Tuesday, August 16, 2005

A Neo-Cath by Any Other Name . . . .

What does ‘Neo-Catholic' Mean?

The term is pejorative. It is intended to describe a shallow faith that does not participate in or appreciate the Church's history, traditions, and spiritual life. In its religious sense, the term refers to Catholics whose religion is made up almost entirely of rote and unreflective memorization of the Catechism and an unquestioning enthusiasm for the papacy of John Paul II. In its political sense, it describes an orientation that employs Catholicism as a blanket authorization for any Republican policy rather than as a guiding set of political principles which exist above party affiliation. Overall, "Neos" are said to be insufficiently Catholic because their essential religious orientation comes from what are perceived to be the worst aspects of Evangelical Protestantism -- personal affection for individual leaders vs. true obedience to the visible Church; a narrow, Fundamentalist, sola scriptura-style understanding of Church teaching; a confusion that makes the United States government equal or superior to the hierarchy of Christ's Church, and which thinks of the American people as being identical to Biblical Israel; and, a pharisaical life-style that redefines the practice of Christianity as obedience to middle-class priorities and conventions.

Traditionalist Catholics apply the label because they are irritated at the inability of many "neo-Catholics" to appreciate what are claimed as serious errors of the post-Vatican II Church in the area of morals, culture, and Church discipline. "Neo-Catholics" are supposedly unable to take a broader view that understands Catholicity as the task of ensuring that no significant changes occur to the doctrine, practice, and teachings of Catholicism as they existed when Christ gave them to the Apostles in 1940. They claim that "Neo-Caths" accept the modern errors and mistakes because they don't know any better, having been "brainwashed" by an effective campaign of propaganda under John Paul II's reign that was dedicated to hiding these errors and punishing anyone who pointed them out. A "Neo-Cath," for example, is said to accept the Novus Ordo primarily because he thinks the Mass is what Evangelical Protestants say about the Eucharist -- a communal meal, with symbolic significance, but without the miracle of transubstantiation.

Liberal Catholics apply the label for the same reason, except the "serious error" they identify in the post-Vatican II era is the failure to rewrite the Church's moral teachings on sexuality and family. "Neo-Catholics" are supposedly unable to take a broader view that understands Catholicity as an evolutionary process by which the Church jettisons inauthentic cultural holdovers and embraces a brighter, more loving vision in which married women priests using contraception perform homosexual marriages. "Neo-Caths" have also been brainwashed, in this view, by an effective campaign of propaganda under John Paul II's reign that was dedicated to binding Catholic allegiance to the structures of power and oppression which existed before the Council. A "Neo-Cath," for example, is said to accept the Church's prohibition of women priests primarily because -- like any Evangelical Protestant who follows his beloved pastor from motives of personal affection rather than Christian obedience -- he thinks the priesthood is whatever John Paul II said it was.

As usually happens, Left and Right are better at mirroring than fighting each other. The essence of Traditionalist and Liberal dislike of Neo-Catholicism is that Neo-Catholics try very hard to believe what's in the Catechism and to follow the pope. Ask any Traditionalist or Liberal Catholic about the sins of the Neos and you'll find that the Neos are pretty much doing what the Traditionalists and Liberals are doing themselves. If a Neo-Catholic sins by giving George Bush's presidency greater moral authority than the Popes regarding, say, the invasion of Iraq, well, he's certainly not doing anything more than a Traditionalist who gives the Dead Hand of Marcel Lefebvre the same superiority when it comes to the form of the Mass. If a Neo-Cath sins by reading the Catechism's excoriations of homosexuality as a license to use words like "fag," "queen" and "pervert" to sum up his brother's life, that Neo-Cath is certainly no worse than people who think a papal press conference has given them the authority to use "baby-killer" and "murderer" to describe Catholics who serve in the Marine Corps.

Traditionalists and Liberals pretty much agree that Neo-Caths have failed, in some significant way, to conform their appreciation of life to the whole of Catholic teaching. As Robert Bolt might have had St. Thomas More say, "I thank God that only a third of the Church has gone off the rails."

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