In baseball, some batters are known as “clutch hitters.” In ordinary situations, they may be no better than .275 hitters. Not bad, but nothing special. But in extraordinary situations, situations in which the game is on the line, they often rise to the occasion and temporarily become the equivalent of .350 or .375 or even .400 hitters.
Our Catholic bishops met in Baltimore the week before Thanksgiving. They met in an extraordinary situation, a situation in which the most conspicuous of all American Catholics, President Joe Biden, had for many months been making it quite clear that he intended to use his high office to promote something that the Catholic religion regards as unwarranted homicide, namely abortion.
It was the bottom of the ninth inning. Two outs. Bases loaded. Home team down by two or three runs. Bishops at the plate. It was a golden opportunity for the bishops to prove that they are clutch hitters. Perhaps they would be inspired by the memory of the greatest of all Catholic hitters to come from Baltimore, Babe Ruth. Or perhaps they would be negatively inspired by the pro-abortion athleticism of another Baltimore native, Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
And what did the bishops do? Did they hit a home run? Or a triple? Or a double? Or a single? No, none of these. Instead, they struck out. And they didn’t even strike out swinging. Just looking. Worse still, instead of trying to drive in a run or two, they stood at home plate and, using a bullhorn, gave what they took to be an edifying discourse on the nature of baseball and its rules, with particular attention paid to the dimensions of the strike zone.
They did this with the apparent intention that Mr. Biden, star pitcher for the opposite team, would henceforth abstain from throwing strikes. And they also hoped that Ms. Pelosi and all other Catholic pro-abortion pitchers would likewise abstain from throwing strikes.
After I write a column for The Catholic Thing, I sometimes hear from people who are dissatisfied with American Catholicism. Some of these unhappy people come from the religious left – people who are displeased with Catholicism’s “obsession” with abortion and homosexuality. “Let’s focus on things that really matter,” they tell me. “Not things pertaining to sex, but things pertaining to racial justice and global warming and world peace.”
They tell me that their adult children have left the Church because of its excessive “conservatism.” These adult children have joined an Episcopal church or have dropped all ecclesiastical affiliation whatsoever – even though they still feel an attachment to Jesus.
And some other unhappy people come from the religious right. They feel that there is too little Catholicism left in the American Catholic Church. They fear that Catholicism is turning into Nice-ism, that is, a watery religion whose message may be summed up in the great modern commandment: Be nice.
The adult children of these people don’t become Episcopalians. No, they become conservative Baptists. They attend a conservative Baptist church in which people, led by an ardent pastor, believe in the infallibility of the Bible, in the Divinity of Christ, in Heaven and Hell, in the grave wickedness of abortion – and in the necessity of voting for Donald Trump, who, though in their eyes a deplorable man in many ways, seems to be the only way at present of saving America from the onslaught of anti-Christianity.
The other day I heard from one of these people who feels that there is too little Catholicism left in America’s Catholic Church. But this man isn’t on the verge of becoming a Baptist. Instead he’s coming closer and closer to Eastern Orthodoxy. He now attends both a Catholic Mass and an Orthodox Divine Liturgy. If it were not that his wife is still Catholic, he’d immediately switch to Orthodoxy. If his wife were willing to switch, he’d be gone tomorrow.
The inaction of the bishops at Baltimore, their unwillingness to get “tough” with Biden and Pelosi, will meet with the approval of Catholic liberals who don’t (as they put it) wish to “weaponize the Eucharist” – an expression which, translated into English, means that they don’t want the bishops to cause any political damage to the Democratic Party, regardless of how anti-Christianity or God-less that party may become.
But the episcopal inaction at Baltimore will dishearten – once again dishearten – America’s most devoted Catholics. They have been gravely disheartened a number of times during the past twenty or thirty years. They were tremendously disheartened by the sex-abuse scandal, and not just by the priests who engaged in this abuse but also, and perhaps even more so, by the bishops who tolerated and covered up the abuse. They were disheartened when Pope Francis, not long after entering office, chided them for “obsessing” over abortion. They were disheartened again recently when Pope Francis needlessly struck a blow against the old Latin Mass.
Often the attitude of the official Church toward these people, these deeply devoted Catholics, seems to be something like this: “Don’t worry about disappointing these people. They are so thoroughly Catholic that they will never leave, no matter what we say or do. After all, where will they go?” But the question shouldn’t be, “Where will they go?” It should be, “Where will their children and grandchildren go?”
If a religion is to survive and flourish, it has to be passed on from generation to generation. If you dishearten America’s most deeply-dyed Catholics, you may not drive them away from the faith, but you may well inhibit their will and their ability to pass the faith on to subsequent generations.
When, half a century from now, the story is told of the continuing decline of Catholicism in the United States of America, I suspect that failure of the bishops to get a clutch hit at Baltimore will be an important chapter in that sad story.
*Image: St Bonaventure Roman Catholic Church, Philadelphia, 2014 by Matthew Christopher [from Mr. Christopher’s Abandoned America: The Age of Consequences]
You may also enjoy:
Eduardo J. Echeverria’s Christ, the Church, and Cardinal Cupich
Brad Miner’s Quo Vadis