There is a undercurrent in American society that somehow believes that if the mafia ran things, the country would be better off. There was one city (Newark, New Jersey) where the mafia once controlled much of the city. When their grip on power was done, the city was in tatters. The same could be said for liberals running religion.
Many a religious radical started out as a political radical (someone has got to employ all of those radicals leaving graduate school with unemployable majors.) Once the political radical turned religious radical realized that they couldn’t take over religion, they began to embark on a scorched earth policy that left some Christian denominations in tatters. (Point of personal privilege, in my opinion there are two categories of liberals; utopians who are by their very nature are good hearted people though lacking in reality, and elitist control seekers who use the misfortune and suffering of others to gain, consolidate and hold power. The crux of references to liberals in this and most of my writings revolves around the elitists and not the utopians.)
Having worked for the Church for much of my adult life (I am 45 years old,) I was always struck by some of those in the religious world who came of age in the 1960s and seemed to desire a religious revolution to further a political and cultural revolution that felt didn’t go far enough. (Please read my article entitled; the Construct of Rebellion which delves further into the history (ancient and recent) on this rebellion involving religion.
Fortunately, these radicals seem to be fading into the sunset replaced by younger women religious, priests and bishops who are far more conservative in their theological, social and political outlook. The liberal voices like Cardinal Dearden, Archbishop Weakland, Bishop Untener, and auxiliary Bishop Gumbleton are out of ecclesiastical power now, being replaced by far more orthodox minded prelates. One of the last major archdioceses to have an openly liberal leader is Los Angeles. Cardinal Roger Mahony is set to retire and it appears some of the liberal faculty at the archdiocesan seminary is about to resign figuring a more conservative prelate is one the way.
The religious left reached their heyday in the early 1970s. However, a few years later with the election of Polish Cardinal Karol Wojtyla as Pope John Paul II, Ronald Reagan as US president and the ascendancy of American Evangelicals like the Reverend Jerry Falwell, the left turned on religion. The end result has left some Christian denominations in tatters. In the last 50 years, it is estimated that some churches have lost half of their adherents. Though the Catholic Church is growing worldwide (phenomenally so in African and Asia) and at a much smaller rate in the US, some European Catholic countries have seen their numbers plummet as well. In Canada the most liberal province is Quebec. It wasn’t always that way, up until the 1960s; the overwhelming Catholic province may have been Canada’s most conservative province. Religious surveys show that in the late 1950s Quebec had one of the highest rates of Church attendance in the western world, higher than that of the US, this all changed in the political and cultural upheaval of the1960s. Now Quebec is Canada’s most liberal province and has one of the lowest rates of church attendance in the western world.
The most extreme example of the mainline Protestant freefall in church attendance belongs to the Unitarian Church , which two to four former presidents called their own (depending upon your source.) By the 1990s, it was estimated that half of the Church’s congregation was either agnostic or atheist. Two men David Burton and Dean Fisher have become evangelists in their own church preaching that yes God does exist. One might ask the simple question; why even attend if you don’t believe or have serious doubts about God’s existence. It would seem that some stay because of the shared liberal beliefs, a belief that has robbed this religious body of half its believing members.
One of the former mainstays of Protestant upper class respectability was the Anglican Church. As late as the 1950s, they had one of the largest percentages of Sunday church attendance. By the early 1960s, while worldwide Anglican Communion was growing (especially in Africa) the British mother church was dabbling in political and cultural liberalism and thus beginning its inexorable decline.
During the 1960s in the American cousin church (known as the Episcopal Church,) figures like Bishop James Pike came to the forefront. The famous Episcopal bishop who doubted much of Christian orthodoxy found himself receiving fawning news coverage on the cover of many a news magazine. The same could be said for the openly homosexual bishop of this decade; Bishop Gene Robinson of New Hampshire. For all of their glowing mainstream news coverage the western Anglican Church has been in a complete free fall. It is estimated that more people attend Friday prayers at Britain’s mosques than attend Anglican Church services on Sunday morning. Yet it gets worse for the Anglican Church for in addition to the laity, the Anglican Church lost a large amount of their clergy as well.
