When Hurricane Katrina hit, I was actually in RCIA classes, not at St F (which, as a traditionalist parish, considered RCIA to be an “innovation” of Vatican II), but at the first stop on my religious misadventures, St A, which was mostly black. Many of the parishioners at St A had a familial connection to Louisiana in general and New Orleans in particular, and an influx of evacuees arrived at the parish after Katrina. During RCIA classes, we would discuss theodicy as it related to New Orleans and Katrina. At the time, the usual suspects were claiming that New Orleans was targeted by god because of its randy Mardi Gras celebrations, and the ever-present problem of “the gays.” It’s not surprising that fundamentalist Protestants like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson would beat up on New Orleans, but this article by Richard John Neuhaus illustrates the ambivalence that conservotrads had towards the United States’ most Catholic city:
In this piece, Neuhaus doesn’t seem to know what to make of New Orleans. Nowhere in the piece does he mention the deep Catholic culture of New Orleans, a Catholicism that is more pervasive than the “white ethnic” Catholicism of Boston, Philadelphia, or Chicago. Neuhaus complains about Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson complaining about racism, because for conservotrads, talking about racism is more offensive than racism itself. He understands that New Orleans is “different” from other American cities, but fails to see how Catholicism factors into this difference. I sense that New Orleans Catholicism is an embarrassment to someone like Neuhaus, who prided himself on combining “orthodox” Catholicism with the Protestant work ethic. New Orleans Catholicism is too black, too poor, too indolent, and not respectable enough for the First Things crowd. New Orleans Catholicism may have given the world jazz, but First Things Catholicism cares only about Gregorian chant and Renaissance polyphony.
If you’ve spent any amount of conservotrad and traditionalist sites, you’ll know that a yearning for a “Catholic culture” is a constant refrain on such sites. However, to conservotrads and traditionalists, Catholic America consists of the “ethnic whites” in cities like Boston, Philadelphia, New York, and Chicago, and WASPy converts like Neuhaus. The Catholicism on display in Louisiana, which has been far more influential from a cultural perspective than the white Catholic ghetto of old, doesn’t even register on the conservotrad or traditionalist radar. I don’t think it’s coincidental that writings of a handful of nineteenth century English Catholic converts — G.K. Chesterton, Hilarie Belloc, and John Henry Newman — have influenced how conservotrads and traditionalists think an Anglophone Catholic culture should look like. The general impression one gets from reading the works of these men is that Anglophone Catholicism is essentially a reactionary, agrarian affair that looks to a romanticized version of the Middle Ages as its guide, where everyone had a place and was content to be in that place. The messier aspects of “actually existing Catholicism” — folk religion, political and religious authoritarianism, clericalism, institutionalized abuse — don’t factor into their social model. New Orleans Catholicism is an example of “actually existing Catholicism” American-style, but conservotrad and traditionalists are reluctant to acknowledge its existence.