It’s impossible to rebuild a house when it’s still on fire. The work of reconstruction cannot begin until the blaze is extinguished or the structure is completely reduced to ashes.
Catholics in the United States are watching two of their dwellings burn right now – their spiritual home and their geographical home.
The uncontrollable fire that continues to sizzle in the edifice of the Church – stoked by the still-ongoing child sex abuse crisis, the never-dying embers of misogyny and the reemergence of clericalism – has been tamed somewhat. But it is nowhere near to being completely stamped out.
The inferno that now consumes the United States – fueled by a misguided sense of American exceptionalism, the explosion of racism and social disunity, a completely irresponsible response to a deadly pandemic and the complete lack of national leadership – has only just begun to rage.
If this blaze is not put out soon – and it is hard to see how that will happen under the current president – this house is in grave danger of burning to the ground. From the other side of the Atlantic, it looks that serious.
But do people in the United States, specifically Catholics, see the gravity of the situation? There are signs that they do not. Perhaps it is a matter of not being able to see the forest for the trees. And this is very worrying.
A recent poll showed that upwards of 60% of white Catholics at this moment intend to vote for Donald Trump in November.
Perhaps they have convinced themselves that by appointing socially conservative judges willing to legislate against abortion the president has earned a “get out of jail free” card that allows him to forge ahead with his otherwise recklessly grotesque, immoral and un-Christian behavior and policies that are tearing the nation asunder.
One can only wonder what Catholics who support Trump think of Pope Francis. It’s hard to imagine two such substantially different personalities with such opposite worldviews and religious beliefs.
Francis has put forth a blueprint to help rebuild his smoldering Church so that it conforms more closely to the simple, yet demanding message of the gospel (cf. Evangelii gaudium).
This Church is the entire People of God, reformed in her missionary outreach and evangelization. And a key part of this mission is to work for the inclusion of the poor in society and promote peace and dialogue among all peoples.
Francis has even emerged as one of the world’s most convincing leaders of an urgent project to unite all humanity regardless of race, creed or nationality in saving our common home – the earth – from destruction.
He argues for this with courage, humility and farsightedness in his 2015 encyclical, Laudato Si’.
The U.S. president’s “program,” if such exists, is completely opposed to this. It is based on no foundational document or secular equivalent of the gospel, other than unbridled capitalism, social Darwinism and greed.
Instead of outreach, it’s inward looking and insular. Instead of helping the poor, Trump’s personal demeanor and his administration’s policies actually punish and belittle the poor and disadvantaged.
They reward the wealthy and favor rugged individualism, while encouraging a lustful consumerism and the raping and pillaging of the natural environment. The promotion of peace and dialogue, meanwhile, is not a phrase that is even vaguely familiar to Donald Trump.
Catholics who support him have given him quite a pass, indeed.
“In my father’s house there are many dwelling places,” says one translation of John 14, 2. And that’s the case in the Church as well.
The Church in the United States is just one dwelling place or part of the one big house that is the Universal Church. And while the fire has subsided in other parts, here it looks to be blazing out of control.
The lack of episcopal leadership, unified or otherwise, leaves one speechless and fearful for the institution’s very survival in this land. In the face of a country that is unraveling before the eyes of the entire world, the U.S. bishops have been tepid in their condemnation of almost any evil except abortion – and what they perceive as assaults on religious freedom.
The Catholics in the United States right now are “like sheep without a shepherd,” to use the biblical metaphor. Put another way, they are in a burning house with not enough men in authority who are willing or able to put out the fire or rescue those inside.
It is hard to watch what is happening to the United States and the Catholic Church there right now. Americans tend to believe our country is very different from every other place on earth.
Most are convinced that its peculiar governmental structures – or at least the ethos that sustains them – are resilient enough to weather any firestorm, survive even the most incompetent and corrupt leaders, and secure infinite and unlimited economic growth.
This is a fallacy. That Catholics, especially those in the episcopacy, cannot see this, suggests that they identify firstly as citizens of the United States, and only afterwards as members of the Church.
Meanwhile, the fires continue to burn in both houses they occupy…
Robert Mickens is the English editor for La Croix International website.