This development has led Pope Benedict XVI to approve a personal ordinate which will allow Anglican male clergy who accept Catholic Church teaching to become priests in the Catholic Church. One would think that most Catholics would feel a certain pity for Archbishop Rowan Williams the leader of the Anglican Church. One might even think he might feel tempted to swim the Tiber himself.
One by one the old mainline Protestant denominations became enamored with the Spirit of 1968 (more on that later,) which not only robbed them of their congregants but their clergy as well. In a business model this would have been construed as an unmitigated disaster and yet the mainstream media became enamored with them. Despite the Episcopal Church’s numerical free fall, the mainstream media became enamored when liberal Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori who became the Episcopal Church’s presiding US bishop in 2006. It didn’t take her long to make some controversial comments. In one New York Times interview she said Catholics had more children than Episcopalians because Catholics were “less educated” and perhaps because Episcopalians cared more for the environment. The faux pas received little attention.
In April of 2008 the mainstream media and in particular CBS News anchor Katie Couric and ABC religion reporter Dan Harris seemed mystified as to why the “tin ear” and “hardline” Pope Benedict XVI received so much positive affection from Catholics when he came to New York and Washington. The two, among many others in the mainstream media, seemed bemused as to how could this be since the conservative Bavarian pontiff opposed many cultural hot button social issues like women’s ordination and same sex marriage. Sadly for Catholics, too many graying employees in diocesan offices and seminaries held views to similar to that of Couric and Harris. Yet those who held these views in positions of power within the Church saw their numbers fall, as the young and those being ordained into the priesthood and entering the convent had far more conservative beliefs, a fact which angered those who were nostalgic for the Spirit of 1968.
What was the Spirit of 1968? It was a turning point for the Church. All throughout Europe radicals were not only gaining a foothold on the streets as evidenced by the leftist uprising and burning barricades of Paris in 1968, but this rebellion was also being witnessed in many seminaries and even dioceses throughout the western world. This after all was the year that Pope Paul VI issued his famous encyclical Humanea Vitae which cemented the Church’s stance against birth control.
It didn’t sit well with those clergy who had hoped the Church would mirror the culturally liberal stand taking place in the western world following the invention of the birth control pill a few years earlier. Prophetically the embattled pontiff predicted the rise of not only of an extremely sexually permissive society, but the dramatic rise in abortions as well. Some four years later as radical priests and nuns were calling for “political revolution” and leaving their vocations, Pope Paul VI voiced the famous quote that the “Smoke of Satan” had entered the Church, which has bemused the religious left to this day. The same group that is bemused by Pope Paul VI, shrugs off the implications that a hero of their’s Saul Alinsky, dedicated his most famous book Rules for Radicals to among others, Lucifer (you just can’t make this stuff up.)
In 1968, the cultural elites cheered on the likes of dissident priest Father Hans Kung as he tooled about the German University town of Tubingen behind the wheel of his trendy Porsche. Yet, they snickered at the old school Father Ratzinger as he peddled through the same town on his bicycle. Shortly before the French Revolution, Voltaire voice the opinion that since the indefatigable Jesuits had been thrown out of the country, the Church would collapse once the Revolution and the guillotine swung into action. He was very mistaken. So it was with the 1960s elites who thought the Church of Father Ratzinger would be gone in 40 years.
Yet, forty years later the bicycling Father Ratzinger would become Pope Benedict XVI and the Porsche driving, ascot in the breeze Father Kung would become but an asterisks of past dissidents who disappeared into the mists of history. The tortoise of truth had passed the hare of relativism. The Smoke of Satan was being wafted out from whence it came by the likes of Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI.
Many in the Church seem oblivious to the turning tide of Catholic orthodoxy. A good illustration of this I personally witnessed in April of 2008, while in Yonkers, New York awaiting the arrival of Pope Benedict XVI. The appearance was geared toward the young and the thousands gathered were the epitome of the new, younger, conservative oriented Catholic. This was lost on one of the local news anchors who served as an emcee before His Holiness’ arrival. While engaging in banter with the youthful Pennsylvania delegation, she asked who they were going to vote for in the upcoming Democratic primary; then Senator Hillary Clinton or then Senator Barack Obama. The crowd repeated chanted neither, yelling back that their stance on abortion and other issues were not in line with their beliefs. The news anchor seemed oblivious and was overheard asking what was going on?
