This is not about the recent election, but it is all about the election. It is not about the election because it is not about policies or candidates. This column is all about the election because what occurred on Nov. 6 presents Catholics with realties that they must consider.
Lesson One: The country is changing. Citizens of Hispanic background accounted for 10 percent of the total number of voters, and every indication is that the number of citizens of Hispanic ancestry will continue to grow. Once, most Catholic Americans had roots in Germany, Ireland, Poland and other places in Central Europe. No more.
As this comes to pass, Catholic leadership will be more and more vocal regarding immigration as public policy, and ministry to arriving immigrants. Catholics in the pews will be asked to welcome immigrants and to support services for immigrants.
Lesson Two: A new generation is arriving. With it comes a strong “live and let live” ideal but also a fervor about beliefs personally chosen as important. It is an opportunity to seize. Stress the identity of the Church. Build on the respect for heartfelt opinions. Urge the young to explore all arguments but also to admit their inadequacies. They need God. They need the Church.
Lesson Three: This culture increasingly is secularist. The force of institutional religion is weakening — significantly.
It is obvious that despite a fairly energetic effort on the part of Church leadership to isolate certain moral priorities, Catholic voters hardly judged issues on the sole basis of what the bishops said.
Lesson Four: Amid all the noise and all the conflicts, complexities and uncertainties, the temptation is to be quiet. Never do or say anything that might seem to judge or rebuke anyone else’s lifestyle or thinking.
Lesson Five: The Church’s leaders must persuade. True, many Catholic Americans are well-informed about and loyal to Church moral teachings. Apparently many voted with these teachings in mind. At the same time, the uncomfortable reality is that “conservative” or “liberal” Catholics alike can be “cafeteria Catholics,” taking this point of doctrine while rejecting the other. Catholics very fervently opposed to capital punishment at the same time dismiss the danger to the culture presented by same-sex marriage. By the same token, Catholics unswervingly committed to the dignity of unborn life can be lukewarm about public policies designed to relieve the chronically poor among us.
Catechetics, especially for adults, must be reinforced. This means better diocesan and parish programs, but it also means that mass communications within the Church must be strengthened, an ambition facing considerable odds as the Catholic press, like all print media, diminishes while no broad and universally popular alternative in communications has yet been found.
Lesson Six: Bishops and priests have vital roles to play, but they cannot be everywhere, and, face it, the clergy has a problem when it comes to image. Scandals took their toll, but scandals aside, the secularist culture assumes clergy know little or nothing about real life. It is about lay Catholics.
Lesson Seven: Regardless of how sophisticated techniques of catechizing may become, or how state of the art be our mass communications, the most powerful strategy for making the Church’s views known and believed in the society is the simple witness of individual Catholics who see their role in the Church and for the Church.
It is hard — but simple. Modern American Catholics must say, and display by their lives, that the Church and its teachings make sense to them as nothing else makes sense.
Msgr. Owen F. Campion is OSV’s associate publisher.