St. Josef Stalin
Catholicism has a long history of left-wing politics among the laity. In the 70s and 80s, “liberation theologists” tried to institutionalize Marxism, but Pope John Paul II effectively nixed that plan. And North and South American bishops have historically been at the forefront of this left-wing push.
As a result, every community large enough to support two Roman Catholic churches has one left-wing parish, and one conservative parish. I live right across from the left-wing parish here (which I call St. Josef Stalin), but I drive across town to attend the conservative parish.
Louisville (Kentucky) surely has more Catholic parishes per capita than any other community in the nation. One of these is St. James on Bardstown Road.
St. James is a Byzantine (architecture) church, which looks conservative from the outside. Ah, but go inside, into the dome and look up. The Lidless Eye of Sauron gazes back down at you from the center. We attended Mass there in the early 80s, and the during the Intercessions, the nun prayed that we would give our private property to the State, and for the victory of the Sandanistas. She also strummed the guitar and led the congregation in a rousing chorus of We Shall Overcome (but then, Marxist politics and excessive Vatican II guitar masses go together).
Usually, Marxism isn’t quite so unsubtly expressed. It is much more common to hear “For world peace and social justice, we pray to the Lord,” which of course means the same thing. But John Paul II knew all about Marxism, and was quite firm about purging it from the Church.
Contrast this with St. Louis Bertrand, a south Louisville parish (not far from Churchill Downs) run by Dominicans, or St. Martin of Tours. Instead of leftie politics, both parishes offer daily Novenas for Life (that would refer to abortion, by the way). St. Louis Bertrand is home to the Louisville Blue Army; St Martin of Tours offers Mass in Latin.
The conservative parish here sponsors a weekly Novena across the street from the local Planned Parenthood (to those of you who are protestants, a Novena is not a protest; a Novena is a prayer cycle). St. Josef Stalin across the street from our house does not participate (as a parish, though I’m sure there are parishoners who do — even many left-wing Catholics are pro-life).
At one point in my life, Church history and theology were two of my major interests. I read the Church fathers, and more recent theologians. Though I no longer do, the Church still fascinates me. How can such polarization exist in such a monolithic ecclesiastical organization — or more to the point, how can this polarization exist when the Vatican unambiguously favors one side over the other?
For one thing, the Church avoids entanglements in national politics, unless those politics involve questions of morality (I’m thinking here of the movement to excommunicate Catholic politicians who advocate abortion). For another, the Vatican tends to handle American bishops with kid gloves, partially because they understand that the anti-Catholic fervor in the United States exhibited as late as the 60s (during Kennedy’s campaign) could easily rear its head again. With matters of faith and theology, the Church wields a heavy hand; other matters the Church avoids. Even when the Church issues statements about foreign policy, it does not do so in a way that obligates Catholics to fall in line.
Most of all, however, is apostasy. For the most part, Catholics lapse rather than convert. I believe in One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church resonates within the soul of every Catholic. St. Josef Stalin will waver up to a point — but clergy will not defy the Vatican. To do so is to separate oneself from the Church.
However much I may enjoy sneering at the leftie Kumbayah Mass parishes, I think that ultimately, the fact that they can exist is good for the Church in America. Although they may differ on non-essentials, they provide a home for Catholics who hold leftist beliefs — and since the business of the Church is saving souls, not the violent overthrow of capitalist governments, they should have a home in the Church. Only when the Vatican says, “We stand here,” and the parishoners say, “No, we stand here,” has the line been crossed.