Sunday, May 22, 2011

Does Rome Have a Bias against America?

I received this email from a reader and promised to respond to it
Something just came to mind from reading your blog posts.  America magazine and even to some degree American Catholic (Franciscans out of Ohio) are panned by some as too liberal.  Are "America" and "American" charged words in Roman Catholicism?  Does having "America" in their names suggest an intentional desire to emphasize their ties to American Catholicism over European Catholicism?
Or am I just reading too much into that?  I can't think of a Catholic publication, radio program, etc. that people consider "conservative" here in the states that has "America" in its name.
This is a great question.  And in one word the answer is “yes.” 
In this blog I have a series on the history of the Catholic Church in the United States.   It is a topic I intend to return to—especially a more close examination of the history of the Church in the colonial and revolutionary period in which Catholicism in the British North American colonies and in the infant republic was stamped with a democratic character, an ecumenical openness, and a reluctance to exert power in political and social matters.  In case you haven’t noticed, that isn’t the contemporary Catholic take—either here in the U.S. from the Bishops or in Rome from the Holy See.  It was only at the turn of the nineteenth-twentieth centuries that Rome even began to notice that there was a Catholic Church in the United States and that it was quite different in character from the European model of Church.  Let me refer back to the entry of  April 13th  2011 where I wrote:

The Holy See was increasingly frustrated with the American Church.  They were appalled at its openness to non-Catholics, they were fearful of its democratic heritage, and they did not understand why it was so unable to influence the society in which it was rooted.  The Holy See saw a potential for power in the American Church that it had not itself yet recognized.  While it may have been only a small fragment of the general population, it was the largest—and fastest growing—religious body in the United States.  Surely with the right sort of leadership it could leverage itself from its position in the shadows of American Presbyterianism, Methodism, and Episcopalianism into the  catbird seat of American public influence.  All it needed was the right leadership..

There was a definite change in leadership style in the American Church after 1900 and the appointment of William O’Connell at Archbishop of  Boston and his soon thereafter appointment to the College of Cardinals.  Over the years, and especially the mid-century period there was some backsliding into American oriented prelates being appointed from Rome.  While men like Mundelein and Spellman could not have been more loyal to Rome, they were also died-in-the wool Americans, particularly in the issue of separation of Church and State where they defended the American aberration from Roman Doctrine, and the American spirit began to revive.    During the papacy of Paul VI and especially the years that Jean Jadot was Apostolic Delegate this Americanism thrived.  In the 70’s and ’80’s there were appointed remarkable bishops that took Vatican II to the limits of its revolutionary doctrines—men like Cardinal Bernadin, Cardinal Shehan of Baltimore, Archbishop Hallinan, Bishop Clark of Rochester, Bishop Kenneth Untener of Saginaw, Bishop Howard Hubbard of Albany, Archbishop Roach of St. Paul, Archbishop Kelly of Louisville, Archbishop Hunthausen of Seattle, Archbishop Quinn of San Francisco, and many others.   The election of John Paul II, however, marked a sure but steady change of direction in the Church and under John Paul, and now with Pope Benedict, the first and all important characteristic for appointment to the hierarchy is an unquestioning loyalty to Rome.  Now, there is nothing wrong with this.  Indeed the unity of the Church requires that the various dioceses throughout the world, through their bishops, are firmly cemented in unity with the See of Peter.  But what is worth noting is that the emphasis that this is given; the loyalty and total obedience to every detail of the authority of the Holy See is a clear indication that Rome does not trust the American Church.  For a wider discussion of this topic, you might want to check the various blog entries under the labels “Americanism” and “American Catholics and Roman Catholics.”
The only thing I want to add to this, is that I am very familiar with Rome and the
Curia Romana
.  I have lived and worked in Rome for various periods totaling about ten years of my adult life.  I am normally in Rome two to four times a year.  I have many friends in Rome with whom I am in regular contact and who stay with me when in the States or whom I meet at various international meetings.  The vast majority of these friends are Italian and are connected in some way or other with international Catholicism.  Indeed, the vast majority are clergy, some holding Vatican posts. 
My experience is, and I will speak only from experience, that Curial officials, especially the Europeans in the Italians in particular, have strong cultural biases against America in the realms of culture, religious practice, and law.  They openly mock American culture in terms of art, music, literature, cuisine, education, and intellectual work. The Italians in particular tend to be very culturally isolated believing that there is nothing beyond the Alps that compares to anything Italian.  There is a strong degree of Racism, especially directed towards peoples of South-East Asia and Africa.   What is tragic about this is that Church attendance among American Catholics—while it could be better—is six times that of Italian Catholics.  There is no comparison t the financial support given the Church—both locally and to the Holy See—between American and Italian faithful.  For all the issues about celibacy, it is far better observed in the American Church than it is among Italian clergy.  The American Church has issues, but it is a far more vibrant Church than one finds anywhere in Western Europe.  Far from being a model for the Americans, the European Church—and the Italian Church in particular—has much it could learn from us (and from other national Churches around the world) and the tampering in American Church life by Rome is doing far more damage than help.  Indeed, the Curia should get the beam out of their own eye before they try to clear up the speck in ours.

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