Lest readers think Old Life is a lone voice in evaluating how far Called to Communion’s view of Rome is from the rest of the world, here are a few recent takes on the Church in the light of Benedict’s abdication. First, Ross Douthat:
The collapse in the church’s reputation has coincided with a substantial loss of Catholic influence in American political debates. Whereas eight years ago, a Catholic view of economics and culture represented a center that both parties hoped to claim, today’s Republicans are more likely to channel Ayn Rand than Thomas Aquinas, and a strident social liberalism holds the whip hand in the Democratic Party.
Indeed, between Mitt Romney’s comments about the mooching 47 percent and the White House’s cynical decision to energize its base by picking fights over abortion and contraception, both parties spent 2012 effectively running against Catholic ideas about the common good.
This transformation suggests that we may have reached the end of a distinctive “Catholic moment” (to repurpose a phrase from the late Catholic priest-intellectual Richard John Neuhaus) in American politics, one that began in the 1980s after John Paul’s ascension to the papacy and the migration of many Catholic “Reagan Democrats” into the Republican Party.
This was hardly the first era when Catholic ideas shaped American debates. (New Deal-era liberalism, for instance, owed a major debt to Catholic social thought.) But it was the first era when the Catholic vote was both frequently decisive and genuinely up for grabs, and it was an era when Catholic debates and personalities filled the vacuum left by the decline of the Protestant mainline.
Then Rod Dreher (on Douthat):
. . . there never was a possibility for a Catholic moment in America. Not even American Catholics agree on what it means to be Catholic, and what is required of them as Catholics. From the outside, Catholicism looks unitary, but from the inside, Catholicism (in America, at least) is just about as fragmented as Protestantism. This is why you have the spectacle of Garry Wills denying the sacramental priesthood and the Real Presence, but still presenting himself as a Catholic, and being received by many Catholics as Catholic. Catholicism in this country has lost its distinctives, because many, probably most, actual Catholics have no sense that the faith they profess calls them to accept and to live by a set of theological and moral precepts that they may struggle to accept, but must accept because God revealed them authoritatively through His church.
One may say this is a good thing, this Protestantization of Catholicism, or one may decry it as a bad thing. But I don’t see how one can credibly say that it doesn’t exist. Catholicism, understood on its own terms, is radically opposed to American culture, and to the essence of modernity. Catholicism, as understood by most American Catholics, is not. There’s the problem with the Catholic moment, and why it was never going to happen. Of course, the behavior of the bishops in the abuse crisis didn’t help, but ultimately it was beside the point.
Yet, Called to Communion, ever paradigmatic, continues with ‘s’all good, infallible even.