How to Fix Catholics

The cardinal looked grim. “This is the situation now,” he said. “One political party is dangerous and the other is stupid.”

Since that was said in a private chat, it wouldn’t be fair for me to name the speaker. But his comment expresses sentiments that probably are widely shared in the American hierarchy today, as indeed they’re shared widely by many Americans. Bipartisan disgust with politics is a sorry byproduct of our recent, toxic election campaign. If the country should actually topple over the infamous fiscal cliff, plenty of people would suppose both parties gave it a shove.

The cardinal’s words also have considerable relevance for the Church, underlining something that’s now more clear than ever. While the Church is obliged to take both deeply flawed political coalitions as facts, it has no natural home in either.

No cause for smugness here, though. Before lecturing the parties, the Church needs to face up to internal problems of its own, which requires recognizing what those problems are.

The National Catholic Reporter, viewing reality through the lenses of left-wing Catholicism, accuses bishops who spoke out strongly during the campaign of “alienating” all but a “small choir” of the faithful who agree with them on issues.

Maybe so. But maybe it’s just the Reporter and its friends who are alienated. Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson gets closer to the truth when he notes that, while 50% of Catholics overall voted for Barack Obama, the seven-point shift away from Obama among white Catholics from 2008 to 2012 was “one of the largest swings of any portion of the electorate.” In a close election, he adds, it could have determined the outcome.

The point isn’t that Catholic voting directly mirrors what bishops say. But at least the outspokenness of some bishops seems not to have had the widespread alienating effect the Catholic Reporter likes to think it had. Still, leaving aside the parsing of the Catholic vote,  it’s obvious that many American Catholics just aren’t hearing—or anyway  heeding—the Church’s message on the relationship of doctrine to politics and the rest of life.

At their fall assembly in November, the bishops approved a document on preaching that makes the familiar point that a typical congregation today includes a lot of people who are “inadequately catechized.” Here is a delicate way of saying even many who go to Mass don’t have a clear notion of what the Church teaches and don’t see how it applies to them. That has deeply negative implications for political behavior and nearly everything else.

If Catholic teaching matters, this needs to change. The bishops should give early attention to a massive, continuing, and intellectually serious program—one not directly tied to politics and the election cycle—to educate Catholics in the doctrine of their Church, including social doctrine and doctrine on human life and marriage. Isolated statements in the face of election year passions aren’t enough.

Homilies should be a part of this new effort but only part. Ongoing adult education is essential. And the Church must reach out through the use of new and old media to the dismayingly large number of Catholics who seldom attend Mass.

During the Baltimore assembly, the bishops voted to create a new public affairs unit in their national conference. It would do well to make this effort a high priority. Then maybe all those newly well-informed Catholics would begin working for the reform of American politics and the renewal of the social order.

I can dream, can’t I?

Russell Shaw


Russell Shaw is a freelance writer from Washington, D.C. You can email him at

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  • Kay

    I often wonder if you’re a wolf in sheep’s clothing, Mr. shaw. Your opinions border on the “dangerous”. I’d love to know who this Cardinal is. Any Catholic should know dangerous and stupid are two very different things, although I would take issue with “stupid”. The church, as a whole, contracepts. That is the problem. There is so much out there to cathecize oneself, it’s mind boggling. Maybe you should look into some of these resources and get started. And, by the way, The National Catholic Reporter isn’t one of the resources. Why would you even quote anything from that rag?

  • mombryan

    I think it’s important to step back and read this from a non-party angle, as I believe Mr. Shaw is trying to do. It is not that what the Cardinal says is absolute truth- it is one man’s opinion and a reflection of how many people may feel. No party is perfect. They are both flawed. Yes, I agree that contraception and the lack of respect for Life is a big issue. But I also agree with Mr. Shaw that we can’t wag our fingers at others (specifically the political parties themselves) and accuse them of all wrong. We as a people have a responsibility and especially as Catholics. But with our unformed actions and blindness to the teachings of the Church we follow, we cannot truly say the problem lies only with the political system. If we knew what our Church taught and lived and formed our decisions (especially by voting) from those teachings, we would shape the country into more of what Jesus desires of us as people. I think that is the point Mr. Shaw is making. When we don’t know any better, we cannot be trusted to do what is right. And yes, I agree that there is so much out there to catechize oneself with, but too many of us get caught in the world and forget we need to exercise and enrich our souls. We listen to the Liar and his whispers that going to Mass is enough and we are doing just fine, thank you. The teaching and education of our faith is a major responsibility of the Church, and unfortunately cannot be left up to the majority of Catholics independently- especially in this country, where it is so easy to just go with the world and do what “feels good”. This is why God gave us a Church. We are not capable of doing it all ourselves (if so, then we are Protestants, aren’t we?). We are sheep and we need the guidance of our Mother Church. And once we know what the Truth is, deep within our hearts and souls, we will be able to make important decisions, responsibly, at the voting booth and for the entire world.

