Volume > Issue > Weakness Amid Strength: The Roman Catholic Paradox

Weakness Amid Strength: The Roman Catholic Paradox

HOW TO ENERGIZE A PASSIVE LAITY

By John A. McDermott | July August 1986
John A. McDermott is Director for Urban Affairs at Illinois Bell in Chicago.

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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