On “How Liberalism Fails the Church: The Cardinal Explains”


Cardinal Francis George participated in a Commonweal forum entitled “The Crisis of Liberal Catholicism” in 1999. He catches some flak, perhaps not undeserved, for his analysis of the crisis. The full link is in the Commonweal archives here. His 1998 homily at a National Center for the Laity Mass included this statement:

We are at a turning point in the life of the church in this country. Liberal Catholicism is an exhausted project. Essentially a critique, even a necessary critique at one point in our history, it is now parasitical on a substance that no longer exists. It has shown itself unable to pass on the faith in its integrity and inadequate, therefore, in fostering the joyful self-surrender called for in Christian marriage, in consecrated life, in ordained priesthood. It no longer gives life.


The answer, however, is not to be found in a type of conservative Catholicism obsessed with particular practices and so sectarian in its outlook that it cannot serve as a sign of unity of all peoples in Christ.

The answer is simply Catholicism, in all its fullness and depth, a faith able to distinguish itself from any cultures and yet able to engage and transform them all, a faith joyful in all the gifts Christ wants to give us and open to the whole world he died to save.

In the Commonweal follow-up, he said, “I regret now a phrasing that gave some people offense because of my use of the adjective ‘parasitical’ to describe a set of ideas and a movement which defines itself and takes life from an idea of church no longer adequate to the church’s self-consciousness since the Second Vatican Council.”

I’d like to break open the cardinal’s statement over a series of posts the next few days, and more accurately outline my views of liberal Catholicism, how it works for me, and how it works in the best of situations for the Church. I think a criticism from outside is helpful for the insight it brings on a broad scale. I’ll be most critical of the cardinal when he misses the mark not on his broad diagnosis, of which I might be in agreement much of the time, but in the particulars of liberalism, of which, as a non-liberal, he might not be as discerning.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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