Why is Pope Benedict and the Vatican targeting America and Americans? Is it because he sees the prospects of re-evangelising Europe as now hopeless and America, with its still relatively bouyant participation rates, might be a better prospect? In this conclusion to their series, Sr Charlene Ozanick and John Chuchman are essentially asking these questions.
Issues Spilling into American Society
The beginning of this essay outlined the Vatican's insistence in the 19th Century to become a dominant factor in American life. At that time, Bishops were told to renounce "Americanism" (seen as an off-shoot of modernism). Americanism was viewed as a thrust away from dependence upon the Vatican's authority and a movement toward independent thought and actions. Yet, since Pope Benedict XVI called for a 'reform of the reform' a few years ago (revamp what Vatican Council II taught and go back to the Council of Trent), the intensity of his enactments has increased at a hectic pace.
In addition to the harsh demand that the Leadership Conference of Women Religious place itself under the control of the Tri-Bishops' Committee, so that all dissent and feminist themes will be eradicated, there are other areas that spill into the Catholic society in general. On an international level, new rules have been imposed on Caritas International. First, their secretary-general, a laywoman was ousted. Then all top Caritas officials were required to take a loyalty oath. Finally, a pontifical council must approve any Caritas texts with doctrinal or moral content.
It was also announced that all marriage annulments will be restricted. Since two-thirds of all the annulments in the world are presently granted to U.S. Catholics each year, these restrictions will especially be reflected in American society. It was noted by the head of the Roman Rota that the nullification of marriages because of 'psychic causes' [listed in Canon 1095], will be tightly restricted.
In American society, the thrust to prohibit contraception, does not just affect Catholics but all Americans. The teachings of John Paul II contained in his "Instruction on Respect for Human Life in its Origin and on the Dignity of Procreation" declared that this Catholic teaching MUST BECOME LAW. The Instruction states: "Politicians must commit themselves, through intervention upon public opinion, to secure the widest possible consensus on such essential points…" In other words, politicians are expected to enact into law 'appropriate legal sanctions' for violations of the contraception law. And today this Church law denying contraception is on the brink of becoming a Constitutional Law.
This is the core of the American Bishops' indignation about the Obama administration's insurance coverage mandates. This is presented as an anti-Catholic attack on religious liberty. And the Bishops are calling upon widespread disobedience among loyal Catholics by this 'secular, oppressive government'. This is the first time in America's history that its Bishops are poised (and in some dioceses have already done so) to require Catholics to vote against the incumbent President. Along with these pressures, the latest group to come under the American Bishops' scrutiny is the Girl Scouts — because of some reputed lack of orthodoxy because of some association with groups that also lack 'orthodoxy'. For many American women, this appears to be all out "War on Women" being waged by the members of the hierarchy in America.
In several states, there is an intense support by the hierarchy to encourage votes to reject same-sex marriages at the ballot box, and in some cases, domestic unions, are effected. In this way, the Church's official teaching on gay issues are being imposed on the general public — Catholic or otherwise.
Regionally, repressive actions are visible. In Madison, Wisconsin the bishop has threatened parishioners in a rural area with an interdict, because the people complained that the imported new priests from Spain at their church bar girls from serving at Mass and will not permit Catholic Eucharistic ministers from distributing Communion. Girls are barred from being altar servers in other arch/dioceses as well.
As Sister Joan Chittister, OSB, noted in the National Catholic Reporter,
"The American tradition comes out of a commitment to freedom of speech, freedom of thought and democratic participation in the political process, which, admittedly, the Vatican has always suspected; indeed, has never liked. To ask Americans to take on not simply a European or Eastern European or Asian or African approach to "obedience" or governance or women, but a medieval one at that, is asking for what no law can provide. It is easy, of course, to force obedience; but, never doubt, it is impossible to force belief."
All of the political, social, and religious ramifications point out to the unique situation that faces America. Most nations in the Western World have long had universal health care. While they may not have had the ethical complications that arise with church-run hospital systems, certainly tax dollars from Catholics do contribute to fund these services. And there is very little resistance from Catholic Church leadership elsewhere to any services that would cause the shouts of protest that come from some quarters in the U.S.
Why in America?
Why in America? Perhaps Pope Benedict has given up trying to bring Europe back to his concept of the Catholic Church's dominion of daily life? When he was elected pope, it was said that Joseph Ratzinger chose the name "Benedict" because of two reasons. One reason was that he admired the work of St. Benedict and his spiritual sons in preserving and transmitting the heritage of ancient Greece and Rome and the whole Christian culture for Europe. And the second reason had a darker implication: Ratzinger believed that his pontificate would be the last chance to keep Europe from going over the edge of the 'cliff'. Did Pope Benedict actually believe that Europe is, going to Hell in a basket?
Cardinal Timothy Dolan had an interview with John L. Allen, Jr. of NCR entitled "People of Hope" (a book-length commentary). A particular reflection by Dolan of an 'ad limina' visit with the still Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, hints at a possible answer to this question. Dolan recalls that this ad limina visit occurred in 2004 with a group of American and European bishops gathered with Cardinal Ratzinger. Ratzinger said that he wanted to know the bishops' thoughts on the matter of politicians and Communion. One American bishop, in his turn, stated that it appeared that Rome expected the U.S. bishops "to be much more definitive on the issue of pro-abortion politicians, and much stricter, than the bishops in Europe". Dolan recalled the American bishops saying that they had seen placards and signs throughout Rome for political leaders who were known to be both Catholic and pro-abortion. "We've never heard of the bishop of Rome asking to dialogue with the mayor or any politician about this particular problem, or threatening to deny him Communion. Why is that never brought up here in Rome or in the rest of Europe, but we (in America) get instruction all the time on this issue?" Cardinal Dolan recalled that Cardinal Ratzinger never gave any answer to the bishop.
Has Pope Benedict, indeed, given up on Europe? And does the Vatican hope to achieve its goal since the 19th Century of exerting its hegemonism on American Catholics and, indeed, over all America?
Sister M. Charlene Ozanick, CSSF
What are your thoughts on this commentary?