Within our Catholic Church and largely unknown to Catholics is the emerging of an ultra-conservative right wing movement intent on returning us to pre-Vatican days. When Catholics hear of such things, we tend to dismiss such themes as a return to the Latin Mass. While that is indeed one of the desires of the Catholic Right Wing, that movement is far more active a part of the Catholic Church than many of us realize. The Right Wing movement includes US bishops and includes a number of Bishops who have spoken out against Pope Francis, even so far as to demand his removal. The Right Wing objects to the Pope’s position of compassion and justice for the poor and instead advocates a theology of prosperity that advocates for the growth of capitalism.
Given that the hierarchy of the American Catholic Church is made up primarily of white male conservatives, some resistance to Pope Francis’ progressive attitudes about issues ranging from same-sex marriage to the environment is to be expected. But some conservative Bishops have aligned themsleves with Big Money people such as the Koch brothers and conservative Catholics of power to include Clarence Thomas and his wife.
In her important book Playing God: American Bishops and the Far Right, Mary Jo McConahay, herself a Catholic and journalist, provides a well-researched very unsettling study of the development of the Far Right movement within the Church. She argues that ultra-conservative Catholics of wealth are pushing an agenda that includes banning not only abortion but same sex marriage and any policy that supports LGBT rights. Further, they are intent on reversing the gains of Vatican II.
It would appear that over the past 30 years the US Council of Catholic Bishops has moved away from advocacy for the poor and for the environment to a greater emphasis of and support for a capitalist agenda. As such, a significant number of Bishops did not offer clear support for Pope Francis’ important encyclical Laudato si which introduced the notion that actions that harmed the environment such as fossil fuels were against God’s wishes. McConahay notes that some of the right wing big money people embraced by several bishops have significantly investment in the fossil fuel industry.
The pattern and intensity of attacks on the Pope have been so vitriolic that the Pope recently addressed the use of social media noting “…when groups that present themselves as ‘Catholic” use their social media presence to foster division, they are not behaving as a Christian community should.” Several American Bishops, the network EWTN and numerous conservative newspapers such as National Catholic Reporter have repeatedly attacked the Pope, at times asking him to step down.
How does all this impact an ordinary Catholic? First of all, it challenges the assumption many Catholics have that the Church hierarchy has our best interests in mind. That assumption was already brought into question by the USCCB’s hesitation in forcefully addressing the sexual abuse scandal. Now it would appear that some Bishops are not aligned with the needs of their flock but are rather intent in pushing an agenda that prioritizes abortion while minimizing issues such as poverty and the environment. Thus, there is the issue of how if at all do we laity hold the hierarchy accountable?
Not all American bishops are aligned with the Right Wing and its country cousin Big Money. Some are open in their embrace of immigrants. Others are willing through their diocesan newspapers to articulate support for documents such as Laudato si. Since USBCC closed Catholic News Service, the only option for intelligent analysis of the Bishops’ decision-making, diocesan newspapers remain as a tool for intelligent balanced reflection on the issues of today. Bishops need to make use of these tools to stimulate intelligent dialogue, to educate laity on the problems the American Catholic Church faces and to encourage support of the Pope especially among conservative Catholics who make up the majority of those who regularly attend Mass.
Young people are leaving the Catholic Church in great numbers, a fact hierarchy is either helpless to address or simply don’t care. As long as conservative Catholics who accept the Catholic Right Wing’s agenda fill the pews, right wing clergy may be content, looking forward to the return to Latin Mass.