It was a continuation of a mistaken understanding of Catholic youth that stretched back to 1993. George Weigel describes a feeling of near panic as some in the US Church feared no one would come to Denver to see Pope John Paul II for World Youth Day, because many of their children or nieces or nephews had little interest in such an event. While anecdotal, I am sure I am not alone in noting the observation that I can’t think of a single instance in which a liberal Catholic parent (who graduated from high school or college in the 1960s or 1970s) has a liberal Catholic child who still practices the Faith once they leave home. I can think of many children of Catholic liberals who left the Church for another faith tradition, adhere to no faith at all, or have become an orthodox Catholic despite their liberal upbringing. However, I cannot think of a single liberal Catholic family where the children have stayed in the Church and continue on in the liberal Catholic tradition.
Perhaps some of these parents were in attendance at a lecture I saw at Ohio Dominican University a few years ago, when noted Catholic journalist and writer John Allen told the theologically diverse crowd that third world Catholics did not share the views of western liberal Catholic prelates and academics. This may have been a bitter pill to swallow for liberals since Allen worked for the liberal National Catholic Reporter. For all their talk of diversity, some western liberals, especially in the Anglican Church have caused deep rifts over their assertion that Africans are culturally backwards on issues like women clergy and same sex marriage, so much for western liberals embracing diversity. As a matter of fact, some conservative US Episcopal churches have broken away to align themselves with Anglican dioceses in Africa.
In Jonah Goldberg’s book, Liberal Fascism, which I enthusiastically reviewed at my Catholic Report site, Goldberg illustrates the far left’s agenda and their supposed fondness for truth and the dignity of the downtrodden, all the while mocking them and sometimes doing far worse. The left has been in the forefront of the eugenics movement. With this in mind it is baffling to hear Catholic politicians show their admiration for the likes of Margaret Sanger, who founded Planned Parenthood and who was in the forefront of the movement. The modern day successors of Sanger are somehow admired by the likes of Speaker Nancy Pelosi. When a bishop does speak out on such matters it is the prelate who gets an earful from the likes of Speaker Pelosi, Congressman Pat Kennedy and their supporters, and not the very views that brought on the rebuke.
The Catholic Church, with all of their dissidents, was being saved from demise because as Canon Kendall Harmon a conservative leader in the Episcopal Church put it, the Catholic Church had “clear doctrine.” In my 2006 interview with Canon Kendall Harmon, he lamented what had happened in his Episcopal Church when during the 1960s, a few radicals were allowed to gain power in a few key dioceses. That interview and the one I conducted with openly gay Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson of New Hampshire showed a church in utter conflict over what it believed and where it was going.
It may be heard to believe, but the Catholic Church has been the only organized religious body to always oppose abortion. The Evangelical Christianity Today magazine recently issued a mea culpa of sorts wondering how they ever used words like “therapeutic abortions.” Even the conservative Southern Baptist Church supported abortion and it took several contentious meetings in the late 1970s, along with the rise of figures like the Reverend Jerry Falwell to end that stance. The President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, R Albert Mohler lamented; “the early Evangelical response to legalized abortion was woefully inadequate.” Mohler even says Evangelicals have much to learn from Humanae Vitae. Today, many of the mainline churches not only support abortion rights but also same sex marriage.
For the orthodox minded Catholic, the statement by Christ that the gates of hell would not prevail against His Church has given the Catholic faithful solace that what is happening in the Protestant world would not lead to the Catholic Church’s demise. Though the liberal onslaught has caused much anguish, the future of the Church is the youth, and those 30 and younger who attend Mass regularly are not only the most pro life of any age group but also the most supportive of the Church’s teachings, more so than even their grandparents.
