A Neo-Orthodox View of Christian Unity (The Catholic Right, Thirty-three in a Series).
Frank Cocozzelli printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Sat Jul 21, 2007 at 03:21:53 PM EST
Last week I discussed the Vatican's recent decisions that will take the Catholic Church in entirely different direction from the tolerant spirit of Vatican II.  The objective observer must ask what is the ultimate goal?

I'll hazard a guess: the neo-orthodox Catholic version of Christian unity.

But this is not the ecumenism of Yves Congar, the twentieth century Catholic theologian who proposed healing through (as Pope John XXIII described it) "a gentle invitation to seek and find that unity..."   It is instead one where Protestant denominations make gradual de facto submissions to Catholic dogma.

In its July 10, 2007 pronouncement, "Responses to Some Questions Regarding Certain Aspects of the Doctrine on the Church," the Vatican stated:

The Council wanted to adopt the traditional use of the term. "Because these Churches, although separated, have true sacraments and above all - because of the apostolic succession - the priesthood and the Eucharist, by means of which they remain linked to us by very close bonds, they merit the title of "particular or local Churches" and are called sister Churches of the particular Catholic Churches.

"It is through the celebration of the Eucharist of the Lord in each of these Churches that the Church of God is built up and grows in stature". However, since communion with the Catholic Church, the visible head of which is the Bishop of Rome and the Successor of Peter, is not some external complement to a particular Church but rather one of its internal constitutive principles, these venerable Christian communities lack something in their condition as particular churches

The independent National Catholic Reporter offered this interpretation of the above:

"In a brief document, the Vatican's doctrinal congregation reaffirmed that the Catholic church is the one, true church, even if elements of truth can be found in separated churches and communities.

Touching an ecumenical sore point, the document said some of the separated Christian communities, such as Protestant communities, should not properly be called "churches" according to Catholic doctrine because of major differences over the ordained priesthood and the Eucharist."

Over the last generation, certain neo-orthodox Catholics have been building bridges to evangelical and fundamentalist Protestants. But this "bridge-building" is increasingly accomplished with roadways to the most rigid forms of Catholicism. And while some Catholics have yielded to fundamentalists opposition on the theory of evolution, socially conservative Protestants seem to be increasingly amenable to Vatican notions of natural law principles that appear in their united opposition to abortion, end of life issues and stem cell research.

Neoconservatives more than willingly help their theoconservative brethren as it helps them achieve an ideal orthodox society. To this end, their think tanks such as the Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD), seek to eviscerate non-orthodoxy in contemporary Christianity, often employing a very efficient media machine, as part of a carefully designed political program; as John Dorhauer concisely explained, citing the IRD's own game plan:

"Even in the churches most dominated by liberalism, there are fresh troops appearing.... The battle is clearly joined. Now, more than ever, it is necessary to redouble the IRD's efforts.... Beginning in 2001, we will emphasize training conservatives and moderates for the debates on marriage and human sexuality. We intend to conduct invitation-only training seminars covering biblical, theological, scientific, psychological, and sociological aspects of human sexuality.... It has proven most effective for the IRD to organize, recruit members, and conduct fund-raising through denomination-based programs. Within key mainline denominations, the IRD conducts the following: ... organizing and training of church activists." (italics added for emphasis)

It is no accident that Catholic Right neoconservative and IRD Member Emeritus and Board of Director member George Weigel wrote back in 1989 in his book, Catholicism and the Renewal of American Democracy that Catholics were called "to make America Catholic." (i)

It can be argued that both Jesus and the neo-orthodox Catholic Right are radical. But that is where the similarity ends.

Jesus was radical in the sense that he challenged the individual. He never advocated an infiltration of either the major political institutions of his day, the Sanhedrin or the Roman Empire. Jesus sought to change society one person at a time, beseeching them to "do unto others" as they wished to be treated. For Christianity's founder, it was a matter of free will.

But today's Catholic Right is radically different. They share that anti-liberal, Communist-era, Kremlin-like distrust of average people. For all their populist rhetoric, these neo-orthodox actors believe that the masses have to have their choices made for them by a religious elite, and that our government should be the enforcement arm of their often highly subjective morality.

