“You remember how, you know, the old hippie types used to say, ‘Never trust anyone over thirty’? Well, they were right. Only it was their own generation they were talking about,” the thin, quiet one in the back announced as we pulled up to the hotel. “You can see it clearly out here in California. That whole generation of Catholics in America, basically everybody formed before 1978, is screwed up. Left, Right, whatever....The best of them were failures, and the worst of them were monsters.”
There’s something disturbing about that line, although one hears it often enough. Last year, a young seminarian used a version to dismiss the revelations of the priest scandals—day after day of news reports about heart-wrenching vileness: “Yes, yes,” he told me, “it was sickening and evil, but what did anybody expect? Those are just the worst examples of everything that generation did wrong.”
This quick, irritated impatience seems common in the emerging Catholic culture. You find it in the parishioners of the Polish Dominicans working at Columbia University, and in the conservatives gathered around the political theorist Robert George at Princeton. For that matter, it is present among the graduate students at such places as Notre Dame and Boston College, and among the younger theology professors around the country. The public figures of the new culture—the Catholic lawyers, magazine writers, and think-tank analysts—have it in spades: an intolerance, an exasperation, with everything that preoccupied an entire generation of American Catholics.
For the development of a new Catholicism, this doesn’t look the most-promising start.
Agreed. What do you say?