I was in London early last summer—my first visit—where my wife Margaret and I had preregistered to see Winston Churchill’s underground war command. It was a compelling experience, immensely popular with tourists. Be sure to make an on-line reservation before you leave home [whenever that is]. A few hours later we walked to Churchill’s statue in Parliament Square. The tourists around us were talking about the electric current that flows through the statue to keep the pigeons from relieving themselves on the Prime Minister’s stately head. Granted, I am just another soak-it-up tourist, but I had a lingering doubt about this assertion. I had several doubts, too, during a trip a few years earlier, about whether the heads of St. Peter and St. Paul are enshrined in Rome’s Cathedral, St. John Lateran.
The Lateran question will not be solved in today’s post, but the Churchill statue has played a major role in current affairs as a target of English protests responding to the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis several weeks ago. Churchill’s statue has been boxed and protected after the word “racist” was painted on it. The wrath expressed upon Winnie’s statue is amazingly simple and complex at the same time, and the rationale of toppling statues and monuments around much of the world raises questions about living with history and the sins of our fathers. It is an issue that Catholicism must deal with because the statues and stories of canonized saints have come under new scrutiny and physical assault as well.
I have no doctrinal answers, but several moral observations on events and movements currently interacting with just about everything we do and think--except statues, as it turned out.
The killing of George Floyd: the outrage at this systematic torture and murder is beyond words. What adds to the pain is the knowledge that this is not an unheard-of practice in altercations between police and persons of color. I must think that a significant percentage of law officers in the United States are practicing Catholics who, hypothetically at least, have been catechized on Catholic teachings—from popes and the Catechism--on the dignity of persons and abuse of civil trust. At least I would hope so. This summer presents every local church with a catechizing moment from the pulpit or on-line programs on the sinful nature of violence as a matter of social interaction as well as the often submerged prejudice we Catholics carry within us, without a thought that this grave sin.
Strangely, Church leadership in this country has been noticeably quiet. Thankfully, several bishops have individually stepped up to provide moral guidance and support to the rising numbers who question the chronic illnesses of the social status quo. In fairness, the Covid-19 virus is probably at the front of the parochial agenda, though even here I notice that some pastors strongly suggest the use of masks while other pastors in my own diocese state clearly on social media that unmasked individuals cannot join the collective Eucharist. There is the political element of “the mask thing” going on, but with today’s [Saturday’s] just-released Florida report of 9,585 new cases, a new record in a week of records, it will be a long time before I attend a Sunday Eucharist, perhaps not until a vaccine is in common use. We presently attend Mass on Thursdays at noon, where the assembly is quite small, but with the escalation, we may rethink that. [Methinks the State of Florida may be on the cusp of another shutdown anyway.]
The public protests: Someone asked me what I thought about all the people in the streets and the sporadic damage and confrontations, and I replied, “For what black human beings have suffered in North America for four hundred years, we’re getting off very, very easily.” As I viewed the coverage, I thought to myself that this is different from 1968. Back then, the fuel was the Viet Nam War…or more specifically, the potential that us college white kids might get drafted and really must go. The 2020 demonstrations are remarkably inclusive in terms of ethnicity and manifest a broader agenda, a plea that all segments of American society enjoy the same rights and protection of law, a true “right to life” cause. The plea of “I can’t breathe” has grown into a commentary on the unnecessary impediments to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Research on young Catholic adults who have left the Church would suggest that the overlap of nationwide young protesting idealists—those we see in the peaceful protests--with disenchanted young Catholics or “Nones” is worthy of comment. We as Catholics are missing golden opportunities to learn about Generations Y and particularly Z. “Generation Z” or those born after 1994 is demographically the future cultural wave that Catholicism will address through much of the twenty-first century. Business and retail studies about Generation Z planning for future marketing ventures agree that this cohort [Z] grew up in less traditional (nuclear) family backgrounds, is more likely to hail from single-parent or same-sex parent or blended families. Generation Z individuals are more likely to have friends from various ethnic, religious, and racial groups. [Italics mine.] They are more averse to risk than Millennials or Baby Boomers, have less confidence in the current economic system, and are more inclined to become small business owners. They are, interestingly, more religious in their own way than the generations ahead of them.
I listened to a fascinating podcast, “Why Do Young People Leave the Catholic Church?” A symposium broadcast by NPR in Minneapolis and based on the groundbreaking study funded by St. Mary’s Press, journalists, clergy, and representatives of cohorts Y and Z, the exchanges were respectful but painfully honest. Y and Z would have considerable difficulty comprehending the action of the Bishop of Indianapolis, who this week banned transgender children from all Catholic schools in the Diocese. Generations Y and Z do not have the disposition nor the interest in blanket labeling “disordered individuals” that Catholic sexual teachings documents seem to do almost reflexively. [The full 49-minute NPR broadcast is available for listening here.] These generations have grown up with a broader “anthropology” and—with credibility—can ask the hard questions that we too often answer with mathematic and dogmatic formularies or vanilla indifference. It is hard for me to understand faith formation programs that begin without frank but friendly dialogue, assuming the best in all generations.
Violence in the streets. The sad incidences of violence against persons and property are morally wrong, violations of the fifth and seventh commandments, respectively. That said, there are three important considerations when assessing 2020 as a learning moment.  Revolutions are never tidy [ask Queen Antoinette] and the heightened emotions can take on an energy that impairs both the long-range goals and the sympathy of the broader public which is necessary for success. I was saddened to see a remarkably peaceful national event scarred to some degree by outlandish acts; in fairness, not all of them were generated by demonstrators.
 Martin Luther King was profoundly inspired by the nonviolent activism of Mahatma Gandhi. Both men had their “Selma Bridge” moment. King would be 91 had he lived, and the generation of civil rights leaders he inspired are aged or expired. Which leads to the question of how effectively Dr. King’s principles have been passed along to the future generations he died to bring to full freedom. I do not raise this as a racial question or a judgment on black Christian catechetics. Catholicism has a parallel problem. The teachings of Vatican II on peace and justice were supposed to form the backbone of Catholic social teachings, but in the present culture a peacemaker of the philosophy and conduct of a Dr. King or a Pope John XXIII can be downplayed as coming from a “snowflake.”
 The national protests arose precisely because of an excess of violence against Mr. Floyd [and many others over time] by specifically those officers who are sworn to uphold the law. Again, I am not arguing that two wrongs make a right, but with an ironic twist the burning and looting serves as a mirror of how many persons of color view “white justice,” so to speak. Both sides of the mirror are ugly, and the problem of the one will not be contained without addressing the problem of the other. I looked up the Boston Tea Party [December 16, 1773] and discovered that white colonialists disguised themselves as persons of color when they illegally destroyed 373 cases of tea on three merchant ships in Boston Harbor.
Statues. I was all set to wrap this up when I suddenly realized that Catholic of all people should understand the symbols of statues, monuments, and flags. We are a sacramental people. Our worship is about “outward signs” that bestow power and point to the future. So, there is a Catholic philosophy that speaks volumes to the establishment or removal—legally or forcefully—of statues and memorials. That should be enough for a full post in a few days.
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