The Brogue Wears Off: Why The Catholic Church Is Addicted To Immigration
by J.P. Zmirak:
Christmas Meditation 2002: Christ, The “Other,” And
Good Fences And Free Markets]
A friend and I were working on a
screenplay about the Middle East, in which the hero is
an Irish-American, and the heroine an Israeli. By way of
“character work,” we got to discussing the cultural
attitudes dividing Irish from Jewish Americans.
We drew mostly on our respective
backgrounds—mine, working-class Catholic from New York,
and hers non-observant, liberal Jewish from Miami.
(Obviously, we spoke in stereotypes, to which there are
many exceptions—insert your own “Each human being is a
unique and wondrous yadda-yadda-yadda”
public service announcement here.) The best insight
we came up with was the following: Irish feel guilty
about sex, while Jews feel guilty about race.
As we hashed out this out while
walking down Second Avenue, events bore them out right
I was trying to explain the
birth control to Pamela—”What difference does it
make, a lousy
condom?” she demanded—when we walked past an
able-bodied, clearly homeless African-American.
“`Scuse me, can I ask you a
question?” he inquired.
I gave him a wide berth. But Pamela
“Excuse me?” she said.
“Give me a dollar.”
“I`m sorry—I`m unemployed.”
“Go f—- yourself, bitch,”
Pamela rolled her eyes and caught
up with me.
“I can`t believe you stopped for
“I thought he was asking for
directions. So what`s the deal with condoms …?”
We each had proved our point.
Historically, such differing
attitudes have helped shape American culture. They gave
us lots of
Irish cops, and lots of Jewish shrinks. (Not too
many Irish shrinks; Freud famously said that the Irish
were the one race “for whom psychoanalysis seems to be
useless. It simply has no effect on them.”)
Irish immigrants built the
infrastructure and guided the development of the Roman
Catholic Church in America for over 100 years, manning
and nunning the parishes and schools. As a result, the
attitudes of other Catholics in America were
Hibernicized (Hiberneated?). Even the Italians in
America are effectively half-Irish. (Myself, I`m only
half-descended from the Emerald Isle; but my Croat
father somehow came to look Irish himself—he`s the
spitting image of Carroll O`Connor—and still prays aloud
with a brogue he picked up from the Irish Christian
Brothers in the 1940s. The ethnicity seems to be
article last year in USA Today, (“Young
Catholics redefine faith,” by Cathy Lynn Grossman,
July 21, 2002) commended to my attention by
David Horowitz, suggested an unnerving trend: The
brogue may be wearing off.
Ms. Grossman reported that
increasing numbers of young Catholics in America are
leaving aside the Church`s teachings on moral issues—not
with the guilty conscience of their fornicating
forebears, but with a shrug and a smile—and becoming
warriors on behalf of multiculturalism.
There is no more stigma about
“cafeteria Catholicism,” Ms. Grossman
reported. Young people aren`t leaving the Church,
walking out in a huff like
James Joyce and
Frank McCourt, then keening in print for decades
about their “repressive” childhoods.
Far from it. Instead, these
post-Catholic youth still go to Mass sometimes, even
plan to send their kids to Catholic schools. They don`t
believe in key Catholic doctrines, but they wish to
One youthful post-Catholic
witnessed his faith as follows:
“On issues such as
immigration, concern for the poor, economic justice,
racism and relationships with other world religions, the
majority of young Catholics can and do line up right
John Paul II]… He`s a spiritual celebrity, right up
there with the Dalai Lama and Bono.”
There`s filial piety for
In fact, of course, the broadly
leftist positions identified with “social justice”
by the Catholic Left have no basis in Catholic
tradition. Most were adopted by
America`s bishops` committees, I believe, to
counterbalance the seemingly “right-wing” stances on
life issues which the Vatican pressured them to
It didn`t hurt that the bishops`
staffers were largely drawn from
Democratic hiring halls—for instance, ex-employees
of the Carter Administration, as
Dinesh D`Souza documented long ago in Policy
Review (Fall 1985).
Historic Catholic social teaching
does reject racial prejudice and the “pure” free market.
It does endorse some social insurance. It has never been
individualist in the American, Protestant sense. But
papal teaching on economics utterly rejects
socialism. It seeks to wean people from
either big business or big government—and to allow
women to stay home to rear children. (Not a word of this
from most bishops, of course.)
On mass immigration, American
Catholics have an inbuilt conflict of interest—perhaps
it`s more politic to call it a “tension”—between their
sympathies as a subculture of immigrants in a
Protestant-founded country and their duties as patriotic
citizens. The prudential arguments offered by advocates
of a more cautious immigration policy tend to founder
against recent memories of relatives arriving in
steerage from Italy, Ireland or Bavaria.
