From "The Best and Worst of Times," by Bishop Thomas J. Curry, an auxiliary of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, in the November 20 issue of America:
Inparish life, I find little evidence of the supposedly polarized church.The pastoral conflicts that occupy me center on personnel, personalityconflicts and differences about programs, but not on ideologicalissues. My experience of polarization arises from the disparity betweenpastoral life and most of the Catholic commentary I read, which isfilled with a sense of failure, negativity and pessimism. Typically,this views the time since the Second Vatican Council as one of missedchances and restlessness in a dysfunctional church. Pastoral ministryover the past four years has brought me an awareness of the unfoldingof the mystery of the people of God being guided in the most difficultcircumstances. By contrast, the dominant images from Catholiccommentary of the same period that have impressed themselves on my mindare those of an infantilized people (The Liberation of the Laity, by Paul Lakeland), at sea (A People Adrift,by Peter Steinfels), on a burning platform (a panelist at a LeadershipRoundtable on Church Management conference appropriated the metaphorfrom Jack Welch of General Electric and applied it to the church).
Philip Jenkins, in The New Anti-Catholicism,has pointed out that some Catholic commentators (specifically MaureenDowd, James Carroll, Eugene Kennedy, Anna Quindlen, Garry Wills andRichard Sipe) write with the ferocity of the most ardentanti-Catholics. Other Catholic writers, however, while they avoid suchinvective, have actually subscribed to the anti-Catholic paradigm. Thisheld that Catholics could not be true Americans and that they had beenreduced by the bishops to ciphers incapable of independent thought. Thedominant academic interpretation of American Catholic history, one thatportrays the role for Catholic laity as limited to pray, pay andobey, is itself a recycling of the anti-Catholic interpretation ofCatholicism that prevailed in the 19th and 20th centuries.
Theinsularity of Catholic commentators renders them largely incapable oflocating Catholicism, past or present, within the larger Americancontext. Samuel P. Huntington in Who Are We? (2004), dealingwith national identity (in its review The New Yorker referred to it asthe new nativism), was certainly not writing from a Catholicperspective. Yet he knew so little of Catholicism that he recommendedHispanic immigrants become evangelical Protestants to assimilate intoAmerica! Even had he been interested, he would have been hardpressed tofind a guide to the role that Catholicismthe largest single religiousgroup in the United States since 1850has played in the development ofAmerican culture or society.
Philip Hamburgers Separation of Church and State(2002), the most significant statement on American church-staterelations since the writings of John Courtney Murray, S.J., wasreviewed sparingly and received little notice in Catholic academia.Although his enormously well-researched book argued exhaustively thatthe phrase separation of church and state owed its prominenceprimarily to anti-Catholic sentiment, Hamburger did not even make itinto the index of the two-volume report of the extensive three-yearproject American Catholics in the Public Square (2004).
It's a wide-ranging, unwieldy piece, of which much can be said, but I'd like to get people reading it first. Click here to view the whole thing.