“St. Charles, Cardinal Archbishop of Milan, was one of the greatest and holiest prelates of the years when the great Council of Trent was being completed and its enactments put into execution. He reformed the clergy and renewed the spirit of the monasteries in his diocese. He died A.D. 1584.” (The Daily Missal and Liturgical Manual, Baronius Press, 2004)
The other day, while in discussion with a colleague, the subject of religion came up. He asked if I was Catholic.
“Why, yes,” I quipped. “Can’t you tell? All those children (we have five).”
“Oh,” he said, “but the American Church allows contraception.” It is worth noting here that my colleague is also Catholic, of the “cradle” variety.
“No,” said I, “that’s not correct. The Church does not allow contraception, and the ‘American Church’ would have no authority to do such a thing.”
“Well, I didn’t know that,” he replied. “But”, he observed, “everyone does it anyway.”
That, of course, is true. Contraception rates among Catholic women are actually slightly higher than among women at large, 70% among Catholic women according to a 1995 study, compared to 64% among women at large.[i] A pretty sad state of affairs, but similar trends are seen regarding divorce and remarriage (everyone knows that “annulment” is simply “the Catholic divorce”), abortion and, if the composition of our elected officials is any indication, willingness to continue with abortion as the law of the land. In short, Catholics look no different demographically than any other identifiable group in this land.
I write this the morning after the election. The reason, the pundits say, that the Republicans have lost it all is because they have not been true to their base, trying to curry favor with the opposition by disregarding traditional conservative principles. It is certainly possible that if the Republicans had remained true to themselves they would have lost the elections anyway – after all, the opposition has a well documented abhorrence of those principles, and they won a majority – but at least the Republicans could look at themselves in the mirror. Currently, they have the worst of both worlds: abandonment of their principles, and loss of the election. So be it.
There is a parallel with the Catholic Church. The Church has largely abandoned her principles, at least for purposes of public discourse, anyway, and tries to appease her opponents, who have no interest in being appeased. This represents a failure in leadership. Starting at the top, with the Pope, and proceeding down throughout the ecclesial chain of command (bishops are, after all, put in their positions by the Pope) the hierarchy has diluted Church teaching and in so doing she has lost her ability to speak definitively and clearly to the Catholic on matters of faith and morals, matters which in turn guide the Catholic in the choices of day to day life. None of this is to say that the current Pope, any of his predecessors, or any of the bishops are in any way illegitimate. They are not. They are duly and legally appointed, and regardless of whatever shortcomings they may have as men, we owe them all the respect due their offices. But the simple fact is the recent Popes have appointed to high authority men who are, more often than not, incompetent to do their duties, and the Church and the faithful have suffered for it.
However, the Church is not a political party or a secular government, superficial resemblances notwithstanding. The Church is instituted by God, and is protected by Him from destruction, despite the foibles of the weak and willful men entrusted with her care. No political party, and no nation, can make the same claim. That doesn’t mean God won’t allow the men of the Church to make some grievous mistakes before things are set right. After all, it was decades of bad judgment by Church leadership which led to the Protestant Revolt and, only after this pain was inflicted did the Church right herself with the Council of Trent. Which brings us to St. Charles Borromeo and the American Church. St. Charles was one of the many true leaders of that time, the time of the dissolution of Christendom, who stepped forward and helped right the Church with clear and uncompromising teaching on matters of faith and morals. The Church had nothing to lose, after all; the fracture had happened, and was (and remains) beyond the grasp of men to correct. But the Church could to her own self be true, and that she did. Today the Church lacks true leaders, men who can stand unflinchingly against the forces arrayed against her. At least, she doesn’t have very many. There are a few, to be sure, and they deserve our support. But for the most part we have got not leaders in the USCCB but administrators and politicians, men who are primarily concerned with preserving their personal offices. Most are incompetent. And now we in the United States are faced with an Administration and a Congress which plans to make a centerpiece of the devaluation of human life, the redefinition of a legal person from a human being to an entity defined by the State, and to force those who would oppose these things to legal sanctions under the Freedom of Choice Act. And, the Vice President-elect, and the Speaker of the House, major architects of the monstrosities which await us, are Catholic. They were voted in by American Catholics. The Speaker received the Blessed Sacrament at the Papal Mass in the United States this past summer, and bragged about it. One hopes, and wonders, and prays, that the US Council of Catholic Bishops will have the stones to directly and clearly confront these people in their iniquity.
[i] Data from the National Center for Health Statistics, published in Fehring, R. and Schlidt, A.M. "Trends in Contraceptive Use Among Catholics in the United States: 1988-1995" The Linacre Quarterly - Journal of the Catholic Medical Association Vol.68 No. 2, May 2001. Pp. 170-185.