A White-Collar Church and Its Discontents

In response to my latest defense of the Baltimore Catechism, reader bpeters1 argues that reverting to the catechism would turn back the clock to a less enlightened age. Excerpt:

Do we really want to inculcate the Catholic population with the very neo-scholasticism which (Card.) Henri de Lubac, (Card.) Yves Congar, and even Joseph Ratzinger so loudly decried? From what I understand, Hans Urs von Balthasar went so far as to refuse to undergo doctoral training in theology because he so detested the neo-scholatic method, the very method which informs the Baltimore Catechism! For all of the problems and struggles the Church has had since Vatican II, the best and brightest theologians of the pre-Vatican II era (including our current pope!) found the theology of that very era dull and lifeless, and insisted on a movement away from the sort of theological method employed in the Baltimore Catechism. Do we really want to revert back to that? Richard McBrien once said, “You want to go back to the Church before Vatican II? I’m a product of the Church before Vatican II!” Regardless of what you think of Fr. McBrien, it’s worthwhile to consider those words!

I share the reader’s opinion that the recent history of the American Church has brought some good changes. Like American society as a whole, Catholic theologians are more considerate of the experiences of the poor, minorities, and women. That’s a good thing.

But stop to consider the premise of the reader’s argument: If the Baltimore Catechism were re-introduced, the Church’s leading theologians would be up in arms, fearing that the development would return the Church to the days of authoritarianism and judgmentalism. This premise strikes me as false. Neo-Scholasticism does not need to descend into authoritarianism any more than neo-Augustinianism needs to descend into relativism.

After all, the Church in the decades immediately before Vatican II produced more than liberal theologians like Richard McBrien. It also produced some of the best Catholics of the 20th century — Dorothy Day, Peter Maurin, Caesar Chavez, Sargent and Eunice Shriver, Bishop Sheen, Thomas Merton, David L. Lawrence, Walker Percy, Flannery O’Connor, Monsignor John A. Ryan. None of these figures was authoritarian. They were orthodox. For example, Day and Monsignor Ryan were not only tribunes for the poor and working classes, but also opponents of the sexual revolution.

Do not many Catholics hunger for clear and complete orthodox instruction and programs? One young priest suggests that they do. According to Father Seamus Griesbach, Generation X and Millennial Catholics believe their catechesis was watered down to the point of caricature:

We had not been taught the fullness of the faith, we were not given adequate tools to handle real life – to deal with evil, to seek what is good. We were not trained in the virtues, we were not given a solid foundation in logic and critical thinking, we were not exposed to the cultural and religious treasures of our western heritage. Instead, we had been brought up by a generation that was convinced that the way to show their love for us was by being likable and entertaining us. The youth ministry mantra was, I’ll never forget, the “4 F words”: food, fun, friends, and faith.

But in the face of terrorists trying to kill us, criminal priests, divorce, substance abuse, psychological illnesses, violence, and promiscuity, the 4 F words just didn’t cut it, being likable and entertaining didn’t cut it either. Many of my peers left the faith, tired of being around a bunch of people who seemed obsessed with being likable, rather than being good. Who didn’t have any answers for the larger questions of life. Who didn’t seem to want to talk about suffering and death and desire and addiction.

In theory, producing a new Baltimore Catechism could combine the best of both worlds. It would feature the best of the pre-conciliar era of instruction (clarity and completeness). Yet it would not posses the worst of the post-conciliar (vagueness and emotivism) and pre-conciliar (authoritarianism and judgmentalism) eras. Now that would help produce an enlightened age for the mass of Catholics if not the elites.

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11 thoughts on “A White-Collar Church and Its Discontents

  1. DrPiano says:

    So I’m admittedly not very familiar with the Baltimore Catechism except for its format. My husband and I are converts and we read (and listened, thank God for Catholic Radio) our way into the Church. One of the things we LOVE about the Catholic Church is that she always has a REASON why she teaches what she teaches – it isn’t just “believe because I say so.” This is probably one of the biggest reasons we are Catholic – Holy Mother Church always has an answer. I may have to look for it, but I know its there. The thing that concerns me the most with the Baltimore Catechism FORMAT is that it seems to present the faith as “just learn this.” People get the what but not the why (more of the why is presented in the Catechism of the Catholic Church). I know many people who have left their faith (of many different faith traditions) because they were presented with questions about the why and couldn’t answer them. So while it is CERTAINLY good to teach a child the “what”, one MUST ALSO teach at least some of the “whys” and *that there is an answer to the question why, even if they don’t know it right now.* Otherwise, its kind of like teaching a kid a set of words to know how to pronounce but never teaching them the rules of pronounciations. They’ll be great with the list of words they know but never know how to deal with a new word that they encounter. Both are equally important. I would argue that part of the problem with our culture and educational system right now is that more and more we’re resorting to “just learn these facts and don’t bother about the why.” Its a failing that I’d rather not see passed back to the faith.

    On a similar but related note, I’m also not entirely familiar with YouCat but my understanding is that it returned to the didactic question-and-answer form, presenting the faith in much the same way the author of this series lauds. It was marketed as a way to teach the faith to young people. Are you familiar with the YouCat, and do you think it is fulfilling the need you see?

  2. michelekc says:

    Please excuse my ignorance, but would someone explain to me what the controversy is surrounding the Baltimore Catechism?

  3. tz1 says:

    Ex-Fr Corapi had an orthodox, accessible video – audio Catechism which ran on EWTN and other places for over a decade. No one challenged the accuracy of the teaching, almost 50 1-hour lectures. It is gone now. In the era of MTV attention spans, an old reference book won’t help.

  4. Bro AJK says:

    Well, we can start with the Compendium to the CCC. Q&A style, with CCC citations, divided into the four basic parts of the CCC.

  5. Sean says:

    I agree! What a great enterprise to undertake. Are our theologians, youth ministers, and catechists up to the challenge? Maybe they would learn something (orthodoxy!) in the process.

  6. Jenny says:

    I’m of the opinion that the church prior to Vatican II had a greater connection to it’s parishioners, to their realities. Since Vatican II the church has become become distant, almost an ivory tower like enterprise, tied at the hip to socialist propagandists who view not only our faith, but Americans as something to revile or exploit. I’m sick of Catholic priests who ignore hungry, homeless parishioners, only paying attention to them when they wish to excoriate them for refusing to be displaced and shoved down between the cracks. Christ didn’t tell his followers that it was acceptable for the wealthy person to take the employment and homes of their poor neighbors, to give to a poor foreigner, so the wealthy person could make a higher profit.. yet that basic fact seems alien to Catholic priests… who embrace moral relativism, along with their fellow leftists.

    1. GREG SMITH says:

      Jenny -

      Your experience with parish life has been completly different than yours! Find a new parish. -Greg

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