Sunday, March 25, 2007

Greeley-Neuhaus Thesis

Contemporary Catholicism in the United States is a cultural moving target. Any institution of seventy-some million souls is obviously going to contain within it a lot of internal diversity, but the Church is almost unique in holding together polar opposites, harmoniously or otherwise. It is both liberal and conservative, regal and humble, beautiful and also mind-numbingly banal.

This polarity within Church in the United States has several intertwined aspects, and it just occurred to me recently that they are personified by two of its prominent priests, Rev. Andrew Greeley and Rev. Richard John Neuhaus.

On one hand, Fr. Greeley represents the Church of immigrants, the Church of small neighborhoods and ethnic enclaves, the Church as a cultural bulwark protecting and speaking for its members in the culture at large, and the Church of the Left. Fr. Neuhaus represents the opposite in every particular, the Church of the cosmopolitan and urbane, the Church of converts, the church of doctrines, and the Church of the Right.

I don't know if there's necessarily any reason why such things have to be associated together in this way, but as it happens they are in the U.S., and that has some interesting consequences that are otherwise inexplicable. One of them being the unease, sometimes spoken and sometimes not, felt by a substantial number of those who earn their livelihood in chanceries or Catholic universities, over the fact that Catholics in the US have been trending Republican for the a couple of decades now. In short, these people essentially reject the GOP for having cooties.

Catholics have increasingly tended to support the Right in domestic politics because the ties binding them the Democratic Party have gotten progressively weaker, and because the Right has successfully appealed to many Catholics as the political home for Catholic values. But even as the Catholic ghettos have long since disappeared from our major cities, the ghetto mentality has remained in the minds of many Catholic intellectuals.

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