An Overview of American Catholicism (That Quakers should take note of)

I admire the dogged liberal Catholics at the National Catholic Reporter. (NCR)

NCR occupies an outpost besieged on practically all sides by the forces of Catholic clerico-fascism, which are older than Trump but have eagerly leaped into bed with his movement. Their outlook predates Trump, though, and will likely survive him.

NCR’s main inside ally is Pope Francis; which from an external perspective, ought to be enough. I mean, this is Catholicism, and he’s the pope That makes him the boss, right?

One of my souvenir selfies from the early days of Francismania.

But close up, the reality is more complex and discouraging: the Catholic hierarchy is vast & complicated, and political scheming & internal conflict, including violence within its upper levels is as old as— well, Judas.

Given that the incoming U.S. President is is not only a lifelong Catholic but an honest-to-God practicing one, simpleton outsiders like me might imagine that politically-minded Catholics & their bishops might be thrilled.

And to be sure, some are.

But not all that many. The American hierarchy is overall a branch of the swamp, and hatred of Francis, along with obsessions about abortion, homophobia and the gospels of PPP (pedophile priest protection) & PPR (Perpetual Protection of the Rich), not to mention hanging on to church money, appear to be their abiding priorities.

Here are excerpts from the wrapup of 2020 in American Catholicism, by Michael Sean Winters, NCR’s church columnist. Given the institutional weight and influence of Catholicism (e.g., 21 U. S. Senators — Baptists only have 11 — six of nine Supreme Court justices, etc.), and still the largest denomination in the country, etc., this is a review worth the attention of even small sects like my own Quakers. My comments are in red.


Michael Sean Winters: The dominant fact of ecclesial life in the United States the past several years has been the resistance to Pope Francis among large sections of the faithful and even the bishops. The pandemic briefly brought Catholic leaders together, but by year’s end, the opposition to Francis was as strong as ever.

Yet 2020 began with that great act designed to deepen communion with the Holy Father, the ad limina visits in which all the bishops go to Rome for meetings with the pope and with the different dicasteries that help the pope exercise his ministry. Various bishops said they enjoyed the frank conversations with the pope, with whom they met in small groups for a couple of hours, rather than the 10-minute, one-on-one sessions at which not much was accomplished during previous ad limina visits.

It didn’t take. Some bishops used the visits to put words in the pope’s mouth, saying he agreed with their decision to name abortion “our preeminent priority” in the election, even though the key distinction was whether or not the issue is “a” priority (with which we can all agree) or “the” priority, which is more problematic. . . .

Comment: Even for clerico-fascists, abortion is, while first-among-equals on their list of evils, more complex than it appears. Part of the background is that their outlook is still rooted in a conviction  that our culture will only be “saved” by a huge outburst of fertility, to fend off  “The Great Replacement,” by non-Christian — especially non-Catholic & non-white — foreigners), so besides outlawing the practice, they want women back home, gestating. Such a shift would involve a lot more than simply outlawing abortion, locking up (or hanging) the clinic doctors & nurses.

Michael Sean Winters: By the time the visits were concluded in February, the coronavirus had begun to change the way the entire country went about its business and by March, the entire country went into a shutdown. I was pleasantly surprised that the bishops did not rush to the offices of the Becket Fund to complain that the government had ordered public Mass services suspended and prepare for another religious liberty battle.

By May, however, the common good took its first assault when the Minnesota bishops announced they would defy their governor’s restrictions on worship. I will grant that not every governor or mayor implemented sensible regulations: Attendance caps that treated large churches the same as tiny ones made no sense. Still, comparing church worship to shopping made less sense and appealing to religious liberty misrepresented church teaching entirely.

Sadly, the religious liberty caucus at the bishops’ conference is merely an arm of the culture warriors at the Knights of Columbus and the Federalist Society. As I have noted before — and it held true this year — they do not preach Christ and him crucified (cf. 1 Corinthians 2:2) but James Madison and him justified.

Washington Cardinal Wilton Gregory (above) expresses thanks after employees at the Archdiocesan Pastoral Center in Hyattsville, Maryland, surprised him Dec. 3, 2020, with a banner and red balloons to welcome him home from the Nov. 28 consistory at the Vatican during which Pope Francis created him as one of 13 new cardinals. (CNS/Catholic Standard/Andrew Biraj)

One bright spot this year came at the Knights of Columbus’ expense when Washington Archbishop Wilton Gregory criticized them in no uncertain terms for hosting President Donald Trump for a photo-op. The event was held at the Knights’ St. John Paul II National Shrine in Washington the day after the president’s henchmen had cleared peaceful protesters away from St. John’s Church on Lafayette Square so that the president could pose for the cameras holding a Bible.

“I find it baffling and reprehensible that any Catholic facility would allow itself to be so egregiously misused and manipulated in a fashion that violates our religious principles, which call us to defend the rights of all people even those with whom we might disagree,” Gregory said of the Knights’ hosting the president. “Saint Pope John Paul II was an ardent defender of the rights and dignity of human beings. His legacy bears vivid witness to that truth. He certainly would not condone the use of tear gas and other deterrents to silence, scatter or intimidate them for a photo opportunity in front of a place of worship and peace.”

Francis evidently approved of Gregory’s stance, awarding him a red hat five months later.

I feared that some bishops would be even more aggressive and obnoxious during the election cycle than they were. Detroit Archbishop Allen Vigneron foolishly gave an opening prayer at an event for an anti-abortion group at which the group announced an endorsement of Trump. There were some regrettable tweets and unfortunate pastoral letters from other bishops. EWTN’s Michael Warsaw covered himself in disgrace shilling for Trump’s reelection but that was to be expected.

Comment: EWTN stands for Eternal Word Television Network, based in Birmingham, Alabama, is a very right-wing Catholic broadcaster. Michael Warsaw is its Chairman and CEO.

Michael Sean Winters: Bishop Joseph Strickland of Tyler, Texas, always manages to put the “lie” in “outlier,” endorsing a video made by a ranting Wisconsin priest who claimed no Catholic could vote for Joe Biden. Still, it could have been worse, much worse.

At the U.S. bishops’ conference meeting after the election, it did become worse. The leadership of the bishops’ conference overlooked its own bylaws to establish a task force on how to deal with the incoming Biden administration; Francis called to congratulate President-elect Biden.

It is clear that on most issues, Biden will be much closer to the mind of the church than was his predecessor. Yet, former Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput became the public face of a campaign to deny Communion to the president-elect with a poorly reasoned essay at First Things. If you want to sum up the sad state of the U.S. hierarchy today consider this fact: Our president-elect, whom many bishops think is not a “real Catholic” and who should be denied communion, is more likely to favorably quote Francis than many bishops.

The U.S. bishops’ conference meeting also featured elections for committee chairs, and the results confirmed the degree to which the conference will remain a Francis-free zone. The most illustrative contest pitted conservative darling Bishop Thomas Daly of Spokane, Washington, against Archbishop Gregory Hartmayer of Atlanta for the chairmanship of the Committee on Education. As one bishop told me before the vote, “That contest will show if there is room for a moderate in the conference.” There isn’t. Daly won 139 votes to 103.

It has become clear that conservatives organize and campaign for these committee chair elections and liberals note that there is not supposed to be any campaigning. Guess who will keep winning?

One thought on “An Overview of American Catholicism (That Quakers should take note of)”

  1. I left the Church in spirit before confirmation, in body the day I vacated my parental home. I’ve since worked with many progressive Catholics, but never regretted my decision.

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