Diagnosis: Fear of Reform

Russell Shaw attempts a brave case against reform, a value he himself has touted many times in criticizing the hierarchy and the Way of Doing Business within  Roman Catholic circles. The gist of the argument seems to be this: If only the lefty wackos would shut up, the center would line up and be stronger about “improvement.”


With the Church, like any large group of people, you have those in power and those out of it. You have fringe elements who try to torque the whole operation in their direction. It’s kind of like trying to move a mountain by grabbing a tree in the foothills and shifting from there. For most Catholics, they find it’s too hard to budge, so they just call a party in the shade. A really strong fringe might break off the tree at the stump. An accomplishment of strength, and possibly impressive, but long-term? Not going to make a difference on the mountain. But it will get you a lot of firewood.

I suspect what’s needling Mr Shaw is that conservatives and traditionalists are inclined to marginalize him because of his own calls for reform. He may indeed be right that “reform” has gotten a bad name from some fringe folks–much in the same way as Latin, chant, and traditional Catholicism have from the SSPX and the local True Believers we know and love. Even traditionalist musicians have to engage in PC-speak as they attempt to re-enchant Church music. “Reform of the reform” is a safe, meaningless term that communicates a desire to change the status quo, all while appearing to be GLB’s and GLG’s who won’t step a toe outside the predetermined processional pathway. “Reform other people’s crap and leave ours alone.”

The obstacle to reform isn’t about fringe groups upset with one another. It’s about the hoarding and addiction to power. It’s the same indulgence that shows its sinful face when searching for the weak, then physically, emotionally, and sexually abusing them for the exaltation of self. Another face is your friendly bishop who is a fully-one-hundred-percent codependent and is more than willing to suspend belief to think the best of a brother priest and deny evidence that others want to bring to light.

What’s the biggest obstacle to positive reform in the Church? Reactionaries in the Roman Curia? Conservatives in the conference of bishops? The Code of Canon Law?

The correct answer is none of the above. The biggest obstacle to reform is the roadblock thrown in its way by self-styled reform groups themselves. By advocating changes that clash with the doctrine, discipline, and best interests of the Church, they give reform a bad name and lead sensible people to reason that if this is what “reform” means, they want no part of it.

Classic codependence. Either VOTF, CTA, and the other fringers are scaring the bejeezus out of the via media, or they are in their death throes and living on borrowed cash until the next conference–which may not even happen, according to Mr Shaw.

I’m sure there’s something to applaud for just about everyone in Mr Shaw’s essay. Some liberals might think the bonfire is still getting noticed–which it obviously is. Some conservatives are happy the gray-haired pockets are turned out, not to mention the economy is in a spin. The author can keep a cool head above everything and stock up on plausible deniability the next time a prelate gets caught with pants in the wrong place. The culture loves a cynic, after all.

Ecclesia semper reformanda.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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1 Response to Diagnosis: Fear of Reform

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