The Presidential Inauguration is right around the corner. Arguably, January 20th, 2017 will be one of the worst days in presidential history for a majority of Americans–––certainly for those Americans who care about the integrity of our democratic institutions and the symbolic meaning of the American president for those institutions around the world.
But for social justice, Vatican II Catholics we share an additional concern, and that is Cardinal Timothy Dolan’s participation–––and perceived blessing–––of a Trump presidency that day too.
Of course, Dolan is a coy political agent, experienced enough to politely and swiftly dismiss such a criticism of participation as a non-partisan Christian wish of peace and hope rather than what it will be: a parochial blessing of the GOP’s state power.
Dolan, standing among President-elect Donald J. Trump’s clerics of choice on January 20th will convey two very cold facts about the reality of the Catholic world in American society today.
First, it will symbolize a high-water mark of American Catholic Contras and their embeddedness in the Republican political machine, despite that machine’s embrace of Ayn Rand’s anti-Christian theology of selfishness and greed.
Secondly, it will symbolize the Contra-Vatican II divide in the American church and the political alignments of those Contras that are responsible for Vatican II Catholics’ loss of faith in the spiritual and moral authority of their church.
Dolan’s participation in Trump’s inauguration ceremony, in whatever capacity that might be, will elicit a palpable sorrowfulness in the liberal Catholic community for the simple fact that Trump’s faith and his politics stand in sharp contrast to even the etymology of the word “catholicity,” much less the core tenants of our faith.
Catholic Contras, Not “Neoconservatives”
Many speak of a divided American Catholic church between conservative and liberal Catholics, but the reality of that divide is that a reactionary hierarchy, their theologians and intellectuals have split the church in two by marginalizing their social justice, Vatican II brothers and sisters in Christ. This exclusionary movement self-identifies as “Neoconservative.”
This label, Neoconservative Catholicism, doesn’t capture the movement’s nihilistic unity of purpose to destroy 20th century progressive gains in church and state. We must abandon the Neoconservative label in favor of a more historically accurate one.
To place Neoconservative Catholicism in historical context it need be set against the ecclesial revolution of Vatican II (1963 – 1965). Only then can it truly be understood as a reactionary movement against a model of church that puts the primacy of “the people of God” at the center.
The Second Vatican Council was an ecclesial revolution from a variety of perspectives, but there were distinct emphases that made it truly radical. First, a new ecclesiology (i.e. model of church) was put forth that emphasized the church as “the people of God.” This deemphasized a Vatican I model of church where the “Magisterium” (i.e. the hierarchy) was thought the unquestionable spiritual and moral authority of which their flock must follow.
Secondly, and in response to this new ecclesiology, a new vision of ministry emphasized the “co-responsibility” of the people of God alongside their bishop to discern the “signs of the times” as a community, albeit in different ways according to individual charismas.
Thirdly, a new theological anthropology was introduced, galvanized by modern developments in philosophy and sociology, that placed the universal worthiness and equality of the human person at the center of society.
Vatican II was revolutionary because it turned power models of the church and the state on its head. It placed the dignity of the human person, their existential needs and their economic rights at the center of both. At once, Vatican II disordered what Neoconservatives refer to as “God’s order,” i.e. the spiritual and moral authority of the Catholic Magisterium and the politico-economic authority of a global stateless elite over against the rest of us.
Neoconservative Catholicism as an ideological term fails to describe what it in fact is: a group of Catholic counterrevolutionaries (i.e. Contras) intent on reestablishing the Ancien Régime by rolling back what makes Catholicism catholic and democracy democratic in the 21st century.
Symbols of Bad Faith
Let’s call the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ blessing of Trump at his inauguration, as an extension of Cardinal Dolan’s participation in it, what it really is too: a symbolic correspondence of American bad faith.
Bad faith is the belief that some persons are more worthy than others in society, and it’s a belief that comes in myriad forms.
It could come in the Randian worldview of the wealthy and elite, whom believe they are equal only among their peers.
It could come in the Racial Nationalist worldview of “the whites,” whom believe in privilege and power over against people of color.
And it could come in the Catholic Contra worldview of the spiritual, moral and intellectual elect, whom believe they are God’s chosen to order society according to a divine hierarchy.
Regardless of form, bad faith is a counterrevolutionary war on inclusionary, pro-democratic institutions, public policy agendas, and faith community practices that work tirelessly to pry open the last closed windows (i.e. closed systems) of church and state.
The metaphor for Vatican II is an window to the church being thrown open. When asked why the Second Vatican Council was needed, Pope Saint John XXIII responded, “I want to throw open the windows of the Church, so that we can see out, and the people can see in.” Pope Francis’ recently argued that “A church with closed doors betrays herself and her mission, and, instead of being a bridge, becomes a roadblock.”
These appeals to an open church, through metaphors of open windows and open doors, is also a condemnation of Contra ecclesial tactics of systematically shutting out the voices of social justice, Vatican II Catholics–––from the pulpit to the classroom to the pews. In doing so Contras roadblock the Gospel message of Christ, or worse, the Gospel message of Christ becomes a front for an anti-Christian ideology of the Randian and Racial Nationalist varieties.
The metaphor for Trump’s presidency is a white man punching a black man in the face at one of his rallies, and police rushing that black man and forcing him to he knees while Trump yells at the police, “get him out of here, get him out…”
Trump’s appeal to racial hatred and violence against persons of color is also a political tactic to systematically enflame racial tensions in the American electorate for the nefarious purposes of partisan and personal political gain, all of which blocks the road to a more inclusionary and egalitarian democratic society.
Both metaphors are exclusionary, anti-democratic visions of the most significant institutions in American democracy today: the church and the state. One is the exclusionary, anti-democratic visions that the USCCB has of the American Catholic church, and the other is the exclusionary, anti-democratic vision that a Trump Administration has of the state–––and their symbolic significance corresponds in bad faith.
On January 20, when we watch Trump sworn in to the EOPOTUS, a majority of Americans will fall ill from the sight of such a moral defect as a President Trump.
And when we progressive Catholics see Cardinal Timothy Dolan bless that moral defect we will cringe all the more because there is no greater sin in a democracy than the church and the state unified in overlapping forms of bad faith.