We often say the problems in the Church today, particularly in America, are due to “poor catechesis.” This is true. Indeed, but proper faith formation has been a problem before the past 50 years.
However, I often find that the problem is not just “poor catechesis” but “bad catechesis”: that is to say, people have been very well formed in a false conception of Catholicism.
Yes, I long ago learned to realize how very few people actually read the documents, or seem to get anything out of them when they read them, and there are a lot of people who just need to be informed. I also have encountered plenty of people who know what the Church teaches and simply reject it.
What still blows my mind, however, and deeply frustrates me are people who *are* well-read, who know what the Church teaches but insist that’s not what the Church “really” teaches, or that it’s wrong, people who think they are wonderful Catholics because they have inculcated a “Catholicism” that is totally alien to any kind of orthodox tradition. I assume this is a problem in other cultures, but I know it’s especially a problem in America, and was a problem in America long before Vatican II. After all, Leo XIII was well aware of the problem.
Europeans who emigrated to America came here in rejection of the authorities back in Europe, and often those authorities included the Church. This led to a breed of Catholicism that has been traditionally defiant and suspicious of the Vatican’s authority. In _Crisis_ back in the 90s, Fr. James Schall described the division we sometimes characterize too simply as “liberal” and “conservative” Catholics as “American Catholics versus “Roman Catholics”: although ironically the Catholics who emphasized their identity as “American Catholics” within the Church were more likely to balk at patriotism when it came to their secular lives.
So tonight I had a very long exchange with a fellow who brought forth all the standard talking points of both anti-Catholics and the “Catholic Left”: Crusades, Inquisition and all that. I’m surprised he didn’t bring up Galileo! He pulled out the recent claims that the Church only cared about marriage between a man and a woman after Aquinas and insisted the first millennium church endorsed “gay marriages”. He dismissed my every reference to Pius IX, Leo XIII, or even John Paul II or Benedict XVI (whom he insisted on calling “Ratzinger” and accusing of being a Nazi sympathizer).
Yet this fellow insisted he was a good Catholic, that Jesus’s primary teaching is “love” (in the words of Inigo Montoya, “You keep using that word. I don’t think you know what it means”),and that I was just a bigot. He insisted that, by saying, “It’s wrong for people to try to force society to endorse their sins,” I was *actually* saying that some sins should be singled out as worse than others (well, objectively, that’s true).
I keep thinking that “Obama Catholics” are unaware that the Pope has said the present administration, in conjunction with the gay rights movement, poses an unprecedented America) threat to the Church. I keep thinking that “Obama Catholics” are unaware of the numerous statements by bishops about the threat posed to freedom of religion (a message the Pope told them to speak about in that same speech), a threat posed not just by the HHS contraception mandate, not just by Obamacare’s infringements on individual conscience, but by the “gay marriage” movement and the trend towards labelling the Bible “hate speech.”
But, no. They’re very much aware, and they just say, “Non Serviam.” They still buy into the “We Are Church” mentality and see the Pope as an out-of-touch German guy. Since he served unwillingly in the Hitler Youth, they speak of him as if he personally participated in the Holocaust. They apply the same principles they use about Catholicism today–“Lots of Catholics use birth control, so birth control is OK for Catholics”–and extend them to the past. Thus, if they can dig up some Catholic priest or bishop in 800 AD who seemed to approve of homosexuality, in spite of the statements to the contrary in the Fathers, they say, “The early Church approved of homosexuality.”
If they can find some Catholic priest in the US who endorsed slavery, it’s “The Catholic Church endorsed slavery,” and when told about papal statements going back centuries that condemned slavery, they insist that the Popes approved of it because they didn’t excommunicate Catholics who supported it (they did).
If they find some Catholic bishop who was a racist, then the Church was racist.
It’s maddening, but it’s a deeply ingrained worldview that comes from generations of American Catholics who have gradually adopted beliefs that are more Masonic than they are Catholic. It comes from their easy adoption of secular thought and the falsely Catholic ideologies they have encountered among their religion teachers.