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Goodbye, “New Evangelization”

You’ve heard of stream of consciousness. Say a word and someone else tells you what first comes to mind:

– You say Nazi. He says Holocaust.

– You say Nixon. He says Watergate.

– You say Clinton. He says Monica.

– You say Muslim. He says fanatic.

– You say priest. He says pervert.

Sorry folks, but that’s the way it is. Yes, of course it’s not fair. Just as there was much more to the Nixon presidency than Watergate, so there is vastly more to the priesthood and Catholicism in general than perverts and those who cover up for them. But the equation of the Catholic Church with sexual predators and episcopal facilitators has been burned into the mind of the American public, and it’s not going to go away any time soon.

Oh yes, Fr. Richard John Neuhaus thinks the whole thing can be brushed off: “Sure, some bad priests have brought disgrace upon the Church. So what else is new?” (First Things, May, p. 72). But he’s just whistling Dixie, and in the dark.

Imagine yourself a Protestant or a genuine seeker who’s had a bout of “Roman Fever.” The Great Sex Scandals of 2002 have most likely “cured” your passion for Catholicism. Since the pontificate of John Paul II there has been a modest stream of converts entering the Church. But the sex scandals have essentially dammed up that stream for the foreseeable future.

There are certain periodicals in the Church dedicated exclusively to apologetics and evangelization. In spite of the present arid season, we encourage them to keep at it, for as St. Paul said, “Preach the Word…in season and out of season” (2 Tim. 4:2). But there are other Catholic periodicals of a general-interest nature that have used John Paul’s New Evangelization like a fig leaf to make themselves look presentable, such as the National Catholic Register and Our Sunday Visitor. They have avoided tackling head-on the dreadful and crippling problems in the Church — have given inadequate attention to theological dissent, moral relativism, and willful disobedience, the roots of our problems. These latter periodicals are going to have to do some serious soul-searching, for the civil war in the Church is now in full swing, and fig leaves will only render you defenseless. Rather, as St. Paul urges, we must “put on the full armor of God”: “the breastplate of righteousness,” “the shield of faith,” “the helmet of salvation,” “the sword of the Spirit” (Eph. 6:13-17). To the Register and the Visitor we say: Please get off the fence and into the fray. We need you.

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