Perhaps it is the snow. Yes, here in the Imperial City of Washington, we have been buried under consecutive snow storms that have disrupted life. To cite a small example, this morning, the last three days’ issues of the Post were delivered and we have not gotten mail since Monday morning. So, it is easy to get a little stir crazy.
But, Deal Hudson, editor of InsideCatholic.com, and former Catholic liaison for George W. Bush, has put the "crazy" back into "stir crazy." He published an article yesterday suggesting that we need a Tea Party movement for the Catholic Church. He got this idea, he says, after someone suggested that Catholics start throwing tea bags at the headquarters of the USCCB and after watching the emergence of the Tea Party movement over the course of the year.
There is much in Hudson’s article that is simply baffling. He states that "Initially, the mainstream media tried to ignore the movement." That’s funny. I think it would be more accurate to say that the MSM birthed the movement, giving it a prominence that its numbers did not warrant. See this article about the MSM's love for Sarah Palin, for example. He says that the world only started paying attention after GOP victories in Virginia, New Jersey and Massachusetts, all of which "forced" the rest of us to take notice. Unless I am mistaken, Sen. Scott Brown has himself pointed out that it is a mistake to credit the Tea Party movement with his victory. In Massachusetts, as in Virginia, the GOP ran attractive candidates who ran centrist campaigns, and refused to invite Tea Party darling Sarah Palin to campaign for them. I confess I did not pay much attention to the New Jersey race, but my hunch is that the only thing worse than being an incumbent politician in 2009 was being a Wall Street banker, and the Democratic incumbent was both.
Mr. Hudson also writes that "For American Catholics, the equivalent of centralized federal power is the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops." Is it? Funny, I thought the USCCB was nothing more, nor less, than the expression of episcopal collegiality that has long marked the Catholic hierarchy in America. He says it has "no canonical authority of its own" which is true in a narrow sense, but misses the larger point that the USCCB is the bishops acting together. And, the USCCB was not created in 1966; it was renamed in 1966. It was "created" in 1917 during World War I as the National Catholic War Council, reconstituted and renamed the National Catholic Welfare Conference in 1922, and then renamed the National Conference of Catholic Bishops in 1966 with a slightly different constitution recognizing the changes enacted at Vatican II. In a very real sense, however, the USCCB was "created" in 1852 when the First Plenary Council of Baltimore met.
But, let’s focus only on the central idea, that there should be a Tea Party movement within the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church has an identifiable ecclesiology and I confess a failure of imagination as to how the Tea Party movement fits into that ecclesiology. They view themselves as modern day revolutionaries, outsiders enslaved by the elites, defenders of the people’s rights. I would humbly submit that the revolutionary temperament is not a Catholic one, that the "elites" in our Church are bishops who have not "enslaved" us but freed us by bringing us into the sacramental life of the Church, and that within the Church, the idea that one group of the faithful can assert rights against another group posits an antagonistic culture that may serve to protect freedom in civil society but is not, alas, a facsimile of the love that should bind Christians.
Of course, critics of the Tea Party movement view them as knaves and racists and their recent convention gave ample evidence of both. They had the good sense to not exhibit the posters of President Obama as a monkey or a witch doctor that graced their rallies last year, but they applauded loudly when former Congressman Tom Tancredo gave his racist rant attacking the President and immigrants. And, they cheered the birther who droned on about the President’s birth certificate for ten minutes in the opening night keynote. The only immediate American Catholic equivalent I can think of would be Father Charles Coughlin, who was equal parts racist and knave, and whose rantings eventually became untenable even for his defenders. The mad preaching from the Shrine of the Little Flower was not the Church’s finest hour and it is difficult to see how Coughlin’s intellectual heirs would occasion a better moment for the Church.
So, I invite Mr. Hudson to reconsider his idea, dig out his car, and get some fresh air. The last thing the Church needs is the spirit of the Tea Party folk within the Church.