American Catholic No More
Yesterday, a federal court ruled the Diocese of Ft. Wayne-South Bend will have to pay $1,750,000 in civil damages to a Catholic school teacher, Emily Herx, who was dismissed for violating her employment contract by using In vitro fertilization to get pregnant. The Diocese will file an appeal within the next 28 days and, hopefully, the injustice will be reversed.
But reading the news report sent my thoughts to a scene from Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh.
Specifically, my thoughts turned to the episode when Charles Ryder describes his loss of faith in his military service in terms of a collapsed marriage:
“As I lay in that dark hour, I was aghast to realize that something within me, long sickening, had quietly died, and felt as a husband might feel, who, in the fourth year of his marriage, suddenly knew that he had no longer any desire, or tenderness, or esteem, for a once-beloved wife; no pleasure in her company, no wish to please, no curiosity about anything she might ever do or say or think; no hope of setting things right, no self-reproach for the disaster. I knew it all….”
Ryder’s marital disillusion serves as an apt illustration of the ever-fraying relationship between the Catholic Church in the United States and contemporary, secularized democracy. For over two centuries the Catholic Church has labored like an abused spouse to be accepted by American style democracy. It hasn’t been a sound marriage even it was episodically good. The Catholic Church has never been anything but tolerated only when it couldn’t be ignored.
Things have changed a great deal from the halcyon days, the 1930s-50s, of the Church’s institutional heft and cultural weight. The Church’s members have been in a state of confused division for decades, very often over fundamentals of the Faith, putting the Church in a position to be ignored.
Democracy too has changed, from what was once a largely recognizable representative system that kept everybody’s interests in play, to a massive regulatory state managed by coalitions of materialist interests, governed by a materialist and “emotivist” epistemology that specifically excludes the insights and wisdom of Catholicism from the public square.
With great irony, what could be called the “Church-Confused” slavered by democratic and secularized democracy took up anathemas and excommunications!
As the poet W.B. Yeats famously said in “The Second Coming,” “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold.” The evidence of his prophetic words continue to mount as seen in this severing of the relationship between Catholic Church and secularized democracy, e.g., the depredations of Obamacare, expanding contraceptive and abortifacient mandates in national health policy, the metastasizing gay marriage legal juggernaut, and, now, the court’s judgment against the Diocese of Ft. Wayne-South Bend.
Three things have become obvious. One is that things will not and cannot be as they were. Therefore, that aspect of their identity that American Catholics drew from America will compel a deep reexamination. In many instances, Catholic identity will require significant alteration if one is to stay authentically, evangelically Catholic.
Second, it should be apparent by now that the advocates of secularized democracy have as their goal the disenfranchisement and de-legitimation of the Catholic Church in the public square. They also expect to be granted avenues of influence into the Church’s internal affairs as the price for continuing to operate in a postmodern, secularized democracy.
Finally, all members of the Church, especially the leaders, have to wake up and recognize the full import of this new state of affairs. The Church is being subjected to divorce proceedings by secularized democracy. All affection has waned (if it was ever real in the first place!). The Church’s leadership must put aside the embarrassing charade of its importunate courtship. Secularized democracy does not delight in our company and has no interest in the heart of the matter.
As we confront the reality of a denuded public square, it’s essential the Church prepare for the continuing assault of a hostile secularity invading the private sphere. In preparing for that, we might just go from being the “Church-Confused” to the “Church-Militant” – eschewing the growling nonsense of those who presently operate under that banner.
Those who think of themselves as “American Catholic” will need to reconsider advertising the assimilation and become, simply, evangelical Catholics.
“Surely some revelation is at hand.”
W.B. Yeats, “The Second Coming.”