December 06, 2002

The Big Question
CNN's Evans and Novak used to preface the last question for their guest with: "Next, we will ask the Big Question", said with proper ominousness. Amy asked that today:

Columnist David Carlin has a good column concerning Nancy Pelosi, a piece that also gathers in former Judiciary Committee chair Patrick Leahy, and could have, but didn't throw in Tom Daschle as well, all Catholics of A Certain Age, given their Catholic educations in the supposedly Golden Age of the 1950's, when all was well, and solid and everyone knew what Catholic meant - and it certainly didn't mean supporting abortion. Carlin quite reasonably asks - was this Golden Age really so Golden, if it could produce a generation thick with Catholic pro-abortion politicos? He writes:

"It certainly looked healthy on the outside, but inside a cancer was eating away. What was this cancer? If we could identify it, we would go a long way toward understanding how to restore American Catholicism to real health."

I'd be interested to hear your thoughts on this, because it really is an intriguing question.


I know when and why my mother left the Church...Whether she is representative, I don't know. And I'm also unsure of the extent of her knowledge of theology & the catechism. I suspect weak. As one Prot put it, "you Catholics have 20 minute answers for every question". That is both our blessing and curse. It's a blessing given that there is an ocean to play in, for those who have the intellectual stamina to play in it. It's a curse to those who, like my mother, want soundbyte answers to our knotty issues - the sexual issues. Should it be surprise that the Church's difficulty in coming up with convincing answers in the sexual arena, combined with a sexual revolution of the '60s would damage the Church? Look at Nancy Nall - isn't most of her anger directed at Church policy on gays, birth control, -i.e. sex? The pope understands this and in Love and Responsibility tries to take a more "personalist" approach rather than just relying on natural law arguments.

Perhaps the weakness is that American Catholics find an undemocratic Church a scandal in of and itself. Democracy is in our blood; dissent as natural as breathing. Tocqueville wrote about us in 'Democracy in America': "Two things must here be accurately distinguished: equality makes men want to form their own opinions; but, on the other hand, it imbues them with the taste and the idea of unity, simplicity, and impartiality in the power that governs society. Men living in democratic times are therefore very prone to shake off all religious authority; but if they consent to subject themselves to any authority of this kind, they choose at least that it should be single and uniform."

My mother dates her break with the Church to 1968, and the confusion born mostly because authority became fractured and no longer uniform. She went to a priest after Humane Vitae about the use of birth control and the priest told her, "it's okay, that's not really a sin". Tocqueville continues, "Religious powers not radiating from a common center are naturally repugnant to their minds."

The tendency in a democracy is to hold one's opinion as gospel, unless there is a single, uniform authority. Once the strong unity of doctrine of belief and dogma broke in the mid '60s, the centre could not hold. Once that authority was fractured in '68, by dissenting priests and even bishops, we began down a path Alexis de Tocqueville presciently predicted.

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