Not a State Church, but Still a Product of our Culture

Had an interesting talk with a friend last night. He’s a historian (Eastern Europe, 20th century) and tends to take the long view of things as a result. Sensible guy. He offered his opinion that democratic cultures tend to get the expression of Church that they deserve. A country as screwed up about sex as we are has produced a clergy and episcopacy that is deeply screwed up about sex. He noted that the Polish Church (an area of some expertise for him) couldn’t afford such problems (because the commies would use it as a pretense for oppression) and tended to police its own very well. This pattern still continues in Poland. The archbishop of Krakow recently got the axe rather swiftly. (Sorry, don’t know the details.) He noted that it looks rather peculiar to the rest of the world that the US is simultaneously the mass exporter of sexual depravity to the world and yet also the first to scream about sexual depravity in its clergy, a judgment I suspect future historians will also note with amusement, much as they now chuckle over Victorian hypocrisy. It’s sort of like the bizarre spectacle of partial birth abortion supporters fretting about “The Children” in Bill Clinton ads. Looks weird and sick because it is.

And all this apostate Puritan sexual weirdness (which is 99.9% the proud creation of we laypeople) finds its way (like radioactive waste in the water table) into every cranny of the culture, including the clergy and the episcopacy. Now, just as it’s way too convenient for the clergy to point fingers at the media and say “Blame the bias!” so it is way too convenient for us laypeople who participate so eagerly in the culture of weird sick apostate Puritan bizarreness to say “This is exclusively a problem with the hierarchy”. Oh, the stories I could tell of idiot Catholic laity and their numbskull attitudes to the common sense (let alone divine revelation) when it comes to sex. We are, after all, talking about a population which has an *identical* abortion rate (and pro-abortion voting rate) to the population at large. It’s a population that tut-tuts/salivates over JonBenet Ramsey photos along with the rest of the people in the checkout line and buys teen slut Cristina Aguilera CDs in quantities indistinguishable from the general population. Indeed, that fine sample of Catholic womanhood mirrors the Wisdom of Lay American Catholic Culture much as Madonna did. And it is this culture which produces the men who go to seminary, who work their way through the bureaucracy, who lecture the Dinosaur in Rome on how advanced Americans are, and who insist on their right to a “voice” in determining just which ideal candidates the Holy Father will have to choose from for the next episcopal appointment.

For that is the way things work, of course. The Pope does not put a quarter in the papal telescope, peer across the Atlantic into the rectory of Fr. Saintly Lovesthepoor of St. Holy Orthodox Martyr parish in Bugtussle, OK and say, “Hey! That’s the guy I want for the bishop of Palm Beach!” Rather, relying on the basic Catholic principle of subsidiarity, the Holy Father says, “Let the people closest to things discern among themselves who would be the best candidate.” In our infinite and superior wisdom, we Americans then propose to the Holy Father the Great Lights that our keen and spiritual culture produces and says, “These are the candidates. We have spoken! Trust us!” And the Holy Father, working with what we’ve given him (what other choice does he have?), appoints (be afraid, be very afraid) the people we think are the best, according to the information we give him.

Other cultures don’t seem to have as much trouble coming up with worthier men for the episcopacy. But our culture has the created the USCCB as a sort of machine for weeding out people who really care about teaching and living the Tradition. This, we have called a triumph of democracy collegiality, but really it’s a triumph of bureaucracy. And the bureaucracy exists, in great part, to preserve and protect the culture of clever rejection of Catholic teaching. And the clever rejection of Catholic teaching exists, in large measure, to preserve and protect our obsession with sexual license. And, like all people with obsessions, we deflect attention from the fact that we are majorly screwed up by righteously condemning Those People Over There and assuring ourselves that we aren’t as bad as *that*!

After the conversation with my friend, I came away hearing my remote descendants laughing at all us righteous laypeople with a mixture of pity, disgust and contempt. Most disquieting. I’d better get back to laying the blame exclusively at the feet of bishops. It’ll make me feel better.