Over the last couple of weeks, I've noticed a marked increase in bloggers talking about the stances of the USCCB in relation to the lay Catholic people they're suppose to shepherd. Deal Hudson went so far as to ask if a Catholic "tea party movement" is called for, based on the discontent seen across the nation in response to Obama policies and "health care" reform beginning in 2009.
A lot of questions have come up concerning issues of social teaching/Catholic identity and who benefits when it becomes a concrete political matter. If the United States had a uniquely "Catholic" political party, this wouldn't even be an issue, to a certain degree. But, since such a party doesn't exist in today's America (whether or not it even should is another question), the influence and power that millions of American Catholics produce gets funnelled into more than one camp. Each camp with its own political and philosophical agendas which may or may not be in line with the Catholic Church.
Hudson points out the liberal leanings of the USCCB in terms of social justice, aligning it more with the policies of the Democratic Party. In contrast, the lay and religious faithful tend to interpret Catholic teaching from a more conservative position, aligning them more with Republican Party policy. An example of the conservative leaning is manifested by the Manhattan Declaration of late 2009. These are two contrasting views that, some how, mesh together into a uniquely Catholic view, separate from both Democrats and Republicans. Despite the presence of this third Catholic stance, both parties have made attempts to harness the forces that Catholics, and Christians in general, bring to the table as their own.
Hudson, among others, seem to believe that lay cooperation with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has run its course due to these diverging political and philosophical rifts. The question comes down to whether the everyday, blue collar Catholic (who tends to be more conservative) should continue to identify the USCCB (tending to be more liberal) as the leadership of the Catholic Church in the United States of America. Is this legitimate discontent along moral lines? Or, is this political gerrymandering designed to divide?
As a blue collar Catholic myself, I defer directly to the Holy Father when teaching and morals are the concern. Political parties and policy have little to do with actual belief, unless policy crosses into the realm of faith (as in tax payer funding of abortion). But, this Catholic identity also plays a major role in political life. Those who desire a distinct separation between the spiritual life and the public life are severally short sighted and have a minimal understanding of what Christianity requires. The Catholic faith is both private and public by its very nature.
I haven't done any hard research as of yet, but, I wouldn't be surprised if the people calling for dissent against the USCCB are the very people who cried for the bishops to speak up only a decade or two ago. It has to be realized that we are neither solidly Democrats,nor solidly Republicans. If any group claiming to represent the Catholic population in the U.S. is trying to pull the Church into one established political party, perhaps seeing Catholic "tea parties" aren't too far off. The same can be said if a political party is guilty of the same.
It probably sounds like I'm sitting on the fence a bit on this topic. Well, I guess you could say I am. Good thing my voter card says "independent."