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The Tea Party Church

National Catholic Reporter correspondent John L. Allen Jr. recently made the following observation which, given his closeness to the hierarchs in power, is no doubt accurate.

Policy-makers in the church, particularly in the Vatican, will be ever more committed to what social theorists call “identity politics,” a traditional defense mechanism relied upon by minorities when facing what they perceive as a hostile cultural majority.

While there are an almost infinite number of ways of defining a “minority,” one widely invoked model says it has four characteristics:

Suffering discrimination and subordination

Physical and/or cultural traits that set them apart, and which are disapproved by the dominant group

A shared sense of collective identity and common burdens

Socially shared rules about who belongs and who does not

A growing swath of Catholics in the West, particularly in the church’s leadership class, believes that all these markers now apply to the Catholic church, and the events of the past week will strongly reinforce those impressions.

The necessity of a “defense mechanism” connotes that Catholics are under attack.  The politics of fear to sway the populace was perfected in the early twentieth century and has successfully been used by US neoconservatives to gain power and by the reactionary elements in the church who now control the institution.

For instance, in referring to support by the Catholic Health Association for health-care reform legislation in opposition to the USCCB, Archbishop Thomas Wenski skillfully stated, “[U]nfortunately I think the CHA probably had more to fear from the government than they had to fear from the bishops, so it was not an encouraged moment for them.” Not only do his supporters understand fear, but he lied about both the CHA’s motivation and a “threat” by the Obama administration at the same time. [1]

While I would disagree that Allen’s characteristics define all minorities, what it does closely describe is the Tea Party, i. e.  a group of people always angry about their inability to impose their ideology on others through democratic means and honest discourse, who interpret disagreement as vicious attacks on their fallacious certainties, and who see themselves as victims while unable to cite any specific and truthful example of how their rights have been denied or abridged.

Allen often opines that the church thinks in “centuries.”  But the 180 degree turn from the Second Vatican Council worldview has taken only decades. Vatican II interpreted both the Genesis story of creation and the Incarnation to pronounce the world as good. The church should embrace and learn from the rest of humanity and had nothing to fear in opening itself to mankind’s common wisdom. Bringing Christ to the nations should begin with acknowledging the primacy of Gospel values.

Now Catholic leaders are paranoid bigots intent on creating an institution comfortable only for themselves and those willing to obey them. In doing so, they renounce what is moral, ethical and holy in making self-preservation job one.

I regret this analogy hadn’t occurred to me sooner since prelates have been using Tea Party rhetoric for some time. In references to Barack Obama, Cardinal Stafford used the word “apocalyptic,” Archbishop Chaput “messiah,” and Cardinal George “despotic.” George also called some minor vandalism in the battle over Proposition 8 “quasi-fascist tactics” in “the tradition of the Soviet Union.” Bishop Doran said Notre Dame’s invitation to Obama was “truly obscene” and Bishop Finn declared “We are at war” against those who sided with Fr. Jenkins. Cardinal Sodano called accurate news reports of the sex abuse scandal “gossip,” Fr. Cantalamessa compared them to “anti-semitism,” and Bishop Bambini said they were a “zionist attack.” Even in the year 2010, Cardinal Bertone – the man closest to the pope – was still blaming pedophilia on homosexuality and comparing the Belgian police to a “communist regime.”

How sad.

1″CHA probably feared government more than bishops, says Miami archbishop” CNA/EWTN News July 2, 2010 http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/cha-probably-feared-government-more-than-bishops-says-miami-archbishop/


3 Responses

  1. Betty, thank you–powerful analysis. Without our planning it, your piece and mine seem almost to be companion pieces.

    Until the church stops dishonest and defensive posturing about being under attack, we can’t make much headway in addressing the very serious problems now impeding its mission at this point in history.

    A powerful set of sentences: “Allen often opines that the church thinks in ‘centuries.’ But the 180 degree turn from the Second Vatican Council worldview has taken only decades.”

    Yes. Wonderfully stated.

  2. Betty,
    You put your finger on it with those four characteristics. I have witnessed them both personally and from afar.
    Suffering discrimination: Archbishop Dolan of NY talking matter-of-factly about anti-Catholicism in the NY Times and the US at large. Wait a minute! Isn’t this the diocese with the gigantic cathedral on Madison Ave in Midtown?

    Shared traits that set them apart from the dominant group:
    I’ve heard some pretty bad homilies about how “we do this-or-that because we’re Catholic, not Protestants.” Zero reflection on the Gospel, just a short lecture on why we’re different from them. sigh.

    Rules about who belongs and who does not:
    Well, this one’s easy, unfortunately. It has become so insane that some contend that whom you vote for is among one of these rules.

    With all that in mind, I ask whether or not today’s Catholic Church is an expression of Christian faith or a group defense mechanism. There may yet be hope for the former.

  3. […] is therefore no surprise that the Tea Party movement offers a potentially energetic […]

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