Left Out, Now Just Left

From David Gibson:

Way back in 1997, Chicago Cardinal Francis George — who has since risen to become president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops — famously declared that “liberal Catholicism is an exhausted project.” Today it is conservative Catholicism that looks like it could use a breather. And if those conservatives don’t get their act together, they could get a good long rest.

I will state at the outset that Catholicism needs a healthy, prayerful, and intellectual conservative side. I thought Cardinal George’s “exhausted project” diagnosis was incorrect, if not actually intellectually lazy. What the Church needs is adult, reasonable, passionate, and compassionate leaders. I don’t think we’re getting enough of them. One commentator on Mr Gibson’s Pontifications blog nailed the situation as I would see it, too:

On both counts it seems that the Church has failed to launch as of yet. Instead the Church seems to be stuck in an adolescence of sorts, with leaders and laity focusing on sexual issues, dress up, hero worship, group thing and group identity.


Speaking of lazy adolescence, I see the same tired old tactics. GOP Catholics seem not inclined to get beyond the fetish of pink slipping those with whom they disagree. The truth of human nature is evident. Some people are born and grow up. Some get stuck. And when you’re not in power, you don’t get to write out details on the pink slip pad.

I don’t have a glowing regard for Catholics in public life. I didn’t during the Reagan/Bush years. And I still don’t today. If any politics is going to float my boat, it will be local, and most of my readers will probably never have heard of the people I like and admire. As for heroes, I tend to look outside politics anyway. But that may not be the case for young Catholics growing up today. As Weigel, Novak, Hudson, and others fade off to an inglorious political sunset, another group of public Catholics will come to the fore. And if the conservatives don’t get their act together, all they will have to offer today’s adolescents is another brand of … adolescence.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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10 Responses to Left Out, Now Just Left

  1. JC says:

    Cardinal George was not talking about politics; he was talking about theology. He’d have been better to use the term “progressive.”

    He was saying the Church had progressed as far as possible in terms of theolog and liturgy. I understand you don’t see any difference, but that’s what he meant. It was very clear from the context.

    As for the rest of your thesis, six months of the Carter II administration is hardly enough to diagnose posthumously the death of “conservatism.”

    The problem, to paraphrase Chesterton, is not that conservatism “has been tried and found wanting but that it has been found difficult and not tried.”

    It is, rather, neoconservatism, which is nothing more than Wilsonian-Kennedyan liberalism–that has been discredited by the Bush administration.

  2. Todd says:

    Was he really talking of theology? The Church is indeed a sacred institution, but being a human one, is hardly bereft of politics, even in theological circles. Social exchange with other human beings is what defines us: we can’t escape politics, even when we proclaim catchy mottoes, “I’m not a liberal or a conservative Catholic–I’m an orthodox/faithful one!”

    Given the stumbles with appointing bishops–even finding good, qualified leaders–and the indulgence for the TLM, it might be said that the conservative theology experiment of B16 is hardly a shining example of effectiveness.

    Your adaptation of Chesterton has been uttered many times about Vatican II. If only the bishops, curia, and priesthood were to take seriously letter and spirit of reform and renewal. As it is, we have many adolescent-ish hangers-on–both right and left. They want a pep rally, it seems; not hard theology.

  3. Jim McK says:

    Commonweal had a roundtable on liberalism in Catholicism where George elaborated on his earlier remark. His comments can be found in the Commonweal archive, or, for some reason I cannot fathom, here:

    His thesis seems pretty broad to me:
    “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.”

  4. Tony says:

    Liberal and conservative aren’t words I usually associate with Catholicism. The words I usually use are orthodox (small “o”) and heterodox.

    If the heterodox take too firm a hold on my parish, and begin to do things that interfere with my worshiping God on a weekly (if not more frequent) basis, we still have pockets of orthodoxy which in my case is about a half hour away at Mount St. Francis Hermitage.

    I hate to do it that way, but if I can’t get everyone else to get out of the hand-basket, I’m not going to ride it where they’re taking us.

  5. lewiscrusade says:

    Todd ,I totally agree. After all, Vatican II calls for Latin to be used at every Mass, and the vernacular to be used in the readings or where “pastorally” appropriate. That is a teaching of Vatican II that has never been implemented.
    Yes, George was talking about theology: he said that things like the Church’s attitude twoards interfaith dialogue would have horrified our ancestors a hundred years ago (and still horrify many of us today).
    “Indulgence for the TLM”?

    First of all, Benedict is very clear in _Summorum Pontificum_ that his intent is merely to reiterate what John Paul did in _Ecclesia Dei_: JPII (and Paul VI) wanted those who were interested in the TLM to have freedom to practice it. They wanted the traditional Mass to be openly available. The bishops arrogated themselves an authority to deny access to a valid liturgy of the Church that they had no right to deny. The cover letter to _Summorum Pontificum_ is far more telling than the motu proprio itself.

    When we had the 100th anniversary of St. Pius X’s encyclical requiring Gregorian chant, JPII wrote an encyclical saying that motu proprio still applied today.

    Benedict wants the TLM widely practiced so that people will be re-introduced to solemnity in the Mass and choose the “options” that are more traditional and more reverent in the Novus Ordo: ad orientem posture, communion on the tongue, etc.

    What is the point of being Catholic if you don’t like being “Catholic”?

  6. Todd says:

    A few cautions.

    First, Tony, you and others may change the subject from left/right or liberal/conservative to orthodox/heterodox, but I don’t accept the notion or insinuation that the self-styled “o”rthodox are any more faithful, moral, or what-have-you than any other Catholic.

    As for the notion of Latin and catholicity, the Church has always included traditions non-Roman. In other words, one doesn’t have to be Roman in order to be Catholic. As for the use of Latin, we’ve covered that in great depth on this site over the years. Bishops in their dioceses worldwide made the move to use of the vernacular after the council. You and others would be hard-pressed to make a case that they lacked the authority to do so, given that they were largely the same bishops who approved the council documents to begin with.

  7. Tony says:

    Now Todd, I’m just speaking to Catholic doctrine. I’m sure there are heterodox saints and orthodox sinners. However, the orthodox have the advantage of knowing and acknowledging what those sins are.

  8. Pingback: What, exactly, is the Vatican’s “take” on Obama? « The Lewis Crusade

  9. Todd says:

    Tony, I’m talking less about doctrine and more about what is in part, ideology, in another part, worldview, and another plain politics.

    I disagree with you that the self-styled orthodox have completed a more successful or self-aware examination of conscience–which gets into morality and less doctrine.

    We’re all human beings. We all sin. We all have blind spots. Wrapping oneself in the mantle of doctrine, morals, or tradition is no guarantee of sanctity beyond someone who doesn’t.

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