An Associated Press story this week that the views of America's Catholic bishops and their parishioners are wildly at odds reminded me of one of my favorite books of history, "The March of Folly" by the late acclaimed historian Barbara Tuchman.

The two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning author's 1984 book scrutinized four highly significant events in world history, which she maintains could have been altered by enlightened leadership. They include the Trojans' decision to admit the Greek horse into their city, which led to the overthrow of Troy, Britain's misrule of the American colonies and America's mishandling of the Vietnam War.

The fourth folly in Tuchman's telling was the string of six Roman Catholic Popes who failed to recognize the dissatisfaction among European Catholics over the church's direction, which culminated in Martin Luther's rebellion, the Protestant Reformation and the subsequent rise of the Lutheran church.

"Their (the Popes') three outstanding attitudes — obliviousness to the growing disaffection of constituents, primacy of self-aggrandizement, illusion of invulnerable status — are persistent aspects of folly," she wrote.

That's not to say that the American bishops' drift to the right, seemingly often at odds with the views of the current Pope Francis, is risking a rebellion among the rank and file, but it's certainly become a subject of debate.

According to a poll taken in May by the Associated Press and NORC Center for Public Affairs, the bishops' hardline stances are not shared by a majority of lay Catholics. Most of them say abortion should be legal, favor greater inclusion of LGBT people, and oppose the denial of Communion for politicians who support abortion rights.

As an example, leaders of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops recently called on Catholics nationwide to pray for the U.S. Supreme Court to end the constitutional right to abortion by reversing its 1973 Roe v. Wade decision. According to the new poll, 63% of Catholic adults say abortion should be legal in all or most cases, and 68% say Roe should be left as is.

Last month, the archbishop of San Francisco, Salvatore Cordileone, announced that he will no longer allow U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to receive Communion because of her support for abortion rights. A few months before, he recommended that President Biden, too, be denied Communion.

According to the poll, only 31% of lay Catholics agree that politicians supporting abortion rights should be denied Communion, while 66% say they should be allowed access to the sacrament.

An even larger majority, 77%, said that Catholics who identify as LGBT should be allowed to receive Communion. That's significantly at odds with a policy issued by the Diocese of Marquette, which encompasses Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, saying pastors should deny Communion to transgender, gay and nonbinary Catholics “unless the person has repented.”

The Madison Diocese's bishop, Donald Hying, has endorsed Cordileone's banishment of Nancy Pelosi, and, too, has become a lightning rod for many Madison area Catholics. It broke into the open at St. Maria Goretti Catholic Church on the west side last year when a new priest instituted several new conservative changes to the Mass, with Hying's blessing, and made changes at the parish's school that upset parents, many of whom withdrew their children.

Meanwhile, another Diocesan priest has openly questioned coronavirus vaccines and dismissed mask wearing during the pandemic's height, also with no pushback from Hying.

Church leaders emphatically point out that their job isn't to do what's popular, but to direct their flock to abide by the church's teaching and explain why it's so important.

Looks like they have a tough road to travel.

Dave Zweifel is editor emeritus of The Capital Times., 608-252-6410 and on Twitter @DaveZweifel.  

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