  • chaco

    I hear ya mombryan. I am an example of being “Thick” ; I took years to finally “Get” things taught by Mother Church. If someone looked at me as a possibility of my current self, rather than a lost cause because of my rebelliousness, they were “Lighting a candle rather than cursing the darkness.” Just because someone hears Truth in their head doesn’t mean it has registered as such in their Heart. I thank God for candle lighters and their prayers for my soul; Rejoice Queen Mother; Your son our God has gone into the darkness & illumined it with the Victory of Divine Mercy. It has penetrated the hardness of our selfish vanity & softened our Hearts into praise & thanks for God [who longs to share His Glorious Love with us.]

  • Brian

    I echo your comments about being once thick and now getting it (Church teaching). It was difficult to find the humility to open my eyes, but once I did, and I began to understand, I felt free from the first time. It would of seemed counterintuitive to me in the past that embracing Church teaching would be freeing in any way whatsoever, but it is.

    to me

  • ArtNYC

    Without question, the Catholic church now has a natural home in the GOP of 2012. And without question, the Democratic Party is now deeply dangerous to Catholics and other christian groups. The sooner the Bishops take sides the better. Time is running out before we Catholics begin seeing major prosecutions (persecutions) based on the Affordable Care Act. One positive note: the GOP-controlled states seem willing to block the contraception mandate if not the entire federal health law. So, rallying around the 25 or so GOP governed states may be the best hope for actual protection. Democrat radicals are running the nation with an iron fist and a bizarre godless agenda.

  • chaco

    And it doesn’t even hurt ! ; 2Cor 7: 10 “For Godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted…” It may hurt a bit to get us too that point though (“Tough Love”); Rom. 1: 18- chapter 2 talks about being “Thick” and how God can use it to REVEAL THE LIE; UNBRIDLED FREEDOM BRINGS FULFILLMENT. Freedom is to be used for finding “Our Papa’s” plan for fulfillment (see Gal. 5: 13). HOW LUCKY WE ARE ! – that Papa saved us from “The Lie” ; Knowing His Love makes love from “The World” seem small indeed. Welcome aboard Bro’.

  • Annie

    Believe it or not the Catholic Church is a political party on it own and has been for centuries.There have been dangerous, stupid, and very corrupt men running the Church at times. The Church plays the same kind of games the political parties do to get what they want.

    The main problem of the Catholic Church today is that it is trying to micromanage everyone who enters a Catholic Church. I am almost fifty and grew up in a Jesuit Catholic church. I have worked in a Jesuit school for twenty years. We loved going to church when we were growing up because our priests focused on all the good things we did instead of telling us how much we had failed. We already knew we were sinners, but they gave us hope we could be better people. The Jesuit have schools and churches all over the world. Their moto is “Men for Others” not men against others which seems to be where the Catholic church is headed. Do any of you think that God or Jesus would have a check list of rules that They had to go over before you were allowed to go to Mass? The rules that were made by all those imperfect men in the church.

    When did the Pope, Cardinals and Bishops start to make it all so rule oriented and complicated. It used to be simple, treat others as Jesus would treat them! God knows if you are sorry for your sins whether you go to confession before receiving the body and blood of Christ. Who are any of you to stand up and tell others what they are doing wrong or where they are going astray. When you become infallible then maybe you can point fingers. I never felt such a negative vibe from JPII when he was Pope, now the Church is using his mission in such a judgmental way, which I find very sad.

    As long as the Church continues to scold and keep such a negative view of those who do not follow every single rule they have, they are going to continue to loose people. If I wanted a church like that, I would go to a protestant church. The Jesuits have a loving, positive, giving view of God and they preach for us to go out and do the same. I will always be a Jesuit Catholic and proud of it whether the Pope approves or not.

