PopeWatch: Liberal Christianity
Dale Price at Dyspeptic mutterings has an interesting series in which he discusses the problems he has with Pope Francis. The problems PopeWatch believes boil down to a concern that Pope Francis may turn out to be an advocate of Liberal Christianity, that place where Christianity goes to die:
He was a beloved itinerant shepherd who lived simply, residing in a single spartan room when he wasn’t visiting the flock. Known for his humility and down-to-earth speaking style, he was deeply beloved by Catholics and non-Catholics alike. He emphasized ecumenism to an unprecedented degree, and believed that the Second Vatican Council was the watershed event in Catholic history. He encouraged modern biblical study, presenting historical-critical hypotheses from the pulpit, chided Catholics who “looked backward” to older ways, and urged the embrace of dynamic change.
His name was Kenneth Untener, and he was the bishop of Saginaw from 1980 until his death in 2004. The parishes in his domain were my first experience with progressive Catholicism, and they stirred and shaped my–there is no other word for it–hostility to the entire progressive religious project. Now, let me clarify one thing here: there is a distinction between religious progressivism and the political version. For my part, I think one can be a devout Catholic and support what are generally regarded as progressive political policies. The late, great Robert Casey, Sr. of Pennsylvania (but not his wayward, sail-trimming fraud of a son) embodied this possibility–and did so well. But, as with Catholics who align toward the right side of the spectrum, if you’re doing your faith right, you will inevitably conflict with certain political shibboleths of your non-Catholic brothers in arms. Or at least you’d better. And it is clear that getting your hands dirty living and working with the poor, a la Catholic Worker, is wholly, utterly and unimpeachably Catholic.
These are to be distinguished from religious progressivism, which is diagnosed comprehensively here. It is always and everywhere bad news. Which is not to say that people who hold modernist views are to be treated like bad news–they shouldn’t. But you have your work cut out, no question. The contemporary flavor of modernism is fond of emotivism and is less susceptible to, or even interested in, logical argument. And if they’re in power, buckle up and heads to the storm.
Anyway, back to the narrative:
The servant-leader was determined to reshape the Faith in his own image, and to a horrible extent, he succeeded. An avatar of the Spirit of Vatican II, he used it to oppose the Letter, shutting down the diaconate program immediately upon being appointed. That way, he could appoint female parish administrators, which he did in truckload lots. Which he would–conveniently?–also need, given that he inspired very few men to follow in his priestly footsteps.
You could find an official liturgical offering which referred to God as “she” in Saginaw, but no extraordinary form Mass. For all the celebration of the Diocese’s genuine ethnic diversity, progressive imperatives had a way of steamrolling organic ethnic expressions of faith and shutting down the “dialogue” once they had their way. For modernists, dialogue is simply a weapon in the struggle–and once the end is reached, the ratchet sets for all eternity. Thank you, please move along. If you’re curious, you can find more examples of tender Saginaw pastoral care in the comments. Tolerance for everything save Catholic orthodoxy is the end result. Note also that my experience was of four separate parishes scattered across fifty miles–no isolated St. Joan’s loony bin skewing the sample here.
And the liturgies…God have mercy. Walking out of Mass growling is not good for me. I simply won’t do it again. Which is not to say the Diocese lacked good features: one of the finest priests I have ever met was a priest in my hometown—a genuine, faithful servant glad to help his flock at all hours, but not one to water down the harder stuff. If he had been the norm, the fruit of the Great Leap Forward…but he was not. There were and are people who admired Bishop Untener and his vision. For me, his vision is one that fills me with dread and anger, and, on a practical level, simply bleeds out even where it is embraced in full–e.g., without those nasty old celibates in Rome mucking things up.
More to the point, at least as embraced and lived in the West, it is a narrow vision that appeals only to the comfortably left-of-center folks with solid portfolios and nice neighborhoods. Far from charging up the laity and sending them into the world, it instead clericalized a select militia. Very select, alas, as it consists only of those layfolk able to attend the requisite workshops and obtain the necessary ministry certifications, giving them the secret handshake and passwords to enter the “real” church–parish administration, preaching from the pulpit and leading communion services. Far from going out to sanctify the world, the laity took chancery and parish office jobs instead.
I suppose it would be one thing if it worked–if it pulled people in and sanctified the world, inspired vocations. It didn’t. The Diocese has contracted by 32 percent since 1988. Can you lay all of that at the feet of the late Bishop? Times change, the economy greatly changes as manufacturing collapses and people move away–or at least their kids seek greener pastures (raises hand). I get that, so no, of course not–it’s hardly all his fault. But apparently the New Thing didn’t draw in new people, either. There’s still a large pool of people to be evangelized, right? Plenty of poor and dislocated folks out in both urban and rural areas in desperate need of both assistance and the Gospel. If the disaffected Catholics were anywhere, they were flocking to your local evangelical churches, which typically has a hefty leaven of ex-Catholics.
In the main, though, if you want a poor church for the poor, a religion that makes middle class Western religious progressives comfortable is not going to work. Ultimately, when faced with a choice, the poor, the desperate, the lost and the lonely will shun religions of trendy ambiguity in favor of those with solid answers.
2. The Pope.
So when I hear the Pope praised for the same things the late ordinary of Saginaw was lauded for, I mentally crouch into a fighting stance. Am I saying the Bishop of Rome is just like the late Bishop of Saginaw? No, but there is much more overlap than I am comfortable with. Which is why my spiritual weather forecast is reading “cloudy with a chance of showers” right now.
Go here to read the rest. PopeWatch believes that in the informal statements of the Pope there is cause for concern. However there is a fair amount of contrary evidence also, including the Pope consecrating the world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, the Pope’s very strong statements regarding abortion and the recent reaffirmation of traditional Catholic teaching on divorce and remarriage and the reception of communion. The main reason for the existence of PopeWatch is to look at developments of the pontificate of Pope Francis frequently and to attempt to discern where Pope Francis wishes to lead the Church. PopeWatch would have been unnecessary in the prior two pontificates, but it is necessary now since, unlike Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict, Pope Francis is given to making remarks that are by no means clear, as demonstrated by the amount of time explaining them that occurs on Saint Blog’s.