The Church dodged a bullet on November 2. The last thing the Church needed was an openly dissenting Catholic in the White House. By now everyone knows that Catholics voted for George Bush at the historic level of 51 percent overall and 55 percent of regular Mass attendees. This shift in political support provides further evidence of the changes in the Catholic Church in this country.
Most evident is the growing split between the John Paul II Catholics and those who fashion themselves as the true heirs of Vatican II and the papacy of John XXIII. Although informed Catholics realize that neither Vatican II nor the pope who called for it would justify the kind of open dissent from Church teaching that pours out of mainstream Catholic institutions.
In the coming years these institutions will be openly challenged by the same legion of Catholics who threw their support to the pro-life president. Just as pro-abortion candidates are undergoing closer scrutiny and even defeat—think Senator Daschle—the parishes, colleges, hospitals, and chanceries preaching dissent will be increasingly challenged.
This has already started in small- and medium-sized dioceses where access to power structures are more readily available to Catholic activists. The urban dioceses are so entrenched and buried in bureaucracy they’ll need to be overhauled from above. And a generation of bishops is coming along who won’t be afraid to clean the stables.
Along with the challenge to Church institutions itself, this generation of lay Catholics who have been inspired by the present pope will not be intimidated by the demonization of religious belief so widespread during the campaign and in the aftermath of Bush’s election. The name-calling and labeling of Catholics and Evangelicals by the media elite has done nothing but create a formidable backlash.
Very quickly the force of that backlash was felt again in the outrage over the comments of Senator Arlen Specter regarding a litmus test for future federal and Supreme Court judges.
Some have said that the bishops are the big losers in this election—that in the failure of many of them to delineate clearly the difference between an issue like fetal stem cells and arctic drilling, they abdicated their responsibility. I respectfully disagree. The winner in this election—from a Catholic perspective—is the Catholic laity. Their unprecedented level of participation and their commitment to protecting life and marriage—as ex-pressed through their vote—suggests that the bishops may have been doing a better job than previously thought.
Crisis Magazine has always argued that the duty of evangelizing the culture is the job of the laity. Since I came to Crisis over ten years ago, I’ve sounded that theme over and over again. Not only have I written about it and encouraged others to do it, but I’ve participated in the battle on the ground. What the laity is called to do cannot be accomplished from an armchair, even if it happens to be surrounded by the greatest books ever written. Informed Catholics must take the field, and indeed they have.
Nothing scares the old guard more than an informed and faithful Catholic laity unwilling to be intimidated into inaction by worn-out slogans and mantras. If I have learned anything over the past decade it is that information is power, and if it is widely and effectively disseminated, faithful people will be jarred to action. This is what I’ve hoped to accomplish for our country and our Church.
I pray that it is.