Ferguson. It's on everybody's mind in St. Louis. Elsewhere, too, maybe, but it's different when these things happen in neighborhoods you know, to people you know.
The coverage locally has ranged from horrific propaganda to high quality old-school reporting. The Post-Dispatch's coverage at the scene has been terrific; its overall coverage in print and online is dimmed by its predictable, Stalin-era editorial template.
One really insightful item was printed today: a letter to the editor that really put its finger right on an issue I have been groping to figure out for days. I read it just after reading my brother's text to me wondering why St. Louis was chosen to be the scene of this shooting/riot/war zone/libertarian movement/Big Brother/budding race war media-driven agitprop.
I texted back, not really thinking about it: because it's Catholic.
But, as the above letter states so well, it's actually because it's not.
First, the letter, in its entirety:
"Catholic Church had role in keeping away '60s riots, but not today"
As a child growing up in St. Louis, I watched the news of LA, Chicago and New York City burning during the riots of the late 1960s. I remember being afraid that St. Louis would be next, but the riots did not come. Thank you for Tim O’Neil’s article reminding us of this time ("St. Louis area largely spared by civil rights-era rioting that hit other cities," online Aug. 11).
I wonder if the role and influence of St. Louis Roman Catholics had some impact on those who might have been inclined to riot. I am not suggesting that Catholics were devoid of racism (I know firsthand we weren't) but St. Louis had a rich history of Catholics standing up publicly and forcefully for racial equality.
One of the first acts of Archbishop Joseph Ritter when he was appointed to St. Louis was to desegregate the Catholic schools in 1947 and later Catholic hospitals. He urged priests, brothers, sisters and rank-and-file Catholics in the Archdiocese to support the civil rights movement in the early ’60s.
And, what kind of influence did our Catholic sisters in St. Louis have on keeping us from riots? Notre Dame, Josephite, Charity, Loretto sisters and others took very visible and strong positions in supporting civil rights, but most important they were in our schools and neighborhoods serving both black and white people and advocating social justice and equality.
We had a strong church in those days, which took unwavering and visible stands for equality and justice, unlike today with Catholic leaders who content themselves with protecting pedophiles and fighting basic civil rights protections for some of the most vulnerable in society. We had a church that was deeply involved in the inner city, unlike today a church that has largely abandoned it. We had a church that encouraged our sisters to speak up for social justice, unlike today when we have church leaders criticizing and castigating our sisters for doing just that.
Maybe that is a small reason why we did not have the riots other places did in the ’60s and we are a tinderbox today.
The writer gets it half-right. And makes the same mistake all those well-meaning 'reformers' made, and still make. He divorces the Catholic action from its essential Catholic Faith. It was no accident that those fed with the faith acted as Catholics, and that those who are not so fed do not so act.
He doesn't get it. What could have happened?
St. Louis: the Rome of the West. This description of our city is ancient and venerable. This city, named after a Catholic saint who knew how to govern, this city of so many beautiful Churches, is still with a superficial Catholic veneer. There is still a Catholic Culture of a sort. But it doesn't compare with that of the era the writer describes.
Let's see, in the 1960s, Catholics were located in these local neighborhoods. There were parishes. Schools. Priests and nuns. How ironic that the names of the religious orders the writer lists above are dead, either by aging out or embracing heresy, or both. And how few are the ranks of our priests.
In the 1960s, all Roman Rite Catholics assisted at the Traditional Mass. It calls for right conduct because it places an undeniable claim on the conscience of the believer. It fits the faith we profess, it explains that faith, it informs it and is informed by it. The personal holiness called for by it, and which holiness is increased by it, inevitably translated into Catholic action in a way that no worldly accommodation and compromise ever did. The "living waters" from inside the grace-filled believer well-up and spill over.
In the 1960s there were lots of Catholics, and lots of Practicing Catholics, and lots of Catholics with a long and proud history of standing firm against injustice and persecution.
I keep trying to figure out what could have happened since those days to make Catholics so few, so milquetoast, and so without leadership.
One thing for sure, we are told, is that it couldn't possibly be Vatican II.
The priests and nuns are gone. The Mass was nearly gone, and is just beginning to come back. Faith is no longer believed. Parishes in these troubled neighborhoods (and many other places) are closed. Lay Catholics act just like everybody else. And even of those who self-identify as Catholics, so few practice any part of their faith.
There is no meaningful force of Catholics to provide a moral backbone for our poorer communities. They aren't there to check violence. They aren't there to speak out against criminal injustice on either side of the police barricades. You're looking for the Loreto sisters, are you? Those still ambulatory are at the 'gay pride' parade, or deploring pollution. If 100 of them-- or a hundred of us-- were to kneel in front of the Blessed Sacrament it would do more good than all the letters to the editor ever written.
It ain't happening. And don't blame Vatican II and the suppression of the Mass. Can't be that.
Keep thinking, though, because I'd really like to know.
What we have with a Church that has ceded the public moral sphere is this:
Power and self-indulgence.
With death all around.