Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Catholic Right's Era of "Constructive Schism"

Having recently been labeled a “heretic” by one local blogger, I found Frank Cocozzelli’s recent Talk2Action.org article about the two main factions of right-wing Catholics and their efforts to “evict those who disagree with them by treating them like unruly tenants,” to be very instructive.

Here’s an excerpt from the beginning of Part 1 of Cocozzelli’s “The Catholic Right’s Art of Constructive Schism.”

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The Vatican has been moving to the right since the ascendancy of Pope John Paul II in 1978. During this time open-mind bishops and cardinals have been replaced by increasingly strident confrontational conservatives and traditionalists. Independent-minded clergy such as the former Bishop Francis Mugavero are replaced by dogmatists such as Archbishop Raymond Burke and Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Denver who do not hesitate to use the sacrament of Communion as a divisive political weapon.

The church that has emerged from this era is more authoritarian, treating new ideas or fresh insights as inherently threatening to faith itself. For example, such matters as women’s ordination, embryonic stem cell research, or the inclusion of the LGBT faithful, are likely to lead to charges of heresy and may lead to excommunication. Even if you write an academic thesis wherein you dare suggest Scripture has a more feminine view of God, you can be fired from your parish job.

This era of constructive schism is the reverse of the great schisms of the Protestant Reformation – where the reformers willfully left and set up their own denomination. Today, the self-appointed landlords of the Catholic Right are attempting to evict those who disagree with them by treating them like unruly tenants.

This is mainly being carried out by two factions of right-wing Catholics, one neo-conservative and the other a more traditional group commonly known as “paleos.” And while they both seek to move the Catholic Church rightward, their political goals significantly differ.

Both factions tend to comprise traditionalists who frequently bemoan the reforms of Vatican II in the 1960s, (and especially pine for the return of the Latin Mass.) They also agree on biological issues: abortion, euthanasia, homosexuality and stem cell research. They derive their views from natural law – but with a slight difference: While Catholic Paleos draw upon certain Enlightenment-era thinkers (Edmund Burke, for example), the Neos will reach further back to the Classic Greek teachings of Plato and others for prescribing societal order.


Cocozzelli then proceeds to describe one of the Paleo faction’s “key players,” Opus Dei’s Rev. C. John McCloskey (pictured at right).

Writes Cocozzelli:

A few years ago, McCloskey wrote about his dream Church of 2030, free of moderates and dissenters:

As you may have learned, there were approximately 60 million nominal Catholics at the beginning of the Great Jubilee at the turn of the century. You might ask how we went from that number down to our current 40 million. I guess the answer could be, to put it delicately, consolidation. It is not as bad as it looks. In retrospect it can be seen that only approximately 10% of the sixty or so were “with the program.” (Please excuse the anachronism, but I am 77 years old!) I mean to say only 10% that base assented wholeheartedly to the teaching of the Church and practiced the sacraments in the minimal sense of Sunday Mass and at least yearly confession. The rest, as was inevitable, either left the Church, defected to the culture of death, passed away, or in some cases at least for a couple of decades, went to various Christian sects, what remained of mainstream Protestantism or Bible Christianity.

Continuing, McCloskey writes of a future Church in which the “Catholics we do have are better formed, practice their Faith in the traditional sense at a much higher level than ever.” He also gleefully notes: “Dissent has disappeared from the theological vocabulary.” And he sees the remaining faithful’s numbers enhanced by “the influx of hundreds of thousands of Evangelical Protestants.”

It is no accident that those who advocate a smaller more orthodox church are closely aligned with movement conservatism. For example, Catholic League President William Donohue is an adjunct scholar with the Heritage Foundation; pizza-franchise magnet Tom Monaghan bankrolls the laissez-faire inspired Acton Institute as well as orthodox Catholic GOP candidates for public office; Catholic neoconservatives Michael Novak; and the late Richard John Neuhaus co-founded the Institute for Religion and Democracy (IRD) and McCloskey has served on the IRD’s Board of Advisors.

