Time Magazine asks in an actually readable story Is Liberal Catholicism Dead? Even though it quotes the usual suspects it brings up some interesting points such as how the progressives in their positions have done nothing to distinguish themselves from liberal Protestantism. I don’t think however that the Pope speaking out on sex abuse has changed the dynamic. Groups such as VOTF who latched on to priestly sexual abuse to advance their own agenda were never really influential and peaked pretty quickly as far as membership goes.
I think though that the real question is was liberal Catholicism ever alive in the first place. Any movement whether it arises on the so-called right or the left that denies some doctrines or diminishes them and places too much emphasis on another can never be truly alive. Only the truth is alive. When truth and error are mixed in we don’t get something fully alive, but something stillborn that can never successfully reproduce itself. The birth defect of error ensures that while it might cause a commotion for a time, that without a true promotion of the faith it is bound to die out. The Church has bounded over constant heresies and while they might have tossed the Ark of the Church about the Church always stayed on course since the Holy Spirit is her steersman.
Modernism has not brought the Church to the world, but tried to bring the world into the Church. Modernism has worked like a canal lock, but instead of raising the world to the Church, has tried to lower the Church to the world. This equivocation has been detrimental in vocations. Why answer the call of sacrifice when all forms of sacrifice and self-restraint are suppose to be a sign of an unbalanced personality. Where sin becomes just guilt to be overcome on a psychologists couch and not the confessional.
There has been talk about the graying of the Call to Action crowd and the same thing for those convents and monasteries that have in most ways abandoned the faith for a bunch of modernist pottage. It is always a temptation to follow something new that seems exciting at the time if you are on the cusp of some new fad. The pride of thinking that your insights into the faith despite the fact that they contradict the constant teaching of the Church is what is in fact true. In a culture of constant change and invention it is attractive to invent something new when it comes to the faith. This is an easy path since it is much harder to truly absorb the faith and to meditate on it and to perhaps even illumine the mysteries of the faith further in contemplation. So while it is exciting to be involved in the latest theology that brings much itch to the ears, later generations will see it as the fad it was; though this won’t keep them from following a different fad.
We are not exactly conditioned to giving our fiat to the Church when we are buffeted about by the winds of rugged individualism. That to be an individual it to have an opinion different from other individuals. Though mostly this gets played out by doing exactly the same thing as a bunch of other individuals who are proclaiming their individuality. I do thank God for my own experience in the military since it removed so many false ideas from when I was a wannabe hippie. It prepared me for the Church militant where I could both be fully alive as a person and also a part of the body of Christ. That obedience to Christ and his Church is a joy and I have not lost any freedom, but only gained true freedom by doing what I ought.
Last week at Ten Reasons Rich Leonardi posted an article from one of Bishop Clark’s pastoral administrator.
As pastoral administrator of St. Mary’s Church in Rochester, I have been blessed with the responsibility for the pastoral and administrative care of a Roman Catholic community of 900 families who gather for worship in a beautiful city-center church. I collaborate with a talented pastoral staff including a full-time priest and a retired priest who serves us voluntarily.
I can’t imagine a better place to be. We are in a city that is showing such positive signs of new life. Our church tradition has a rich and beautiful wealth of spirituality, theology and liturgy. We are in a diocese that has a courageous, encouraging leader in Bishop Matthew Clark.
Traditionally, the leader of a parish would have been an ordained priest. At present, only an ordained priest may preside at Eucharist, give absolution and anoint the sick. However, as a lay pastoral leader, I do not feel less capable in serving the community in most other ways. Readily we seek to offer care, compassion and spiritual guidance, as well as teaching and administrative leadership.
The sure sign of the progressive is to use the words "at present." But as Chesterton noted on modernists is that they might as well call themselves Thurdayites. I idea of the constant teaching of the Church changing in a contradictory way to me is a nightmare and certainly nothing to hope for. To paraphrase Flannery O’Connor if the Church can change her doctrines than the Hell with her. This of course does not apply to the development of doctrine, but a democratic view of doctrine where the Holy Spirit doesn’t get a vote. Where Apostolic Tradition doesn’t get a proxy vote. Were the Church to do such a thing I would have no choice but cynicism and atheism since the Church is all or nothing. This is something I will never loose any sleep over since with Peter I would say "Where would I go, you have the words of eternal life."
I do wonder what metrics she uses for evidence of positive signs of new life, I get the feeling our understanding on what constitute new life would vary. The only real metric is one that we can’t know in this life and that is just how many of the parishioners make it to Heaven. The training for life in Christ seems to me to be the fundamental purpose of a diocese just as it is the fundamental concern of parents to raise their children in Christ.
I would think that a diocese that has to resort to pastoral administrators which as Rich mentioned is canonically legitimate only under temporary and exceptional circumstances. I also would think that the response to vocations in the priestly and religious life would be an important indicator of new life. When your vocation chart represents the flat line of an EKG connected to someone dead you might think their might be a problem there or maybe resorting to pastoral administrators is the same thing as the plot of Weekend at Bernie. We’re alive here!, just don’t look too closely. As many have mentioned there is no vocation crisis, their is a response to vocation crisis. When the priesthood and religious life becomes just social work why not just be a social worker for better pay and conditions? By theological diminishing the ordained faithful and raising the priesthood of the faithful to an equal level why exactly should we be surprised that answering to the vocational call is met with resistance?
Other metrics I would look at for seeing if a diocese is truly alive is Mass attendance, lines for Confession, a falling divorce rate, etc. The metric for most people seems to be how faithful is the Catholic Church to them and not how faithful they are to the Catholic Church. There is only vibrant orthodoxy and vibrant heterodoxy is an oxymoron. But even orthodoxy can be lived in an unorthodox manner when it becomes a narrowing instead of the large thumping creature that it is since it is the very heartbeat of truth. Pope Benedict when speaking to Catholic educators said that Catholic education can not "be equated simply with orthodoxy of course content." Orthodoxy of course content is the foundation to be built upon and when it is not, as modernism demonstrates, it is the foundation built on rocky ground that Jesus preached about.
When I think of liberalism/modernism/progressivism or whatever ism it is going by I can only think of what G.K. Chesterton said.
�A dead thing can go with the stream, but only a living thing can go against it.