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Faith of the future - Christian Rick Santorum may represent their best chance

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Rick Santorum, yesterday or tomorrow’s man?
A headline in this past Sunday’s New York Times screamed “Divided by God.”  The article, by Op-Ed columnist Ross Douthat, argued that it is “tough to pull together as a nation” with all of the religious diversity and tension out there.

This is understandable.  Archbishop Dolan is out there butting heads with the Obama administration, while Rick Santorum continues his culture wars crusade.

To me, however, the real headline should have said something about how religious rage is, in fact, at an all-time low in the United States.

A second headline might add that while many suggest that Santorum and Dolan are stuck in the past, they may well represent the future of the Catholic Church.  Just how many people will stand with them? Well, that’s a tough question.

From Ireland to America, it is true that we have had a lot of bickering about theological matters lately.  More on them later.  For now, I invite readers to visit old St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Mott
Street in downtown Manhattan.  It’s a beautiful old church, but you don’t even need to go inside to grasp an important point.  Take a look at the sturdy brick wall surrounding the church.

It was constructed to keep violent, anti-Catholic mobs at bay.  There was a time when folks thought it would be neat to torch churches and other religious institutions.  Groups like the KKK would later make arguments that America should never allow a Catholic or a Jew or a Mormon to run for president, much less sit in the White House.

That, to me, is true religious conflict.  To some degree, I think things seem so tense these days because so many people are present at the debate.  The worst kind of lunatic fringe bigots have finally been shamed into the darkest corners of the Internet.

That being said, there is anger in the air and the Catholic Church is at the center of many of today’s thorniest debates.

Out of Dublin, there are reports that the Irish Association of Catholic Priests is "disturbed" by the news that its founder, Father Tony Flannery, is under investigation by the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.  Flannery supposedly got himself into trouble because of writings which suggest that the church re-think its position on female priests, birth control and celibacy.

Here in the U.S., there was New York’s own Archbishop Cardinal Dolan on Meet the Press this past Sunday, talking about both John F. Kennedy and Rick Santorum, the latter of whom famously suggested that JFK’s speech on the separation of presidential faith and policy made him want to vomit.

This is not the only public spat Dolan, who has also been battling Obama over health care and birth control, has endured in recent weeks.

Just before Easter, a New York member of Catholic Charities’ board quit over the church’s teachings on homosexuality.

In many of these debates, it is very tempting to say that the Catholic Church and its most conservative allies – such as Rick Santorum – are on the wrong side of history.  The world is changing and if the church continues to oppose homosexuality and birth control, and investigate certain members for their political beliefs, it will doom itself to extinction.

It certainly appeared as if the church had begun that process already, given in its horrendous handling of the abuse scandals of past years.

A common theme among critics is that the Catholic Church must become more Christian – as in inclusive, respectful, remorseful and humble.

Perhaps.  I suspect, however, that Dolan and others believe becoming more Christian would mean becoming less Catholic.  Church officials themselves may not want to acknowledge an important fact: that super-devout followers such as Rick Santorum may represent their best chance at viability not only in the 21st Century, but also the 22nd.

Accommodating a broader, intellectually diverse Catholic flock takes an awful lot of work.  Why not focus on a smaller, more obedient flock?

This, of course, may mean alienating a vast number of Catholics.

But, hey, haven’t they been doing that for years now?

Contact Sidewalks at facebook.com/tomdeignan or tomdeignan@earthlink.net.

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