The Corner

What Rift?

Sally Quinn on the Washington Post’s website, to Elie Wiesel: “What can Pope Benedict XVI say and do to repair the growing rifts between the Vatican, the clergy and the laity in America?”

Elie Wiesel is a wise and good man. But this does not seem to be either an appropriate question to ask someone who is neither American nor Catholic, since the answer requires a certain practical knowledge of the way local things work and a certain practical finesse in local action.

The answer the Nobel Prize Winner gives reflects, perhaps, the concern of some Jews: He should tell the Vatican to halt the canonization of Pius XII. But this seems to be a non sequitur. It is about a wholly different matter.

The real question for Sally Quinn is, “What Rift?” At no time in history could one assume that most Catholics lived in full accord with “the mind of the church.” A rough unity was what realists hoped for. It was in fact no small achievement to keep outbreaks of discord from reaching scandalous proportions. Eras of peace and harmony were highly valued, but not quite common, and never to be taken for granted. Church history is a marvelous story of conflicts and turbulent discord.

The essential points of unity among Catholics are, actually, very few — the river of faith must be shallow enough for the frail and weak to wade through, and deep enough, with most powerful currents, to challenge the best that is in the bravest and most adventurous and most inquiring.

But, just out of curiosity, what rift is Sally Quinn alluding to? Plain pasta without any sauce whatever is almost inedible, and in a similar manner one wants a church of pretty sharp and conflicting sauces, of a variety of temperaments and tastes, difficult personalities, and strange-seeming ideas. Is the pasta of American Catholicism lively with argument? You bet.

The Catholic Church is “Here comes everybody,” and like families at holiday dinners, the fights, snubs, and hurt feelings in its midst can get pretty intense.

In a country like the United States, moreover, it is easy for “rifts” just to drift into deliberate separation. Why not just start a new sect? It is obvious that in American Catholicism most of those on the most “progressive” extreme (distinguishable by their overactive sense of outrage at the rest of us) and those in the fartherest regions of “traditionalism” (distinguished by their dour and disapproving dispositions), seldom care to strike out on their own, completely independent. Almost always, they prefer to stay and argue and rail. There is some inner magnet that holds the whole disparate, ethnically diverse, argumentative together in uncomfortable disputation. Some call it the Holy Spirit. Some say it is union with Peter that keeps the vitality thriving.

What some call “rifts” are interfamily squabbles, sometimes serious, and capable or exploding into rupture. But mainly, though, signs of intense life. And, sometimes, of supersensitive love for one another and the whole cantankerous community. Damn it! It gets a hold on one.


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