Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Tom Ehrich to Staunch Catholic Traditionalists: "Sorry to Burst Your Bubble"

At Religion News Service, Tom Ehrich maintains that the bubble of "establishment Christianity" in America is now bursting, as people leave churches, buildings become empty, money can't be found to pay for things, and "many people discover that their primary religious interest had been sustaining the institution":

They hadn’t learned to rely on prayer, to see their lives as a mission for God, to make decisions in the world based on godly admonition, or to form sustainable spiritual relationships beyond bubble boundaries. 

And then Ehrich goes on to make this fascinating observation about those Catholics now hotly defending Pope Benedict and his legacy, and how they respond to any attempt of anyone, Catholic and non-Catholic alike, to assess his legacy soberly and honestly, particularly with an eye to admitting the damage the Catholic church has done to some folks under this papacy:

I recently wrote a column on Pope Benedict XVI’s surprise retirement. I lamented his eight years of leading the Roman Catholic Church backward. I lamented the church’s track record of supporting injustice in order to defend the institution. 
My column drew an immediate burst of rage from staunch Catholic traditionalists, who termed me “anti-Catholic” and a religious “bigot,” and therefore inherently wrong and unfit to write a column. 
Their vehemence was so over-the-top that I wondered if a bubble was being breached. They were rising to defend something that suddenly looked vulnerable, maybe even passing away. 
They wouldn’t see it that way, of course. In their eyes, the church is built on solid rock and will last forever. Those who deal in bubbles often see reality that way. Then the bubble bursts.

I think there's a great deal of truth in what Ehrich says here: "Their vehemence was so over-the-top that I wondered if a bubble was being breached." From the minute the announcement of Benedict's resignation came down and his legacy began to be discussed on many Catholic blog sites, there has seemed to me to be an undercurrent of panic among his staunchest defenders. 

At one level, they have to know that the almost unprecedented decision of a pope to resign--of their pope to resign, since they're partisans and he has led their reactionary party in the church--is a game-changer that, by its very nature, indicates that Benedict didn't succeed in doing what they had hoped he'd do as pope. Spin as they will the decision to resign as a holy and humble decision, it's also, by Benedict's own admission, a statement of the conspicuous failure of his restorationist agenda.

And so the vehemence of many right-wing Catholics at this moment is vehemence fed by a deep sense that things may well be out of hand now--out of their hands . . . . And what to do with that vehemence now, after it has been brought into the very heart of the church by the last two popes, and made, for all intents and purposes, a badge of Catholic identity?

(Thanks to Jim McCrea for emailing this article to me and other friends.)

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