The Catholic right’s false nostalgia.
Just posted: Eugene McCarraher’s piece on new books by Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Bill Donohue, and Carl Anderson. In begins:
On April 14, 2012, Bishop Daniel R. Jenky of Peoria, Illinois, speaking from a pulpit surrounded by flowers, a cross, and the American flag, issued a “Call to Catholic Men of Faith” to defend their faith and country. To the congregation he recounted how “the enemies of Christ have certainly tried their best” to destroy the church over the centuries: Roman oppression, barbarian invasions, “wave after wave of jihads,” the modern, homicidal tyrannies of Nazism and communism. Catholics today who believed the church was secure in the United States were mistaken; indeed, Jenky roared, a legion of malevolence had gathered against the faithful, armed with “the hatred of Hollywood, the malice of the media, and the mendacious wickedness of the abortion industry.” This army of Satan was led by none other than President Barack Obama, demonically imposing the “radical, proabortion, and extreme secularist agenda” exemplified in the Health and Human Services mandate requiring insurance-subsidized contraception for employees of religious institutions.
It’s worth noting that Bishop Jenky left the church that day unmolested—no police or National Guardsmen burst in to cart him off to Guantánamo. No churches have been invaded, locked, or razed; no priest has been forced to bless same-sex unions, nor have Catholic hospitals been compelled to perform abortions, or even to dispense a single condom. The only inconvenience Jenky has suffered—protected by a First Amendment that has yet to be suspended by executive order—is ridicule.
And not enough of it. Far from pointing out the absurdity of comparing Obama to Attila, Hitler, and Stalin, other prominent Catholics have piled on. Bishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco has warned of Obama’s impending “despotism.” Cardinal Francis George of Chicago has equated our Constitution’s guarantee of freedom of worship with that of the former Soviet Union. Others have compared the mandate to the persecution of priests in Mexico in the 1920s under left-wing general Plutarco Calles. The Evangelical author Eric Metaxas—whose fine biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer indicates that he ought to know better—invoked the rise of the Nazis. Speaking at the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast, Carl Anderson, Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus, both encapsulated and stirred up the prevailing hysteria in asserting that “never in the life of anyone present here has the religious liberty of the American people been threatened as it is today.”
Why are shepherds of the American flock and their allies saying such preposterous things? It sometimes appears that the ancien régime of the American Church is fighting its impending senescence. Having lost much of their moral authority in the sexual-abuse scandal, the bishops have staked what remains on fighting perceived threats to religious liberty. Caught in a great historical transition in which church authority has eroded on every front, many conservative prelates and lay Catholics exhibit an array of morbid symptoms: lurid fantasies of sexual pandemonium; paranoid delusions of cultural conspiracy and government persecution; and ugly outbursts of rage at a world they no longer understand, control, or can persuade. Ashamed of the ecclesial present, the bishops seem transfixed by venerable memories of power and eminence.
While utterly forgettable on their own merits, four recently published books by prominent Catholics make for a pathology of reactionary Catholic modernism. Blending myths of the 1950s with fables of that Greatest of Centuries, the thirteenth, they reveal the panic of conservative Catholics, terrified by the waning of the American Age and the twilight of an authoritarian church, retreating to the kitschy redoubt of a suburban medievalism.
Read the rest right here.