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

  • Jesse

    Labels such as these are never helpful. In fact, they tend to divide even more. Upon separating among our people these various preferences and differences, it evidences to an act of transgressing the hermeneutic of continuity that Benedict talked about. Despite the fact that this principle is usually reserved to exegesis, in application you see this in theology of the body, the labels of same-sex attraction, the role of the pope and the magisterium, etc. Simply put: the more you separate from that which ought not be separated, the more this perception will find reconciliation, understanding, and mercy more difficult. In essence, this level of thinking is very mechanistic. We ought not approach the problem of these different tendencies as competing factions, in fact, we should encourage a holistic approach, an approach of both faith and reason. There are very good things in each of the tendencies (conservative, progressive, and traditionalistic), but should be viewed in unity in the entirety of the ideal Christian person.

  • Antonio A. Badilla

    Well, like you, I haven’t written much about the latest events in our church because I don’t want to be accused of “Pope bashing” and that’s exactly how some folks have been treated in different Catholic sites simply because they have expressed bewilderment or some sort of fear. They have not criticized the new Holy Father, they simply asked questions, and the answers have been, shall we say, less than “charitable.”
    When all the dust settles, I will continue to support our present Holy Father come hell or high water, but many in the media who now praise him, will turn their backs on him as soon as he proclaims the moral teaching of the Church. I just read “La Nación,” the Argentinian paper and they are loving the fact that Sophia Loren is praising His Holiness Francis. Wait till he proclaims the moral teachings of the Church, and then, what will Sophia do?

  • Patti Parra

    I guess that according to your definitions of the 3 different type of Catholics (progressive, traditional and orthodox), I am a combination of all 3. I support women’s rights, but do not support women in the clergy. I support justice for the poor and marginalized. But I am also orthodox in my views. I truly support the Pope and believe he is the Vicar of Christ, driven by the Holy Spirit to lead us. I believe that Vatican 11 does not allow us to dilute our Catholic faith to conform with the rest of the world

  • ron morrison

    Stephen, in your previous post, you questioned whether the new Pope was the right man for the job. The fact is, we have a new Pope. Why make the statement you made before any of us know what type of job the new Pope is going to do? It didn’t make sense to us. Why throw out the concern you have without any data about the new Pope? It felt like Pope bashing without any evidence. That’s why you got the responses you got.

  • sedgladium

    why would you assume that the only good guys in this, the traditionalist, are motivated by personal grudges in their criticisms of evil progressives and presume that there is some way all if these hostile forces can cohabitate when it’s clear they each present mutually exclusive understandings of revealed religion. It’s not like one side is Franciscan and the other Dominican, these are two sides locked in a fight to the death.

  • Andrew

    The traditionalists reject the council, and the progressives depart from teachings that require faith obedience.

    I am sorry but the only group of the three that isn’t attached to disobedience, or disregard for Magisterial authority, is the orthodox.

    Yes, I guess that doesn’t mean they always conduct themselves in a loving manner, but it doesn’t change the fact that those in the other groups have departed from the spirit of truth in a way that the “orthodox” have not.



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