Archbishop Chaput, no doubt, makes for an impressive figure. Like a few other bishops, he does a good bit of travelling, giving conferences at invitation, writing books, and putting himself, his name, and his ideas out there. It reminds me a little bit of the days in the last papacy when Cardinal Arinze was everywhere, it seemed. Running for pope? That would be my inner cynic channeling there.
As I read a summary of his remarks at a Detroit seminary, I feel for the guy. I really do. He’s tapped into the frustration of many pastors and lay ministers in parishes: how do you motivate a laity with issues other than your own passions? The world is heading into a depression and people are naturally concerned about issues in a selfish sort of way. Many of us are also concerned in a more selfless way for spouses and children who depend on us, not to mention people a lot more needy than us.
Many priests and colleagues question their own effectiveness at one time or another. I know I have done so. While I and others may occasionally grumble at apathy in the pews, the healthy among us don’t point the finger for long. Why not? There are a few reasons.
Foremost, I distrust the blame game. It’s a cheap way of unshouldering one’s own faults and failings. It’s exactly the way modern culture works. Archbishop Chaput is adopting one of the prime values he so eagerly (and rightly!) criticizes.
November showed us that 40 years of American Catholic complacency and poor formation are bearing exactly the fruit we should have expected. Or to put it more discreetly, the November elections confirmed a trend, rather than created a new moment, in American culture.
Complacency? I uncovered a stack of 1973 bulletins and worship aids from my new parish. From the very outset of Roe v Wade, Catholic parishioners, residents and students both, were aware and reaching out as a result of that SCOTUS decision.
I wouldn’t mind meeting Archbishop Chaput. He seems so sure he is on the right track. How does he know. How does he really know?
Looking back over the past decade or two, I see bishops bickering openly over differing approaches to the pro-life effort. The bickering wasn’t mutual; it was mostly one-sided, really. It would have been better for Cardinal Law and his cronies to just shut up and let the Common Ground initiative take its course. By not shushing, they reveal that their agenda isn’t necessarily an end to abortion, but to convince others and insist that the right way is their way.
Over and over again the more outspoken American bishops get press and appear to non-believers and many believers as petty egoists. They rescind invitations. They fire who they can. They suggest others lose livelihoods. They focus on what they’ve picked up from Republican politics: put the other person out of a job. The political pro-life movement has gone so far off the rails, it’s no wonder nobody on the Left takes it seriously. Instead of touting the genius of Catholic outreach, especially to women and infants in need, the public face of the Church is bishops stamping their feet, throwing a tantrum, and occasionally getting serious egg on their face by clergy mismanagement.
Some Catholics in both political parties are deeply troubled by these (life) issues. But too many Catholics just don’t really care. That’s the truth of it. If they cared, our political environment would be different. If 65 million Catholics really cared about their faith and cared about what it teaches, neither political party could ignore what we believe about justice for the poor, or the homeless, or immigrants, or the unborn child. If 65 million American Catholics really understood their faith, we wouldn’t need to waste each other’s time arguing about whether the legalized killing of an unborn child is somehow ‘balanced out’ or excused by three other good social policies.
Funny, but that’s what a lot of lay people say about the bishops. And there’s less than three-hundred of them. Is it easier to budge such a smaller number on the life issue of sex abuse and clergy management?
I disagree with Archbishop Chaput. 65 million Catholics don’t care about the same things many American bishops care about. Some of us care about frivolous things, like entertainment or sports or socializing with friends. Some of us care deeply about selfless issues that don’t touch on our own lives. Some of us are also passionately and deeply pro-life, but we differ with others in the movement. What do we get for that? Branding as heretics. Oh, and we lose our jobs if the detractors can get to us.
Some of those issues of life, management, leisure, and such are more important that others, but we all make choices. Personally, I think the two major political parties in America don’t really speak to the needs of the nation any longer and should be retired. But I know I can make more of a difference in liturgy and spiritual growth at a university parish than I would in politics. What logic escapes the archbishop’s keen mind is that real life average human beings don’t go on speaking tours and write books and get their names in the Catholic press. We make a difference where we can and where we are. We aren’t complacent because we’re not jostling with the Denver archbishop for speaking gigs.
Catholics in America, at least the many good Catholics who yearn to live their faith honestly and deeply, can easily feel tempted to hopelessness. It becomes very burdensome to watch so many persons who call themselves Catholic compromise their faith and submit their hearts and consciences to the Caesars of our day.
More blame. Catholics in America don’t need to align to any one bishop’s notion of what’s important. The hopelessness I would be far more concerned about is coming from the conservative pro-lifers. After getting politically crushed in the last election cycle, they adopt a criticism-at-all-costs approach. The leadership lies to maximize the money-gathering effort: we’ve already seen pro-life champion Sam Brownback used by a Republican club to generate cash flow. Two months and we’ve yet to see the new president deliver on what the political pro-lifers were telling us was priority number one.
Personally, I’d like to see and hear from other bishops. I’m getting tired of the Chaput, Rigali, Burke club. They lack political and public relations savvy. They insist theirs is the only way, the only hope. They are blind to their own faults and are all too willing to pin the blame on the poor, dumb, apathetic Catholic laity. They were convinced it was a good move to hitch their wagon to the Republican party. Thanks to incompetence, they circled the drain last November. But clearly, the speaking circuit is not lacking for giving out little jobs.
The hubris makes it impossible for these guys to receive new and potentially more effective ideas. The same True Believers offer the same plane tickets, honoraria, and book sales. It looks like the past few decades to me–and they haven’t been very effective, have they?