The National Catholic Reporter, viewing reality through the lenses of leftwing 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 percent 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.