Generations & American Catholicism

There have been some refreshingly candid (if not entirely harmonious) conversations over at Mirror of Justice recently about the blog’s mission as it approaches its fifth anniversary. Mirror of Justice is a great resource for Catholic legal scholarship, and it has a diverse set of contributors with different perspectives on Catholic legal theory.

I have thoughts about many of the issues that have come up, but one topic that I found especially interesting was the discussion of generational differences.

Specifically, one reader wrote in and suggested that younger Catholics are more interested in “evangelizing the culture,” rather than “reconsidering settled teachings,” because “our experience of being Catholic is much more a choice than a cultural experience. Since most young Catholics chose Catholicism at some point in their lives, I think we’re generally more inclined to accept the teachings of the Magisterium.” Such generalizations are inevitably over and under-inclusive. But the comment reminded me of then-Cardinal Ratzinger’s famous, and often-misconstrued remarks, about a “smaller and purer Church.”

I think it is difficult for Catholics born after the mid-70′s (myself included) to understand the difficulties the Church experienced during that time period. Catholics had finally reached mainstream acceptance as ‘American,’ for better or worse, in the late 1950′s and early 1960′s. Many Catholics born during this time grew up in a time in which the Church had a great deal of institutional strength and significant influence on the mainstream culture. As the Sexual Revolution played out, and the Christian (much less the Catholic) vision of sexuality had less and less traction in the culture, this influence eroded considerably. It must have been a painful experience for many of these Catholics to watch religious vocations, mass attendance, and respect for the Church fall so dramatically. As a personal example, both of my grandmothers left the Church in response to Humanae Vitae, and, while all of the children were raised Catholic, my parents are the only ones of their twelve siblings who are now Catholic (they returned later in life).

It is not surprising, if regrettable, that many who were raised Catholic during this tumultuous time period decided that the Church’s vision of sexuality needed to be revised to ensure that the Church did not become ‘irrelevant’. After all, the views of the culture had changed dramatically, why was the Church so far behind? And it is also unsurprising that there was a tendency to emphasize a form of pastoral sensitivity, desirable in itself, which can easily devolve into therapeutic relativism.

For those of us born during the late 1970′s and onward, the Catholic view of sexuality has always been a non-mainstream vision: a challenge to the prevailing mores. It can be flippantly dismissed as ‘medieval,’ but there is no denying that it is a radically different vision of the human person and sexuality than anything on offer in the mainstream culture. And it seems likely to me that there are less younger Catholics who see the Church as needing to change on this; they accept the Church’s position as a given, and either leave the Church, stay and ignore it on specific issues, or embrace it.

To try and tie this back to Mirror of Justice and Ratzinger’s remarks, the interesting thing to me is that the Church in the U.S. currently includes both the ‘smaller and purer’ Church Pope Benedict described twenty years ago and the broad and inclusive Church that many theologically liberal/progressive Catholics wanted. For instance, about 1/4 of of the U.S. self-describes as Catholic, but within that self-definition there are many mansions. In terms of self-identification, at least, the Catholic Church is a broad Church encompassing people ranging from Pat Buchanan to Andrew Sullivan. In another sense, though, the Church has shrunk, as witnessed by the decline in Mass attendance, the decrease in vocations, and widespread dissent from the Church’s moral teachings on issues like contraception. But it strikes me that there is something of a generational split here; I cannot think of any prominent younger Catholics who are as openly dissenting as, for instance, Frances Kissling, Gary Wills, or Fr. Richard McBrien. Many younger people who share their views simply stop self-describing as Catholic. And vocal younger Catholics seem to be less critical of the Magisterium, or, at least, that has been my experience.

In any case, I am curious about other people’s thoughts because the above is obviously an over-simplification. Is there a generational divide, and, if so, how would you characterize it?

