Friday, July 2, 2010


John Allen is one of the most highly respected Catholic reporters on the scene today. In a recent post describing chaotic events this past week affecting the Catholic Church, he wrote:

When the dust settles, policy-makers in the church, particularly in the Vatican, will be ever more committed to what social theorists call “identity politics,” a traditional defense mechanism relied upon by minorities when facing what they perceive as a hostile cultural majority.
While there are an almost infinite number of ways of defining a “minority,” one widely invoked model says it has four characteristics:
• Suffering discrimination and subordination
• Physical and/or cultural traits that set them apart, and which are disapproved by the dominant group
• A shared sense of collective identity and common burdens
• Socially shared rules about who belongs and who does not
A growing swath of Catholics in the West, particularly in the church’s leadership class, believes that all these markers now apply to the Catholic church, and the events of the past week will strongly reinforce those impressions.
Taken together, the police raids in Belgium, the refusal by the Supreme Court in the United States to block a sex abuse lawsuit against the Vatican, and the European Court of Human Rights challenge to display of Catholic symbols in Italy all suggest that the final pillars of deference by civil authorities to the Catholic church are crumbling.

Though one may nit-pick about his description of “minorities” and its application to the Church, in the “short run” John Allen is, I think, right on target. But I am clear that his description, while accurate, is (in the long run) irrelevant. Let me explain.

The markers of minorities presented above are really sociological markers. They are true and important insofar as the Church is a human institution (that is, made up of men and women, operating in the dynamics of social and political realities). It is this dimension of the Church that might once have been (in some places, still might be) associated with the concept of “Christendom.” And it is this aspect of the Church that is dangerously close to collapse, if Allen’s analysis is on target.

But the Church is also the Mystical Body of Christ, and is called to be (in this world) a body of the suffering servants, not the triumphant. Arguments can and often have been made that the Church is never more the Church than when persecuted, despised, ridiculed, rejected (as Jesus was). An argument can be made that the “Golden Age” of the Church was the pre-Constantinian age, when one never knew what professing the Faith might entail. This was, all too often, literally an “underground Church” which knew nothing of extensive possessions granted it, deference paid to it, respect accorded it, influence allowed it. Ignatius of Antioch knew nothing of this, nor did Peter and Paul, nor the early martyrs of Rome (all of whom we celebrated liturgically this past week). Yet they are our true glory as a Church.

If lack of civil deference to the Church becomes a reality, so much the better. If privilege and honors are withdrawn, we can celebrate. We are not destined to be martyrs of blood, but of dismissal and ridicule. Let’s seek opportunities to live as the Body of Christ, rather than looking for ways to be celebrated as such. We will have to change; we will have to grow.

This will be a different experience for many bishops, priests and lay-folk (I doubt it will be very different for many consecrated religious). But to quote my hero, Cardinal Newman (himself quoting an inspirational teacher)—Growth is the only evidence of life.

PS--In the interests of "full disclosure": the picture above is much like the wallpaper of my own computer, but that is a picture I took myself, while this one is off the internet.

If you like this post (or any others of mine), you might want to look at our parish's web-site,, and click on Pastor's Corner.


  1. Before this post, you have been alluding to the reality of the present-day role of a Catholic. I don't know if this particular viewpoint has been noted, but your eloquence is faith-moving. It can also fill the average Catholic with heavy-duty realism in confronting day-to-day assaults which have been sprouting like weeds in movies, T.V. & politics. I can only concur that morality sloppiness has slipped into conscience acceptance by most age groups. Will seekers of the truth be strong enough to live as you have suggested?

  2. I want to add some quotes from G.K. Chesterton's "The Catholic Church and Conversion" written as a result of his ultimate conversion to Catholicism. 'The Catholic Church is the only thing which saves a man from the degrading slavery of being a child of his age. I have compared it with the New Religions; but this is exactly where it differs from the :New Religions. The New Religions are suited to the new conditions; but they are only suited to the new conditions. When those conditions change in only a century or so, the points upon which alone they insist at present will have become almost pointless.' The Catholic Church can call in the old world to redress the contemporary.......