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A Strategy for the Center-Left?

John Allen has posted an intriguing column on the future of the center-left within the Catholic Church in the United States. He notes that there are a large number of American Catholics who, while not enamored of recent positions taken by the U.S. bishops, are nevertheless committed to working within the system so to speak. Allen suggests that the center-left could build stronger relationships with the bishops by offering, for example, strong public support for the bishops position on the HHS definition of a religious employer.As he often does, Allen had me nodding along thoughtfully until I came to his penultimate paragraph

Once upon a time, when the tone-setting camp among the bishops came out of center-left circles, it was the conservatives and the center-right that had to be intentional about building relationships. Today the shoe is on the other foot, and showing "surprising support" at least seems a possibility worth pondering.

Allen seems to be suggesting that, once-upon-a-time, conservatives were able to expand their influence among the bishops by building relationships. This is, to put it mildly, a curious reading of history. I think a more accurate assessment would be that conservatives expanded their influence by openly opposing center-left bishops where they could, going around those bishops to Rome where they could not, and doing everything they could to ensure that future bishops would be center-right if not simply right.Consider the debate over the U.S. bishops two major pastoral letters of the 1980s, The Challenge of Peace (1983) and Economic Justice for All (1986). Did conservative opponents of these documents confine themselves to offering surprising support for certain elements while critiquing others? They did not. In addition to complaining bitterly to anyone in Rome who would listen, conservatives also organized public opposition. In response to Economic Justice for All, for example, Michael Novak and Bill Simon drafted (and convinced a number of business leaders to sign) The Lay Letter, which accused the bishops of having an inadequate grasp of the principles of a market economy.The recent debate over the new English translation of the Roman Missal is another case in point. Opponents of the 1998 ICEL translation did not simply dialogue with the bishops who favored it. They went around them, lobbying bishops who were on the fence, encouraging opponents to write letters to both U.S. bishops and various officials in Rome. They supported the work of Vox Clara, which at the time of its formation was an explicit effort to weaken the control of the liturgy committees of the individual episcopal conferences, which were largely center-left in orientation and supportive of the ICELs work.The long-term strategy, of course, has been to replace center-left bishops with men of a more conservative stripe, rendering dialogue unnecessary. At one point, this meant the replacement of center-left bishops like Terrence Cooke with center-right bishops like John OConnor, who combined staunch pro-life advocacy with an equally staunch support of organized labor. The recent trend of appointments is toward even stronger conservatives and may reflect the influence of the American cardinals on the Congregation for Bishops: Law, Stafford, Burke, and Rigali.My point in recounting this history is less to criticize the center-right than to correct Allens misreading of recent ecclesiastical history. The uncomfortable truth is that no-holds-barred theological conflict is a recurrent feature of church history. Am I suggesting, then, that center left Catholics should adopt the bare-knuckled tactics of their conservative counterparts rather than the dialogue favored by Allen?I am not, for the simple reason that I cant imagine it being effective. Nor, however, can I imagine Allens approach yielding any substantive benefits for the center left. The truth is that, like the South after Gettysburg, the left has been defeated and little is left but to negotiate the terms of its surrender.In the 1980s, center-left bishops had to listen to the center-right because they had the ear of Rome. The center-left has the ear of no one. They have nothing that the bishops really need and probably nothing that the bishops want. They have no leverage.Allen suggests that center left probably describes the majority of American Catholics and perhaps a super-majority of those working in Catholic institutions, such as chancery offices, Catholic Charities, etc. This is true, but it is changing. We have had a fair amount of episcopal turnover in California in the last few years, and the trend is unmistakable. Older, largely center-left staff are retiring or leaving and being replaced by younger, more self-consciously orthodox Catholics.Its true that the majority of rank-and-file Catholics are probably center left in orientation. But what of it? Younger Catholics, for the most part, are simply not attached enough to the Church as an institution to think institutionally about their theological commitments. Communal dialogue is something you engage in because you have a community. The majority of younger Catholicslike a majority of younger Christiansare spiritual consumers. If they are dissatisfied, they will choose exit rather than voice.But surely, I hear some readers suggesting, the drifting away of millions of American Catholics will cause the hierarchy to sit up and take notice, in the same way that the loss of the working class in 19th century Europe galvanized the forces of reform within the Church of that time.Perhaps. But that was a different time. Those bishops were living at the beginning of the collapse of European Christianity. Todays bishops are living the aftermath of that collapse. They have no illusions that the faith is Europe and Europe is the faith as Hilaire Belloc once put it. They are fully prepared to see the Church in West decline in size, both relatively and absolutely. Do they truly wish for this outcome? I do not believe that they do. But they do not believe (nor do I, for the record) that any liberalization of the Churchs contested teachings will arrest that decline.Do I mean to suggest that the center-left has no future, that it is, to use Cardinal Georges description of liberal Catholicism, an exhausted project? I do not believe that either. Theologically, the left is that portion of the Church that asks the question is the Gospel being heard? just as the right is that portion of the Church that asks the question is the Gospel being heard?" It goes back to Paul and James and the Council of Jerusalem and the tension will be with us always.In the short term, though (which for most of those reading this means the rest of our lives), those of a center left persuasion within the Church will need to take a very long view. They will need to be able to work creatively in an environment that may well become almost as hostile to them as the anti-Modernist era was to an earlier generation of reformers. It will not be work for those unwilling to suffer under ecclesiastical discipline or for those who take refuge in easy optimism. Anything put forward must be both deeply grounded in the Tradition and intellectually rigorous. Ultimatelyand most importantlythe work will require a deep trust in the work of the Holy Spirit.


