Monday, April 20, 2009

The Catholic Thing: "Church and Sect"

(Hat tip: American Papist)

Robert Royal writes at The Catholic Thing:
Here’s a quick question: Are you Catholic first and American second, or the reverse?

Yes, sometimes this might be a false choice, but just off the top of your head, which is it?

Just to speak for myself, I’m Catholic first and American second. I don’t understand how any believer of any faith could think differently. If you are lucky, you spend eighty or so years in America. Dead is a long time. An American passport or American attitudes may not be ideal for travel into the undiscovered country. Except for those simple souls who think that Americanism is Christianity, a reflective person knows there will be days – in certain periods a lot of them – when a real believer must take a different path than other Americans.

The Catholic Church occupies an odd position in the United States. We are a Church that has survived the rise and fall not only of nations, but of whole civilizations. Along the way, we developed a complex sense of the Church’s social responsibilities. Catholicism is compatible with American-style democracy – and with many other forms of government – yet does not concede that the public arena is properly understood as purely neutral or secularist.

God is Lord of all, including a pluralistic order like our own. The Catholic Church, as other churches once did, teaches that the basic elements of his rule, including universal moral principles, must be acknowledged, even if only indirectly, for any regime to be legitimate. And therein lies the heart of the problem of the Church in America today.

Catholics have in recent decades been considered doubly sectarian: just one more private religious association with the added complication of being tied to leaders who wear funny clothes and speak odd languages in a foreign country.

Lots of Catholics today have themselves internalized this attitude. I notice many of our co-religionists are quoted now as saying they don’t pay much attention to the pope or even our own bishops. For them, the Church is, at most, whatever they happen to like that’s going on in the local parish.

Most of the problems we have seen over Catholics criticizing their own Church for getting involved in politics reflect this thoroughly un-Catholic view that churches are really supposed to have no large public role, that they are all supposed to be just sects (unless we are talking about vague aspirations like avoiding conflict, helping the poor, and feeling good about ourselves).

It’s not only non-Catholics now, but Catholics themselves who run through a familiar litany. Opposed to abortion? Don’t have one. Regard homosexual relationships as not the equivalent of marriage? Hate is not a family value. Think experimenting on human embryos cheapens human life? Sorry, religious dogmas can’t stand in the way of science.

These are clever rhetorical ripostes, too clever – and too superficial. But they reflect the deeper disconnect of lots of our own people now. It’s not just the treason of the clerks in events like the recent embarrassments of Notre Dame and Georgetown. It’s a growing number of Catholics who do not realize that, in their sojourn in America, they have not moved into a larger world, as they think, but shifted allegiances from a universal church to a North American sect.

[Read the whole thing]
(emphasis added)

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