My “Notes Toward Unity” (Sed Contra, October 1998) elicited more response than any column I have written in the past four years. Catholics around the nation are frustrated; they want their voice heard in the culture. More and more Catholics are tired of being invisible. We can only hope that the airing of the Kevorkian murder tape on CBS 60 Minutes may have been the last straw.
For the past two centuries the story of Catholics in America has been one of deliberate invisibility, a steady assimilation into the fabric of society. Since Bishop Fulton Sheen, most of the Catholics who have succeeded in visibility have been the dissident and near-dissident darlings of the mainstream media. Mother Angelica, now Bill Donohue of the Catholic League, are welcome exceptions.
But, as I have said before, something larger is stirring beneath the surface, a deeper discontent is making its way toward the surface. To those who have become cynical on this question, I would say, “It is only a matter of time.”
When it arrives it won’t be the “slumbering giant” of 60 million Catholics ready to insist the basic principles of the Declaration once again be enforced as the rule of law. As we discovered in our “Catholic Vote Project” (November 1998), the actual body of mass-attending Catholics who espouse something like an orthodox faith is probably much smaller, say, 10 million.
The evangelicals have already discovered what can be done by organizing even 5 percent of these 10 million. You can win elections, pass legislation, and make advertisers think twice about sponsoring something that will offend an organized block of the religious community.
I was attending the Call to Holiness Conference in Detroit when CBS announced that the number one rated TV show in the nation, 60 Minutes, was going to air a videotape showing the murder of a man with Lou Gerhig’s disease. The executive director of Call to Holiness, Jay McNally, and I quickly put together a press release, protesting the broadcast, and read it to the 1800 attendees. I don’t think I have heard a louder shout of support since I went to a college football game. Clearly something is percolating, and it only needs a place to erupt.
My wish for 1999 is that somehow Catholic apostolates learn how to speak together, and, in doing so, make a loud noise.
Last fall, the University of Notre Dame hired former Senator Bill Bradley to give lectures at the Law School. Notre Dame hired Senator Bradley knowing not only his pro- abortion voting record, including his vote for partial birth abortion, but also knowing he plans on running for the presidency in 2000.
Thus, the best-known Catholic university in the United States has become, in effect, one of the launching platforms for a presidential candidate whose position on abortion is directly contrary to the teaching of the Church.
I am sure that I am not alone in finding this objectionable. The hiring of Senator Bradley to speak on the rule of law is just one more slap in the face of Catholics who want their institutions to speak with the Church. It remains to be seen whether this slap, or the slap applied by CBS News, will wake us up.
There are hundreds of Catholic apostolates whose members must be outraged by these, and similar, events. If the leaders and members of Catholic apostolates can learn to cooperate, perhaps enough letters will rain on Notre Dame to make a difference.
Here is my New Year’s wish: Why can’t we develop a communications network that will enable orthodox Catholics to speak together in great numbers in response to insults to our faith, like the 60 Minutes travesty and the Bill Bradley hiring?
Thank God for the leadership of Cardinal Maida and Cardinal Hickey who spoke out against CBS. But we cannot leave it entirely in their hands—the Catholic laity can and should speak in defense of the Church, the culture, and our families.
Some Catholic leaders have already come together to discuss ways to cooperate, and we all recognize the need for better communications between ourselves and to the public. More meetings are being planned for 1999, and the idea of a Catholic communications network is being disucssed.
If you have any ideas about how to implement this network, I would like to hear from you.