The US church under President Trump

The 2017 CTS annual convention will focus on American Catholicism in the 21st century – an excellent topic for discussion. Where do you stand and what is the future of the US church under President Trump?

The yearly meetings of the American bishops are televised for all of us to see. We may notice that their prayers are without fervor and their singing without enthusiasm. They come to do business. They do not begin with a solemn liturgy in the midst of a celebrating assembly at the sound of colorful music.

North America does not have the equivalent of CELAM, the Latin American Bishops Conference, hence the horizon of the American bishops is that of an island. There is no input from Latin America although the US church is increasingly Latino. In the future the church should speak in one voice from Canada to Panama about common goals.

Clericalism is a major characteristic of the three Catholic television networks. The TV Masses are celebrations without an assembly of pre-Vatican II inspiration.

The US has probably one of the most enlightened laity, thanks in great part to theology departments of the Catholic colleges and universities. But since 1976 when the bishops rejected the conclusions of the Detroit Call to Action which they themselves had called for, they have stopped listening.

The social conditions under President Trump are increasingly those of inequality, elitism in wealthy enclaves, populism, and exclusion of the poor. Under veiled episcopal guidance Catholics have voted in support of Trumpism. The US bishops are at a crossroad. They can continue their silent support of a policy of populism, or stand up against campaigns of lies, deceit, and intimidation.

There are enormous possibilities for Catholic renewal in the years to come. In parishes the liturgy is often just tepid in increasingly half empty churches. A national effort should be made to revitalize the liturgy and improve the poor quality of most preaching.

Ecumenism is the opportunity of the day. Pope Francis went to Lund in Sweden to celebrate reconciliation with Lutherans. He recently visited a Protestant church in Rome. He is in friendly dialogue with Muslims. In the US context of antagonism and culture war between right and left, the churches should speak in one voice in favor of national concord, justice, and truth.

“Dialogue is our method," said Pope Francis to the US bishops in 2015, "not as a shrewd strategy but out of fidelity to the One who never wearies of visiting the marketplace, even at the eleventh hour, to propose his offer of love.” Bishops will have to "exit" any notion of superiority: “Do not be afraid to set out on that ‘exodus’ which is necessary for all authentic dialogue.”


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