PC in the Catholic Church
We all know about the ideological double standard that exists everywhere in the secular world. All points of view are welcome — unless they're right of center. "Extreme right" candidates are endlessly denounced on television and in print, but, mysteriously, there appears to be no such thing as an extreme left candidate.
Despite the routine denunciations of the supposedly "intolerant" right wing, there is no one more intolerant than the committed leftist. I recall from my days as an undergraduate that even though the Harvard faculty was composed, by and large, of committed leftists, this was never enough for activists among the student body. Any dissent, from anyone even slightly to the right, was to be attacked. Professor Stephan Thernstrom, a New Deal Democrat who happens to oppose affirmative action, got hissed at when he spoke at the Kennedy School of Government. Professor Harvey Mansfield could barely open his mouth without provoking candlelight vigils and hunger strikes.
Still more demoralizing, however, is that the same double standard has been at work within the Catholic Church since the close of the Second Vatican Council (1962—65). In our new book Chris Ferrara and I list one case after another of bizarre, unheard-of novelties that have to be read to be believed but that are positively encouraged by the bishops. What, on the other hand, of the traditional Latin Mass that formed the piety of Catholic faithful for over 1500 years and to which the saints and pre-conciliar popes were so devoted? Those bishops who do allow it in a parish or two often forbid any advertising and do nothing to encourage attendance. Charismatic hysteria, polka Masses, teen Masses — as long as no one had ever heard of it before 1965, the bishops promote it vigorously. Just as in the secular culture, anything goes but tradition. Catholics have witnessed the emergence of post-conciliar correctness in the Church — the ecclesial analogue of political correctness. In our book we make the case that this ecclesial version of PC has produced the greatest crisis in the Church's history. The sheltering of homosexual priests by the bishops, who will not even consider following the Vatican's 1961 instruction barring the ordination of homosexuals, is but one result of PC at work in the Church.
Practically anyone receives more pastoral attention and concern from the bishops than traditional Catholics. Cardinal Law, for example, finds time to attend ordinations of Anglican clergy despite the fact that over a century ago Pope Leo XIII declared Anglican orders invalid. His Eminence is "too busy" to say the traditional Latin Mass once a year for the people at his indult (traditional Mass) parish, but doggone it he's going to get to that interfaith picnic if it's the last thing he does.
I remember as an undergraduate a guy who was active in the Republican Club and very well known around campus: we'll call him Mark Dalton. Mark was always sure to let everyone know he favored "responsible" candidates, and that he considered Pat Buchanan akin to Satan — language he wouldn't have dreamed of using to describe anyone on the political Left, whom he considered his honorable adversaries. Mark was a "compassionate conservative." Never once did he depart from the plantation of correct opinion to which the campus Left had relegated his kind.
And guess what. On Commencement Day the Harvard Crimson featured a long puff piece, complete with photos, called "Mark Dalton: The ‘Nice Republican.'" Meanwhile, one of my own friends, an authentic conservative, was savagely attacked by the same paper one Commencement Day later. I wonder why.
People like Mark Dalton, generally known as neoconservatives, are in effect the watchdogs of the liberal revolution. Much as they may think themselves opponents of liberalism, they don't actually conserve anything other than liberal gains. Moreover, by attacking real conservatives they both harm the cause of authentic conservatism and, not coincidentally, manage to ingratiate themselves with the establishment.
An analogous situation exists within the Church. Since Vatican II, so-called "conservative" Catholics, while technically orthodox, have made it their task to prevent any constructive criticism of the unprecedented and revolutionary program of innovation unleashed by the Council. We call them neo-Catholics because they have in fact conserved nothing except the post-conciliar novelties — an ecumenism that runs counter to all of Catholic practice before 1965, a posture of "dialogue" with anyone and anything that has so far gotten nowhere and produced nothing of value, and a new liturgy that could politely be described as an act of vandalism. These contingent, time-bound pastoral programs are defended by neo-Catholics, regardless of how catastrophic they have been in practice, as if they were solemnly defined dogma. Just as the neoconservatives serve a useful purpose to liberals in the secular world by attacking true conservatives and thereby undermining genuine conservatism, neo-Catholic attacks on traditionalists ensure that the only permissible alternative to aggressive innovation in every area of the Church's life is slightly less aggressive innovation in every area of the Church's life. Arch-liberal Richard McBrien appreciates this function of the neo-Catholics, since he finds that "criticism of the extreme right by moderate conservatives is far more effective than by moderate progressives."
