In today's Boston Globe, the paper that broke the Catholic clerical sex-abuse scandal in that diocese, columnist Joan Venocchi asks, sincerely, "Should Liberals Leave the Catholic Church?" Caveat emptor: Venocchi considers herself a "liberal" Catholic and uses that term to mean what I mean by "progressive" (or 'prog' for short). What's occasioned the column in question is the decision, by seven members of the board of directors of Boston Catholic Charities, to resign in protest over the effort of the Massachusetts bishops to prohibit homosexuals from adopting children through BCC's adoption agency. For Venocchi and her like-minded friends, this stand by the bishops is the straw that is breaking—if it has not altogether broken—the camel's back.
They have stuck around through the mass closing of parishes, the sex-abuse scandal that preceded and accelerated it, and even what they had previously considered the ultimate insult: the transfer of Cardinal Law, forced to resign over his handling of that scandal, to Rome as archpriest of the Basilica of St. Mary Major, where the conditions on his participation in the conclave that elected Pope Benedict XVI consisted in nothing more strenuous than a walk through a few piazzas. But none of these events have brought outrage to a head nearly so much as the prospect that the Catholic Church in Massachusetts will not be party to having children raised to think of homosexuality as perfectly normal and acceptable.
Given that the vast majority of sex-abuse cases were ones of homosexual priests on adolescent boys (see the official, widely praised John Jay Report in PDF), the occasion for Venocchi's climactic outrage alone suffices to answer the real question which which she entitles her column and the rhetorical question with which she ends it. One of the most important qualities they lack is irony. Indeed, given how many people like her I have known in my thirty-five-plus years as a very active Catholic, I think it safe to to predict that only a few will become Catholic enough to find remaining in the Church worthwhile in the long run. A few will not change but will stay in the Church, frozen in the adolescent pleasure of being permanently angry with Mother Church and Holy Father; a few others will keep their hopes alive by rolling the prog rock up the hill in the undying hope that the next pope, or maybe the one after that, will take it from them at the crest instead of letting it roll back down again. But slowly and one by one, most will come to realize that they are no longer Catholic and will act accordingly. While I say that with sadness rather than glee, I still think it's better, because more honest, than the alternative of remaining in a state of internal schism.
What's left of ECUSA by then will gladly welcome them with open arms. But not all will be happy to go down with that ship. There are plenty of ex-Catholic priests to staff fake-Catholic outfits such as the Ecumenical Catholic Communion or even that Old-Catholic offshoot, the Liberal Catholic Church International. As ECUSA shrinks, I expect such ersatzs to swell with ex-RCs. Of course, in the long run they are no more viable than what ECUSA has become. For many people, the painful realization of what they are and where they're headed just takes a little longer.