US Catholic Faith in Real Life

Identity politics in the Catholic Church

By Bryan Cones | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare

I stumbled across an interesting blog at the Washington Post by Anthony Stevens-Arroyo about the war over "Catholic identity" and how it should be defined. I'm often intrigued by Stevens-Arroyo because he's not a part of the Catholic press echo-chamber (of which U.S. Catholic is a member, along with other Catholic publications and commentators from left to right).

Stevens-Arroyo offers three markers for Catholic identity: adherence to church teaching (though he seems to separate certain moral choices); weekly attendance and participation at Sunday Mass; and "embrace of the sacraments and sacramentals," by which he means getting your children baptized, getting them to first communion, valuing confession, getting grandma buried properly and "the rosary at the bedside, the crucifix over the bed or the picture of Our Lady of Guadalupe in the hallway and you make palpable the expression of Catholic identity."

Stevens-Arroyo opts for the last, what seems to me to be the least common denominator of the three. In other words, over intellectual assent to doctrine or even Sunday Mass, he chooses the "cultural markers," and he's probably right that, the world over, those are the elements that "make" someone a Catholic.

What I wonder is: Would the bishops, Sunday Mass-goers, Catholic social justice advocates, and other "super-committed" Catholics agree? An interesting question to ask as these latter (I include myself here) go to war over the translation of the liturgy, "orthodoxy" however conceived, gay marriage, and even abortion. I have a feeling that folks such as Stevens-Arroyo wouldn't hang their Catholicism on any of those issues--and I also wonder if they are in the majority.