30 Responses to Generations & American Catholicism

  • As a college student, I think that it’s true. Most of the people who really care about the Catholic faith are faithful to the Magisterium. However, there are plenty of people who self-describe as Catholic who openly dissent from the Church both in teachings and lifestyle.

    but again I think you’re right. The people who aren’t faithful to the Magisterium aren’t that concerned with their religion at all: they might go to Mass on Easter/Christmas and their grandmother might push the to marry in a Church, but as far as pushing theology or going into the seminary it seems that they’re faithful. Of course there are many exceptions, but that seems to be the trend, which is good news for the Church

  • George Crosley says:

    I don’t know. Having just finished a BA and a MS at a major Jesuit University, I saw upfront how Jesuits/arch-leftists train the Magisterium-haters of the future. Meanwhile, serious Catholics (especially the children of serious Catholics) are relegated to organizing a Christian life on the fringes of campus (physically and metaphorically). In the middle are a lot of eager but leaderless and uninspired Catholics who aimlessly spiritually traverse campus, often following whoever speaks loudest. Then of course, there are the many Protestants or agnostics in the prime position for evangelization on a college campus who interact with the lowest elements of the Church and hear nothing but contempt and distrust about University bureaucrats and clergy from their more-serious Catholic friends.

  • John Henry says:

    Well, in turn, I don’t think I think what you think I think the “smaller and purer church” is. If you find that response entirely useless, we will be in the same position.

    All of which is to say, specificity would be appreciated. ;-)

  • Tito Edwards says:

    I feel that those young dissenters eventually leave. Not all, but most. Like George Crosley said that there are those that are being trained in Magesterium hating. Hopefully they will hold less influence as better Catholics begin ignoring them altogether.

    My opinion on a smaller and purer church are those 10%ers, 10% of Catholics who actually practice their faith, are whom Pope Benedict is referring to. They will be the mustard seed, the creative minority that will invigorate their fellow Catholics as well as their surrounding culture. The liberals-protesting-School-of-America types will either convert to being faithful Catholics or go off into the dark unknown and be soon forgotten like the Hans Kungs of the world.

  • John Henry says:

    Michael,

    I am curious about your thoughts on the subject of the generational divide, as we obviously have had very different experiences of the Church. I’d also be interested in your thoughts on George’s comment. As a product of Jesuit institutions, I am sure you have some opinions, and I would be interested in hearing them (if you wish to share them).

    My (limited) experience with schools ‘in the Jesuit tradition’ suggests there is a fair amount of truth in what George says, but you would be in a better position to comment.

  • The debates and tensions that George talks about have nothing to do with whether a campus is “Jesuit” or not. Yes, I spent a lot of time at a Jesuit school (bachelors and masters, plus a few years as a campus minister). While I was a campus minister I did a lot of networking with other Jesuit schools and non-Jesuit Catholic schools, both in the campus ministry and campus activism circles. I assure you, each of the 28 Jesuit universities is quite different and has its own issues. My own alma mater, though the smallest of the Jesuit schools, was quite diverse and it certainly wasn’t a “training ground” for dissenters. I think all Catholic schools wrestle with questions of Catholic identity and what it means to be a faithful Catholic. It’s not limited to Jesuit schools.

    The liberals-protesting-School-of-America types will either convert to being faithful Catholics or go off into the dark unknown and be soon forgotten like the Hans Kungs of the world.

    This show how seriously we can take Tito. A Catholic’s position on the School of the Americas has nothing to do with his or her orthodoxy. They only orthodoxy that SOA protesting Catholics question is americanist orthodoxy. I have long suspected that Tito gets those two mixed up all the time. Now it’s quite obvious. If Tito only knew the number of faithful priests, sisters, brothers, and bishops who are part of the SOA Watch movement. But he isn’t interested in facts, only that SOA Watch Catholics are a “helpful” target in his rants.

  • I’ve certainly seen a generational difference in how people address the Church if they disagree with it. Those 50 and over seem a lot more likely to still identify as Catholic and even be very involved in parish activities while strongly disagreeing with major Church moral and doctrinal teachings. And even those who seldom if ever go to Church still generally call themselves “Catholic” — unless they’ve become Protestant.

