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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  • Posted by: - Jan. 14, 2006 2:34 PM ET USA

    Don't be so pessimistic, Di and Jody. Your consistent pessimism is such that I fear it might at least be a venial sin against the virtue of hope. Remember hope?

  • Posted by: John J Plick - Jan. 14, 2006 1:43 PM ET USA

    I agree... The Church was called to save souls... And NOT primarily to establish Herself on the earth as a political power. However, essential virtue calls down upon itself the physical blessings..., and not vice versa... Those who oppose the Church even as a potent political entity will ultimately find themseves COMPLETEY DISSAPPOINTED... because in the end it will be witnessed that proper order corrects all things.

  • Posted by: - Jan. 14, 2006 1:35 PM ET USA

    It is tragic that we justifiably engage in discussions about Catholic bishops who are actively harming the Church. Their names don't matter, but their philosophies do. You know saintly bishops within minutes of meeting them. They have a certain presence. They have supernatural faith. Their words reflect their overarching concern for the salvation of souls first and everything else second. Unless they are faithful to this calling, God abandons them, which is evident for all the world to see.

  • Posted by: Ignacio177 - Jan. 14, 2006 1:32 PM ET USA

    Of course, witnessing to Christ and His truth demands a coherent life style. Those who are willing to put their life on the line, live evangelical poverty, chastity and obedience in a clear and unambigious way have been and will always be able to testify to the truth of the Resurrection and all the auxiliary truth claims that follow. Martyrdom, poverty, chastity and obedience help make the proclamation of the Gospel beleiveable. It is love of neighbor that impells their practice.

  • Posted by: Ignacio177 - Jan. 14, 2006 1:14 PM ET USA

    Hold on there. I think that the minor premise is faulty. The genitive "'s " is ambiguous. clergy's sins, priest's crimes - the predicate certainly cannot apply to the whole class. Some priests, some clergy, some bishops are perps but not the whole class. I think even the U.S. public can discern the difference between some and all.

  • Posted by: Charles134 - Jan. 14, 2006 12:33 PM ET USA

    This isn't quite right. It's not like the bishops have been fighting heroically against abortion, but are being ignored. And Democratic politicians are happy to join Catholic bishops against capital punishment. The problem is that whenever the bishops go against the Democratic line, the abuse scandal can be trotted out to make them look foolish. But, when do our bishops (en masse) ever betray the Democratic party line?