In his inaugural encyclical, Redemptor Hominis, Pope John Paul II himself conceded that "it is perhaps a good thing" that opponents of modern ecumenism (which has since included prayer meetings with practitioners of voodoo) "should express their fears." Now if ecumenism were really a Catholic dogma (a qualitative impossibility in any case), the Pope could not welcome criticism of it. He certainly would not say that "it is perhaps a good thing" for the divinity of Christ to be denied, for instance.
The neo-Catholic establishment, on the other hand, ignoring this statement by the Pope and incapable of drawing distinctions or appreciating nuance, treats the ecumenical venture and the entire post-conciliar regime of novelty as if they were binding statements of Catholic doctrine, criticism of which involves one in disobedience in a matter of faith.
This is but a subset of their unstated principle: everything Rome does is ipso facto brilliant. One notorious neo-Catholic recently twisted himself into a pretzel to argue that Vatican II's egregious failure to condemn Communism, seemingly a staggering blunder, was actually a stroke of genius. His starting point appears to be that it happened, so it must have been brilliant. Others have said (on television, no less) that the Pope was absolutely right not to remove any of the bishops implicated in the current scandals. You name it, the neo-Catholics defend it: the ceaseless apologies for the Church's past; praying with witch doctors at Assisi; complete inaction in the face of moral and doctrinal chaos in the major religious orders; the Pope's kissing of the Koran (no, this is not a misprint; "he meant it as a general sign of respect," goes the neo-Catholic non-explanation) — the list could go on and on. Whatever it is, there's always an excuse. I hope that if I ever run a great institution into the ground I have such abject apologists as these.
When he opened Vatican II, Pope John XXIII spoke of opening the windows to let in some fresh air. As soon as what Chris and I have called the "regime of novelty" was firmly in place, though, those windows slammed shut again, and the Church has been suffocating ever since.
The scandals the Church is presently enduring, while important in themselves, are in a sense only a symptom of the moral, doctrinal, and disciplinary chaos unleashed by the regime of novelty, born at Vatican II. The neo-Catholics' strategy of doing nothing, even defending what they must know are ruinous innovations that have sapped much of the life out of the Church, and condemning as disloyal or (more absurdly still) "schismatic" those who dare to say the post-conciliar emperor has no clothes, has been a catastrophic failure, as any reasonable person can see. A fanatic has been defined as someone who does the same thing over and over again and expects different results. Perhaps after four decades of neo-Catholic apologias (that have served only to entrench the regime of novelty still further) and attacks on anyone who dares to suggest that the new orientation of the Church after Vatican II may itself be responsible for the post-conciliar debacle, the time has come to try something else.
If there is a silver lining to the current scandals, it is that some neo-Catholics have at last begun coming over to traditionalism, no longer able to churn out any more excuses for a regime anyone can see is shot through with faithlessness and corruption. We are reaping the fruits of four decades of disciplinary laxity, moral corruption, and ceaseless "pastoral experiments" whose results have been confusion, disorder, the persecution of orthodox priests, and an environment in which the only thing that is truly and consistently forbidden is Catholic tradition.
Church history is littered with incidents in which those in authority have acted manifestly contrary to the common good of the Church and in which constructive criticism has been positively called for. St. Thomas Aquinas and a whole line of doctors and Fathers of the Church make clear that laymen have the right to stand up to the highest authority figures in the Church when her welfare is at stake. Cardinal Newman said that it was orthodox laity who rose to the occasion and saved the Church during the terrible Arian crisis of the fourth century, when virtually all the bishops had lapsed into heresy. In our own day, it is long past time for the laity to say enough is enough, and for the neo-Catholic excuse factory to be recognized for what it is: the great enabler of the post-conciliar revolution.
The trumpeted "new springtime" of Vatican II — a phrase no one will ever be so foolish as to use again — has finally hit rock bottom. It is time for the great façade of novelty and innovation, corruption and laxity, finally to be torn down, and the Catholic Church as she was less than one human lifetime ago restored to health again.
August 22, 2002
Copyright 2002 by Thomas E. Woods, Jr.
Thomas E. Woods, Jr. [send him mail] holds a bachelor's degree in history from Harvard and his Ph.D. from Columbia. He is co-author (with Christopher A. Ferrara, President and Chief Counsel of the American Catholic Lawyers Association) of The Great Façade: Vatican II and the Regime of Novelty in the Roman Catholic Church (2002). The book (as well as a sample chapter) is available at greatfacade.com.