Commenting Guidelines

Well said. I imagine John Allen would agree.

Peter --I don't think that the analogy between the South after the Civil War and the center-left today obtains. Yes, both the South and center-left lost, but after the Civil War the North was alive and relatively well, while today the center-right is on an historical losing course as well just as the center-left has been.The big questions are: how and when will the Catholic center-right realize that it too is on the way out? And what can it do about it?Maybe the "Year of Evangelization" will flop as badly in the West as the call for support for religious freedom flopped here this year. We'll see what the Holy Spirit has in mind. Maybe. My guess is that history is pointing south and east for the RCC. Will the Church stay Roman?? We'll know in 500 years or so. (If Earth survives the droughts, shrinking ice floes, population explosion, lack of energy and fertilizer, etc., that is.)

A very thoughtful piece.

Excellent analysis. The only thing I would add is that the South not only surrendered but they made up a new version of history -- the Glorious Cause; "we fought better, the North outspent us"; we fought as gentlemen, they were a bunch of ignorant immigrants, the Myth of Southern Supremacy -- that kept reality at bay for 100 years even if the only thing of value it produced was "Gone with the Wind." Maybe those of us who loved the Vatican Council and believed the Holy Spirit influenced it can tell our children stories about the time when the Church was a light to the world while they tell us how irrelevant our religion is to them.Now I am off to a Mass (memorial of Maximilian Kolbe) that, in its latest iteration, is no longer Englishand on its way to becoming Latin. Sounding like John Boehner talking about anything the Democrats want, the center right said the Church would never ram the English Mass down their throat, and in the end they will get all they want. Let that be a lesson to us.

This is an excellent and most timely reflection.1. In the several decades during which I worked in Washington, though for ICEL, not directly for the USCCB, the US bishops' conference staff as well the vast majority of the staff members of what might be called semi-official Catholic organizations were considered, and were, center-left. (The charge that the bishops' conference staff determined the positions taken by the bishops was, I maintain, unfounded.) The staff of the conference has now moved to the center right, and the same trend, though more slowly, is now gaining force in many of the other Catholic organizations that have their headquarters in Washington. For some, it's a matter of survival.2. I think too that the great decline in the number of religious, women particularly but also men, stills yet another center left voice that had a great influence in the years from 1970 to 2000.3.The center/center left that was in the ascendant in the bishops' conference in the same decades is now decidedly a thing of the past. The Deardens, Quinns, Bernadins, Roaches, Malones, Mays, Pilarcyks are off the scene, most now gone to God. And I would include in this post-conciliar genealogy, though perhaps to a slightly lesser extent, the names Keeler, Pilla, Fiorenza, Gregory. No doubt, some would say good riddance, including a number of the bishops appointed over the last decade and a half.4. Just as an aside on the history of the 1998 revised ICEL Sacramentary, not only were campaigns organized against the revision, but some bishops who were in the minority when the series of favorable votes was taken then went directly to Rome, either to the Congregation for Divine Worship or the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith or both, to represent their disagreement with the majority's canonical decisions. By the time the contention came to a head in the late 1990s, dialogue between the conferences and the Roman authorities was simply impossible. (It was around this time that a USCCB president told the assembled bishops, in closed session, that he was deeply frustrated when he went officially to Rome twice a year to represent the Conference's view only to be told by various Roman officials that this could not be so since "not a few" American bishops had visited Rome in the preceding weeks or months to say the opposite.)5. The retirement of Cardinals Law and Stafford, on reaching eighty, from their various Rome positions, especially the Congregation for Bishops, will, I suspect not make a great difference in US episcopal appointments. Cardinal Rigali will reach eighty in a year and a half; Cardinal Burke in June 2028. Other Americans will in time be appointed as members of the Congregation.In a famous sermon given in the late 1950s, the then Bishop John Wright used as his repeated refrain, "We used to hope." The Emmaus story was obviously his inspiration.

Good analysis. But I would re-frame it. This controversy is best understood as a controversy between people who over-value doctrine, on the one hand, and, on the other, people who value religious faith and spirituality over and above doctrine. Religious faith should not be mistaken for faith in certain doctrines, but as faith in God.However, regardless of how we characterize the Catholics who question the conservative regime in the church, I think that the questioners should keep fighting the good fight against the conservative regime in the church.