  • ArtNYC

    “I will always be a Jesuit Catholic and proud of it whether the Pope approves or not.”

    Martin Luther couldn’t have said it better himself, Annie. You’re definitely a protestant now. But in truth, the picture you paint is way off base. Sure, Catholicism has rules, but they make sense and are oriented towards keeping a clean conscience and a holy soul in one’s dealings with others and God. Religions that become lax (Jesuits, protestant mega-churches) on holiness, liturgy, confession, and justice — just to make everyone feel good — ultimately die out. If I want self help, I go to self help books. If I want God and social justice, and peace on earth, I go to Mother Church, where I am called to repent and change my ways and embrace the life of love, holiness, and charity.

    Holiness is a great focus. Heaven is for the truly repentant. Hell is for the protestors and rebels. Make your choice. Don’t waste time. Your life is very short here. Eternity is very long.

  • rakeys

    “Do any of you think that God or Jesus would have a check list of rules that They
    had to go over before you were allowed to go to Mass? The rules that were made by all those imperfect men in the church.”

    Yes, Jesus has a set of rules, not to keep you from attending Mass, but to get into heaven. The Ten Commandments would be a good place to start. Then go to the Sermon on the mount in Mt Chap 5-7. In just one simple statement. Jesus said “You have heard that it was said ‘You shall not commit adultery’ But I say to you, everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart” MT 5:27-28. Don’t forget to read verses 29 and 30. Jesus does not mince words about the consequences of adultery.

    In just this one sentenced Jesus has told us not to lust after a woman( or man) This has huge implications for premarital sex, adultery, pornography, masturbation. But if all you know about the Church’s teaching on sex is not to do it outside of marriage, you have truly missed the beauty of the Church’s and JESUS teaching on sexuality our sexuality is truly a gift from God to bring couples closer together and to raise a family., not just a fun activity for consenting adults.

    Men are expected to treat women with dignity and appreciation them as a child of God, not as an object to satisfy our sexual desire. Read JPII Theology of the Body.

    Remember Jesus did not condemn the woman caught in adultery, but he did tell her to “go and sin no more”. When the Church reiterates Jesus commands about sexual morality she does it out of love for each one of us. The whole reason for th Churche’s teaching is so that “we could be better people”

    The Jesuits should have told you this. Initially the Jesuits were founded to defend the Pope and Church teachings against the protestants. Now many Jesuits are often just one more voice against the Truth of Church teaching. Jesus told us to carry our cross and obey the commandments, not to “feel good”, although when one does follow church teaching and accepts Jesus as lord , it does feel good. “Thy will be done” we pray

  • The cardinal couldn’t have been more correct. The GOP foolishly allowed the President to “kick the can” on the fiscal cliff until after the elections. They are dealing with the Democrats as if they believe that the Democratic leadership has the same goal they do, that is the good of the country. Oh they do, but it is not the same country. I’ve no doubt that Obama, Axlerod, Pelosi and Reid actually see the so-called “fiscal cliff” as a good thing. It guts the military, which this group have never had much use for anyway, allows them to raise taxes, and makes cuts to other programs that the Democratic leadership can live with. More it will cause such havoc for the common man that they can hope to get that socialist revolution that failed to materialize in the 1960s. Meanwhile the Republicans negotiate with them based on the false premise that they are negotiating with people who are acting in good faith. I think that makes them ‘stupid’.

  • Your theology sounds very Protestant Annie. Yes God knows your sins and Christ arranged for a way to forgive them. It’s a sacramental confession. If you receive Eucharist while still in a state of mortal sin you compound your sin.

    I’m sorry you don’t like to be reminded that you are a sinner. I don’t much like to be reminded either. But as St. Augustine was fond of saying in the days before anesthetic, “The surgeon does not stop cutting just because the patient is screaming for him to stop.” The surgeon knows he must continue too save the patient. The priest, the Church must preach sin to save the sinner.

    Who am I to tell others what they are doing is wrong? I am a Christian called to practice the Spiritual Work of Mercy to admonish the sinner. Who is the Church? The Church is the body of Christ, founded by Christ and placed under the direction of the apostles and their successors the bishops, and lead by the vicar of Christ, Peter, the Pope.

