The President and Speaker are Roman Catholic according to their own claim but neither harbors political positions in keeping with their church affiliation. That they claim to be Roman Catholic is not the surprise but that claiming to be Roman Catholic has not contributed much toward their political posturing is a surprise. Sixty years ago a nation feared that a Roman Catholic president might be manipulated and controlled by the Pope. Now we wonder whether the faith of the Roman Catholic Church will make any real difference in governing.
Of course, this situation is due to several factors -- not in the least of which is the implosion of liberal mainline Protestantism. It is also the result of the sheer numbers of Roman Catholics (both those who self-identify and those numbered as members). Yes, the numbers in Congress remain majority Protestant but that is an artificial use of the term which does not acknowledge the vast differences in faith and practice among those who might fit under that rather broad category.
At the very least, one might have expected that the coalescing of Roman Catholics in leadership of government might have resulted in movement toward the resolution of the great moral questions of our time including abortion, marriage, and gender. Here the identification with their church has not influenced the legislative agenda or political positions of these Roman Catholics much at all. Even on the Supreme Court, being Roman Catholic does not automatically translate into opposition for abortion or support for the traditional definition of marriage.
Our politics cry out for the kind of weight and ballast that once gave stability to our nation and helped us assimilate vast numbers of immigrants into our common life. Neuhaus once thought that a Catholic Moment might fill in where the emptiness of Protestantism left room. It now appears that he did not account for the lack of doctrinal unity and agreement on moral theology that now characterizes not only the Roman Catholic Church in public but the private faith of those who belong. At the time when we might have counted upon some help from those with some gravitas, the shallowness of what it means to belong to any church has left us at the mercy of the extremists who claim no church.
In the end, it would seem that no church can expect the kind of support from its members for its public positions -- except that those who are on the most liberal end of things do seem to be more successful at having their people espouse their church's liberal theology. While this post took its cue from Rome, it is not primarily a discussion of Roman Catholicism at all. In effect, we live in an era in which the church where you claim membership can merely suggest what might be believed rather than inform that faith. If that is the case, it appears there will not be any Catholic Moments or Lutheran moments or any other moments in the near future. Some may think this a good thing. I think it will not bode well for orthodox Christianity at all.