I actually think this was the most important sentance of the John Allen articleAs a rule of thumb, it's generally easier to manage disagreements among friends than strangers.

Bruce --Since when is a Christian life supposed to be easy?

"The truth is that, like the South after Gettysburg, the left has been defeated and little is left but to negotiate the terms of its surrender." The left is often at its best in hard times."In the 1980s, center-left bishops had to listen to the center-right because they had the ear of Rome. The center-left has the ear of no one. They have nothing that the bishops really need and probably nothing that the bishops want. They have no leverage." Who knows what the future will bring? We have a frail and aged Pope. The U.S. candidates for the hierarchy promoted recently by the Congregation for Bishops do seem to be overwhelmingly center and far right, but how they might adapt to a change in winds from the Vatican, or further experience in office, or the influence of grace, is yet unclear. The Emmaus reference in John Page's excellent post is much to the point. It is well to take the long view. I was looking at the beginning of the Gospel According to Matthew yesterday, and thinking about the genealogy of Jesus with which it begins. What a mixed bag those ancestors were. Some aliens, some women, some non-Israelites, and many who were often involved in dubious courses of action. But, as my mother used to say when things went wrong, God writes straight with crooked lines. Nil desperandum.

I was just reading a profile of Bishop Liam Cary in Oregon, who replaced the ultra-conservative Bishop Vasa there. Bishop Cary's vita shows a very pastoral person who has spent a lot of his life with the poor and marginalized. There surely must be other recent examples of more moderate bishops coming in after very conservative ones (and vice versa). Maybe it all balances out over time?What has me a little mystified is the extremely strong internet presence of ultra conservative Catholics; it certainly contradicts the assumption that most Catholics are moderate or center-left. A case in point is my own archdiocese- New York. If American Catholics are mostly moderate, it is hard to imagine New York City being less moderate than the rest of the country. But when I read our Cardinal's blog, the huge, huge majority of posts seem to be very conservative, much more conservative than the Cardinal himself, who is no slouch in that area. So where is the actual evidence that most Catholics are center-leftish?

Thank you for this response to Allen's column. I am focused on the sentence : "They have no leverage." As an experienced marriage counselor and a former community organizer, I know the critical necessity to have leverage in bringing all parties "to the table" for any genuine action to be accomplished in any large organization, in most marriages, and in my own heart when I am obstinate. "Common ground" was/is another catch phrase relevant to the current polarizing conflicts in the Church. Am I to conclude that there is no real possibility for this at present, am I missing the suggestion of a common ground? Is there no "third wheel" acting to make a peace accord possible?

So the options that remain seem to be either submit with prayerful obedience, if you are at all serious about your Catholic faith, or leave like the youthful consumer that you are and perhaps always were. Whatever happened to prophetic witness? Or...Are prophets just those naive, "easy optimists," who don't have the stomach for the "hard work" of compromise (or capitulation)? Is it all just strategic politics or, to borrow a turn of phrase from the Right, are we not called to defend the Truth?

fwiw, I suspect that Catholic women, in the aggregate, are center-left, and Catholic men, in the aggregate, are center-right. This accounts, I think, for the preponderance of conservative Catholic commentary on the Internet.

A very thoughtful commentary. My hope (and prayer effort) is that there will be another John XXIII who comes out of the next papal conclave. The successor to BXVI may not even realize his similarity to John at the time of his election, but events and, especially, the influence of the Holy Spirit will hopefully guide him in bringing healing to a splintered Church. And this is picky, picky, picky, but Gettysburg didn't signal the demise of the Confederacy. In hindsight historians saw it as the "high water mark of the Confederacy," but Lee and other Southern generals still had another two years of fight in them before Lee's Army of Northern Virginia was ultimately boxed in by Grant in the area around Appomattox.

I dont know much about theology. I stick to a rather simple and conservative affirmation of the Creed, the 7 sacraments and prayers for the dead.But I have worked for decades on public policy issues inspired by CST. On social insurance, health care, worker rights, assistance to the poor, interracial justice and other issues Ive not only been in accord with the bishops but actively worked with the Bishops conference and worked to make sure these efforts are structured and directed in a way that is not objectionable to the bishops. But recently Ive come to the sad conclusion that the bishops dont really bring much to the table as far as effective advocacy on these issues. For some years Ive been romanticizing how meaningful it is to be able to quote from a USSCB statement on these issues. Reality has finally set in that engaging the bishops doesnt bring much value for the time and effort. It is not so much "surrendering" but just concluding that energy is best spent elsewhere to advance worthwhile initiatives.

Since when is a Christian life supposed to be easy?Ann,You obviously missed his point: friends generally listen and potentially respond, enemies generally dont. So if you want to influence people, it helps to be their friend. That may not be at all easy...