    Those our age, however, definitely seem to see being Catholic as something you choose, or don’t. A couple of my coworkers have used phrases like “my parents are Catholic”, “I used to be Catholic” or “I went to Catholic schools”, which I don’t think you’d hear out of older non-practicing or ex-Catholics.

  • Gabriel Austin says:

    An interesting example is that of Michael Harrington, Jesuit trained in St. Louis in the 1940s and 1950s. He was interested in social issues, worked for a time with Dorothy Day. and then organized various versions of the Socialist party. He could not abide Dorothy Day’s firm commitment to the Church.

    Interestingly enough, it was the legalisation of the contraceptive pill which was the determining factor in his relations with the Church. One might say that he was too bright for his own good, a characteristic not uncommon among students at Jesuit schools. .

  • I think there is some truth to this, but I think it’s far from clear whether or not this is a good thing. I think it’s ambiguous.

    I think it may arguably be the best that we can hope for in the modern world we live in.

    There’s an advantage to people continuing to think of themselves as Catholic (or at least continuing to think of Catholicism as simply being _the_ form of religion available) in that this leaves them with an obvious course of return should they become sufficiently “mugged by reality” to start drifting back towards God. I certainly think that it’s better than not if people who “aren’t religious” continue to see calling for a priest as the obvious thing to do at the end of life or at the death of a loved one or at some other inflection point in life.

    However, in the modern world — perhaps in part because Catholicism is too often seen as one denomination among many, and Protestant denominations have been in a pretty active process over the last 200 years of adapting Christianity to the needs of the spirit of the age — the choices seem to be between either a “the Church doesn’t change, love it or leave it” or “Catholic is a cultural identity and the sooner those old celibate guys catch on to what we with-it people believe, the better”. Of these, the former is clearly preferable.

    Ideally, of course, would be an understanding that the Church does not change combined with people lapsing but never actually repudiating the Church. However that does not seem to be forthcoming at this time.

  • Matt McDonald says:

    I think that it’s not possible to break Catholics, young or old, into two categories. It’s more like an xy diagram, with 4 quadrants. There are faithful Catholics in every sense, those for whom religion is important but don’t consider it necessary to be faithful to the magisterium, those who are simply lax in every sense, and probably a portion who while orthodox in their beliefs don’t take their faith seriously.

    Only one of these quadrants entails the smaller, purer Church referred to by Pope Benedict. I think that something non-orthodox Catholics don’t understand, to culpably hold heresy is to incur excommunication:

    Can. 1364 §1. Without prejudice to the prescript of ? can. 194, §1, n. 2, an apostate from the faith, a heretic, or a schismatic incurs a latae sententiae excommunication; in addition, a cleric can be punished with the penalties mentioned in ? can. 1336, §1, nn. 1, 2, and 3.

    All that remains is to give them an opportunity to repent and issue the proclamations.

    Michael I,

    I think all Catholic schools wrestle with questions of Catholic identity and what it means to be a faithful Catholic.

    I don’t see how this is possible, it is all clearly spelled out in the CCC. Now, if you mean wrestling with questions of WANTING a Catholic identity or WANTING to be a faithful Catholic, that would be accurate.

    http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG0015/_INDEX.HTM

    There’s nothing particularly difficult about what it means to be a faithful Catholic, the only difficulty is actually practicing it.

    Matt

  • Yes, people such as Fr. Roy Bourgeois are excellent examples of following the Churches teachings.

    You do know that the SOA Watch movement has existed for over 10 years and that Fr Roy’s “issues” have only occurred within the last 6 months? You do know that Fr Roy cannot be equated with the entire movement? You do know that I have been involved in the SOA Watch movement for about 8-9 years, and that I DISAGREE with what Fr Roy did?

    Are you able to make these distinctions, or are you really that stupid?

