Well, the choice of Paul Ryan for the Republican Vice-presidential nominee has thrown a barking dog in among the Catholic chickens. Liberal Catholics are appalled; conservatives delighted. Of course, at the present we have Catholics slated for the number 2 slot in both major parties, though—and I could be wrong—I don’t believe that I have heard that it is certain that President Obama is keeping Vice President Biden on the ticket. There can always be a switch though Biden has certainly been a team-player—with a more than occasional foul, of course—with the President.
I was away over the weekend and in my room at a beautiful retreat house in the mountains, was a copy of Catholic Digest. I hadn’t seen this little magazine in years. Someone had written to it asking about the possibility of the “Social Justice Catholic Church” being reunited to the “Orthodox Roman Catholic Church.” The columnist responding made it clear that the “Social Justice Catholic Church” is and consistently has been well within the boundaries of the “Orthodox” Roman Catholic Church. But the question was interesting because it shows how successful elements of the religious right have been in pushing those Catholics who support the very causes of social justice taught by the magisterium—opposition to the death penalty, rights of workers to organize, rights of access to education, health care, housing, and other necessities, human rights and freedoms (worship, speech, association, press), equal dignity of women, rights of women and children, rights of people to migrate—how Catholics supporting magisterial teaching have been emarginated within the Church by those whose politics ironically differ from magisterial principles. For some who consider themselves to be “faithful Catholics” there are only two magisterial points that matter—opposition to abortion and to same-sex marriage. They condemn “cafeteria Catholics” while they themselves hit only the coffee-bar of Catholic teaching.At the end of the day, one has to say that both Paul Ryan and Joe Biden are practicing Catholics. Neither Paul Ryan nor Joe Biden are the Catholics they should be. I am happy to see them both at communion on Sunday Mornings, I wish both of them would bring their religious faith more into their politics. More to my concern, however, is that there are increasingly two Catholic Churches in this country. There are historical reasons that go back a long way—actually into the early nineteenth century with the split between the old time Maryland Catholics whose heirs are today’s “liberals” (and Joe Biden Catholicism) and the “new immigrant Catholicism” of the 1840’s whose heirs are the “conservatives” (and Paul Ryan Catholicism.) (See entries for January 21, 23, 26, 28, March 7, 9, 2011, January 6, 7, 2012) When you know the history of the American Church you know that both groups have long and strong roots; the challenge today is to keep them together at the same altar sharing the One Bread of Christ’s One Body.