The point about the preponderance of clergy, religious women, Lay Church employees are center/left is correct. However what is not calculated in the piece is how the religious right are perceived as a pain in the ass to this cadre of Catholics who staff the barricades. . More appointments of right bishops embolden the righties increases their complaints both verbal and their obsessive letter writing and postings on the INTERNET. Will the tolerant smiles of the Church staffers eventually turn into grimaces? . Yes..

Allen's three practical examples of how the center-left could demonstrate surprising solidarity with the bishops - on the contraception mandate; over the plight of persecuted Christians overseas; and managing the transition to a global church - are all very good.The distressing case of the LCWR, though, makes me wonder if any activists* on the left have an appetite to be in solidarity with the bishops on anything beyond the very bare minimum.* It's important to note that Allen's column pertains to left/right Catholic *advocacy*. There are a lot of Catholics who don't tune in to ecclesial politics - a negligence, studied or not, that arguably is good for their spiritual life.

Btw, another potential area of solidarity that Allen doesn't mention, possibly because it seems so obvious that perhaps he didn't want to consume precious column space by discussing it, is abortion. Leaving abortion advocacy to the far right is a mistake for a number of reasons.

Peter, A good description in some ways and unsupported and unfounded in other ways. You are going by the number of bishops and not the number of Catholics. Remember the Pew foundation made a study which shows that a vast majority of Catholic like Jesus and God but do not like the bishops. How does that show that the right has won? So while your description describes the problem your conclusions can be seen as quite off the mark.

If this diagnosis is correct (no hope, etc.), perhaps we will see more center left people go to the splinter churches that are springing up in a number of places across the country, composed of Catholics who carry on the Catholic tradition with illicit but not invalid sacraments. This phenomenon flies beneath the radar scope of the bishops, but I see it and I know it is growing. It's not just cranks anymore. Key people in these churches were right there in the mainstream until some issue pushed them over the edge, usually associated with one of the crusading farther to the right bishops. Being very practical people, they don't want to spent the rest of their lives playing a political game (and losing, by the way) when they could be worshipping God with integrity down the street. And who knows? These people could turn out to be the true Church. How's that for putting the shoe on the other foot?

I appreciate Peter's essay greatly as well as Mr Page's commentary.I'm grateful to be older, and less dependent on the good feelings of swimming in a crowd. The hope I have is that fifty years after the anti-Modernist crusade, we had a Council. The hope I have is that after every Council, there were fearmongers and backtrackers. The hope I have is that people like Mary MacKillop and Jeanne d'Arc are saints; their institutional persecutors are forgotten and discredited. The hope I have is working in a parish with college students.I'm grateful not to be working for the institution. I'm grateful I can cite Archbishop Romero about planting and sowing and preparing for a harvest I will not be alive to reap. I'm grateful they can't take away the Scriptures, the music, or the witness of the saints. Maybe it would be nice to see Catholics packing themselves into the pews Sunday after Sunday. But the institution is unprepared for that, and you know: I pity them for their poverty.

The fact remains that this is a very different Catholic church than many of us (Vatican II era) believed it would be at this point in time. I raised a son and a daughter in the church feeling confident that by the time my daughter was grown we would have optional celibacy, women priests, and a more reasoned approach to other issues of gender and sexuality. My daughter is now 32 and has a daughter of her own. She and I both know that these and other hopes are not likely to come to fruition in our lifetimes and she has decided she cannot raise a female child in this church. At the age of 62, I not only cannot encourage her to remain in the church, I find I cannot remain myself. I have lost all respect for the leadership of the church that can only change when it suits the very suspect agenda of an all male, celibate hierarchy. I am angry at those I shared the pews with for "going along to get along" with Father, Bishop, and Curia when it compromises their true beliefs and practices. So until something significant changes (such as "another John XXIII") I am a Catholic refugee in the Episcopal Church.

Firstly, I have to stipulate that it is very difficult for me to take almost anything John Allen writes seriously. His journalistic virginity was long ago traded away for maintaining access to his Vatican sources leaving Allen always pushing the party line. Like any reporter on deadline, Allen is nothing without his sources better to keep those sources well lubricated, I suppose.On the other hand, J. Peter Nixons analysis of the denouement of the so-called center-left of the Catholic Church, while intriguing and thoughtful is actually riddled with holes much like Swiss cheese.I'll leave it to others on this blog-stream to critique the specific finer points of Nixons historical and political renderings. Nixons apparent assumptions about the current internal church political geography are what I have the most difficulty with.[Adopting Nixons system of classification] If the churchs center-right is winning [according to Nixon this is winning?!?], then it is indeed the classic definition of Pyrrhic victory.The right-wing reactionary hegemony that has controlled the church hierarchy, and driven the agenda, really since JP1 mysteriously died after only a 33-day papacy, has really driven the Catholic Church over the cliff and into the abyss.Euphemistic thinking such as being [prepared to see the Church in the West decline] is really more akin to putting lipstick on a pig. Nixon is wrong to assume that the center-left is in decline because the center-right is ascendant. Or vice versa, for that matter.The view from my corner of the vineyard: An inexorable evolution toward a Peoples' Church has already begun - the evidence has surrounded us for a very long time. Like the primitive Christians of the 1st and 2nd centuries, Catholics today are struggling toward a new enlightenment. This new church will not be achieved by politics or by diplomacy. But it will be achieved. It may take years, decades, even centuries for Catholics to reach it, but we will reach it.And all of us must help: Continue to teach. Pass on the Beatitudes and corporal works of mercy to new generations. Work for the day when every voice can speak aloud new ideas in our own church again. To paraphrase the apostle Paul: I planted the seed, [John 23rd] watered it, but God makes it grow." (1 Cor 3:6)

