by Russell Shaw | Catholic World Report
In the question period after a talk I'd given on my new book, American Church, a woman raised an important point: "If the Church in the U.S. faces as many problems as you say, why is it doing so much better here than in much of Europe?"
Great question. My answer--which I also give in the book--was along these lines.
"It has a lot to do with the First Amendment principle of separation of Church and State. Yes, I know--'separation' sometimes is used as a club by secularists who want to drive religion out of the public square. But on the whole it's been a great blessing for the Church and for religion in America.
"For one thing, church-state separation has generally kept government out of religious affairs, while also keeping clerics out of inappropriate involvement in politics. In combination with Cardinal Gibbons' wise decision to embrace the emerging labor movement in the late 19th century, this spared the Church the sort of virulent anticlericalism found in countries like France, Spain, and even 'Catholic' Ireland as a reaction against the political clericalism of the not so distant past."
Almost always, I might have added, clericalism breeds anticlericalism. That we've largely escaped the worst sort of clericalism in America means we've also been spared the worst sort of anticlericalism.
But granted all that, the situation of the Catholic Church in America today is increasingly perilous. American Church explains why. In brief, the explanation goes like this.