In my 1950’s childhood, boys and men, hair slicked down with tonic, girls and ladies in mantillas and hats primly veiled with mesh worshiped at small country churches against which lapped the green and white fields of late-summer tobacco.  On Easter Sundays, prissy and full of ourselves on such a special occasion, my sister and I wore brand-new gloves and pastel dresses ballooned and swishy with crinoline and too proudly showed off our ribbon- and artificial-fruit-festooned bonnets.  Descended from Maryland’s earliest settlers, we were those rare birds—Catholics of English extraction.  After four long decades, I was finally brought to a tearful reconciliation with my ancestral faith in spite of misgivings about the Marxist leanings of modern churchmen.  And there is still for me sometimes on the Sabbath a temptation to drive over to the Southern Baptist services, because I am much more comfortable with the Baptists than with the wan contemporary Catholics I find at Mass these days (although the Baptist Church, according to Flannery O’Connor, is maybe a little too respectable for the real Catholic, who was, she insisted, not as far from her lunatic fundamentalist prophets as some of us might think).

I know that my criticisms of the present-day Church will be viewed by some as the crabbed grousings of just another rosary-praying Jansenist longing for the good old days.  I have no illusions, however, about human shortcomings, and I understand that there were wrongdoers—even monsters—among the laity and clergy “way back when.”  But the Mystical Body endures despite Catholic hypocrites and sinners and despite the many who hate Catholicism not for what it is as much as for what it is not, to paraphrase Archbishop Fulton Sheen.  Unfortunately, to accommodate those who are discomfited by “medie­val” notions of sin and redemption, Catholicism in America is morphing most conveniently into Reverend Leroy’s Church of What’s Happenin’ Now.

And a progressive Catholic hierarchy champions pet liberal causes, not the least of which is the “plight” of the immigrant.  In a joint statement, the archbishops of Washington, D.C., and Baltimore, Donald Wuerl and Edwin F. O’Brien, droning on about the “dignity” of “persons” and comparing the undocumented to those “most precious migrants” Joseph, Mary, and Jesus, urge that Catholics not be distracted by mere “questions of legality.”  They do concede that “sovereign nations have the right to control their borders” but only “provided . . . regulations promote the common good of our universal human family,” whatever that might mean.  No matter how nuanced their rhetoric, I believe Catholic officials could not care less about stemming the tide of illegal immigration.  When America collapses economically and socially, however, who then will bankroll Catholic Charities?  The left-wingers at the chancelleries fail to make the distinction between a hateful xenophobia and a healthy interest in preserving the integrity of a nation’s boundaries, as they similarly fail to delineate with real clarity unjust and just war.

Designed to stifle dissent, gratuitous charges of racism from the religious or secular left will not silence some of us.  America has no obligation to commit national suicide in the name of brotherhood.  (I do have to wonder if parish priests would be quite as inclined to provide church-basement asylum to undocumented Unitarians as they are to hide out illegal Catholics.)  The U.S. bishops’ view that everyone in the world should be allowed to move to America—and why not to Vatican City?—is a manifestation of collegiate sentimentality, not Christian love, which is reason itself.  I know what Jesus would do: He would, with courteous resolve, send the ilícito ones packing.

Even if Church leaders could make a case for open borders, feel-good big-government largesse, and forced charity, there is no way around the abortion issue for those who call themselves Catholic.  While a woman who believes she has a “right to choose” is perfectly free to reject Catholicism, she has no right to demand that the Church bend to her will, genuflect to her little gods.  But Catholic leaders, it seems, are only halfheartedly defending the most vulnerable among us.  Just before the 2006 elections, the Maryland Catholic Conference shockingly implied that a Church-friendly Maryland General Assembly candidate need only support safer abortion clinics, parental notification before underage girls abort babies (or take “morning-after” pills), and better data collection regarding the number of abortions performed.  While correctly objecting to “the asexual creation of human beings through cloning,” the MCC did not condemn abortion outright, though it did in very clear terms call for the abolition of capital punishment.

An MCC 2008 survey sought to identify those congressional candidates who agreed that “Federal Policy should . . . restrict the use of taxpayer funds for abortion” and that “Federal agencies and states that receive federal funds should not discriminate against health care providers who do not perform or participate in abortions.”  The candidates, however, were not polled on the question of outlawing abortion.  Why not?

Because Catholic officialdom offers only uneven and tepid defense of the unborn, come election day too many little old Church ladies who travel by the busload each spring to march on D.C. for the right to life mindlessly cast their ballots for pro-choice candidates.  There is no point in suggesting to them that their politics are vile and not in keeping with an observance of the Fifth Commandment.  They will not listen—at least not to just anyone.  They might, however, heed a justifiably exercised clergy and prelacy.

Parish priests can plant little white crosses in the ground till Hell freezes over, but they will not reach the Catholics who—through ignorance or habit or defiance—continue to support legalized abortion until and unless from the pulpit they rage, rage against this blood-soaked execration.  In continuing to “clarify” the issues for Catholic voters with carefully measured words, Church leaders will inexorably lead them to vote for the self-righteous left-wingers who demand justice for the marginalized but not for those in the womb.  Can I get an amen?