I don't see why it is necessary, as the post does here, to assume that the right/left political divide should be applied to liturgical debates. Those issues ought to be rather orthogonal.True, political left-leaning people have tended to be the loudest voices complaining about the new liturgical translation, but there is no inherent or logical reason that being a political liberal would make someone angry at the thought of translating "et cum spiritu tuo" or "Ecclesiae suae sanctae" accurately for the first time. Nor is there any inherent or logical reason that a political conservative would want an overly Latinate version of a few prayers. The fact that any of those positions coincide, for the moment, is really nothing more than a coincidence.

If they are dissatisfied, they will choose exit rather than voice.There is no way to "voice" in the Catholic church.Women are not even allowed at the decision making level in the church.I left the church. The sex abuse crisis did it for me. I did not see consequences for the bishops, Cardinal law got a promotion out of what he did!I did not see any changes in the hierarchy of the church.I loved the Church. But I can no longer abide the moribund nature, the closing in and almost glee heard when some talk about the church getting smaller and the "real Catholics" will carry the church into the future. I hope they are happy, because they will not have the clergy to minister to the parishes.I prefer a church that will address the problems and concerns of the century I live in and take us back to the middle ages.The Reformation should have taught the church a valuable lesson; it appears they did not learn it.

Again, we have to remember that Allen and even Peter are reacting to writing and spin. I am surprised that someone like Peter would give credit to power moves rather than rely on solid research like the pew study. The new translation and religious liberty movement do not reflect the whole church.

My hope (and prayer effort) is that there will be another John XXIII_______________We would do very well to have a Pope proclaim --[The] Church must once more reaffirm that teaching authority of hers which never fails, but will endure until the end of time. . . . "The major interest of the Ecumenical Council is this: that the sacred heritage of Christian truth be safeguarded and expounded with greater efficacy. . . . "Its intention is to give to the world the whole of that doctrine which, notwithstanding every difficulty and contradiction, has become the common heritage of mankindto transmit it in all its purity, undiluted, undistorted. It is a treasure of incalculable worth, not indeed coveted by all, but available to all men of good will. And our duty is not just to guard this treasure, as though it were some museum-piece and we the curators, but earnestly and fearlessly to dedicate ourselves to the work that needs to be done in this modern age of ours, pursuing the path which the Church has followed for almost twenty centuries. . . .What is needed at the present time is a new enthusiasm, a new joy and serenity of mind in the unreserved acceptance by all of the entire Christian faith, without forfeiting that accuracy and precision in its presentation which characterized the proceedings of the Council of Trent and the First Vatican Council. What is needed, and what everyone imbued with a truly Christian, Catholic and apostolic spirit craves today, is that this doctrine shall be more widely known, more deeply understood, and more penetrating in its effects on mens moral lives. What is needed is that this certain and immutable doctrine, to which the faithful owe obedience, be studied afresh and reformulated in contemporary terms. For this deposit of faith, or truths which are contained in our time-honored teaching is one thing; the manner in which these truths are set forth (with their meaning preserved intact) is something else. . . ."The Church's anxiety to promote and defend truth springs from her conviction that without the assistance of the whole of revealed doctrine man is quite incapable of attaining to that complete and steadfast unanimity which is associated with genuine peace and eternal salvation. For such is God's plan. He 'wishes all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.'-- Blessed Pope John, Opening Address to the Council, October 11, 1962 (emphasis added)

I agree with Susan. Past results are no guarantee of future performance. The American church, with Rome's cooperation/approval, surfaced Weakland, Mahony and Bernardin before; it may do so again.

Didn't John Allen get his knuckles wrapped by Cardinal Martino when he suggested that there were red and blue congregations in the Vatican as an allusion to red and blue states.He should keep partisan discourse of that type out of the church. We should find different descriptors.

