The Church Visible
I was reading a fine First Things column by Fr. Hans Feichtinger, about Germany’s “Synodal Way,” in which he used a word and a phrase I’d not heard before: Symbolpolitik and ecclesia invisibilis. His very good points were: first, that in Germany some effective narratives are attractive to power seekers as symbols, even if they are false; second, that the efforts by German bishops to make the Church there more relevant to mainstream German thinking guarantees that such a complaisant Church will all but disappear.
I don’t know how actually visible the Church is in German life. For that matter, I’m not sure how visible the Church is in the United States, even when comments by the Holy Father awaken the media for a day or two or three. But as I thought about this, the image of New York’s Cardinal Dolan came to mind. I know him slightly, and some years ago, I described him here as “a clavicle-crushing, six-foot-three teddy bear of a man” because of his habit of putting his arm around you and squeezing – a kind of endearing gesture of a large man who’s the ultimate “people person.”
And it occurred to me, speaking of the Church’s visibility, that if you were with Cardinal Dolan and walking down just about any street in the Big Apple a significant portion of the people you’d pass would call out to the Cardinal by name. He’s that visible, that mediagenic.
If, on the other hand, you walked down that same street with the Rt. Rev. Andrew M.L. Dietsche, the Episcopal Bishop of New York, practically nobody would recognize him. No disrespect to Rev. Dietsche – but it’s just that in New York the Catholic Church remains THE ecclesia visibilis. (Searches of Dietsche’s name and Dolan’s at the website of the New York Post brought up 4 stories that mentioned Dietsche and 674 by or about Dolan.)