As I noted before, all of this is made manifest in ordination numbers. 64 to 6 and 14 to 4 stand out. What does this mean? In 2006 when writing my book, The Tide is Turning Toward Catholicism, I noted that even though the Diocese of Rochester had more Catholics than the dioceses of Lincoln and Omaha combined, Rochester had 6 men studying for the priesthood while Lincoln and Omaha had 64. That same year of 2006 Denver had 14 young men ordained to the priesthood (eleven in May and three earlier in the academic year) while Los Angeles had four; a staggering statistic when one considers that the Archdiocese of Los Angeles has 4,300,000 Catholic residents compared to 385,000 Catholics for the Archdiocese of Denver. Los Angeles and Rochester are led by two of the most liberal prelates in the Church, while Omaha, Lincoln and Denver are led by three of the more conservative bishops in the US, a revelatory statistic to say the least.
While liberal convents are strapped for cash because they haven’t had a postulant in years, more conservative orders like the Sister of Mary in Ann Arbor, Michigan are running out of room due to the large number of young professional women coming their way. They are not the only conservative order growing, the Nashville Dominicans among others are also experiencing growing pains.
Younger liberals might be forgiven if they mistakenly believed the canard told by their elder comrades that 1950s Catholic leaders and especially bishops were all right wing conservatives who had no patience for the ideas of liberals but possessed the patience of Job for fellow conservatives. In his memoirs published shortly after his death, the late Senator Edward Kennedy wrote that his famous father the former Ambassador to England Joseph P Kennedy would often socialize with Richard Cardinal Cushing of Boston. Senator Kennedy wrote that his father always called the famous prelate by his first name.
In a revealing account the late Senator spoke of an incident in which brother Bobby, the future Senator from New York, heard a controversial conservative priest at a Boston lecture whose views about Protestant salvation were deemed very conservative. After Bobby’s father made a phone call to “Richard” the priest was promptly booted from the Archdiocese. Senator Edward Kennedy surmises that because of this incident, his brother Bobby unwittingly played a part in bringing about Vatican II. As one can clearly see from this example, the right wing Catholic hierarchy may not have existed as vividly as it did in some liberal’s imagination.
Judaism is not immune to these kinds of problems. Anti Defamation League’s Abraham Foxman has released several statements denouncing conservative Catholic and Evangelical leaders for statements they have made that hardly seem to fall into the category of anti-Semitism. This led to rebukes from the likes of Norman Podhoretz and Michael Ledeen. Writing in the National Review, Ledeen wrote the following; “I want Foxman retired and replaced by somebody who fights for Jews and our friends.” The interesting tie that binds all of these stories together seems to center around the fact that in whatever faith tradition, liberal activists seem to think they know better than the faith they claim to follow.
It is no wonder that the following story which I will relate could happen to a supposed wise and well read Catholic. While traveling to support my book The Tide is Turning Toward Catholicism I came across a group that seemed upset that Catholic orthodoxy was being embraced by many again, especially the young. This group seemed to especially take exception with Pope Benedict’s phrase, “The Dictatorship of Relativism.” One person retorted, “What is this notion about embracing the truth as if anyone can possess the truth. Finally this person exclaimed; “What is truth?” I replied, “Do you know the person whose most famously credited for saying, “What is truth.” The person in questioned said, “Was it Aristotle, or how about Plato?” I replied, “It was Pontius Pilate.” Then the rhetorical fireworks really began and I was treated to a variety of insults about the ignorance and hateful nature of conservatives. Their diatribe spoke volumes about the goals and mindset of the militant leftist movement. Bereft of anything other than their own agenda they heaped scorn on the very belief system they claimed to represent.
Perhaps the statement I made from two paragraphs above is worth repeating; the interesting tie that binds all of the data, anecdotes and stories together seems to center around the fact that in whatever faith tradition, liberal activists seem to think they know better than the faith they claim to follow. This has led to the tragic decline of those who once called themselves religious or faith filled. Fortunately there is a way out, a return to the religious tradition they once embraced, free of the modern day relativism that has sadly left too many saying, “what is truth?”