Leaving sentiment aside, when it
comes to bolstering its numbers and cultural power, the
plain fact is that the American Catholic Church is
addicted to immigration. As in most developed
countries, the Church has simply failed to pass along
the Faith to the younger American generations. It
struggles desperately to recruit solid, orthodox,
heterosexual young men for a lifetime of underpaid,
celibate service as priests.
So Catholic bishops have lurched to
the Left, and embraced open borders—in part, simply to
draw in more young Catholic immigrants from developing
countries, Catholics who have not yet had their beliefs
eroded by life in post-Christian America.
These impoverished recent arrivals
will fill the pews and seminaries for one
generation—until they too are seduced by the siren songs
of modern life, and allowed to drift away by a weak and
divided American Church. Then they, too will be replaced
by fresh recruits from Vietnam, the Philippines, Mexico,
and Africa…and so on, presumably ad infinitum.
Some of the very best priests and
most faithful Catholics I know hail from foreign lands.
My favorite parish priest is Nigerian, my second
favorite a Filipino. I enjoy attending Mass with
Vietnamese, and Mexicans, and people from every one of
the nations God was pleased to create. It reaffirms the
common humanity of all, and the universality of the
But it`s troubling to see the
American Catholic Church treat the poor of other lands
as theological cannon-fodder. And it lets the American
hierarchy neglect the real issue: How to create a
self-sustaining, enduring American Church?
It`s easy to confuse the
above-mentioned conflict—between the perceived
self-interest of the American Church and that of the
American nation—with the classic tension that animates
the whole history of the West since Constantine: the
pull between earthly and heavenly citizenship, between
City of God and that of Man.
The “spiritually” minded can say
that they have chosen the better part, favoring the
abstract universalism promoted by bishops over the grim,
utilitarian arguments of the “worldly” patriots.
But are you a better Christian for
favoring the short-term interests of your own religious
community over the well-being of your fellow-citizens?
Does the real harm done to low-income Americans by mass
immigration justify the temporary uptick in church-goers
And to raise a purely spiritual
matter—are poor people drawn into U.S. cities, with all
their urban pathologies, awash in American pop culture,
more likely to get to heaven than if they`d stayed at
The American Catholics who`ve
lurched to the Left have, in effect, founded a whole new
church. I suggest we call it “Reform Catholicism.”
Reform Catholics can`t accept it
when the Vatican must take firm stands to
hold the Church together—to keep it from collapsing
into a welter of nattering opinions. Similarly, many
Jewish liberals find their consciences troubled by the
tough choices Israelis make to keep their
state from being
Reform Catholics take for granted
that the Church will always be “out there,” somehow, and
give them something from which to dissent. Perhaps
something similar obtains in the “Peace Now” faction of
Israelis and their American kin. I`m not qualified to
But liberal creeds rarely carry on
to the third or fourth generation. Intermarriage,
apathy, and other evangelical faiths tend to carry them
off. No normal person swears onto celibate poverty to
tend a watery,
The liberal clerics who promote
post-Catholicism are mostly middle-aged or older, folks
who joined up in the 1950s to say the rosary,
fight Communism, and obey the pope—then lost their
Faith or nerve, but decided to keep their jobs.
These influential “Reform
Catholics” have done their best, as the recent
Goodbye, Good Men has imperfectly documented, to keep out anyone
who accepts the Church`s real teachings—to cling to
control of “the Xerox machines and the schools,” as
Rosemary Radford Ruether once urged.
But they will fail. A new
generation of “Likud Catholics”—as I think I`ll call
myself henceforth—will shove them aside, like New
Yorkers making their way down Second Avenue. Just as
liberal mainstream Protestantism has been numerically
upstaged by the harder-line sects.
Serious Catholics could
never mistake the American nation for an earthly
incarnation of a universal creed. They already have such
a creed. And it doesn`t depend on this or any nation.
The Church has ancient
teachings about nations, their duties, and their rights.
My catechism says that patriotism is a duty, and its
opposite is a sin. Augustine demonstrated in
The City of God that a Christian ought to be the most loyal of
citizens, since he sees that the authority of the state
comes from God, and the ruler is His steward.
Most of all, a Christian knows he
is his brother`s keeper. The nation is the home of his
brothers. He knows – or should know – better than to
pull it down, to make room for a circus tent full of
J.P. Zmirak [email
him] lives in Astoria. He is the author of