    Matt – You’re off the page, man. What’s up with you?

  • Matt McDonald says:

    Michael I,

    so you didn’t know Fr. Roy’s support of women’s ordination before 6 months ago? It was well known by those outside the SOA movement. Do you know any other of the SOA Watch members that are in favor of women’s ordination? Any that publicly oppose the Church’s teaching on homosexuality, contraception, abortion, or liberation theology?

    It really would assist the dialogue if you would refrain from vague statements like “you’re off the page”, I’m sure it’s an insult, I just don’t get it…as well as to avoid calling people names, it’s really un-christian.

    Matt

  • Fr Roy’s “position” on women’s ordination was not as issue until he participated in a fake ordination.

    Do you know any other of the SOA Watch members that are in favor of women’s ordination? Any that publicly oppose the Church’s teaching on homosexuality, contraception, abortion, or liberation theology?

    Of course. But I know plenty of pro-life people who are in favor of women’s ordination, and who question the Church’s teaching on homosexuality, contraception, and liberation theology but I doubt you’d want to discredit the entire pro-life movement on their account.

    I didn’t call you names. I said you were off the page.

    Can you tell me in one sentence the Church’s view on liberation theology?

  • Matt McDonald says:

    Michael,

    Fr Roy’s “position” on women’s ordination was not as issue until he participated in a fake ordination.

    Really? You think it’s morally acceptable to support women’s ordination as long as you don’t participate in a fake ordination?


    Do you know any other of the SOA Watch members that are in favor of women’s ordination? Any that publicly oppose the Church’s teaching on homosexuality, contraception, abortion, or liberation theology?

    Of course. But I know plenty of pro-life people who are in favor of women’s ordination, and who question the Church’s teaching on homosexuality, contraception, and liberation theology but I doubt you’d want to discredit the entire pro-life movement on their account.

    Perhaps in the circles you run with Michael, but not in any group that I would affiliate myself with. Perhaps you should be more careful.

    I didn’t call you names. I said you were off the page.

    You called Tito stupid.

    Can you tell me in one sentence the Church’s view on liberation theology?

    I’m surprised, running in the circles you do, I’d think you were deeply versed in it. Benedict XVI has made the connection between Liberation Theology and “millenarianism”, but it is a far more complex topic to distill in a single sentence. The Church’s position is nuanced, an area fraught with pitfalls which must be carefully avoided in order to remain orthodox. Frankly, in an organization where many other heterodox positions abounds, one is likely to find forbidden forms of liberation theology at it’s root. Here’s a link for you that you might begin to study these issues:
    http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_19840806_theology-liberation_en.html

    Matt

  • Really? You think it’s morally acceptable to support women’s ordination as long as you don’t participate in a fake ordination?

    Haha. Morally acceptable? Without a doubt, yes. Theologically acceptable from the official Roman Catholic perspective? Ah, that’s where the debate is. Since we can’t even agree on what kind of discussion we’re having (moral, theological, doctrinal, etc.) I doubt we will get very far.

    Frankly, in an organization where many other heterodox positions abounds, one is likely to find forbidden forms of liberation theology at it’s root.

    1) What “organization” are you talking about?

    2) The Church has not forbidden any particular “forms” of liberation theology. It has warned about certain tendencies, of course.

    Here’s a link for you that you might begin to study these issues…

    I “began” to study these issues over ten years ago. I’m now working on a doctorate focusing on them.

  • Matt McDonald says:

    Michael,

    Really? You think it’s morally acceptable to support women’s ordination as long as you don’t participate in a fake ordination?

    Haha. Morally acceptable? Without a doubt, yes. Theologically acceptable from the official Roman Catholic perspective? Ah, that’s where the debate is. Since we can’t even agree on what kind of discussion we’re having (moral, theological, doctrinal, etc.) I doubt we will get very far.

    moral == theological == doctrinal… It’s all the same baby.

    Frankly, in an organization where many other heterodox positions abounds, one is likely to find forbidden forms of liberation theology at it’s root.

