Thursday, May 7, 2009

A House Divided

After having read Doug Kmiec's book the third of fourth time, you know after having gone over the horrifically bad argumentation, the tricks of debate that include straw men the size of William Shatner's ego (I just had to with the new movie coming out, sorry), the basic errors in doctrinal understanding that he passes off as Gospel truth, and the out-and-out deception, after all of that there were a number of things that I came away with. One of them is that Professor Kmiec shouldn't have had communion denied him. It was against Canon Law, and anyway, he mentions it every time he speaks in public as something to hide behind instead of having to answer tough questions. But another thing I got from the book was just how close we are in this country to seeing a real break in the Church.

Now, I am not talking about the American Catholic Church, or the Catholic Church of America that threatened to emerge while I was growing up in the 70's and 80's. I don't mean any real schism by women in roman collars and men in leotards who want their own cosmic liturgies. That's not what I mean, and I want to make it clear that I don't think this is what Kmiec was striving for in his book.

What he accomplishes, however, and as Martin Sheen intimates in his little blurb on the back cover, is that this is the first great mainstream attempt by a well known and respected pro-life believer to justify a theology, a reasoning, a model of Church which is simply not supportable by the Magisterium, or to quote Sheen directly, this book "may very well become the most important comprehensive document written to date on American Catholics, abortion, and candidates for public office." Kmiec's book, even if unintentionally, is the manifesto for a progressivist, American Catholicism that sees virtue, actual virtue in the conversation between good and evil instead of in the effort by good to stand up to evil with force.

Now, while everyone and their brother has blogged on the issue of Obama's trip to Notre Dame, I would only want to add my two cents by positing that there will be a real and true exposition of the break that already exists within Catholicism. In one single event, in the kind of event that history professors require their students to remember for exams, American Catholicism will be on the national stage as a broken body that will force the country's Catholics and non-Catholics to actually ask the question: "What does it mean to be a Catholic?"

When the Pew Research Center, which has recently given us so many statistical insights into our religious experience here in the United States, tells us that self-identified Catholics are split down the middle on whether Obama should be honored by Notre Dame while it simultaneously tells us that the position on Obama's visit is directly proportional to weekly attendance at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, when the Pew survey tells us this, then we don't have to guess anymore at a break. It already exists. Will Catholics follow Kmiec's terrible reasoning? Or will they stay true to the opposition to abortion? Will they heed what John Paul II says in Christifidelis laici that all the other justice issues (health care, just wage, religious freedom) are "false and illusory" if the right to life is not defended with "maximum determination"?

The real question, though, the question the answer to which provides the answer to where Catholics will go, is what are the bishops going to do about it. At last count (the last figure I saw was from May 3rd) the number of U.S. Bishops who have spoken out against Notre Dame's decision is up to 68. That amounts to about 35% of the U.S. Bishops. Never in my adult life as a Catholic have I ever seen the Bishops of the U.S. so unified around a single issue like this where it was not in their monetary interest be so. And of course this is just the number of Bishops who have spoken out about it. How many agree with their brother bishops but simply can't speak out about it for fear of pissing off the presbyterate or the donors that help keep their schools open.

What is clear to me is that Kmiec's book exemplifies the good and bad of the liberal Catholic position. There is heart in it. There is a lived reality which is informing their theology, and however poor that theology is, charity demands we take account of that lived reality. But there is also deception, mostly self-deception, and there is obfuscation, and there is relativization. These things ought to be address honestly and forthrightly.

Perhaps we can do so here on this blog.

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