loss and gain

By Diogenes ( articles ) | Jan 14, 2006

Jody Bottum has an interesting essay in the current Weekly Standard discussing, in the aftermath of the Alito confirmation hearings, the paradox of Catholic politics in the U.S. At the moment the sacral stature of its clergy deflated like a punctured beach toy, the Catholic "ability to take a moral impulse born from religion and channel it into a more general public vocabulary and philosophical analysis" (Bottum's words) has come to set the terms of the key national debates affecting the common good. Says Bottum:

We may be seeing the emergence of one of those uniquely American compromises: A Catholic philosophical vocabulary is allowed to express a moral seriousness the nation needs, on the guarantee that the Catholic Church itself will not much matter politically.

The Catholic clergy's particular sins, especially against children, produced a shame that is deep and well-deserved, and through their class-action suits, the victims are about to strip away the endowment left by five generations of ethnic believers. The bricks-and-mortar Catholicism of the last hundred years -- the intense desire of all those hard-working immigrants to build a visible monument of parishes, schools, hospitals, and orphanages -- may well have disappeared by the time the total damage is calculated.

Work still needs to be done to explain the causes of the priests' crimes, together with the reasons for the American bishops' horrifyingly insufficient response. But, along the way, the political power of the Church itself came at last to its complete end.

So if you're Kate Michelman, or Cher, or Barney Frank, you see the Meltdown as a mixed blessing. On the one hand, the mote-plank factor will ensure that a bishop speaking on any subject graver than dessert recipes will be laughed off the dais. On the other hand, morally earnest laymen like Scalia, Roberts, and Alito -- and their counterparts in many areas of public life -- are moving into positions in which they can loosen the counter-Christian institutional choke-hold. From the Michelman-Cher-Frank point of view, what good is the demolition of the parishes and schools, if they find a level playing field underneath?

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