Weakness Amid Strength: The Roman Catholic Paradox
HOW TO ENERGIZE A PASSIVE LAITY
This is a special time in the life of the American Catholic Church. Compared to where we have been, it is a good time, a happy time. You could almost call it an American Catholic “high.”
The American bishops have completed a three-year intellectual and spiritual journey during which they confronted the great life-and-death issue of our time, nuclear arms. They suffered pressure and criticism, but they persisted. They concluded their journey in solemn and impressive unity by issuing a powerful pastoral letter, a warning to the American Catholic community, the nation, and indeed the whole world, on the profound moral issues involved in the drift of our defense policies and the trends in East-West relations.
The nation has taken notice. Thanks to the bishops, the issue of war and peace can no longer be argued as a purely secular issue, purely a matter of political and military policy. Thanks to the bishops, this issue is beginning to be seen as a profound moral question affecting the very survival of human life. Thoughtful Americans of all faiths and no faith have been moved and have applauded the courage and leadership of the bishops. Moreover, the bishops are now in the process of completing work on a pastoral letter on the U.S. economy, of which the nation is likewise taking note.
When has the American Church looked as good as it does right now? And yet. And yet. Is this “high” for real? Actually, this upbeat mood is a façade that masks much weakness and decay. Behind the bishops’ remarkable and praiseworthy achievements, the American Catholic community, viewed as a whole, viewed as a social movement, is remarkably weak, passive, and ineffective. We have nowhere near the influence our numbers would suggest.
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A review by Frederick W. Marks of The Crisis of Christendom: 1815-2005: A History of Christendom, Vol. 6