Jim Jenkins (3:38) What will the People's Church do about the pope? He has been there in one form or another from the start, and Jesus apparently expected him to be there forever. That does not presuppose the Vatican, the Swiss Guard, the Prada red slippers, the gentlemen carrying him on his chair, the bowing and scraping, the royal designations and foofarah. But the Catholic Church does indeed anticipate always having a central authority lodged in a person.Bill Mazzella (5:05) The new rendering of the Mass in Latglish does not reflect the whole Church, but it does reflect what the whole Church has to pretend it believes. If it pulls out a line from old-fashioned melodrama (don't you ever enter under my roof again) that no English-speaking person ever said except on a 19th century stage or in a 20th century spoof, that's it. No argument.If the bishops of the United States would rather pander to the Fox news cycle than analyze the American political system, well, heck, it's what the mainstream media do anyway. No argument.As Diane said, there is no way to "voice" against it.

Vatican II was something that I accepted with some trepidation, since my Catholic education (grammar, high school and college) was pre-Vatican II and, although excellent for its time, provided me with very little preparation for what the documents were saying. However, after further study in graduate school, I went heart and soul into the spirit that was ecumenical, affirming of the laity, to peace and justice, and liturgically understandable.I decided that was the way that I wanted to live out my days in the Church. Now, to be honest, I feel betrayed - not by the church but by the leadership. I resent being told that I am pro-abortion since I support a womens right to choose, as abhorrent I think abortion is. I resent Fortnights for Freedom supported and subsidized by Catholics who have a Republican party agenda.I resent being told that I am not a Faithful Catholic if I do not vote for a Republican.Here is my pledge:- I will not leave my church and attend St. Mattress on Sunday, even though I am tempted. - I will continue to demand accountability of Church leadership for the clergy sexual abuse scandal. - I will stand with the sisters in both words and actions.- I will support any cause that furthers the teachings of the Sermon on the Mount and Matthew 25:25-31.Finally (Commonweal editor you can eliminate this last comment), I will not allow myself to be affected by an American cardinal in the Curia, who likes to get all duded up in satin and lace like a life size, animated Infant Jesus of Prague.

As the Chaplain in an inpatient hospice facility where 45% of our admitted patients die, usually within 3-7 days, I find all these political metaphors irrelevant. While the hierarchy argues about the arrangement of deck chairs on their "Titanic" and who gets to sit in them, the Gospel is being preached in the health care institutions, jails and outreach centers in the cities and towns of our country. And I must tell you: at the point of sacramental need, no one has ever asked me about clerical celibacy, birth control or the intricacies of canon law--unless, of course, they have conflated God with the Roman Catholic Church and live in terror of both. But many seek the healing Grace of prayer and the sacraments from which they feel excluded because they don't see the institutional Church as a healing, reconciling body. I was ordained in a small, ecumenical Catholic community, but find myself acting as explainer and apologist for the RC Church quite often. And I wonder why the leaders of such a venerable institution seem content to persist in dragging it toward the "dustbin of history" (apologies to Trotsky).

Bruce and Thorin --I apologize for getting your names mixed up. I do know you're not the same person. I'm afraid I have to disagree about it being easier to disagree with friends. Sometimes I find it harder. When you do, it often comes as a surprise to the friend, and if it is about a fundamental you risk weakening the bond you shared before. Nobody likes a "turncoat". Sometimes the other thinks you were really a hypocrite all along. I had some friends who were twins. When they were adolescents they discovered much to their complete surprise and horror that they actually disagreed about some fundamentals. They were terribly hurt. Their friendship did survive, but it took lot of growing up.I think this is part of the bitterness that some liberal and conservative Catholics have towards each other. Each side thinks the other has sold out or given in to something or other. We can't believe that the people we used to think were good, sensible Roman Catholics like us turned out to be, well, what? Weak? "Unfaithful"? Selfish? Baby-killers? Childish conformists? Revolutionaries? Libertines? Calvinists who say the Rosary?I think we all have to realize that there probably never was as much unanimity of dogmatic belief among Catholics as we assumed. What happened was, I think, people who had some problems with what they had been taught just kept their mouths shut for fear of being barred from the Sacraments or at least being ostracised within their own family or neighborhood or whatever. Now it's sort of like the neo-atheists who are now coming out of their closets because it has become socially tolerable to be an atheist, at least in some places.

This too, will pass. Unfortunately I am turning 70 and probably will not live to see it pass. This poses a dilemma - do we just grin and bear it until relieved by death, or do we begin to try to recapture the high moral ground and see this fundamentalism and authoritarianism begin to erode. Our kids have already spoken with their feet. Most of us did all the right things as Catholic parents in raising them in the faith. But alas, it is nigh impossible to overcome their discouragment amd disillusionment with the church. Our apologies to them for the bad and rude behavior fall on deaf ears. They and our grandchildren will not be back nor will they be the faithful in the pews by 2020. Jesus wept!

