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Catholic Rebels: ‘We Don’t Care Now’

The urgency of cultivating active indifference to the mediocrity of institutional leadership
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Charlotte Allen writes today in First Things about her greatest disappointment with the Covington Catholic debacle: the eagerness of Catholic leaders to appease the liberal mob. Excerpt:

What these Catholic ecclesiastics and Catholic intellectuals don’t seem to understand is that the secular liberal world, rather than willing to make a place for them if they go along with secular liberal pieties, is in a war against them—with the goal of total annihilation. The battle against Catholic Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court should have provided a clue. The fight wasn’t over whether Kavanaugh had assaulted a girl at a high-school party. It was over abortion, pure and simple—the likelihood that Kavanaugh might vote to overturn Roe v. Wade. Yet Catholic priests were droning from their pulpits that we ought to “believe women.” The current liberal brouhaha over whether Second Lady Karen Pence deserves Secret Service protection when teaching at a Christian school that holds that marriage is between a man and a woman is of similar ilk. Democratic senators Kamala Harris and Mazie Hirono considered themselves perfectly entitled to quiz Catholic lawyer and federal-judge nominee Brian Buescher about his membership in the Knights of Columbus, which they deemed an “extreme” organization because it opposes same-sex marriage—and remember that Harris is running for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020. All this is just a prelude to President Trump’s likely nomination of devout Catholic federal appeals judge Amy Coney Barrett to fill an upcoming Supreme Court vacancy. If Trump nominates Barrett, expect a battle from every liberal quarter to destroy the Catholic Church in America, the likes of which you have never seen.

The left never breaks ranks. It never trundles at the heels of right-wing fake news that might harm the reputation of one of its own—and it brooks no criticism of its own. It’s time for Catholics to follow suit. Liberals are not our friends and never will be, and they will use every weapon at their disposal—even hapless teenage boys—to try to destroy what Catholicism stands for. Remember that the Covington students were in Washington for the March for Life—and think about the actual target of that video clip.

Read the whole thing. I would have put it a bit differently. Catholic leaders, like all Christian leaders, should stand up for what’s true, morally and otherwise, despite which political party or faction it pleases or displeases. Allen is correct, though, to warn her co-religionists sternly that they will never, ever make the Left like them. Not today’s Left, which is heavily secular. When she says that “liberals are not our friends,” I take her to mean that in the political and cultural arena, liberals will never cut us a break, or admit that we might have a point, or at least ought to be left alone.

This resonates particularly with me because I’ve just returned from a trip to Spain and Ireland, giving Benedict Option talks, and meeting with lay Catholics. As I’ve said here recently, one of the biggest themes that emerged from this trip was how angry lay Catholics are with their bishops and institutions, especially Catholic schools. I’m going to write soon a separate piece about a group of young Catholic intellectuals with whom I spent a long, three-hour lunch in a Madrid cafe. I took notes. They are all intensely Catholic, and fed up with their leadership. One said:

The Church has been unfaithful to its mission many times. Who abandoned the Cristeros? The Church. We know the Church is made of men, and they betray Christ constantly. We are men, and we betray Christ constantly. We have a lot of history of the betrayal of clerics. We don’t care now.

“We don’t care now.” Powerful!

What I heard from a number of Spaniards is that the leaders of the Church in their country are mostly weak men who don’t care about standing up to the leftist state, and who don’t care that many Catholic schools are morally and spiritually rotten. Note well: I did not investigate this myself; I am just telling you what I heard over and over. And not just schools: in the Q&A at my talk in Barcelona, a man stood up and said, in English, that I ought to send a case of my book to the Benedictines living in the historic Catalan monastery of Montserrat. I forget his exact words, but it was something to the effect of “they’ve totally lost their way.”

Same thing in Ireland. Not only are the Catholics I talked to furious at their bishops for the abuse scandal, but they regard them as weak men who have been thoroughly intimidated by the post-Christian Irish elites. I took what they told me to heart, and worked it into my Dublin speech. Here’s a report on it from the Irish Catholic paper The Tablet. Excerpt:

In an address at University Church in Dublin, hosted by the Iona Institute and the Notre Dame Newman Centre for Faith and Reason, the author of ‘The Benedict Option’ told a crowd of 350 that Catholics in Ireland that he knew “from bitter experience that the institutions of the Catholic Church cannot be relied on to teach, defend, and evangelise for the faith”.

The popular blogger and editor at ‘The American Conservative’, who is author of several books, told The Tablet that it would be “a fatal mistake to sit back and wait for them [the bishops] to get their acts together”.

“Pray that they do but in the meantime faithful Catholics must catechise themselves and their children. They must act themselves to deepen their experience of faith through prayer, the sacraments, Bible reading, and embracing spiritual disciplines.”

