In a pathetic bid to recruit new members, the Pope suggested that Anglicans who share his homophobia and sexism leave their church and join the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church has created an initiative for Anglicans to switch while retaining many distinct Anglican cultural aspects, available mainly to Anglicans who reject their church’s willingness to allow gay men and women to become priests. This means, in theory, that large numbers of married Anglican priests could make the switch, the first time that the Catholic Church has ever allowed married priests to join the church in a big group. Which means that the Pope has taken a large step toward increasingly defining Catholicism by bigotry more than by its other elements.
Escalating bigotry and cruelty as a recruitment strategy might sound like a good idea, particularly if you are personally a mean-spirited bigot, but the Pope should look to how that strategy is working for the Republican Party before going further down this path. The Republicans and the Catholic Church are in surprisingly similar situations. Both are watching their membership run out the door, and both are responding by becoming ever more shrill and hateful, which then sends another round of supporters out the door. For the Republicans, the result has been that they’re becoming defined as the place to go if you’re a nasty, hateful human being. And with this overt appeal to the bigots in the Anglican Church, the Vatican promises to become something similar.
Of course, if you have much experience with Catholicism, you’ve probably already seen this transformation happening. I’ve only darkened the doors of a Catholic church in recent years to go to weddings, and even joyful occasions like that are impossible to get through without sentimental posturing about the evils of legal abortion. But for all the shrieking that the official church does on these issues, the congregations don’t seem to go along. Despite the endless drumbeat about abortion, the majority of U.S. Catholics remain pro-choice . And the more the Vatican insists on making homophobia and sexism central to its mission, the more they will push the faithful away, and there won’t be enough bigoted Anglicans around to replenish their ranks.