Right now the Catholic Church is holding an Synod on the Family. I’ve not followed the event, but some people are suspicious that the German Bishops are going to try and get some church teachings about divorce and remarriage changed, because apparently the Gospel is outdated or something. I don’t know if the story is true or not. (But I’m not surprised when a German has a bad idea. I’m more surprised when they get something right, which is why I found Ratzinger so interesting.)
What does seem to be true is that the Synod is struggling with how to reach out to people who are far from the church because of deep seated problems, like being divorced and remarried, or being gay and not willing to be chaste. All well and good, the church should try to evangelize such people and show them charity.
New York’s Archbishop, Timothy Cardinal Dolan, had this to say:
Can I suggest as well that there is now a new minority in the world and even in the Church? I am thinking of those who, relying on God’s grace and mercy, strive for virtue and fidelity: Couples who — given the fact that, at least in North America, only half of our people even enter the sacrament of matrimony– approach the Church for the sacrament; Couples who, inspired by the Church’s teaching that marriage is forever, have persevered through trials; couples who welcome God’s gifts of many babies; a young man and woman who have chosen not to live together until marriage; a gay man or woman who wants to be chaste; a couple who has decided that the wife would sacrifice a promising professional career to stay at home and raise their children — these wonderful people today often feel themselves a minority, certainly in culture, but even, at times in the Church! I believe there are many more of them than we think, but, given today’s pressure, they often feel excluded.
A Bishop finally says out loud what everyone knows: people who faithfully follow Church teaching are a distinct minority even in the Catholic Church. And that the Church doesn’t always encourage them while the culture at large is increasingly hostile towards them.
Dolan’s use of the term minority is interesting, since in today’s world a minority is something sacred and inviolable.
But to someone who is immersed in the contemporary world-view, these Catholics who take church teaching literally are not a minority and never will be. Yes, they may be few in number, yes they may be a neglected constituency, yes, they may even be distrusted by large numbers of people. But the fact is that if you disagree with the fuzzy-wuzzy statism of the political left, you are not a minority, you are not even quite human. Hence, a black republican is a “house nigger”, a conservative woman is a word I shall not repeat, a religious minority with traditional views on sex deserves public shaming for being homophobes. Numbers and real power have nothing to do with it.
I think Dolan is trying to get through to the clergy. For about a generation, from after the Council until the mid 1990s, a Catholic who took Church teaching seriously was mistrusted by his own clergy. A generation of priests and religious simply refused to teach the faith, or taught things that were contrary to it. If a Catholic was educated in Catholic doctrine, it was not learned at church, nor in Catholic school, but in the home. Many Catholics started homeschooling or started their own schools because they stopped trusting Catholic schools The clergy, to the degree they were even aware of it, resented the fact.
That split was not healthy for the Church. Many of those conservative Catholics developed a siege mentality, felt alienated by institutional church, and some even went off the rails into weird, semi-heretical little sects. The split has largely healed over the last twenty or so years, in part because the more liberal clergy left ministry and younger clergy are more conservative.
What the clergy needs to accept is that these core believers are the future of Catholicism in the West. By all means, we should be nice to people, Catholic or not, who refuse to live the gospel but they are not the future of the Church. We should minister to migrants, but ethnic Catholicism is a failed project. There is no reason the current wave of Hispanic immigrants will keep to the faith any more than their Irish, Polish, Italian or German predecessors did. We should tend to Catholic institutions: schools, Universities, hospitals, and charitable agencies, but with the knowledge that they all will one day be forced to chose between loyalty to the Church and state funding, and they will all- every single last one of them – chose the latter.
The only thing left will be core believers. They put up with the Catholic Church through wacky seventies and eighties, and stuck by through the sex abuse scandals. They are already used to living near the fringe of society and making do without formal institutions to support them. The clergy had better get used to them.