The Catholic Right: Second Intermezzo (Fifteenth in a Series)
Frank Cocozzelli printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Sun Nov 05, 2006 at 04:27:19 PM EST
At this point in the series it is time for another time out.  As I've written installment after installment I have used terminology that many of the readers may not be familiar with--including many Catholic readers. So, I'll use this installment to go over some terminology, explain what they mean and how they are relevant to this series on the Catholic Right.

Note: I will be taking next week off. The series will return on November 19.

Magisterium and Papal Inallibility
The first term to be reviewed is Magisterium which is the teaching authority of the Pope and his bishops. It is interpreted as the Church's divinely appointed authority to teach the truths of religion pursuant to Matthew 28: 19-20.

The point of contention between Catholic moderates and liberals on one side and traditionalists and ultra-orthodox Catholics on the other often centers on the issue of papal infallibility. It is not based upon a clear teaching of Jesus but is in fact a man-made interpretation. While it was only set in stone in 1870 during the First Vatican Council, the idea and debate as far back as 519 when it was first espoused. Pope Gregory VII in 1075 was the first to bring it up as official Vatican teaching.

It comes down to this: orthodox traditionalists accept infallibility and many mainstream and progressives do not. Historian Garry Wills has offered the most cogent argument against the doctrine by illustrating the many imperfections of St. Peter. The other side dismisses this point of view and often resorts to the doctrine of infallibility as the basis for authoritarian obedience to Vatican teaching--unless it has to do with distributive justice or the 2003 invasion of Iraq. At that point, many of the American orthodox traditionalists resort to the Smorgasbord Catholicism art of large-scale selectiveness.

Vatican II and the Spirit of Aggiornomento
In the course of the series I have written about Catholics within the context of Vatican II. Let me take time out here to explain the importance of this context and how it relates to a better understanding of the Catholic Right.

Vatican II was an ecumenical council called by Pope John XXIII that began in 1962 and was completed under Pope Paul VI in 1965. John XXIII preferred a greater measure of free thought in the Church. Unlike more imperial popes such as Pius XII or Benedict XVI Pope John wanted his cardinals to hash things out when different possible interpretations on church teachings arose. For him, disagreement, for the most part, was a healthy sign and not indicative of insubordination. He was a pope who more readily trusted consensus than dictatorship. More importantly, he saw faith as a journey where with each passing day, the meaning of faith is better understood.

Aggiornamento literally translates from Italian as "bringing up to date." For many mainstream American and progressive Catholics this was the central theme of Vatican II.

As Bishop Charles Butler wrote about Pope John XXIII's goals for the council:

So there was to be a Second Vatican Council. What would be its business? Nothing in particular, it would appear; or perhaps it would be truer to say: everything. ... Christian unity was the Pope`s distant goal, no doubt, but his immediate aim was `to let some fresh air into the Church' and to promote within her an aggiornamento.

In his biography of John XXIII, Thomas Cahill makes a strong case that if the more flexible but firm John had been pontiff instead of the very swayable Pope Paul VI, the Church would have given approval to the use of artificial birth control.

Some examples of Aggiornomento was the saying of Mass in the local language instead of in Latin; the priest saying Mass facing the congregation instead of doing so with his back turned to them; as well as Nostra Aetate, the important papal declaration that made the overdue statement, "What happened in His passion cannot be charged against all the Jews without distinction, then alive, nor against the Jews of today."  

Vatican II's spirit of Aggiornomento also began undoing the undemocratic doctrine of the Church and state as one. One of the primary heroes in doing away with this archaic concept was John Courtney Murray, S.J. Murray, who wrote for the Jesuit periodical America, understood that secular society does not erode religious liberty but in fact guarantees it. To this end, Murray believed that the liberties of all faiths should be equally protected.

Murray came to his view in light of the rise of racist variants of fascism in Germany, Italy--and Spain in the run-up to World War II. He fully understood that in the war Americans and many others were giving their lives to preserve the true meaning of religious freedom. And to that end, he came to believe that the Catholic Church could be more effective in its advocacy by engaging in the democratic process rather than trying to suppress it.

Through Aggiornomento Murray's ideas took root in mainstream Catholic thought and was codified into Dignitatis Humanae. In what could be considered one of the greatest victories over the forces of reaction, it proclaimed that everyone has a right to religious liberty, a right that is grounded in the essential dignity of each individual. While the Church still viewed itself as the vessel of "the truth," it wisely concluded that individuals must be free to seek the truth without coercion. That is still the official teaching of the Roman Catholic Church.

An outgrowth of Aggiornomento was what the Catholic theologian Father Charles Curran termed "stance."  Basically it means that Scripture's meaning has to be viewed within the context of each time period. This is reflected in part of Pope John XXIII's opening statement when he proclaimed, "It is our duty not only to guard this precious treasure, as if interested only in antiquity, but also to devote ourselves readily and fearlessly to the work our age requires. ... This sure unchangeable doctrine, which must be faithfully respected, has to be studied in depth and presented in a way that fits the requirements of our time.

Stance may be cynically described by those on the orthodox Right as "picking and choosing" but even these cynics often engage in the same practice. For example, Leveticus while making statements on homosexuality, also commands that a man should not shave nor wear clothing of two different threads. And yet despite of such prohibitions, even the most orthodox of Catholics often shave daily and wear blended material clothes. Within the context of contemporary society, these prohibitions are not practical. Another is the commandment  "to be fruitful and multiply." While it was a good idea 3,500 years ago when there were a lot less folks around, but in a world that is overpopulating its implications must clear be revisited.