Helen -- your hatred of Cardinal Burke, combined with your description of how you close your eyes and consent to legalized murder, illustrates the great divide in the Church right now.Young Catholics, among the conservatives and traditionalists, support the current direction of the Church, while Baby Boomers and older liberals do not. Perhaps it is because the last 40-50 years have been an absolute failure in nearly every regard, and restoring successful things (and, yes, Mass attendance is a good measure of success) is attractive to those born after Vatican II.The Church, under the current pope, is focusing on the big things. The things that matter. The right to life and the holy sacrifice of the Mass are among the biggest.We are going to see a lot more of this divide. The difference, though, between the Church population and the population of U.S. states is that most of the "blue" ideology in the Church will be dead in the next 20 years. In fact, I predict Commonweal will cease to print in three to five years, and will likely fade away as a website in about 15-20 years.As your generation used to say, the times they are a-changin'.

Kenneth J; Wolfe:I do not HATE Cardinal Burke. I just don't like his style.And I am PRO-LIFE and want to find ways to make some women who do not share that view to be pro-life as well.

"Young Catholics, among the conservatives and traditionalists, support the current direction of the Church, ---"They most certainly will be willing to obey, pray (so long as the Latinish is there) but will they step up to the plate and pay the way their ancestors did? Will they commit to the long haul once it goes against their icons and revered leaders such as Burke?Or will they do as so many of their generation have done and, if it doesn't provide them facebook, twitter and gaming instant gratification, will they move on to the next form of personal satisfaction."--- do we begin to try to recapture the high moral ground and see this fundamentalism and authoritarianism begin to erode."There is another option that so very many people have chosen: voluntary exile. There are many ways to have a "smaller, purer" church, and one way is to drive out all who are not part of the frozen chosen beholden to the current crop of ecclesiastical puppet-masters.

The rise of fundamentalism across all major religions today is also a factor that must be taken into account. I don't mean to diminish attention to the internal dynamics peculiar to Catholicism, but there is also a bigger picture which is framed by reactions to postmodernity, with authoritarian solutions on the one side and fragmented fluidity on the other. The "success" of the Catholic right in seizing leadership via the clerical structure is part of this bigger picture. The shift is emphatically not, as Kenneth J. Wolfe would have us believe, simply a matter of demographics as a new generation rises. That's a myth, and it has been disproven by studies of the age groups in question. Plenty of the young people whom he so confidently relies upon to set things right in the Church are not by any means flocking to Mass on Sunday and are, if anything, more variable in their moral standards.

Tom Blackburn @ 5:30:I think Jesus promised that the Spirit will be with us until the end of time. I don't remember seeing any guarantee that being with us guarantees any specific organizational form(s), particularly those that are so very far from what was envisioned by the initial group of Christian communities. The size and existence of the Roman Catholic Church is as much a result of the rise of Islam with corresponding decline or elimination of a wide variety of Christianities that existed at that time as it is of any special divine imprimatur. Read Philip Jenkins' "The Lost History of Christianity" for a dose of reality. To quote him (page 25): "The uprooting (of the Asian Churches between 1200 & 1500 by Islam) created the Christianity that we commonly think of today as the true historical norm, but which, in reality was the product of the elimination of alternative realities. Christianity did indeed become 'European', but about a millennium later than most people think."The current role and form of the papacy is as much a result of the loss of the Papal States as it is of any sign of God's favor.

@ Tom Blackburn: "What to do with the pope?"Not something that I think about a lot. Since the papacy now controls unbelievable amounts of money, I suspect that the papacy will be hanging around as long as the tourists keep flooding the Vatican, and until their fat investment portfolios run out of money in a century or two.If the People had the determinative voice in choosing which individuals to play out that role, I would have no objection. Really for all hierarchs, Catholics need to learn to develop a deep benign neglect for the papacy. The best that we could do is IGNORE the pope - like with any narcissist, either positive or negative attention will only encourage them. Face it, Catholic hierarchs are really a bunch of scared old men facing their own extinction who increasingly seem to be striking out in bitterness at women, gays, married folk and other vulnerable people. It seems they get up every morning trying to figure out who they can marginalize today.Not something I glory in, yet sadly if Catholics have learned anything from the last forty years of corruption and complicity in scandal it is that the Catholic hierarchy is both irrelevant and alienated from the everyday lives of Catholics.Isn't it about time that Catholics do the adult thing and let the hierarchs go? Catholics need to treat them like we would our cranky, batty uncles who prefer to troll around in the attic. BTW: Jesus had nothing to do with pope(s) - there are at least several centuries of separation between the origins of the papacy and Jesus. Jesus, and his prophet-cousin John, were more about establishing a new "Kingdom of Heaven on Earth" based mostly on Jewish messianic traditions. Paul followed by Peter were the ones who took off for Rome - Jesus' brother, James hung around Jerusalem until he was killed waiting for Jesus to return in glory. The life and culture of primitive Jewish Christians, called Ebionites, really took a turn for the worse when future Roman emperor Titus saked Jerusalem (70 C.E.), destroying Herod's Temple and carrying off menorahs as booty back to Rome. The papacy developed out of the experience of the Roman church surviving persecution and emerging from the catacombs with rituals and mythologies that honored the blood of the martyrs.

