In the timeless patriarchy, misogyny, racism, bigotry, and sexual abuse get a pass. Abortion rights are the deal-breaker.
A few generations ago when attendance at Catholic masses began to wane, church leaders searched for ways to make the church more accessible, enjoyable, maybe more modern—if a 1900-year-old institution can attain that goal.
And so the Church tried. Organs were replaced by acoustic guitars; choirs by folk singers; and Latin by the vernacular which, in America of course, was English, though there were Spanish and Polish Masses aplenty. Though the patriarchy of the Church remained, women were allowed to pass the plate and present guest homilies. Moreover, though girls had been "altar boys" for years, the Vatican in 1994 authorized the role of girls as altar servers. The term did have a somewhat Margaret Atwood ring to it, but some saw it as a positive step.
And the isolation of churchgoers who for centuries had sat quietly minding their own business while blessings and transubstantiation were happening around them, was supplanted by something called a sign of peace, which was seldom an actual peace sign, but more likely a handshake, even an embrace, and some sort of expression of good wishes.
That was then. Today some elements of the new Catholic church, whose attendance is no less sparse than it was fifty years ago, will try a new tack. Instead of modernizing and expanding, some leaders want to make everything less palatable and, if not more mystical, at least more mystifying. To wit, a recent vote of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, in defiance of the Vatican, set in motion a plan to deny communion to anyone supporting abortion rights. Among the high-profile victims will be President Biden, but there will be tens of millions more swept aside by the same new broom.
This action follows by only a few days a takeover attempt by a hard-right faction of Southern Baptists at a recent meeting in Nashville. The vote was close, and the reading of the results produced open animosity and violent resentment among the representatives.
Of course the Conference of Catholic Bishops, despite their decision, has no authority over who can or cannot receive the sacrament of communion. Local bishops decide such matters, and of course, there's that Pope over in Rome with that infallibility in matters of dogma. In fact, the upshot of this will be purely political, providing ammunition for anti-abortion-rights Republicans to cozy up to the more conservative Catholics in the ensuing election cycles and, by extension, throw in with the Trump Republicans.
On any moral grounds, this is absurd. To support a man like Donald Trump whose lifetime achievements speak of decadence and debauchery, then in the same breath deny a man whose life has hewed that close to religious morality is enough to render the bishops' plan laughable. But the politics cannot be overlooked, and with the Supreme Court wading waist-deep in abortion decision-making, the bishops' vote against the president must be seen for what it is—an expression of sanctimony for political gain.
I'm reminded of a pivotal scene in Shakespeare's Macbeth where Malcolm turns down the title of king from Macduff by pretending to be too greedy and licentious. He's testing his countryman because he senses a trap. Finally, after hearing a seemingly endless list of weaknesses and frailties, Macduff screams, "Fit to govern! No, not to live."
It doesn't seem likely that the current Republicans—an amalgam of conspiracy nuts and traitors—will ever hang that "not fit to govern" label on Trump or any of his vacuous devotees. After the election and January 6, that's a given. But if there is a bridge too far these days, it may be the Catholic Church depriving its members of communion. Without communion, there is no Mass. Without Mass, attendance is unlikely to rise.
In retrospect, trying to lure parishioners with folk music and handshakes—as sacrilegious as it may have seemed to die-hards— was more amicable and welcoming than the current move toward an autocracy that freezes out anyone refusing to march in lockstep. Any lockstep marching, if the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has its way, is unlikely to be marching toward the churches.