The American writer urged committed members of the laity to create small groups, through networking with other convinced believers, and to create local institutions of their own where the faith can thrive in difficult times. He spoke in favour of homeschooling as one means of achieving this.

“We Christians who live in the world need to be closer to each other, geographically and otherwise. We need close-knit communities in which to raise our children,” he said.

The reporter added:

In a rather dire warning, he said “the whole thing probably will collapse because it’s collapsing all over the West” and the old, conformist approach to faith was worthless now.

This is true, but a tiny bit of context: I had just quoted an Irish priest, who told me that “the whole thing is going to collapse” — meaning the institutional Church in Ireland — and added that he hoped that the believers who remained would be able to build something that lives.

More than ever, I believe that the statement of that young Madrid Catholic — “We don’t care now” — has to be the rallying cry of faithful Catholics. Of course Catholics absolutely cannot break with their bishops, any more than faithful Orthodox Christians can. We are not Protestants. But they can no longer wait for the institutional leadership to get its act together and lead. That’s not going to happen anytime soon.

I told the Dublin audience about one of the most memorable conversations of my life. It was back in 2001 or 2002, can’t remember exactly, and it happened in the basement living room of my Brooklyn apartment. A small group of us conservative Catholic types were sitting around eating dinner and drinking wine, and indulging in our favorite hobby: bitching about the mediocrity of the bishops and the institutional church.

A priest who was present among us finally spoke up. Here is what he said (I’m paraphrasing):

Everything you boys are saying about the Church is true. But let me tell you, it was true when my sisters and I were growing up in the Seventies. Everything was falling apart. Our mother and father knew that if they were going to raise kids to be faithful Catholics, they couldn’t trust the Church. They knew that they had to take on responsibility for teaching the faith to us. They worked really hard at it, for years, with no assistance from anybody in the Church. Today I’m a priest, and all my sisters kept the faith.

You all have things so much easier than they did. You have the Catechism. You have the Internet, where you can go on Amazon and have a library that Aquinas could only have dreamed of delivered to your front door. You can network on the Internet, find each other, and come together to work to build up your faith, and teach your children. There’s no limit to what you can do if you put your mind to it, and want to do it badly enough. My advice to you is to stop caring so much about what’s wrong with the Church, and stop expecting the Church to do better, and instead get busy living out Catholicism, and building something true and good for yourselves and your children. What’s stopping you?

I remember hearing that and thinking, “Huh. Father’s right about that.” But then I went right back to bitching about the Church. Four or five years later, I was no longer Catholic. I believe there is a connection. I was far too much of a clericalist, and it had something to do with costing me my faith.

While I am genuinely grateful to God to be an Orthodox Christian, I keep that advice of my Catholic priest friend front to mind, as all Christians should — even moreso today, in 2019, than when I first heard it. The lesson I learned of the dangers of clericalism, and of placing too much faith in the institution, was extremely painful. By the grace of God, I am not going to make that mistake in Orthodoxy.

I’ll be telling the story of those subversively orthodox young Madrid Catholics in this space soon. Watch for it. It’s really inspiring, especially to those weary and tempted to despair by the exhaustion and incomprehension of the Pope, bishops, and other institutional leaders. They are undertaking a version of the Benedict Option — not because they want to leave the faith, but because they want to make it their own, and defend it. More, please.

UPDATE: Well, golly, the Catholic bishop of Lexington, Ky., John Stowe, is angrier at the kids for wearing the MAGA hats than he is at those who have done their best to ruin those Catholic boys’ lives with malicious lies. Excerpt:

I am ashamed that the actions of Kentucky Catholic high school students have become a contradiction of the very reverence for human life that the march is supposed to manifest. As such, I believe that U.S. Catholics must take a look at how our support of the fundamental right to life has become separated from the even more basic truth of the dignity of each human person.

Without engaging the discussion about the context of the viral video or placing the blame entirely on these adolescents, it astonishes me that any students participating in a pro-life activity on behalf of their school and their Catholic faith could be wearing apparel sporting the slogans of a president who denigrates the lives of immigrants, refugees and people from countries that he describes with indecent words and haphazardly endangers with life-threatening policies.

Here’s 2017 news about Bishop John Stowe’s ministry:

Clad in traditional brown Franciscan robes, Bishop John Stowe of Lexington, Kentucky, seemed at home among the rainbow of colors at New Ways Ministry‘s eighth annual symposium here April 28-30. This was the first time that the bishop had spoken in front of the advocacy group, which supports lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Catholics.

“New Ways Ministry made me want to come here,” the bishop told NCR during a 40-minute interview at the gathering. He has been observing and admiring the group’s outreach to LGBT Catholics over several years, he added.




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