Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Hermeneutics Of Catholic Immigration

Our Southwest border is not exactly Ellis Island, but the American Catholic Church is trying it's best to return to the Church of Ellis IslandThat's not necessarily a totally good thing.

As much as it sometimes gives me heartburn, I will still read the comments section of the National Catholic Reporter because I will often find gems which help illuminate our current Catholic situation.  One such gem is reprinted below.  It's by LittleBear whose comments are frequently illuminating.  This comment was written as a response to Robert McClory's piece on the hermeneutic of discontinuity.  I posted McClory's piece in full earlier in the week.  LittleBear gives an historical perspective for why institutional American Catholicism is looking startingly retro:

Hermeneutics used as a weapon

Hermeneutics used as a weapon? Yes,indeed. In the history of the Catholic Church in America, it is a 'return to the past.' For American Catholics, educated in the history of the Church in America,----this is an up-dated re-run of the days of Anti-Americanism from the papacy.

Pope Leo XIII directed two negative encyclical letters against the American Church. One of these was "Loginqua Oceani" (1895) which rejected the American separation of Church and State and made it clear that this is a "very erroneous" arrangement even for the United States.

The encyclical noted with horror that "State and America" are "dissevered and divorced." Leo stated that Rome will at best tolerate this experiment in America but only until Catholic are a majority. At that point, American Catholics must press for a union of Church and State and for the marginalizatiion of all Protestant Churches. And typically, this encyclical called for a "submissive spirit" from all the clergy and for "obedience from the laity." (If the goal is global hegemony, one can not have a secular government in the way.  The idea one could instead help create a fascist Spain or Nazi Germany didn't seem to enter Rome's mind.)

The second letter, "Testem Benevolentiae" (1899) took direct aim at American Catholic culture. It found American Catholics:
1) too eager to accommodate doctrine to modernity (Rome against change).
2) too willing to think and say whatever they wish and indeed to express these thoughts too readily in print (Rome against free speech)
3) too individualistic and too willing to rely on the direct influence of the spirit in their spiritual lives rather than following the "well-known path laid out by the Church (Rome against freedom of conscience)
4) too enamored of active and practical virtues, to the neglect of passive
and contemplative values (Rome against Americans' pragmatism)
5) too dismissive of vows and formal religious life (Rome against American Religious' initiative in adapting their apostolates (ministeries) to the needs of the American people.)
The encyclical condemned these characteristics as "Americanism," a general tendency to suppose that the "Church in America" can be "different from" the rest of the world (actually Leo XIII meant 'Europe').
The papacy strongly disliked, as seen in "Testem Benevolentiae" areas that went to the heart of American culture. This was again, ability to change, free speech, freedom of conscience, pragmatism and American initiative.

BTW, Cardinal James Gibbons objected to the encyclical in a sharp letter to the Pope on March 17, 1899.
Today, America is seeing immigrants streaming into the country from Latin America. Back at the end of the 19th Century and the early 20th Century, America advanced even further because of the massive influx of immigrants. These immigrants were less adept with the American system. They did not, for the most part, have English as a native language; as Catholics, they cared less about an active voice in governing their Church than in surviving. A ready group of bishops (appointed and supported, for this reason by Rome) moved in a sternly conservative direction.

This phase in the history of American Catholicism (just like now) stressed submissiveness. It is true, that many bishops back at that time organized assistance for Catholic immigrants that was often healing and life-saving. But these bishops, in turn, and many priests, insisted on absolute power and total obedience.

They were excellent organizers but also men of narrow theological vision. They tended to be belligerent, more impressive in conflict than in their capacity to reconcile.  (This fits the codepency/addiction abuse dynamic which is about setting up continual crisis/conflict in order to feel fully engaged.)

John Hughes, Archbishop of New York, was typical. He dismantled the trustee system in St. Patrick's Cathedral, boasting, "I made war on the whole system." He added that "Catholics did their duty when they obeyed their bishop." Even more ominously, he warned: "I will suffer (permit) no man in my diocese that I cannot control." (This is the control aspect of codepency as expressed in it's narcissistic form.)

Rome kept up the pressure. In "Vehementer Nos," Pius X wrote:"...the one duty of the multitude is to allow themselves to be led and, like a docile flock, to follow their pastors..."
This time period was strongly hierarchical. It instilled a sacramental reverence for Church authority, a sense that Christ was present in every official decision. The laity were to receive authority the way they would receive sacraments. Obedience became a central, defining virtue, a mark of holiness, and indispensable condition for approval and promotion. Dissent was treasonous---anti-Christ, diagnosed as a pathology. Initiative withered. This Church gave safety to its compliant members but it filled them with a sense of paranoia and suspicion of everything that was not Catholic.

This was NOT how the Catholic Church in America operated in the years from 1634-1850---it was much, much more democratic.

Now the Vatican seemingly has dug up and re-read the script that it used from Leo XIII's time up until after World War II. Today, bishops who repeat mindlessly that the Church is not a democracy---are anti-American and anti-Christian. All the other Christian Churches are collegial. Loyalty to Christ, after all, is not essentially connected with monarchy and ecclesial fedualism. A Church that that is proud that it is not a democracy and condemns a democratic spirit for its method of governance---is a working model for a totalitarianism system. This totalitarian Church is not seeking disciples---but members who are serfs (in the feudal sense of the word.