Jim J., you still have the "You are Peter" quote to deal with. Even in the early Church, that was a biggie. All the Gospels, but particularly Mark and John, prepare us for a pope who doesn't measure up to the Master. But the original disciples, who had been exposed directly to Jesus' teaching, don't seem to have tried to depose Peter. And papal history shows that Peter's successors were not all Charles Borromeo (and that C.B. never made pope). Jim McC, Jenkins is fascinating. I tried to indicate in my earlier response that the fact of the pope does not necessarily imply all the regal nonsense that is carried on in the contemporary church. If Antioch were still all it was originally cracked up to be, I am sure popes would disport themselves differently. But it isn't, which seems to be a case of, as someone mentioned earlier, God writing straight with crooked lines.On a wholly different analytical plane, there seems to be the makings of a half dozen new, improved churches in the comments above. If you were going to incorporate those thought into church reform you would need a central authority to synchronize the different parts. Even Vatican II had a pope. The alternative is to let everyone go his own way. But then you have Protestantism, and there is no need to reinvent it.

Mike Evans --Most of the young have left or are leaving to join the ranks of the unchurched, and they won't be back to this particular version of the Church. But I have seen the values they were brought up with persist in them and their children, and even into the grandchildren's generation. But much is lost, and I weep for their losses. I think that the worst of it for them is that they have only a very sketchy notion of God, and certainly they have no view of their own lives as being pointed toward Him. Many people here complain about the inadequacies of theology (including me), but a faith without even the rudiments of theology can be very, very thin and not too relevant, even when it's sincere. They don't see their lives as part of a whole historical narrative of great import with glorified Jesus at the end with His a peaceable kingdom for all of us who make it there. No doubt, this is one reason that suicide among them (even among 8 year olds!) is on the rise. But their basic values are generally very solid.Sorry to sound so thoroughly negative. I'm not completely pessimistic. Not all is lost. There is the Holy Spirit. And my impression of the Church in Asia is rather encouraging. The Australian Church, or some of its members, even bishops, have been showing some proper autonomy for some years now. About 5 years ago or so they talked back to Rome as a group! I forget the issue, but the point is they know their proper place. They have Mary McKillop and Bishop Robinson giving them excellent example. Plus their universities are turning out some fine philosophers who can get their thoughts churning, which is good for theology. We'll see. The West isn't the whole of the world.

What would the conversation be like if there were a Center-Center that nailed the many style similarities of the Center-Left and the Center-Right and called out the reciprocal contempt?

"As the Chaplain in an inpatient hospice facility where 45% of our admitted patients die, usually within 3-7 days, I find all these political metaphors irrelevant. While the hierarchy argues about the arrangement of deck chairs on their Titanic and who gets to sit in them, the Gospel is being preached in the health care institutions, jails and outreach centers in the cities and towns of our country. And I must tell you: at the point of sacramental need, no one has ever asked me about clerical celibacy, birth control or the intricacies of canon lawunless, of course, they have conflated God with the Roman Catholic Church and live in terror of both."Larry Hansen at 5:47 pm today.This is the real church.

What would the conversation be like if there were a Center-Center that nailed the many style similarities of the Center-Left and the Center-Right and called out the reciprocal contempt?

Like this funny emo philips routine - "The Heretic"

Thanks, John Page. One other item - can remember Crdl Bernardin's Common Ground Project and the events around it. My memory of an earthquake is when Bernardin's project was rudely squashed by O'Connor, Law, and company. that for me is when the hierarchy changed from center-left to right. You were closer to events and can probably shed light on this internal struggle?

Helen; Saying you find abortion to be abhorant but people have the right to choose to commit this abhorrent act makes no sense ethically;it is to legitimize both morally and legally what you profess to believe is morally illigitimate[abhorant.If you find it abhorrent-why? If it's because you believe that it is the taking of an innocent life and in some cases [later fetal developement as oppossed to early embyonic stage] the infliction of pain unto death of an innocent life and that is self evidently wrong-then how or why do you believe it is right or just to allow people to choose to commit such abhorant acts?Unfortunatly too many catholics are publically taking this stand which of course is a pro[legal] abortion stand followed by rhetoric [personally i find it abhorrent]intended to disavow your previous statement[that people have the right to commit the" abhorent "act of infliction suffering and death on innocernt humans in the womb]Come on!

I like the new mass translation, and I like how popes John Paul II and now Benedict, have so thoughtfully considered the Second Vatican Council, that they see Church history as a continuum and how they stress that Vatican II was not a rupture with the past.

rose-ellen: To say that people have a right to sin is not ethically incoherent. Simplistically put, that's what God did when he gave people free-will. Was God legitimizing sin by making it possible for us to commit it?