Reading Michelle Malkin’s column today was a heartbreaking exercise for me. Not because anything in it was new to me. The mere fact that Father Pfleger is a priest in good standing in any archdiocese is a scandal in itself, never mind that the archdiocese of Chicago would honor him, as they just did. It’s no breaking news that some of what erroneously passes as “social justice” policy coming from the bishops’ conference in Washington could have come from the Democratic National Committee. What was heartbreaking was to read from Michelle about what she cleverly calls the “Pflegerization of Catholicism,” a) that “the Pflegerization of Catholicism goes on unabated,” b) “the likes of Cardinal George are doing nothing to stop it,” and c) “This is not the Catholic Church I was raised in. It has left me.”
Mercifully, none of these things is true, but I’m heartbroken to know that Michelle thinks they are.
I don’t know, but I suspect Cardinal George didn’t personally approve the “Racial Justice” award for Pfleger. I realize, however, that it doesn’t really matter. It happened. He was there. I’ve heard explanations for why Pfleger has remained where he has, all of which miss the big picture that leads to columns like Michelle’s — and people leaving the Church.
He is cardinal archbishop of Chicago, but Cardinal George is also a man. He’s a good man who has done many good things that Michelle would consider part of the solutions, not the problems. He’s also on the verge of the end of his tenure. I’d be surprised if Chicago doesn’t get a fresh de-Pflegerizing leader soon.
Meanwhile the “Pflegerization” does not go on “unabated.” Throughout the country, in chanceries, in rectories, from pulpits, even in offices of the bishops’ conference, there are voices very different from Pfleger’s. They are pastors and bishops and lay men and women. Some of them are even politicians. And they’re Catholic.
The Catholic Church hasn’t left them because of sins and crimes and mistakes that have been committed by men in the Church, because that’s not the whole of or the heart of the Church. I’m not Catholic because I happen to like a particular Catholic person, tradition, or belief. I’m Catholic because I believe it’s the truth. It’s faith and it’s not shaken by human scandal. When I am furious and ashamed by “Catholic” actions that are sinful and scandalous and wrong, I see them not as “the Church” but fruits of Catholics lacking the courage to be Catholic. Because I don’t care what’s on the letterhead – that’s simply not what the Church is about, at its heart.
The Catholic Church — the heart of it, Jesus Christ and the Eucharist — has left no one. But Catholics are leaving it all the time, in word and deed. And some of them are ordained or consecrated. But it is still there, with men and women all over the country, some of them ordained and consecrated, getting up every day and doing their best to embody everything they say they believe. And at the heart of what they believe, is not a policy paper from the bishops’ conference and it’s not money going toward ACORN, and it’s certainly not criminal or abusive.
It’s heartbreaking to read Michelle’s column because there are countless people without columns who no doubt feel as she does. They have seen a Pfleger or another outrageous failing and walked away from the Catholic Church in response. But if you’re Catholic and love your Church, realize that you are the Church as much as Cardinal George is. That’s not to excuse mistakes Cardinal George or anyone else in the hierarchy has made or will make. But it’s a reality. Every man and woman, whatever his state in life, who calls himself Catholic, represents the Catholic Church with his words and his deeds. Each one has a vocation in the Church and is called to actually live what he claims to believe by identifying himself as Catholic. And someone else’s screw-up doesn’t the Church make — if it did, Peter himself would have been the end of it, being a man who made mistakes, saintly though he may have been. Every screw-up – however large or small, whether it be from the woman in the first pew or the pope himself — is a challenge and rallying cry to do better, for each one who calls himself Catholic.
The heartbreak in reading Michelle’s column is the heartbreak I felt around the time of Ted Kennedy’s funeral: The Church is losing souls of people who feel that when, for instance, Cardinal O’Malley is present at a Mass where the late senator is hailed as a “beacon of social justice,” the Church has left them. Cardinal O’Malley didn’t have to have said it; his presence understandably implied an imprimatur to many. To the contrary, he used it as a teaching opportunity. But the damage was done already. It added to the confusion people have about what the Catholic Church is about, confusion that’s understandable when Catholics all around them are providing cover for evil. It’s a confusion that every Catholic who strives every day to be truly Catholic — to live the Catechism in such a way that there is no question what Catholicism is — has a calling to combat.
The Catholic Church hasn’t left anyone. She’s still standing. And today, as in every other moment in its history, there are men and women, ordained, consecrated, and lay, on their knees praying for the courage to truly live lives of integrity to what it means to be Catholic.