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?


Categories:Pope Francis Vatican

  • Madeline

    Well put, Steven. At the very least Catholics should act Catholic, but it is far better to actually be Catholic. Muchas gracias!

  • Mark Polo

    I commented on your previous article in large part for the title: “I pray that Francis is the right man for the job” really sounds like “I’m pretty sure he’s not, but I’ll pray…” Which may not have been your intention, but certainly flavored my reading of the rest of your comments. And your conclusion, that you find it hard to believe Pope Benedict would have wanted Francis as his successor was too much. It seems to be trying to drive a wedge between two Popes.

    Maybe this wasn’t your intention, but I think that if you read your article with honesty, you can see how someone who just wants to love and respect the Pope could read it that way.

    I don’t think that labels are helpful, and we all need to listen to one another more.

  • JoshD

    This is a wonderful piece that captures the current issues spot-on. Thank you so much for sharing this.

  • Joannie

    I know the reason you got the reaction you got and nobody else wants to come out and say it but I will. This has to do with a much feared “Personality Cult” and in every one of them there is clearly NO room for criticism much less disagreement. This type of thing does NOT belong in the Church or Papacy at all because it takes the focus off Jesus and puts it on his Vicar instead and this is dangerous

  • Stan

    Yes Christ is divided if we continue to label ourselves like this. I sympathetic to the writer and share in his concerns, but we have to change how we discuss Catholicism, and fundamentally that means throwing out such labels all together.

    I go to the ‘Latin Mass’ every Sunday. Does that make me a “traditionalist?” I’d say that makes me one thing: Catholic. Period.

  • Tyler

    What is most astounding to me is that both the Progressives and the so-called “Orthodox” spend more time lambasting and persecuting Traditionalists (those who just want to be truly Catholic and truly holy) while defending followers of schismatic/heretical sects or entirely false religions.
    You will find comments on many Catholic forums proclaiming that Jews and Muslims today need not convert, and in the same breath they will unhesitatingly proclaim Archbishop Lefebvre to be in hell.

    I have posted this on other comments sections as well, but again the verse that immediately comes to mind is Proverbs 17:15 “He that justifieth the wicked, and he that condemneth the just, both are abominable before God.”

    What it really comes down to with the three positions is:
    Progressivists – Think morality is relative to time and societal trends; border on theosophy believing all religions to be equal. No one goes to hell and the devil isn’t real; Jesus isn’t truly present in the Eucharist and the sacraments aren’t necessary.

    Post-Conciliar Orthodox – Still essentially morally traditional on key issues but have fallen into what Dom Chautard describes as a tendency toward “tepidity” due to justification/dismissal/denial of venial sins (in other words, a sort of “find the good in sin” mentality, like trying to put a positive spin on secular things rather than rejecting them outright); an attitude of “no one can judge” and that the Catholic faith is the one true faith with the fullness of faith but other religions have seeds of truth which have valid salvation. Baptism of desire is viewed as common based on God’s mercy. An at least outward appearance of fear of being criticized by the media or by other people and of being labeled as “intolerant” or “uncharitable.”

    Traditionalist – strict morality founded in Fear of the Lord and genuinely heeding the words of our Lord not to be “lovers of the world” which belongs to Satan; firm believers in the 2000 year teaching that “extra ecclesiam nulla salus” and that Baptism of Desire is rare based on the infallibly defined teachings on the matter since the earliest years of the Church and based on the directive of Christ to go and baptize and teach all nations. Not afraid of the persecution that comes from following truly in Christ’s footsteps and of the conviction, through all charity, patience and tenderness, to the necessity of holding the one true faith of Jesus Christ.

    The sad part is that the ultimate litmus test should be: “Where would Jesus most likely be found?”
    And yet somehow all three of these groups would honestly answer in their camp.

    All I know is that if a man went into any Church today and started flipping over the money changing tables and reacting with the righteous judgment that Christ did in Matthew 21, the first two groups mentioned would accuse Him of not being Christ-like.



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