A Reader Joins the Conversation

A reader responds with a critical but honest reaction:

“There are terms used in the blog that I find out of place for my experience.  In the article about “liberal” Catholics and contraception, it frequently uses the term “liberal” in a pejorative manner.  I find the word “liberal” does not fit.  At one point, it states, “liberal Catholic elites” and then names two Catholics.  Do you use terms like “conservative” or “conservative elites”? Even if you did, it would not add balance to it; rather, it would polarize it further.  It would further adopt the elected-political terms into the life of the Church where I find they incite rather than bring understanding.” Continue reading

Tell me what you value and I’ll tell you where you worship: a parish typology based upon measures of importance

In the past Catholics had little choice in their parish: most attended the parish within whose boundary they lived. If they belonged to an ethnic group which had a parish in the area, they were also free to register at that parish. While boundaries still officially exist, their importance generally has been downplayed by church officials during the last 30 years. Many Catholics choose their parish from among the Catholic parishes available in their area. In many ways the expectation of being able to choose one’s own parish is taken for granted, like the expectation of being able to choose one’s bank or physician. Continue reading

Does the Cafeteria Ever Close?

Everyone knows the phrase “cafeteria Catholics.” It is used pejoratively to categorize one way that Catholicism is lived: as a series of opinions that are picked willy-nilly based on the superficial feelings and unguided judgment of an individual.

But does the cafeteria ever close? Are all American Catholics, in some way, “cafeteria Catholics”? This thought came to mind with the recent controversy over the denial of communion in Washington, DC. The priest who denied communion to a lesbian woman has issued a statement recounting the details of the incident as well as his rationale for acting the way he did. Continue reading

Collective Deffervescence?

In response to my post about Vatican II, someone noted the contrast with our current moment and described feeling like the Church is suffering collective deffervescence.  (Perhaps I should call it de-effervescence, but I liked the neologism.  So, I stole it for this post.)

Certainly, we live in challenging times for the Catholic Church, especially in the U.S. and places like Ireland.  There is also no doubt that priest abuse scandals are the opposite of the Holy Spirit at work in the Church.  Such things are sure to lead to increased feelings of disengagement and decline.  But, I also think that there are positive forces at work in the Church as well, and it is important that we not lose sight of these positive forces for renewal.  I guess I am less pessimistic than many when I look at the Church in the US today.  I see so much good and know that evil cannot prevail! Continue reading

Vatican II (Part I)- Eventful Sociology: The Holy Spirit and Collective Effervescence

Carol Ann mentioned Melissa Wilde’s book on Vatican II, and I think it is a hugely important book in the Sociology of Religion, and one well worth exploring in more detail on this blog.  Below is a short excerpt from my own part in an Authors Meets Critics Session for the book held almost 5 years ago:

“With Vatican II:  A Sociological Analysis of Religious Change, Melissa Wilde has written a book that people will want to read, and it is a book that should be read.  Writing in the kind of prose, that so many of us wish we could write but so few of us can, she outlines a simple, elegant argument for understanding why Vatican II changed some things and not others, and also why it changed anything at all.

Continue reading

Data For the Day: Which issues are moral issues?

Carol Ann identified several important questions that I want to explore in future posts.

For this post, I want to explore her insight regarding the underlying question for many of “why this issue now?” (a battle over contraception at a time of economic hardship for millions?)  As she recognizes, it is not an either/or choice and certain Church leaders self-consciously speak out on both sets of issues.  Furthermore, the selection of this particular issue at this particular time was driven by the creation of new rules by HHS administration.

But, still, this sentiment, which she identifies, helps us to think about and ask “Which issues (e.g., abortion vs. poverty) are discussed, debated, and focused on in the public arena and by whom?”

I have done research on this topic and my results suggest that Catholic identity politics are intimately connected to these distinctions.  In my graphs for this post, I simply show which domain (and issue) is emphasized as “strongly connected to ultimate principles of right and wrong” according to self-identified religious identity.

It is clear that traditional Catholics are most likely to see cultural issues of abortion and same-sex marriage as moral issues, whereas liberal Catholics are most likely to see economic issues of health care and poverty as moral issues.  This bifurcation in the moral worldview of Catholics helps us to understand current dynamics, but it also allows us to see the way in which the Catholic Church in the U.S. is fragmented.  This is both understandable and potentially troubling.

Transcending (though not necessarily eliminating) such identity divisions will likely be an important task for the Church in the U.S. moving forward.