Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Catholicism and American Culture: A question of Immigration and Integration.

Rocco Palmo has some great coverage over at Whispers about the transition of Cardinal Mahoney to Archbishop Gomez over in L.A.-- I'd encourage you to go read it. What a tremendous day for the Archdiocese of L.A., and the beginning of a new era for the Church there. Read the articles here, here, here, and here.

In reading the last one, though, the quote particularly struck me, and I couldn't help but be really put off by it. Here it is:
"Este es un gran día para el Catolicismo Americano. Hoy ya los latinos no somos católicos de segunda -- ¡somos católicos americanos!"
"This is a great day for American Catholicism. Today, we Latinos are no longer second-class Catholics -- we are American Catholics!"

(Does this quote not have similarities to sentiments expressed by African Americans in 2008...?)

Stop right here for a second, and think about the implications of this statement, and just how wrong-headed it is...

Okay. FIRST, where in the world have latinos ever been considered second class Catholics? I can think of no place. In fact, latino culture is almost synonymous with "CATHOLIC"-- capital letters to show that they are actually the epitome of what it is to be described as a Catholic. Indeed, being latino is so closely associated with being Catholic, that even pop culture has got it nailed. Take Jack Bauer of 24, who gets a tattoo of Our Lady of Guadalupe as his sign of initiation in to a mexican gang in season 3. (let's forget the negative caricature here, and move on).

The problem I have with this statement is that it confuses religion with a secular national culture; the problems associated with this secular culture(i.e. American life and politics) do not necessarily equate with problems in a religious culture that happens to operate in the particular secular culture.

The individual making the aforementioned statement has made the foregone conclusion that being Catholic in America necessitates that the Church is implicated in the problems of the national culture-- indeed, in some way has to answer for the problem. For my part, I am a Roman Catholic who happens to live in America; I am not an American cathlick.

In America, there is definitely a political debate over how to solve the increasing problem of immigration. Undoubtedly, this is a problem that the Church has to address by coming up with creative solutions. However, the mission of the Church, whether to anglos living in South America, or latinos in the USA, is the same one: the salvation of souls. This mission simply needs to be adapted to the particular culture.

I would argue (and I think it's a sound one) that the Church herself does not discriminate against latinos. Although I do recognize there are probably prejudices in individual communities to greater or lesser extent, which affects parish life: why is that? Certainly, it's not because the Church labels them as "second-class Catholics".

So why this statement-- one with such a negative connotation of what the Church has done to/for Latinos living in America? Could we be seeing a distortion of the nature of the Church, perhaps influenced by the erroneous notions of liberation theology, so prominent in latino culture? The notion being one of an "immanent church," a church existing solely to give equal rights to the poor and marginalized, and build up the kingdom on earth?

I think that this quotation is actually not at all about being considered a "second-class Catholic." Aside from the question of politics and immigration, I think that the perceived injustices upon those in the hispanic community are a result of the same problem that is plaguing the anglo community in America. No vocations. Though, perhaps in this instance, the problem resulting from a lack of vocations is being blamed upon this non-existent entity, "the American church," who hasn't been doing enough for the latinos.

As a result of this vocations problem, the Catholic Church in America is dealing with an increasing shortage of priests, and then on top of the pastoral needs of the "anglo community," the hierarchy feels they have to take care of an entirely separate culture's needs as well. (Is it a separate culture, truly?) What we have here is a question of cultural integration, complex to be sure, but to which the Catholic Church historically is ideally suited to present a solution.

Based on my own experience, and solely my personal opinion, I'd like to present a few proposals for meeting the needs of the hispanic community, if they indeed desire to continue to exist as a separate community. These proposals are intended as an alternative to the current model, where the needs of the community are being met by those from outside the community. (warning, they may be "controversial"). They're in ascending order of short-to-long-term solutions.

The hispanic community as a whole, or representatives from that community, should consider:
1) learning English (is having a Mass in spanish integral to a Spanish Catholic cultural identity? It wasn't for quite a long time before the 70's); 2) bringing a priest with them; 3) encouraging vocations within the community; or 4)all of the above.

The problem is, from my perspective, that the Catholic Church in America has adopted the US government's response of accommodation of immigrants, without any expectation that they take on some of the responsibility of "being Church"-- something about that 5th precept comes to mind. In my own parish, there are zero hispanic parents involved in catechesis, despite my repeated efforts to recruit volunteers. And yet, our first communion class is full of hispanics. Granted, this is most likely due to a culturally different understanding of how catechesis is done, but if that is the case, we aren't seeing catechesis being done through the home or by any other means within the hispanic community, either. (This is not the place to get in to the Americanchurch catechetical model, but I am not a proponent of it, either)

In all of this, I have to wonder whether there is truly a spanish-language "need" to be met in the Church today, at least through the providing of the Sacraments.

I can't help but postulate whether or not the notion of "the American Church" wasn't furthered along by the de-railing of the desired liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council. With the impetus of Mass entirely in the vernacular (which wasn't called for by the Council), we see also the segregation of what it means to be "Catholic". 

To be Catholic, one now has to know the language in which the Mass is said. One now has to attend a Mass in their own language, where the emphasis on gnosis is primary. Alongside of the emphasis on the immanent community experience, there has been an overwhelming loss of that which is transcendent in the Mass; namely, communion and relationship with God. (as evidenced by the overwhelming lack of belief in the Real Presence by Catholics today)

At least in the so-called "Tridentine" Mass, the "needs" of the latino population for Mass would have been met. Simply order a latin/ spanish missal to stock in the pews. Granted, there are still pastoral needs, hence the desire for priests who speak Spanish, but is that the responsibility of the anglos to provide? And on a related note, because this is the example brought up most often: does one "need" to understand the language to hear confessions and offer absolution? Is therapy what the Sacrament is about?

Please read: I'm not advocating that latinos shouldn't be able to have their pastoral needs met by someone whom they can understand and relate to with a common cultural experience and who speaks the same language.

What I'm suggesting is that, barring they don't meet any of the 4 proposals I made above, should it be the responsibility of those in America to provide a long term need for an entire community? It seems that, at some point the community, if it wants to remain a "separate" community, needs to start providing for itself.

The USCCB, or even the priests of a diocese, need not be "American." The simplest requirement for membership as a priest of the diocese or as a Bishop of the USCCB is that of doing ministry in the geographic location. If latinos want their separate culture, then perhaps we need to be thinking about how priests and bishops are brought in from other places.

But, as I said, I wonder whether this "need" is a legitimate one. I don't like the idea of "two communities" in one parish. It seems to me that a more pastoral approach, a more "Catholic" means of building unity, "a more perfect way," if you will, would be to have Mass in Latin, which would bring the whole community together to share in the one Mass as one community. This idea of bi-lingual Masses are an aberration, and only serve to make everyone annoyed. The Church's tradition already offers the perfect solution for unity: why not embrace it?

These are complex problems, but they needn't be. They are getting more complex, most likely because of our own actions, and these actions keep digging us deeper. At some point, we will have to embrace what it is to be Catholics of the Roman Rite, to further define what "rights" we have as Catholics who happen to live in America, and to come up with realistic solutions to these pastoral needs, so that we can sustain the system long-term (ex. I've already alluded to it, but do we have a "right" to Mass in the vernacular?). Integral to that, if latinos want to have their pastoral needs met in spanish, there has to be an increase in vocations from the community to support the community.

But maybe I'm wrong. Your comments/ opinions are most welcome-- God bless you!

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