" [Roman] Catholics differed from other Americans, he said,

"in their sense of ultimate reality, in their version of realism, ... "

From .............. National Catholic Reporter

[NCR is a hard left-wing RC publication]

September 22, 1995

Page 24


Two Catholics, William Bennett and former Pennsylvania Gov. Robert Casey opened the Christian Coalition "Road to Victory" conference Sept. 8-9. And sessions on "Forming a Catholic-Evangelical Coalition" and a coalition connected "Catholic Alliance" helped close it.

Bennett and Casey also spoke at last year's coalition meeting, as did Catholics Fr. Richard John Neuhaus and Michael Novak.

Dismissing knee-jerk reactions to the religious right, what does all this signify? In essence, it signals the further splintering of the American Catholic body politic, which, while never a totally cohesive political force, in the past represented a reliable and significant "critical mass" around certain issues.

Because the coalition attracts American conservatives, perhaps in fairness one should examine the issues by looking through the prism of conservative Catholicism.

Michael Novak had it right 20 years ago when he wrote in Commonweal that "to be a Catholic is not so much to belong to an organization as to belong to a people." [Roman] Catholics differed from other Americans, he said, "in their sense of ultimate reality, in their version of realism, in their particular passion for justice, in their sense of the meaning of family and children, in facing death, in their approach to education, to suffering and to personal relations."

Twelve years later, Neuhaus, in The Catholic Moment, identified the briefly opened window of opportunity that would allow the U.S. [Roman] Catholic church to assume its "rightful role in the culture-forming task of constructing a religiously informed pubic philosophy for the American experiment."

Two years beyond that, George Weigel and these are all conservative Catholics was hoping in Catholicism and the Renewal of American Democracy that there were signs the "scandalous internal acrimony that has radically diminished the capacities of American Catholicism to take a leading role in the renewal of American democracy" had ended. Weigel was further hoping that Catholics could get beyond the current polarization to develop new argument within the democracy. That has not happened. The polarization remains its causes and its continuation perceived differently in different quarters.

The fact of the polarization, however, means that the splinters from the splintering of what Novak called the [Roman] Catholic "people" are becoming smaller. And it is some of these small splinters that are represented in settings such as the Christian Coalition workshops.

The fact of the polarization further means that the Catholic peoples' "particular passion for justice" is weakened, watered down and rendered less effective in the national political debate.

These are serious, very serious developments. We know that, just as we know what happens to a people as assimilation and mainstreaming takes place. Their earlier identities are muted. But [Roman] Catholics like all people who link their faith to an institutional framework still have that "church" in common.

The sadder commentary is that there are two sources for the continued splintering of American [Roman] Catholicism. The inability of American Catholics of differing views in the public arena to work toward ending the polarization, and the continued authoritarianism from the Vatican.

The authoritarian approach neatly divides into compartments those issues that, when subjected to a democratic debate, are allowed to have grays as well as blacks and whites.

Not even a new pope would guarantee an end to the splintering here. The reincarnation of John XXIII as John Paul III would still leave American [Roman] Catholics at each other's throats unless they find their way into mutually civil debate.

Half of the problem of the fragmentation of the American Catholics, then, is peculiarly American. It is among American Catholics that it will have to be solved if justice, compassion and broad sense of family are to be a constitutive part of the Catholic contribution to American democracy.


[ at least Right and Left wing RCs aren't killing one another as often in the USA as they are in S. and Central America and S. Mexico. At least not yet. ...... JP ]