Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Saturday, June 26, 2021

Divisive Visions of Unity in the Catholic Church

 While there's another big data-driven set project that I'm working on for The Pillar, I got a chance this week to do some straight forward news analysis for them on the debate at the recent USCCB meeting over writing a document on the Eucharist.  

As many as a quarter of U.S. bishops, including several cardinals who have positioned themselves as interpreters of Pope Francis, voted against the document, possibly agreeing with Gregory’s assertion that the document will cause division. 


Clear to most observers is politics. Even as institutional religion wanes, Americans with increasing frequency treat politics with the zeal previously reserved for faith. Any appearance that the bishops’ conference could be taking sides against the Democrats just feeds passions already burning hot.

But the bishops seem split over what Christian unity really is, and divided by conflicting visions of how to evangelize an increasingly post-Christian culture.

Among the bishops speaking last week against drafting a document, there was often a suggested - and sometimes made explicit - vision of maintaining ecclesial unity by remaining aloof about the aspects of the Church’s sexual and medical morality which are most often expected to present stumbling blocks to non-practicing Catholics.


The approach has been a successful means of maintaining visible communion with Catholics who remain attached to some aspects of Catholic devotional and social practice — Grandma’s rosary or her statue of Our Lady, the annual parish golf fundraiser, going to church as a family on Christmas — but who get angry when the Church speaks about contraception or says that Junior’s second marriage isn’t valid.

Indeed, the unity-through-silence tactic appeared to serve bishops well in the waning days of America’s cultural Catholicism. Many Catholics of Joe Biden’s generation wanted to consider themselves members in good standing of the Church well after they had distanced themselves from its doctrine — especially after the 1968 promulgation of Humanae Vitae. They easily found clerics, and even bishops, willing to soft-pedal controversial issues as a kind of compromise with a changing social ethos. 


But the compromise has become less viable with the passing decades. Catholic moral doctrine will not reverse itself in order to keep up with the times. And secular morality has come to demand not just silence but ever-more active ally-ship on what it considers matters of justice: easy access to contraception and abortion, recognition and celebration of same-sex marriage and of sexual diversity, etc. The number and breadth of such demands is likely to increase.

During the pontificate of Pope Francis, the advocates of this approach to unity have enthusiastically adopted the terminology of “accompaniment.” But if their approach lacks the missionary element of Pope Francis’ agenda, it might better be described as “accommodation.” 

Accompaniment lacking a missionary orientation toward conversion can devolve easily into what papal nuncio Archbishop Christophe Pierre warned the USCCB against in his introductory remarks last week: “religion a la carte”. 

Quoting Pope Francis, Pierre said, “This is what I believe creates in the end the ‘religion a la carte.’ I believe that one has to recover the religious act as a movement towards an encounter with Jesus Christ.”

Read the rest...

It's been interesting after all these years of blogging to shift over to writing for an actual news outlet.  On the data-driven pieces, I have the clear advantage of having working-world experience with building and analyzing data sets in order to draw conclusions about what's going on.  In a news analysis piece like this, there are a lot of superficial similarities to the blogging that I've done for 15+  years.  However, there's for a style guide to writing for a news site, and also more of an expectation that pieces not only contain an interesting idea but also that they follow certain basic structures: hook out front, clear explanation of thesis with supporting examples, conclusion which sums up.  

Although all writing is good experience, I've been realizing that my habits can be a bit stream of consciousness when it comes to the sort of writing that I would otherwise do in a blog post.  (When it comes to fiction, MrsD and I have long gone over to a highly structure-based approach.)  It's been a good experience and I've very much enjoyed working with the editors (and their tolerance of my learning curve.)


Michael C said...

I loved how you wrote: "...and begun instead to take in the preaching and community on offer from the (at times dubious) online Catholic authorities of Twitter and YouTube." And then worked the word "vortex" into the next sentence. Definitely "at times" dubious.

Darwin said...

I'm so glad you noticed and liked that. I'll admit I was rather proud of having finally come up with that turn of phrase during the course of revisions.