NEW YORK TIMES: Let me say at the outset that I am your classic stumbling, grumbling, trying-to-sort-it-all-out American Catholic. I consider myself a practicing Catholic because I dearly need the practice. My family and I attend Sunday Mass with some regularity, though not always at the same parish — in case anyone is taking attendance. Our older child goes to catechism class, as will our younger child when she is of age. I have eaten enough stale crumb cake at after-Mass socials to earn penance for at least a few of my many venial sins.
Pope Benedict XVI plans to visit the United States this week, a tour that will include touchstones in my own life — ground zero, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Yankee Stadium — and will attract throngs of American Catholics. Still, beyond the fact that I’m not much of a throng guy, I will not be among those craning their necks for a glimpse. I feel a palpable papal disconnect.
The disconnection I feel may be rooted in the good old American distrust of monarchs and frippery. And, unlike American Catholics of 150 years ago, I do not feel the sting of prejudice that would cause me to embrace the pope in defiant declaration of my faith. There remains great awe and respect for anyone charged with managing a 2,000-year-old institution and spiritually guiding more than a billion people around the world. For stumbling, grumbling worshipers like me, though, obedience to the pope has morphed into a respectful taking of his pronouncements under advisement — a cafeteria-like approach that drives more rigid Catholics to the brink of saying the Lord’s name in vain.
As Peter Steinfels, the Beliefs columnist for The New York Times, recently noted, there is nothing particularly new in this tension. He wrote that many American Catholics “honor the pope yet disagree with papal positions, whether about using contraception, restricting legal access to abortion, ordaining married men or women to the priesthood or recognizing same-sex relationships.” I would add to that list disgust, more than mere disagreement, with the way the church has handled the priest scandals of the last decade. MORE