    If you do not believe this then perhaps you are being dishonest with yourself. Whether you call yourself Catholic or not you are really not a practicing Catholic, because a practicing Catholic thinks with the mind of the Church.

    As for loosing people, Christ never worried about pandering to people to make them stay. After the Bread of Life discourse he let anyone leave who wanted to. The Church does not change to keep the pews filled. You have a skewed view of Protestantism. Protestant churches are the places where people make the kind of churches they want, picking the beliefs they like and ignoring the rest. Many Jesuits think with the mind of the Church and would be appalled that you believe that St. Ignatius’ mighty army of God, who reports directly to the Pope, rather than the local bishops, have in some way a structure outside the Church or the Pope’s authority made up of “Jesuit Catholics.”

  • Annie

    Rakeys I am sorry you misunderstood, the rules I referred to were the ones made by men not by God. Of course the Commandments are the rules from God we should follow, the rest were made by men.

    When did the Jesuits go against the teachings of the Ten Commandments? Instead of constantly preaching about the church’s stand on birth control, which seems to be such a big topic on this site, the Jesuits spend their time teaching us how to be Men for Others, Men of God. Every year 250 senior do 100 hours of community service each, the underclass also do a certain amount. They hold can food drives, clothing drives, detergents drives, etc. for those in need. Some go to Africa, Mexico, and Honduras to help the poorest of the poor. They feed the hungry and make sure needy people have gifts at Christmas. This is just one of hundreds of school in the US that the Jesuit run and where they show their student how to live God’s word rather than to judge whether others are doing it right.

    You make it seem like if one is not out preaching God’s word 24/7 he is not a good Catholic. If we have any kind of fun or good feelings we are going against the teachings of the church. “Being better people” does not mean that you take the word of God’s and condemn others. I would rather stick with the Jesuits and continue to go out and help others rather than worry about if some married woman with four kids is using birth control.

  • Annie

    Seeing as the Jesuits have been around since 1530 and have hundreds of schools and churches all over the world, I am not to worried about them dying out. You must not know much about the Jesuits as you implied that the Mother Church calls you to repent embrace the life of love, holiness, and charity; do you think the Jesuits do not ask the same. The difference is you seem to judge who is worthy of heaven and who is not, we let God decide that. We look for the good in others and try to go out and help those in need everyday. I have made my decision.

  • chaco

    Annie, I can feel the love in ya. For me, it has helped to clear things up by seperating articulated definitions/ judgments of good & evil from Eternal Judgment; Eternal Judgment involves reading of the Heart/ conscience which we can’t do – That’s “The Manufacturer’s” job. As for the single mother with 4 children, continue showering her with your abundant concern, but share with her the comparison of Eucharist to marriage; Both require total commitment to the one we are uniting with. Otherwise, we are holding something back from our “Beloved”. God bless you and your Love for Christ’s Love.

  • Annie

    That is funny Terry because I was thinking your theology sounded very Protestant. I am not saying the Jesuits do not follow the Pope, they just focus first on the good in people, not in the hundreds of different rules the Church has. They teach people to go out and help the less fortunate on a daily basis.

    I would guess you don’t know anyone who knows they are a sinner more than I. It is the first thought I have everyday and I am fully open to hearing that I am a sinner at Mass, just not 30 times in one homily. Your job is to” admonish the sinner” ,whether or not I am a sinner is none of your business, that is between God and myself, not someone who thinks they have the right to judge me, someone who is a sinner themselves.

    I am not being dishonest with myself and I have numerous priests that have known me over the last 50 years that would back me up on that. Again, we try to focus on helping those in need instead of admonishing people. It is not about feeling good because there is a great deal of pain when dealing with children who are starving or beaten, women who are raped, the elderly that have no one that will help them,or all the abandoned AIDS victims that are still very sick. The Jesuits focus is for us, like Christ, to reach out everyday to someone in need, not to be the church police.

  • chaco

    Oh !, And to make those who haven’t fully committed to the milleniums of unfathomable Love in “Holy Mother Church”, share how preparing to become a full member in the “Body of Christ” is akin to courtship. Then, they won’t feel so left out during the waiting period.

  • ArtNYC

    Annie, you exaggerate too much. Catholic Church is the number one charity service in the world. So, this idea that preaching against wrong somehow gets in the way of charity work is simply untrue.