The role of McCloskey and other prominent conservative Catholics in this anti-liberal Protestant agency deeply troubled the late Rev. Dr. Andrew Weaver, a prominent Methodist writer, who called it “the most grievous breach in ecumenical good will between Roman Catholics and Protestants since the changes initiated by Vatican II.” Frederick Clarkson aptly described the central tenet leading to the IRD’s formation as one “. . . intended to divide and conquer-and diminish the capacity of churches to carry forward their idea of a just society in the United States – and the world.” In this way, Catholic elements involved in IRD not only sought to hobble the politically and socially more liberal Protestant Churches, but also to divide what they saw as their main competitors for influence and the direction of the culture.

But while Clarkson and Weaver say that the role of these (and other) Catholic Right leaders in disrupting and dividing mainline Protestantism has been overlooked, we could also say that their role in the constructive schism of Catholicism has been overlooked as well.

To read Part 1 of Frank Cocozzelli’s “The Catholic Right’s Art of Constructive Schism” in its entirety, click here.


Recommended Off-site Link:
The Neo and Paleo Wings of the Catholic Right - Frank Cocozzelli (Talk2Action.org, May 4, 2009).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
The Shrinking Catholic Tent
The Catholic Challenge
Rome Falling
“The Real Battle”
Benedict’s Understanding of Church
Hans Küng: “We Are Facing a Structural Problem”
Of Mustard Seeds and Walled Gardens
Dispatches from the Periphery
A Time to Re-think the Basis and Repair the Damage
Staying on Board
Mary Hunt: “Catholicism is a Very Complex Reality”

5 comments:

kevin57 said...

It is no accident that those who advocate a smaller more orthodox church are closely aligned with movement conservatism. For example, Catholic League President William Donohue is an adjunct scholar with the Heritage Foundation; pizza-franchise magnet Tom Monaghan bankrolls the laissez-faire inspired Acton Institute as well as orthodox Catholic GOP candidates for public office; Catholic neoconservatives Michael Novak; and the late Richard John Neuhaus co-founded the Institute for Religion and Democracy (IRD) and McCloskey has served on the IRD’s Board of Advisors.

This is the paragraph I find most revealing. When it comes to sexual morality, this crowd is more Catholic than the pope (meaning they would label and toss anathemas all over the place), but somehow they've forgotten about the social doctrine of the Church. Why should they be heretics for that? To me, this demonstrates that what's really at work with this crowd is "control."

And for those posters here who might object to my critique, I would like to ask a question: Have you gone to the "real" Catholic blogs and registered your objections/criticisms of where they fail to adhere to Church doctrine?

Obie Holmen said...

Michael,

Once again, I have quoted you and linked to your post in my own blog. My post contains a lengthy discussion of various items of progressive Catholic news but especially focuses upon the Catholic Council of America, which sounds both interesting and exciting.

neverwalkaway said...

Considering how the youngest members of the clergy are shifting to the right, the cynical part of me wonders whether the Opus Dei priest's vision of the future Church might come true.

Ultimately, we must trust in the Holy Spirit to lead the Church wherever it is meant to go.

Christopher said...

I will point out that this article somewhat inaccurately reads the reformers of the Reformation. Remember that Luther was condemend at the Diet of Worms. He did not willfully leave. His other choice was death. And given the way Hus had been treated just a few decades before, that was a likely end had he not been spirited away by the Elector's men. Yes, break eventually happened, but inflexibility at Rome had its part to play.

PrickliestPear said...

neverwalkaway,

Don't forget, as true as it is that the clergy is getting more conservative, it's also getting much smaller and is being taken less seriously by the "laity."

The younger, more conservative clergy are not producing credible theologians or scholars, and are demonstrably ill-equipped to deal with (or even understand) the theological and pastoral challenges facing the Church.

I will not be surprised if we see the end of the priesthood as we know it in our lifetimes. Something new will emerge to replace it. In some ways this is already happening.