Catholics need to take their own advice when it comes to intra-faith dialogue


It’s been a week since I was accused of “pope bashing.”

Why was I labeled a “pope basher?”

In a column I wrote in the days following Cardinal Bergoglio’s elevation to the papacy, I mentioned that we don’t know a lot about him. I also said that his decision to live in an apartment and ride the bus during his time in Buenos Aires doesn’t tell us anything about how he would run the Roman Curia.

FrancisHow that amounts to pope bashing I don’t know. I admit there were some parts of my essay I should have re-worded and saved for another time, but the knee-jerk, visceral responses I received in the comment box and on twitter deeply saddened me, for it was not what I expected to hear from fellow Catholics.

I was labeled a “traddie” and was told to edit my future posts “with the love of Christ” because apparently I was claiming to know better than the Holy Spirit. When I expressed my desire to know more about Cardinal Bergoglio’s stance on the Latin Mass I was personally attacked. Someone even accused me of not being a Catholic.

Now, I have no way of knowing what kind of relationship those who responded to my essay have with the Catholic Church, but the general tenor of the Catholic blogosphere in the days following Pope Francis’ election seemed to mimic my own experience. I can’t say I’m surprised at what was said, but I can say I was deeply disappointed.

Why? Because the discussion among “orthodox,” “progressive,” and “traditionalist” Catholics amounted to what could be considered a civil war.

On the one hand, you have the “orthodox” Catholics who will do pretty much anything the pope says. These Catholics understand Vatican II in the way Pope Emeritus Benedict and Blessed Pope John Paul II understood it. They are often referred to as “conservative” Catholics. They support the Church’s teachings on homosexual unions, women’s ordination and other issues like abortion. EWTN would be considered an “orthodox” outlet.

On the other hand, you have the “progressive” or “liberal” Catholics. These Catholics are more inclined to support the “spirit of Vatican II.” Liberals typically want to further update the liturgy, change the Church’s teaching on birth control and women’s ordination, and promote liberation theology. Sr. Simone Campbell would be considered a “progressive” Catholic.

There is a third group of Catholics that deserve attention as well: “Traditionalist” Catholics. Traddies, as they are mockingly referred to, express reservations about Vatican II. Many of them reject the council all together, as SSPX founder Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre did.

The change in the Latin Mass, they argue, has resulted in a Protestantized worship service and has led to disarray amongst Catholics. Vatican II’s “periti’s,” or experts, were anything but “orthodox.” They were “progressives” who strayed from the faith, so we have a duty not follow their teachings. Websites like The Remnant would be considered “traditionalist.”

Very rarely do you find collegiality among these three types of Catholics. The conservatives view the progressives as out and out heretics. The progressives think they are “prophetic” and that conservatives need to get with the times. The conservatives say traditionalists are ignoring the Holy Spirit by not adhering to Vatican II. And the traditionalists think everyone is wrong.

Quite naturally, each of these three camps has their own area of emphasis.

Progressives tend to speak about equality, social justice and women’s rights. Conservatives tend to talk about the dictatorship of relativism, the need to defend the pope and Vatican II, and things like ecumenism and the New Evangelization. Traditionalists, usually driven by the motto “Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi” (roughly translated “How we pray is how we believe”) are primarily concerned with the restoration of the Latin Mass, the need to convert (not just dialogue with) those of other faiths, and the need to speak out forcefully against the heresies of the modern world.

Oddly enough, when you put these three types of Catholics in the same room they act more like children with personal vendettas than followers of Christ.

As a Catholic Vote contributor, I think you already know where I stand when it comes to certain progressive issues, but it is often the case that these three “flavors” of Catholicism simply don’t want to hear one another, and so they do their best to drown out or ignore the very real concerns each of the other two types of Catholics bring to the table.

This is hypocritical on part of “conservatives” because they are the ones who tell us we must be more open to dialogue, especially with non-Catholics like Jews and Protestants. It is hypocritical on part of the “progressives” because they preach tolerance and empathy while very rarely showing deference to fellow Catholics. And it is hypocritical on part of the “traditionalists” because they often view anyone who is not a traditionalist as a non-Catholic.

In an effort to bridge this growing chasm, it is my hope we can come together in a spirit of humility to better understand one another. Not just for the sake of understanding, as important as that may be, but for the sake of arriving at the truth so that the Catholic faith may flourish. It won’t be easy. And many of us will fall short by reverting to ad hominem attacks. But a house divided against itself cannot stand. As St. Paul once asked: is Christ divided?

The views expressed here are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of


About Author

Stephen Kokx is a freelance writer and adjunct professor of political science living in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He has previously worked for the Archdiocese of Chicago's Office for Peace and Justice. His writing on religion, politics and Catholic social teaching has appeared in a number of outlets, including Crisis Magazine, The American Thinker and his hometown paper The Grand Rapids Press. He is a member of the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars and the Society of Catholic Social Scientists, and is a graduate of Aquinas College and Loyola University Chicago. Follow Stephen on twitter @StephenKokx

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