“The issue is now quite clear. It is between light and darkness and every one must choose his side.” G. K. Chesterton

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Problem of Liberal Catholics, and the Solution

Many of you have probably heard the news reports about the Diocese of Arlington, Virginia, requiring teachers in parish faith formation programs and in their schools to sign an oath of fidelity to Catholic teaching.  You would think that no-one who calls themselves a Catholic and has committed themselves to teaching others, particularly young people, the faith would have a problem with this.  But of course there were some who objected, as this Washington Post article shows.  I had considered doing a detailed response, but tmatt over at getreligion.org beat me to the punch:

Modern loyalty oaths vs. all those ancient doctrines? 

This whole episode, along with the continuing controversies surrounding the Leadership Council of Women Religious, once again highlights the problem of liberal Catholics.  I wonder why people who so openly disagree with the Magisterium on significant issues continue to call themselves Catholics.  Further, I wonder why they would spend the time and energy teaching others a faith they disagree with.  It's not like the Catholic Church is the only game in town.  You favor the ordination of women to the priesthood, abortion, artificial contraception, same-sex marriage, an end to clerical celibacy, but you want the outward trappings of liturgical worship?  Fine.  Join the Episcopal Church.  Considering their declining numbers and  dwindling coffers, I'm sure they would love your bodies and your offerings.

Yet liberal Catholics remain in our Churches, staffing our schools and teaching our young people.  They seek every opportunity to subvert Church teaching.  They provide the enemies of the Church in the mainstream media and secular culture with willing accomplices.  The are, whether they know it or not, a secularist Fifth Column in the heart of Christ's Church.  The forces of radical secularism in our society can always rely on liberal Catholic organizations (such as the odious "Catholics" for Choice) to support them in their constant battles against the influence of the Church.  The latest episode concerning the Obama Administration's contraceptive mandate has seen the usual suspects being trotted out by the media, protesting the bishop's Fortnight for Freedom (albeit in pitifully small numbers) and lecturing them about how out of touch they are, that they don't speak for the vast majority of Catholics in the United States.  They would remake the Church into their own image, a monstrous combination of left-wing politics and a veneer of Christianity that would replace the collective wisdom of 2000 years with whatever strikes the popular mood of the times.

The phenomenon of the liberal Catholic, however, was not imposed on the Church in America by an outside force.  Rather it is the bitter fruit of several factors:
  • an entire generation of poor catechesis
  • weak-willed priests and bishops
  • a twisting of the meaning of the Second Vatican Council
But perhaps the strongest factor is the infiltration into the Church of the American Protestant ethos.  As well documented by Nathan O. Hatch in his work The Democratization of American Christianity, in the late 18th and early 19th century American protestant faith communities took the ideals of political democracy and popular sovereignty that formed the foundation of political life and applied them to their churches.  They rejected traditional hierarchy and creeds in favor of loose congregational structures and doctrinal statements.  A common slogan was "no authority but the Bible, no creed but Christ."  Individual opinion became the standard of truth.  They took the Reformation doctrines to their logical conclusion; not only did it result in a proliferation of sects and denominations in the young nation, but it also fed into the rise of heretical groups such as Joseph Smith's Mormons.  These various movements transmitted to American Protestant Christianity a distinct anti-authoritarian ethos hat manifests itself today among evangelicals (with it's many non-denominational megachurches and theologies focused on individual health and wealth) and mainstream/liberals (with their wholesale rejection of orthodox Christianity).

This anti-authoritarian perspective has affected the Church in America, particularly since the Second Vatican Council.  Many Catholics, lay and religious, took the statements of the Council and drew from them a ethos that reflected more their desires than the actual teachings of the fathers of the Council.  This is the so-called "spirit of the Second Vatican Council" that led liberal Catholics to liturgical practices that border the blasphemous (or, in the case of music, are just plain silly); to claim that individual Catholics could exercise their consciences in the use of artificial contraceptives; to confuse socialism with Catholic social teaching; and to push for changes in the Church's teachings on clerical celebacy, divorce and remarriage, and homosexuality.  The damage to the Church in America caused by their influence has been grave;  it is damage that Pope John Paul II spent much of his pontificate trying to correct, a mission continued by Pope Benedict XVI.

Fortunately, the tide is turning.  There has been a strong reaction in this country against liberalism in the Church.  The conservative influence of the Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN), authors such as Stephen Hahn and Peter Kreeft, and the rise of more traditional religious orders has lessened the liberal's influence in our Churches.  Bishops and priests who stand with the Magisterium and defend the faith have led the way.  Better catechetical materials that conform to the teachings of the Magisterium give authoritative sources for teaching children and adults the faith.  Liturgical reforms (including the new translation of the Roman Missal and more widespread use of the Extraordinary Rite, along with the establishment of the ordinariate for former Anglicans) have restored a sense of  the sacred to Catholic worship.

But much more work remains left to be done.  What can we as lay Catholics do to counter liberal influences in our parishes?
  1. Be Humble.  We who try to be faithful to the teachings of the Magisterium and hold to the authority of the Church need to recognize that we have often failed in our attempts.  We are Americans, too, and anti-authoritarianism is part of our cultural DNA; we were a nation born in rebellion, and sometimes it seems we never stop.  Every day we need to submit ourselves humbly to Christ in the person of our priest, our bishops, and the Holy Father.  Every day we need to remind ourselves that we do not know more than the Church; that it has 2000 years on us; and it is our sins of pride and arrogance that keep us from following the authoritative teachings of the Church.
  2. Be Knowledgeable.  We cannot follow what we do not know.  We must take every opportunity to learn more about the faith.  We should always be reading Scripture and the Catechism.  We should read good books by authors faithful to the Magisterium, and take advantage of videos and online courses that are available (sometimes very inexpensively) that teach the faith.  We can no longer call ourselves Catholic and not know what we're supposed to believe; the stakes are too high.
  3. Be Unafraid.  Ordinary lay Catholics who are faithful to the teachings of the Church have been quiet for too long.  We must make our voices heard.  We must take every opportunity to defend the Church and its teachings--even in our own parishes.  We must have the courage to confront the liberal Catholic religious education teacher concerning their views and, if they don't correct themselves, have the additional courage to go to the parish priest.  Even more importantly, we must be willing to talk to our fellow Catholics if we know areas of their lives in which they don't follow the teachings of the church--including birth control.  If we lose a friend, we lose a friend; but we might just gain their soul.
  4. Be Charitable.  Everything we do under 3 must be done with love.  We cannot be mean, angry, hateful, overbearing.  After all, they are our brothers and sisters in Christ--wayward and in error, yes, but our brothers and sisters none the less.  We must be gentle and humble in our approach, leading them to the truth rather than forcing it down their throats.  At the same time, we must constantly be in prayer for them.  In rebelling against the authority of the Church, they are putting their very souls in peril; that fact should make us weep for the liberals.  No one who really believes the teachings of Christ can feel anything but sadness for people in their condition.
  5. Be Catholic.  This is the most important.  If we are going to call ourselves Catholic and defend the Church, we must be thoroughly and unapologetically Catholic. We must adhere to the precepts of the Church and then some.  We should attend mass often (daily if possible) and receive the Holy Eucharist; partake of the Sacrament of Reconciliation frequently; pray daily; and perform the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.  If we are married and of child bearing age, we should educate ourselves about and use Natural Family Planning.  We should defend life from conception to natural death. 
[Note:  after posting this I ran across a great posting on Shameless Popery by Joe Heschmeyer. Five Ways to Defend the Faith Against Unexpected Attacks.  He provides a good guide to dealing with challenges from anyone, including dissenting Catholics.]

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