    1) What “organization” are you talking about?

    I don’t understand, you haven’t read the posts? SOA Watch.

    2) The Church has not forbidden any particular “forms” of liberation theology. It has warned about certain tendencies, of course.

    She has done more than “warn”, she has excommunicated adherents to unorthodox forms of liberation theology.

    Here’s a link for you that you might begin to study these issues…

    I “began” to study these issues over ten years ago. I’m now working on a doctorate focusing on them.

    So, you of all people should know that the issue can not be distilled in one sentence… what a strange question to ask.

  • moral == theological == doctrinal… It’s all the same baby.

    Incorrect.

    I don’t understand, you haven’t read the posts? SOA Watch.

    I see. Well then you should be able to produce some evidence that SOA Watch has “forbidden forms of liberation theology at it’s (sic) root.” Please produce some.

    She has done more than “warn”, she has excommunicated adherents to unorthodox forms of liberation theology.

    Who has the Church excommunicated for their liberation theology?

    So, you of all people should know that the issue can not be distilled in one sentence… what a strange question to ask.

    It’s not a strange question to ask if you have distilled the complexity of this and other related concerns in single sentences, as you have above and elsewhere. You seem to have it all figured out (“t is all clearly spelled out in the CCC,” for example), so I figured you could deal with my request.

  • Matt McDonald says:

    Michael J. Iafrate
    Comment:
    Matt: moral == theological == doctrinal… It’s all the same baby.

    Michael: Incorrect.

    Perhaps you could explain in a little more detail how the doctrine of the Church is in disharmony with theology and morality.

    I see. Well then you should be able to produce some evidence that SOA Watch has “forbidden forms of liberation theology at it’s (sic) root.” Please produce some.

    I didn’t say that it did, I just suggested that if there is a lot of rejection of Church teaching, you can probably find “forbidden forms of liberation theology at its root”. My basis for this conclusion is that the revolution called for by millenarianism includes revolution against the Church’s teachings in many areas which the adherents consider to be patriarchal or bigoted.

    She has done more than “warn”, she has excommunicated adherents to unorthodox forms of liberation theology.

    Who has the Church excommunicated for their liberation theology?

    Fr. Balasuriya (lifted after he renounced his position)

    It’s not a strange question to ask if you have distilled the complexity of this and other related concerns in single sentences, as you have above and elsewhere. You seem to have it all figured out (“t is all clearly spelled out in the CCC,” for example), so I figured you could deal with my request.

    I don’t have it all figured out, the Church does.
    CCC 11:
    This catechism aims at presenting an organic synthesis of the essential and fundamental contents of Catholic doctrine, as regards both faith and morals, in the light of the Second Vatican Council and the whole of the Church’s Tradition. Its principal sources are the Sacred Scriptures, the Fathers of the Church, the liturgy, and the Church’s Magisterium. It is intended to serve “as a point of reference for the catechisms or compendia that are composed in the various countries

    Matt

  • Fr. Balasuriya (lifted after he renounced his position)

    His excommunication had nothing to do with liberation theology. It had to do with his (former) position on Mary.

    Perhaps you could explain in a little more detail how the doctrine of the Church is in disharmony with theology and morality.

    I didn’t say that they were in “disharmony.” I said that the terms are not equivalent. Thus, you asked if it was “morally wrong” to believe in women’s ordination. The Church obviously teaches it’s doctrinally wrong, but not that it’s morally wrong. The Church teaches a lot of things, but disagreeing with a particular teaching might not, in fact, be “morally” wrong.

    You didn’t answer my question about why you wouldn’t discredit the pro-lilfe movement, even though there are pro-life people who are for women’s ordination and other “morally wrong” things, but you (and Tito) will discredit the SOA mv’t for the same thing.

