During the presidential campaign of 2016, TV news coverage showed Hillary Clinton speaking at a number of black Protestant churches – and speaking not in the more or less secular church basement, but in the sanctuary itself, apparently during Sunday services. This reminded me that we would never find anything like this in a Catholic church.
This Catholic unwillingness to welcome political speeches in the sanctuary can be explained by at least three main factors:
First, the dignity of the Mass itself. We feel that it would be, quite literally, a profanation if so secular a thing as partisan politics were allowed to intrude upon the most sacred of our sacred rites.
Second, we fear that our churches would lose their tax-exempt status if they allowed themselves to become theaters for partisan campaigning. (Why black Protestant churches don’t fear this is a puzzle.)
Third, the Catholic Church, during the last couple of centuries, has paid a heavy price for too close an alliance between itself and some class-based political parties in countries like France, Spain, and Mexico. This painful experience has taught us a lesson.
But how far can the leadership of the Church go in abstaining from partisan politics? Suppose that a hypothetical anti-Catholic political party announced that it would make it an offense, a civil offense and perhaps a criminal offense, for a bishop to refuse to ordain to the priesthood women or homosexuals, trans men or trans women, or married men.
Or suppose this hypothetical party announced that it would make it a “hate crime” for priests to speak of homosexual conduct as a sin; or that it would make it a crime for a religious organization to discriminate against transgenders or proud and practicing homosexuals in hiring or promotion.
Or suppose the party made it clear that it would fire Catholic public-school teachers who expressed, even outside of school (e.g., on Facebook), their opinion that acts of homosexuality are sinful and unnatural; or that transgenderism is an absurdity.
I could multiply imaginary situations, but I think you get the idea. Will our clerical leaders remain a-political until the hypothetical party begins shooting priests and nuns?
You will tell me, I suppose, that the “free exercise” clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution won’t permit any of the above, for all the above are egregious violations of the religious freedom guaranteed by the First Amendment. Yes, according to your interpretation of the First Amendment, and according to my interpretation too. But neither you nor I sit on the U.S. Supreme Court.
Of course, the current Supreme Court, with its 6 to 3 conservative majority, probably won’t allow any of my imaginary scenarios to take place. But this conservative majority is unlikely to endure forever.
If five justices sitting on a future Court were to belong to the hypothetical anti-Catholic party I’ve been speaking about, they will have little trouble – aided and abetted by ingenious law school professors who also belong to that party – in bending the First Amendment to serve the party’s ideological agenda. After all, in 1973 the Court “found” a right to abortion in the Constitution, and in 2015 it “found” a right to same-sex marriage in the Constitution. If the Court has been able to fabricate such rights out of little more than thin air, who can be confident that it won’t invent further rights that undermine Catholicism?
And is there anybody paying careful attention to the daily news who doubts that some of the imaginary situations I listed above are waiting for us just around the corner? Is there anybody who will be surprised if, two or three years from now, we read in the news that a Catholic bishop has been sued for refusing to ordain a woman? Or that the legislature of some state in the Northeast or on the West Coast is considering a bill that would make it a hate crime for a priest to declare from a pulpit that homosexual sodomy is a sin? Or that a Catholic public-school teacher has been fired because she published on Facebook her opinion that homosexuality is unnatural?
Of course, much of this has already been accomplished without the need for government censorship. Self-censorship is doing the job. It is a rare priest who will stand in the pulpit and denounce homosexuality (or for that matter fornication or adultery or even abortion). And it is a rare public-school teacher in progressive states like California and Massachusetts who will denounce same-sex marriage or transgenderism on Facebook. You never know who will see your posting: perhaps some liberal parent; perhaps some candidate for the school board looking to get free publicity by crusading against you; perhaps your superintendent; perhaps the progressive head of your local union.
I have imagined a hypothetical anti-Catholic political party. But in reality, there is such a party – the Democratic Party, the ideological controls of which have been seized by atheistic/agnostic moral liberals who have no use for Catholicism or its sexual morality. Most Democratic voters, to be sure, are not anti-Catholic. But these voters are as sheep to their shepherds, the anti-Christian ideological leaders of the party.
For the record, I myself am a former Democratic office-holder, and I’m still a registered Democrat – even though I have rarely voted for Democrats in recent decades. This is illogical of me, I know. You don’t have to remind me.
When will our Catholic clerical leadership wake up to this? When will they remind Catholics that the national Democratic Party has become a de facto anti-Catholic party? When will they issue a collective pastoral letter saying this?
Or do they have a secret strategy of allowing the Catholic Church in the USA to shrink to a saving remnant? Do they look forward to selling our church buildings, which will continue to serve socially useful purposes as restaurants, museums, concert halls, or Spanish-language Pentecostal churches?
*Image: President Biden sports the smudge given him on Ash Wednesday 2022 by Cardinal Wilton Gregory. Mr. Biden announced that he will give up ice cream for Lent.
You may also enjoy:
David G. Bonagura Jr.’s The Lenten Thing
Robert Royal’s Our First Anti-Catholic “Catholic” President