    Now, any Catholic (Jesuit or other) who will not attempt to persuade others to amend destructive thoughts actions and behaviors (i.e., sins) has nothing in common with the gospel of Christ. People’s unjust behaviors and attitudes are the root cause of human degradation and suffering all around us. And we ourselves contribute to that degradation through our own wrongs. Therefore, Christ’s gospel of repentance is the loving cure.

    I read you as saying the Catholic Church shouldn’t preach loudly against human wrongs. But if she does not, she hates humanity.

    Now, I also read you as exaggerating quite a bit. You don’t really hear the church only calling people to repent of their personal wrongs. Every Catholic parish I have ever attended has countless ministries to the poor and sick, and without condition.

  • ArtNYC

    Annie, Catholic “rules” are not merely “man made” any more than the Commandments. Perhaps this is an area you should examine more closely. Sexual/family ethics are solidly rooted in scripture, tradition, and natural law.

  • ArtNYC

    Annie writes: Your job is to” admonish the sinner” ,whether or not I am a sinner is none of your business, that is between God and myself, not someone who thinks they have the right to judge me, someone who is a sinner themselves.

    If your priest or some Catholic who knows you finds out you are stealing or having an affair or helping others abort their kids, what do you think is the loving thing for them to do? Say nothing? Even you don’t believe that.

  • Annie

    ArtNYC, I do not think i exaggerate as much as you seem to manipulate my words. Never did I say that preaching against wrong gets in the way of charitable work nor did I say that the Church shouldn’t preach loudly against human wrong. If I manipulated what you have said, I would read you as saying that admonishing sinners should be the focus of the Catholic Church and we should all be out there finding every sinners, but I know that is not what you said.

    I do not choose to admonish sinners in the name of the Catholic church, I choose to try to go out and help the needy, treat others as Jesus would, be a good example of a Christian person, and be a better person everyday. If not being comfortable confronting sinners because I am a sinner myself means I don’t have the stomach for it, then I guess I don’t. Fortunately, there are people like you that are much more comfortable doing that then I. You have questioned my being a true Catholic and my devotion to the Church, that is your right and seems to be a your “gift”. I will stick with how I practice my faith as I am sure you will also.When I stop being a sinner maybe I will do better at admonishing others, until then the Catholic church is blessed to have you.


    Perhaps you really are a Protestant!

  • Inez Hayes

    In my opinion, in this last election the Catholic Church went a step too far. I don’t like to be told who to vote for. Regardless of the feelings of the Church, they are now stepping on my right to vote. They need to step back and reevaluate how they are presenting themselves and their issues.

  • Annie

    Why, because I do not believe or follow every single one of the rules of the Catholic Church, rules that have changed or been altered several different times in its history.. Men decided it should be this way, then it should be that way, this should be in Mass, no now we say this, all of which indicates they didn’t get it right before. I have 13 year of Catholic education and have worked at a Catholic school for 20 years and there are at least a dozen priest who will tell you I am a good Catholic, but those priest choose to focus on helping those in need, bringing out the good in people, and not in the politics of the church run by very mortal men.

    I my be mistaken, but your comment came across as demeaning. I believe Protestants believe Christ is their savor. Do you think only Christians who follow the Catholic Church’s teachings are to be saved?

  • ArtNYC


    The Blessed Trinity, the apostles, the prophets, Holy Mother Church, Jesus, and the whole of Christianity expects and demands sinners to reform themselves and others. It’s called the ministry of salvation. It’s what we do to save humanity from itself. When we reform ourselves and others with the aid of God’s grace, the human condition rises. If we refuse to confront evil when it pops up in ourselves and others, the evil wipes us all out in myriad ways (poverty, crime, broken families, addiction, you name it). Human wrongs (sins) are the cancer on humanity, and the gospel of repentance from human wrongs (sins) is the cure.

    I’m working on repenting of my wrongs. I expect you are too. And we must encourage this same personal reformation for everyone in the world so that the world can be a better place.

  • Annie

    In all my years in Catholic school and church I have never heard the word demand related to the Catholic Church. Like I said before, we all have different callings as Catholics and mine is not to point out others sins. I have spoken to several priest that believe God is just find with that. You obviously are very committed to finding sinners, so I wish well.