Musings 22 August 2016
Those of us who have come from an Anglican background are likely to have a sense of déjà-vu about some of the factional arguments going on in the Catholic Church at this time. Fr Longnecker, a former Anglican priest, now a diocesan Catholic priest in South Carolina, has recently written about why Catholics are disturbed, annoyed, restless and angry at this time (Patheos July 26th). He believes it is because we are passing through another time of Catholic realignment.
Since the Reformation the Anglican Communion has accommodated both the Protestant and Catholic understandings of Christianity, and in more recent times a Liberal protestant interpretation of the Faith has been added to the mix. In the present Church of England there is a ‘Church within a Church’ in the sense that those who support the ordination of women and those who don’t, claim to be Anglican, but they are not in communion with each other.
In the Catholic Church since Vatican II there has been the conservative and liberal ‘churches’, each with their own publishing houses, colleges, religious orders and members of the hierarchy. In the Anglican and Catholic Churches, liberals believe Christianity to be a human construct, which must adapt and change to the culture of the current age in order to be relevant and survive.
Conservatives or Traditionalists believe that the Christian Faith is revealed by God, has a continuity of development and is unfolded in a particular way in each generation. This means that the Faith cannot be changed, and if necessary, the Church must challenge the world when there is a clash between the secular and Christian cultures.
This explains why liberal Catholics believe that abortion, euthanasia, same sex marriage and the ordination of female and openly gay candidates are issues that the Church should embrace. Their traditionalist critics describe this as ‘Catholic-lite’ or pick and choose ‘cafeteria’ Catholicism that undermines the foundations of Catholicism and will lead to the collapse of the very Church to which the liberals claim to belong.
Fr Longnecker believes that the current turmoil is due to the fact that the messy truce between liberal and conservative Catholics has broken down. He says that the deliberations of Vatican II have been misinterpreted by the liberals and the ‘breath of fresh air’ that was hoped for by the Synod Fathers has become toxic. Put plainly, the ways of being Catholic since Vatican II don’t work anymore. The parish system has broken down, some Catholic institutions are hardly Catholic and so the ‘die-hards’ from both camps have retreated into the bunkers of factional fundamentalism as they die out.
The younger generation of lay, seminarian, ordained, Religious Catholics are not liberal because they have seen what the liberal embrace of secular values has done to the Church’s worship and social teaching. They want no part of it. They are looking for a balanced Catholic faith with worship through which they can experience God as transcendent as well as imminent, and which offers care and leadership to the faithful in social and justice issues. In Longnecker’s words, “they are, for the most part, simple, by the book, faithful Catholics.”
The realignment within the Catholic Church is going on, and while this is exciting it is also daunting because to journey into the unknown is an act of faith known to our forebears in their own age as God led them forward. Think of the patriarchs, prophets and saints of the Church who said ‘Yes’ to God, and allowed God to lead them into the unknown. Would we be people of faith today if they had not done so?
In Vive radio broadcasts in 1969, the then Professor Ratzinger, later Pope Benedict XVI, described his vision for the future of humanity and the Church. He compared the present age as being worse than the 18th century when the Church was fighting against the French republic that was intent on destroying the Catholic Church and confiscating its properties.
We too are living in a Western secularist culture that is intent on driving the Church out of having any influence in society and stripping it of all privileges in society. Given this onslaught, some priests are tempted to become social workers and reduce the work of the Church to one of community welfare.
Out of this crisis, Pope Emeritus Benedict predicted that a Church would emerge that has lost a great deal.
It will be small and will start all over again. The reduction in the number of the faithful will lead to its losing an important part in its social privileges. It will start off with small groups and movements and a ministry that will make the faith central to their life experience. It will be a more spiritual Church and will not claim a political mandate flirting with the Right one minute and the Left the next. It will be poor and will become the Church of the destitute. Faith and the Future (Ignatius Press)
The Ordinariates have been erected during the early period of this realignment in the Catholic Church, and its first members have come into full communion out of a similar realignment within the Anglican Communion. The Ordinariates are the consequence of another of Pope Emeritus Benedict’s visions for the Church. This time it is a vision for the Church’ unity. Is it too bold to pose the question whether in God’s inVinite wisdom, there is a link between the Church’s realignment and the erection of the Ordinariate? We have already witnessed the emergence of new Evangelistic Movements within the Church and new Religious communities and groups. Is the Ordinariate being called to show how it is possible to be faithful to the ‘faith once delivered to the saints’ defended by the Holy Father and the Magisterium, through our liturgy, prayerfulness, preaching and pastoral care, during this period of realignment?
These may be outrageous thoughts, but then, they may not be?