James Carroll lists the many political gambits by the Catholic Church lately - threatening to withhold social services in DC if it allows gays to marry, threatening to scuttle the entire healthcare bill over abortion, etc. - and concludes:
[A]cross the 20th century, [the Church] was a force for progressive social change. That is over. For the first time in its history, the American Catholic hierarchy is solidly right wing. There is not one liberal voice among its members.
That Catholic bishops are genuinely conservative is beyond doubt, but one might also note how their unprecedented alliance with an already powerful political-religious movement nicely solves the bishops’ biggest problemthe bankruptcy of their moral authority and loss of social clout in the wake of the priest-pedophilia scandal. New Protestant allies are happy to let go of old anti-Catholic prejudices, even those confirmed by priestly child abuse, for the sake of advancing their narrow moral agenda. Meanwhile, an equally divided political culture puts bishops in the cat-bird seat when it comes to tipping the scales of close elections or contested legislation, and that unexpectedly pivotal role has rescued them.
They are Rovians: desperate for short-term political highs, all the while undermining their long-term coherence. I suspect that what we will see in the future is a church basing itself in the developing world, and adopting more African views on the subjugation of women, criminalization of homosexuality, and the evils of Western liberal capitalism. Europe will remain the enemy, Islam a useful ally and America's Republican Party Christianists a source of money and power as the Western flock shrinks to the rump that Benedict devoutly wishes for.
If I had been asked to predict the church's future ten years ago, I would have deemed this far too pessimistic a view. But Benedict's papacy has made all the difference. I no longer believe in any revival of a vibrant and truth-seeking Christianity under the Catholic hierarchy in my lifetime. But I can still hope. Because the truth of the Gospels is so much stronger than the politics of the papacy at any given moment in history.