  • I don’t have it all figured out, the Church does.
    CCC 11:
    This catechism aims at presenting an organic synthesis of the essential and fundamental contents of Catholic doctrine, as regards both faith and morals…

    That a book exists which teaches the “essential and fundamental”s of Catholic doctrine regarding “faith and morals” means the Catholic Church has it “all” figured out? Why won’t the Church share their cures for cancer and AIDS with the rest of the world then? And in what chapter of the Catechism can we find that?

  • Matt McDonald says:

    Michael I,
    Fr. Balasuriya (lifted after he renounced his position)

    His excommunication had nothing to do with liberation theology. It had to do with his (former) position on Mary.

    Really? The title of his condemned work is Mary and Human Liberation, so yes, it relates to Mary…However, the declaration listed errors related to difficulties with his form of liberation theology relating to original sin, the nature of Christ, the nature and necessity of the Church for salvation, Marian dogmas, and papal infallibility.

    If this is your area of study, and you are unaware of these things, that is a problem, I hope your professors don’t figure it out. If you are aware of them and yet try to obfuscate to support your position, that is something else.

    Perhaps you could explain in a little more detail how the doctrine of the Church is in disharmony with theology and morality.

    I didn’t say that they were in “disharmony.” I said that the terms are not equivalent. Thus, you asked if it was “morally wrong” to believe in women’s ordination. The Church obviously teaches it’s doctrinally wrong, but not that it’s morally wrong. The Church teaches a lot of things, but disagreeing with a particular teaching might not, in fact, be “morally” wrong.

    You are in serious and dangerous error here. The Church has declared infallibly that she has no authority to ordain women, that it is not a matter of discipline, but a matter of faith and morals universally taught by the ordinary magisterium. Doctrinal assertions with regard to faith and morals demand our intellectual assent, but not assent of faith, this is not one of those cases, it demands assent of faith, even if you do not understand why it is so.


    You didn’t answer my question about why you wouldn’t discredit the pro-lilfe movement, even though there are pro-life people who are for women’s ordination and other “morally wrong” things, but you (and Tito) will discredit the SOA mv’t for the same thing.

    Yes I did, SOA is an organization, pro-life is a movement. None of the pro-life groups I affiliate with have members publicly opposing the Church’s teachings.

    I don’t have it all figured out, the Church does.
    CCC 11:
    This catechism aims at presenting an organic synthesis of the essential and fundamental contents of Catholic doctrine, as regards both faith and morals…

    That a book exists which teaches the “essential and fundamental”s of Catholic doctrine regarding “faith and morals” means the Catholic Church has it “all” figured out? Why won’t the Church share their cures for cancer and AIDS with the rest of the world then? And in what chapter of the Catechism can we find that?

    The cures for AIDS? Well an ounce of prevention, which is covered in the Catechism is worth a pound of cure. As to cancer? She has done better… She has through the sacrifice of Our Lord cured death itself. This may sound like a smug turn of phrase, but I am precisely demonstrating that Michael I’s view of the Church’s mission is flawed and that drives many of his erroneous positions. The Last four things are Death, Judgment, Heaven and Hell, worry more about preparing for these things and we can worry less about cancer and AIDS.

    Part 1, Section 2, Chapter 3

    Matt
    ps. I’m noticing a common thread here on the relationship between rejecting Church teaching on women’s ordination and liberation theology, does anybody else see this?

  • Matt McDonald says:

    Michael I,

    whenever you are unable to respond substantially you resort to such ad hominem nonsense. Really, grow up, be a man, and post like one. I know it can be frustrating that you can’t silence your critics here like you and your lefty buddies do on Vox Nova, but surely you can overcome this childishness.

  • John Henry says:

    Alright, well that’s enough of the Iafrate v. McDonald showdown for now. I probably should have stepped in sooner; at any rate, any subsequent back-and-forth between you two on this thread will be deleted.

Follow TAC by Clicking on the Buttons Below
Bookmark and Share
Subscribe by eMail

Enter your email:

Recent Comments
Archives
Our Visitors. . .
Our Subscribers. . .