Most progressive Catholics (as well as most progressive people of faith) incorporate some form of stance into the practice of their beliefs. Cardinal Leo Joseph Suenens was an excellent example adherent of this philosophy as are Cardinal Godfried Daneels and Cardinal Walter Kasper.

The complimentary aspect of Vatican II was Resourcement or "back to sources," with a heavy emphasis upon Scripture. From a progressive point of view, a good use of this component would consider "What would Jesus as a Jew" view a contemporary issue such as stem cell research. However, too many Resourcement traditionalists look for guidance only as far back as the early Church in Her Hellenic and Latin eras.

Whereas Aggiornomento theologians such as Yves Congar and Hans Küng rely upon a Thomistic view--that even in a world of sin, humanity's ability to reason can solve injustice--more trusting of an evolving human nature, Resourcement theologians take a more Augustinian approach that we reside in a world ruptured by sin and that only a strict adherence to what is often perceived as "the original intent" of Scripture is the only means for salvation. This philosophical school is big on discipline to hierarchies and often intolerant of dissent.

Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI) is the perfect example of post Vatican II Catholic who relies more upon Resourcement than Aggiornomento.

With all that said, while some on the Catholic Right follow Vatican II with a heavily Resourcement interpretation, most find this philosophy blasphemous. These are the ultra-orthodox (especially among the Opus Dei crowd) who long for a return to a pre-Vatican II Church, including a return to the Latin Mass.  Theirs' is a Carlist view of secular society.  And if given the opportunity they would rescind Dignitatis Humanae. In this group, people such as Pat Buchanan, Tom Monaghan or Rev. John McCloskey see the ecumenical council of forty-plus years ago as the unfortunate triumph of liberalism, egalitarianism and modernity.

More importantly, the ultra-orthodox of the Catholic Right often claim a direct correlation between the liberalization of Catholic doctrine and what they view as the emergence of a nihilistic and morally relative society--a belief very close to the hearts of Straussian neoconservatives. It is one of the primary reasons they are hostile to both secular as well as religious  progressive who understand the need for value pluralism.

A Brief Comment on Religious Orders
Within the Catholic Church there are a variety of orders of priests and nuns. As a general rule, it is possible to estimate a clergy member's religious, as well as political outlook by order affiliation.

Priests such as Opus Dei's Fr. McCloskey belongs to the Priestly Society of the Holy Cross. Needless to say, affiliation thereto connotes a very orthodox, traditionalist view of Catholicism. On the other side of the Spectrum, the Paulists and the Jesuits usually reflect a more liberal, open-minded interpretation of the faith. In fact, many Jesuits have been some of Opus Dei's fiercest critics.

As of late, many of progressive Catholicism's most courageous leaders have been nuns. One of the movers and shakers of  Nostra Aetate, was Sister Rose Thering. Current examples are Sister Karol Jackowski and Sister Joan Chittister of the very progressive Benedictine order.  It was Sister Christine Vladimiroff, prioress of the Benedictine Sisters who once courageously said of her order, "Benedictine communities were never intended to be part of the hierarchical or clerical status of the Church, but to stand apart from this structure and offer a different voice. Only if we do this can we live the gift that we are for the Church. Only in this way can we be faithful to the gift that women have within the Church."

Finally, I want to reiterate why I am writing this series. I am a Catholic who is neither hostile to faith nor my own Catholic Church. Instead, I want to effect change in my Church so that the goal of aggiornomento can be further realized. This is an effort to help preserve freedom of thought both within my faith and the secular society that I share with non-Catholic Americans.

If this series is successful it will be because it will help give insight into Catholic doctrine while giving voice to those of us who do not want to unilaterally impose our beliefs upon others.

The Catholic Right: A Series, by Frank Cocozzelli :  Part One  Part Two  Part Three   Part Four  Part Five  Part Six   Intermezzo   Part Eight   Part Nine  Part Ten   Part Eleven   Part Twelve   Part Thirteen   Part Fourteen

I hope that I've explained things so that you the reader now have a better context of the terminology.

If you have any questions, feel free to ask via a comment. I'll be happy to try and provide an answer.

by Frank Cocozzelli on Sun Nov 05, 2006 at 04:31:42 PM EST

Thank you for your explanations and your series. A lot of Catholics my age might not be familiar with the terminology you use, so an explanation is good. I agree with Garry Wills about infallibility, and the historical context in which it came about is interesting. It was an outcome of the First Vatican Council in 1870-71. Pius IX (Giuseppe Mastai-Ferretti) had lost the Papal states in the unification of Italy in 1870, and his former subjects almost unanimously backed the new Italian government under Vittorio Emanuele I. The only exceptions to this almost total support for the new Italian government were the Papal aristocracy, known as the Neri (Black) faction. Pius IX rigged the membership of Vatican I in order to obtain the curia's backing of his effort to declare the Pope's pronouncements on matters of faith and morals infallible. I have always believed that it was an unsubtle attempt on the part of Pius IX to regain in the spiritual realm what he had lost in terms of political power.  Curiously enough, infallibility hasn't been used all that often, and the one example I can think of is the proclamation of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary. I believe that Garry Wills has also observed that the orthodox traditionalist Catholics behave as though all the Popes' pronouncements and encyclicals are infallible, or that they should be treated as though they were infallible.


by khughes1963 on Sun Nov 05, 2006 at 05:08:43 PM EST

Wow, you're good!

by Frank Cocozzelli on Sun Nov 05, 2006 at 06:05:08 PM EST

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