Sunday, August 17, 2014


Anthony Fraser makes some uncomfortably true remarks on his Apropos website regarding a certain brand of Catholicism which is all too familiar in many nations and climes.

In a recent discussion with someone who has left the Faith, our interlocutor advised us that when at school he considered many of his Catholic schoolmates as tribal Catholics – tribal in the sense of belonging to the Irish diaspora in Scotland and thus practising the Faith for tribal reasons rather than on grounds of belief. Somewhat ironically he acknowledged that at that time he was probably the only true Catholic in his class – pray for him. 
Those who have roots in the West of Scotland, and whose faith is stronger than the tribal kind, will recognise this phenomenon. Whereas, when anti-Catholicism was often overt, faith was once expressed in terms of being a Catholic and loyalty to Rome, it is now often expressed in terms of loyalty to a football team, socialism and  other ‘tribal’ influences.

This observation reminded us of an article written by H. Le Caron about a similar problem  drawn to his attention by a Polish theologian which had  led him to speculate about the future in Poland should Communism fall.  H. Le Caron reflected:
I think that we ought to be chary of a certain kind of 'tribal' Catholicism which is not strong enough to persevere when external circumstances change merely in the direction of a liberalism lacking any really Christian political framework.
I have often found that good boys and girls from Catholic provinces like Brittany, ceased very quickly to practise their religion and lost the Faith when they were separated from their usual surroundings, and were no longer kept in control by the parish priest. Their faith could not withstand the disorientation and the pagan atmosphere.’

Certainly, Catholics in Scotland in the 70s & 80s were, for the most part, not separated from their usual  surroundings in the sense of parish or priest, but following Vatican II they were effectively separated from the Faith as it had been practised until then, and were practically abandoned in the increasingly secular society then developing rapidly.

Paradoxically, a few days after our discussion, we noted an article in The Catholic Herald of July 18th, 2014,  concerning a poll of Polish Catholics which indicated that the number of people attending Mass in Poland had fallen by 2 million in the last ten years. Fr Wojciech Sadlon director of the Catholic Church Institute of Statistics remarked that: ‘People who often came to Church were motivated by an attachment to tradition and a culture given to them by their family, but this is no longer enough to sustain them and so they gradually cease to attend.’ Polish Mass attendance, however, at around 39%, is far higher than it is the  former “free” West.

He says these words as a preface to an article by H. Le Caron, which can be found on the Apropos website or by clicking the link.

America has its own version of this "tribal Catholicism" which is manifested, I believe, in the typical American Catholic's attitude to the bodies which govern the nation at the local and federal level.  The John F Kennedy phenomenon of the 1960s would be enough to underline the point and it would bring into focus the problem that Pope Leo XIII identified as "Americanism".  It could also be perfectly exemplified by the average Catholic's admiration for Cardinal Dolan of New York, where tribal Catholicism, American liberalism and the triumph of the unchatecized have all come together to put the man on a pedestal.

Many more manifestations of this tribalism can be found in certain Catholic publications (America,  and in the unseemly celebrity surrounding recent papacies.

Mr Fraser's words, and the article of H. Le Caron are helpful antidotes to this malaise.


Anonymous said...

Excellent article and so true. Even up until 30 years ago if you were a Catholic in Northern England or Scotland, then the Labour Party was "your" party (even though those in control were sometimes real commies and quite anti-religion), and Celtic was your football team.
I'm not against tribalism as such, it just needs to be fine-tuned to serve the real interests of individual and group Catholicism.
What I'm saying is that as young people leave their familiar surroundings and venture into the big metropolitan conurbations they find that the Church is too universalist and not particularist enough. The young Breton in Paris or the young Scot in London wants to see his own nationality recognised and supported by the local Church, instead he receives a one size fits all pair of overalls in place of something tailored to his/her special needs.

Anonymous said...

Curious comment, anonymous.

I took the article to say that the Catholicism has not taken root deep enough to survive a person's transplantation to a new environment.

The Church is too "universalist?!" Just what exactly do you think the word "catholic" means!?

Perhaps a review of the parable of the sower in Matthew 13 might be "apropos."

It would seem to me that every young believer should support the local church via his customs and traditional value (as opposed to "nationality"). After all, we all have only one King, and He is definitely not caesar.

Or perhaps I'm just not getting it.



Anonymous said...

Re Anon 10:30pm, I agree with your comment about the necessity of strong roots, but my argument is that deep roots are best formed in the nourishing soil of national feeling and consciousness. Nebulous 'universalism' is a distraction. Look at the Orthodox Churches, Greek, Russian etc., their greatest strength is that they were and are 'national' churches. Their national character has enabled them to survive centuries of foreign domination and persecution.

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