of the great social justice tradition of the Catholic church.
All of this defines a watershed moment. ....For the first time in its history, the American Catholic hierarchy is solidly right wing. There is not one liberal voice among its members. The bishops are at home with the heirs of a know-nothing fundamentalism that once, by every measure of theology and social policy, embodied the Church’s opposite. ....Meanwhile, Ross Douthat argues that the conservative puritanism of American Catholics owes much to their Irish roots:
The self-righteous glee with which they spout ethical absolutes, the fervor with which they threaten excommunication of dissidents, and the chest-thumping with which they mark their decisive influence on urgent legislation all suggest the degree of their relief to be out from under the cloud of contempt in which they were held because of their handling of the sex abuse-crisis. But that crisis, the sources of which have yet to be addressed, is not over.
Many Catholic lay people “of a certain age” are profoundly alienated from the bishops’ worldview and understanding of the Church, but, because of firm clerical control over the institution and the tendency of the secular media to define “the Church” in strictly clerical terms, there is little they can do to affect either. Catholic young people, meanwhile, are indifferent to what the bishops say and think (only 15 percent of college-age Catholics attend Mass regularly). Given the current tilt of Church power, such Catholics are, for now, unwilling hostages of the reactionary hierarchy.
What’s new is that, given the polarity of American politics, the whole nation is their hostage, too. It remains to be seen, though, if the bishops’ embrace of uncompromising extremism will do anything, over the long term, but leave them isolated with their new friends on the fringe, more discredited than ever.
A Cullen-esque Catholicism was ide ally suited to the task of building a thriving immigrant church in a hostile Protestant society. The remarkable prestige, power and cultural cachet of mid-20th century American Catholicism almost certainly wouldn’t have been possible without the extraordinary exertions and self-sacrifice that the Irish Church inspired from priests and laity alike — and without its hierarchy’s ability to be power brokers and politicians as well as shepherds, and to bend the civil authorities, when necessary, to their will.
But you can see how it could all go bad — how a culture so intense clerical, so politically high-handed, and so embarrassed (beyond the requirements of Christian doctrine) by human sexuality could magnify the horror of priestly pedophilia, and expand the pool of victims, by producing bishops inclined to strong-arm the problem out of public sight instead of dealing with it as Christian leaders should.
And the Irish agree. Writing in the Irish Times, Maureen Gaffney reflects in the wake of the horrifying news that the hierarchy and the police colluded to protect abusers. What is the moral authority of the institution now, especially on issues of sex and sexuality?
Very few Catholics are looking to the church for moral guidelines in relation to any of these questions anymore. And why would they? ....Such pronouncements are so much at variance with the lived experience of most people as to undermine terminally the church’s credibility in the area of intimate relationships.....And, based on Douthat's thesis, this diagnosis should be equally applicable on this side of the Atlantic.
But no amount of improved decision-making and transparency will enable senior clergy to respond effectively to the church’s crisis of sexuality.
To do that, they must confront the root cause of the problem – that the Catholic Church is a powerful homo-social institution, where men are submissive to a hierarchical authority and where women are incidental and dispensable. It’s the purest form of a male hierarchy, reflected in the striking fact that we all collectively refer it to as “the Hierarchy”.
It has all the characteristics of the worst kind of such an institution: rigid in social structure; preoccupied by power; ruthless in suppressing internal dissent; in thrall to status, titles, and insignia, with an accompanying culture of narcissism and entitlement; and at a great psychological distance from human intimacy and suffering.
Most strikingly, it is a culture which is fearful and disdainful of women. .....The hierarchy will continue to project its fear of women on to an obsessive effort to exert control over their wombs, their fertility and their unruly sexual desires. That is the psychology of exclusion.
It is to be hoped that the Catholic Church in Ireland will resolve this issue. Not just because many of us don’t want to lose the reassuring moral presence of the church, nor because we cannot easily do without the intelligent altruism of devoted religious, but because the great joy and hope of the Christian message was never more badly needed.
Can the Institution be redeemed? From my perspective they are perpetrating a series of horrors, and the Catholics *I* know are horrified in return. Is there a way, within the structure of the institution, to regain the tradition of social justice and progressivism from the cynical neo-cons and cons who appear to wear the purple and scarlet? Or perhaps true Catholicism, in the person of its people, will have to rise, Phoenix like, from the ashes of a corrupt institution. After all, Christ did not live in a palace with gold chalices, negotiating with governors and ministers. He was an itinerant carpenter with a rag-tag group of hippy followers who tended to the common people.