Tuesday, March 25, 2003

Are U.S. Catholics, "more Catholic than the Pope"?

I include a snipet of this article reflecting the British Catholic view of Catholics in the U.S. I encourage you to go to the link and read the entire very well thought out piece that does a great job explaining Catholics in the U.S. Whether you are conservative or liberal there is a truth to grapple with here in the way we evangelize and catechize in this country.

From The Tablet

American Catholicism is ethnic, not dogmatic. The descendants of Irish and Italian and Polish immigrants, long bereft of the old country’s language, maintain their ancestors’ religious identification, which does for them what Catholic nationalism did for Ireland and Poland in the days of British and Soviet rule. It makes a people where there would otherwise not be a people. Yet in this land of voluntarist and intensely subjective Protestants, Catholics who are, in the sense of ethnic identity, “more Catholic than the Pope”, still share the radical Protestant “fundamental belief” that, to quote Pelosi, “God gave us all a free will and we are accountable for that”. Each believer stands alone with his God, and no Pope intervenes on that solitude.

And here is another facet of the paradox of America’s martial Catholicism. Bush is, like Clinton and Gore and Carter, and almost half of their compatriots, an evangelical Protestant. The Bush family being what it is, young George W. was naturally an altar boy in the Episcopalian Church, America’s only socially distinguished faith; he married into Methodism, as his brother, the governor of Florida, married into Hispanic Catholicism; but George W. was nonetheless brought to evangelical conversion in 1985, by Billy Graham himself. Bush’s evangelical faith is overt in his speeches; yet he seems perfectly congenial to America’s “more Catholic than the Pope” Catholics.
Bush returns thecompliment. He has successfully courted the traditionally Democratic Catholic vote, winning half of it in 2000; he has twice carefully visited the papal court; he sincerely abhors teenage sex and abortion; he visibly defers to the Catholic faith. Over the Iraq crisis,

Bush has paid Rome the compliment of strenuous contradiction. The President received Cardinal Laghi and argued with him, and the administration launched a remarkable theological offensive against the Vatican – with the 1994 winner of the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion, Michael Novak, carrying the debate to the enemy’s Roman citadel. By contrast, Bush has simply ignored all the Protestant Churches, including his own, which have denounced the war.

For America’s right-wing Protestants are in the same dilemma as America’s Catholics. And they too find it a non-dilemma. They are not ecclesial Christians: their faith is a private matter, founded on vivid and therapeutic experience of God. Their greatest religious loyalty beyond themselves is not to any denomination, but to what they conceive to be the Christian and democratic cause; and of that cause Bush, not Karol Wojtyla, is both sultan and caliph.