I can certainly see where our fearless leadership is looking at the current demographics in American Catholicism and seeing the current influx of immigrant Catholics into American parishes as a rerun of America from the turn of the twentieth centuryThey see immigrants who are Catholic, poor, uneducated, and enculturated in the Spanish version of the Catholic Church.  They are most likely seen as religiously dependent and submissive, while very much in need of a friendly safe face--a very fertile ground for authority driven bishops to plow.  So,  I am not terribly surprised that the USCCB is front and center in the immigration wars, showing a seemingly incongruent passion for social justice in this one area while otherwise acting as reactionary as any other right wing culture warrior.  Eventually, bishops such as Gomez in Los Angeles will begin to erode the resistance of the wealthy to immigration reform by hinting at the positives Latin immigrants bring to the US.  Eventually, the wealthy will really get what he is hinting at:  "Oh yea, we made a fortune on the backs of Catholic Irish and European immigrants back in the day, we could do it again.  All we have to do is trust Catholic bishops to teach these immigrants to be dependently 'traditionally' Catholic."  Wink wink nudge nudge.

Unfortunately for the USCCB, this is a strategy which won't work into the second generation.  Catholicism no longer has the education infrastructure it once had, ranting against secularism in the public schools has not been particularly effective.  Second generation Latinos are dropping the Church almost as fast as their American counterparts when they are not becoming Evangelical protestants. In the main America does not have the kind of immature social consciousness it had 150 years ago. I'm not so sure about the institutional face of Roman Catholicism.


  1. Antidisintermediationarianism.

    Perform an hermeneutic inquiry on that baby, then see if it will fit on a Scrabble board.

    The author of "Testem Benevolentiae" was very insightful. The analysis holds up well after 100 years.

    Too bad about the USCCB's power of analysis. What is the nature of the poor in the world today? Are they as dependent on institutions as they were even a decade ago? Are they cowered by authority? Cell phones are the most widely available computers in the world today. Their power is in access to the network and information.

    The poorest of the poor in Africa are able to bypass an entire banking system using mobile handsets. Obviously today's Arab Spring would not have been possible without this technology.

    It is a technology of disintermediation. It eliminates the middle-man. Everywhere you look there are powerful forces working against the existing intermediate structures. The RC Church's very reason for being is to intermediate between God and humankind.

    The poor migrant, illegal or not, will not be exploited as he or she might have been in the past.

    But the USCCB is willfully blind to the very nature of of their own organization's fundamental weakness thinking it is a strength. And so they fight disintermediation. Thinking it is the essence that separates the church from the rest, or at least the Protestants, they promote Antidisintermediationarianism


  2. I find little that can take the joy out of living so much as the idea that the individual is just a cog in the wheel and if he/she can't or won't accept that position the result is the eternal obliteration of that individual. Of course the individual is obliterated just as effectively by turning into a robot 'Borg'. It doesn't much matter if the individual accepts this position willingly or if it is imposed from the human theocracy.

    I understand that a person's ego can get in the way of spiritual development. But I just have a hard time reconciling the idea that the individuality must be entirely destroyed in order that a person may reunite with God.

  3. Another reason for continuing crisis-creation in the Roman church is to distract from the true problem, that is, the fact that the church opporates as an addictive system. Addictive systems create scapegoats to release pent-up frustration; hence, attacks on theologians, religious sisters in the US, the gay community, Fr. Roy Bourgeouis etc. Once these groups or individuals are excluded from the church, they become "lost children" and unlikely to return. Institutional "heroes" are created by sainthood and held up as role models for the sheep, er, laity. Yes the bishops do want to keep everyone under control so as not to capsize the boat. But Jesus walks on water & tells us we can too if we keep the focus on him. That is why the big c Church needs mystics and prophets and why they don't have a place in the hierarchy. They are too healthy to subsist in a dysfunctional system.

  4. Welcome Lemon Tree. Insightful comment.

    Anon: technology mirrors human capability. Cell phones are allowing people to connect as a precursor to how we will eventually all connect. No intermediary. We can connect on the spiritual level this way right now. That's what is so exciting to me about the younger generations. They are getting that truth. Now, the older generations have to convince them we have something to say about those connections---and they have to be willing to listen.

    T'Pel: On the spiritual path we eventually have to understand if we think we are the drivers of the spiritual car, we are going no where good. If we let our spiritual elders do the driving, we are learning how to drive. It's really hard for adults to admit they shouldn't be behind that particular wheel. Jesus said "Unless you become like little children you shall not inherit the kingdom"===totally paraphrased. I think he meant we are children when it comes to the greater picture. That is somewhat hard to accept.

  5. "the one duty of the multitude is to allow themselves to be led and, like a docile flock, to follow their pastors" ... er, Fuhrer.


    "Suffer the little children..."

  6. My point was not one of adult vs. child, or maturity vs. something else in terms of spirituality or even keeping control vs. letting God have control. My point had more to do with some human, or human organization putting people into a mold and obliterating all those differences which make a person an individual. Organizations that support this are those inclined toward determining a celibate, males-only priesthood for example, or to 'pray away the gay' rather than affirm the value of individual's qualities/gifts and finding ways to incorporate them into the community in a beneficial way.

    God gifted us with free will. I have to believe God so valued individuality - in whatever terms one wishes to define that - that this gift was risked. I believe that God's plan includes the value of individuality and thus does not desire the destruction of it. Nor do I believe that seeking to find God must by definition require me to give up elements of what God created in me. Turn away from causing evil, sin, entropy or however else you wish to define the dark side? Sure. But without valuing individuality, I'm not sure that a personal relationship with God is possible.

    And I am in way over my head in trying to express something my conscience knows to be true... ;)