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Promotional shot for CBS "McCarthy's": The Church still has valuable things to say that should not be undermined by rules few Catholics care about. Photo by: CBS

How Catholic are most Catholics?

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Promotional shot for CBS "McCarthy's": The Church still has valuable things to say that should not be undermined by rules few Catholics care about. Photo by: CBS

In October, CBS television will begin airing a new TV show about working class Irish Catholics called "The McCarthys." The show stars former New Kid on the Block Joey McIntyre as well as veteran actor and Bronx native Jack McGee.

I wish the show and its creators well, but I am skeptical.

In recent years, network television has been rather poor at mining Irish American life for comedy. Particularly troubling in the case of "The McCarthys" is the show’s premise. This traditional clan – oh begora! – has just found out one of their sons is gay.

Presumably this will lead to all sorts of Archie Bunker-ish comedic tension within the McCarthy family. But one problem with this set-up is that the vast majority of Irish Catholics in America have already come to terms with having a gay family member or close friend.

Similarly, you can’t really expect much in the way of laughter when it comes to Catholics bickering over, say, contraception or divorce. There’s simply not likely to be much bickering over these topics. They are more or less settled. They are a reality in 21st Century America.

And it’s not just me – bad Catholic, going-to-hell columnist – who believes this. Would you believe that the Vatican itself acknowledged this last week?

After months surveying parishioners, officials in Rome released an 85-page document that summarized the preliminary findings.

The result? Many Catholics pay no attention whatsoever to the church’s teaching on sexuality, marriage or contraception.

As the document put it, a “vast majority" of respondents feel "the moral evaluation of the different methods of birth control is commonly perceived today as an intrusion in the intimate life of the couple and an encroachment on the autonomy of conscience.”

Of course, this is about as shocking as the sun rising tomorrow.

The document adds: “In North America, people often think that the church is no longer a reliable moral guide, primarily in issues related to the family, which they see as a private matter to be decided independently.”

Italian Archbishop Bruno Forte bluntly confronted the problem.

“Sometimes we speak a language that people do not understand, or we answer questions that nobody asks us anymore,” he said.

Indeed, Pope Francis deserves credit for prompting this debate. The big question now is this: Since we all agree that vast numbers of Catholics do not agree with their own church on key matters, what’s next?

That’s where things get confusing.

The document itself does not appear to make any suggestions for radical changes in church teaching.

“The doctrine of the church is not up for discussion,” Forte was quoted as saying in a news conference.

Yet, perhaps attempting to capture the spirit of debate Francis has established, Forte added: "We will not close our eyes to anything…These problems will be considered."

That sounds refreshing. But (as with "The McCarthys") I’m skeptical.

This preliminary report was prepared for the Vatican in preparation for a major bishops meeting in October known as a Synod. For the fun of it, let’s pretend that between now and then, that meeting morphs into something that can be viewed as Vatican III – a meeting not unlike Vatican II 50 years ago, which led to key reforms within the church.

That, however, is an unlikely scenario. If any truly profound reforms are going to take place, it is going to take years, as well as a pope open to them.

Francis has shown he may well be that Pope. But he is old, and there have been disturbing recent reports about his health.

Whoever the next Pope is, he’s not likely to be as open as Francis is.

But the next pope should recall that in the 1960s, a Vatican-formed bishop’s panel on birth control voted overwhelmingly to lift the church’s ban on contraception. Pope Paul VI simply overruled the panel.

The point, though, is that changes can be made. This is important because the church still has valuable things to say about materialism and justice, things which should not be undermined by other rules few Catholics care about anymore.

The Synod in October may truly be historic. Or people may choose to keep their eyes closed after all.

(Contact “Sidewalks” at tdeignan.blogspot.com)

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