Jesus taught that people can only be shown the moral choices, but not forced to accept them; and, by parables such as the Good Samaritan, that illustrated that the highest forms of morality may come even from those we vilify as innately immoral.   The neo-orthodox who invoke Jesus in support of their program, seem to deny His teaching that belief and morality are matters of free will, not social or governmental coercion.

The Vatican seems to be seeking to close the refreshing era signaled by Pope John XXIII when announced his intention to have a Second Vatican Council, saying: "I want to throw open the windows of the Church so that we can see out and the people can see in."

But the question must be asked: If so many mainstream Catholics are opposed to this lurch towards religious supremacism -- who is moving the Church in that direction?  That will be the topic for next week's piece.

(i) Linker, Damon, The Theocons, page 67.

The Catholic Right: A Series, by Frank L. 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   Second Intermezzo   Part Sixteen   Part Seventeen   Part Eighteen   Part Eighteen   Part Nineteen   Part Twenty   Part Twenty-one   Part Twenty-two   Part Twenty-three   Part Twenty-four   Part Twenty-five   Part Twenty-six   Part Twenty-seven   Part Twenty-eight   Part Twenty-nine   Part Thirty   Part Thirty-one   Part Thirty-two

During Mass last week the priest gave a sermon on the parable of the Good Samaritan. The priest told us how the Samaritans, while Jews, where looked down upon by the Jews of Galilee and Judea mostly for their approach of worship, even though they all shared a common faith in the same God.

The priest closed by remarking on the obvious lesson: status or accident of birth  does not define righteousness; it's how you treat others.

How contemporary in light of recent Vatican pronouncements! Pope Benedict XVI sadly cannot see what a parish priest can.

by Frank Cocozzelli on Sat Jul 21, 2007 at 03:31:01 PM EST

Last week, I heard much the same thing from the priest celebrating Mass at my church. I am seeing LTEs from some Catholics justifiably criticizing the Vatican's moves, and others are attempting to justify this move. For me, it is a disturbing acceleration of the retreat from Vatican II that began in John Paul II's papacy. I fear the Catholic Right has succumbed to the temptation of worldly wealth and power Jesus avoided in the Gospel of St. Luke. I have some thoughts about the disturbing return of political and religious reaction that I started to realize when I read Geoffrey Robertson's The Tyrannicide Brief. If you haven't read it, I recommend it. It is a biography of John Cooke, who prosecuted Charles I in his trial before Parliament in 1648.


by khughes1963 on Sat Jul 21, 2007 at 07:53:11 PM EST

I'm about three chapters in and Neuhaus, Novak and Weigel truly are a force that must be effectively refuted.

by Frank Cocozzelli on Sat Jul 21, 2007 at 09:01:38 PM EST

I was so intrigued that I wrote Damon Linker on his website and reviewed his book at Amazon.com at his request. I would recommend that you might want to do the same. Steeplejacking is on my must-read list, but I have a number of books that I have to finish before I get to it.

It seems that the Catholic Right doth protest too much and claim that all the clout and money is on the liberal side. It just ain't so. We hear the same thing from the Christian (Protestant) Right all the time.

BTW-slightly off topic, but this issue concerns Tom Monaghan, one of the Catholic Right's founders-apparently Ave Maria Town, Florida is now open.


by khughes1963 on Sat Jul 21, 2007 at 09:07:40 PM EST


I'm late to this conversation, so would you explain or refer me to an explaination of 'neo-orthodoxy' in this context?  I've always associated it with Barth & Co.


by Don Niederfrank on Sun Jul 22, 2007 at 08:16:28 PM EST

I'm using this term to describe the orthodoxy of certain neo-conservative Catholics such as Richard John Neuhaus, Michael Novak, George Weigel, Hadley Arkes (though not Catholic) and Robert P. George.

What distinguishes it from ordinary orthodoxy is its very radical nature, i.e., the desire to impose basically pre-Vatican II orthodoxy on all members of American society. At one point in the 1990s they came within a whisker of justifying armed insurection to bring this about (causing a near rupture with their neocon allies).

by Frank Cocozzelli on Sun Jul 22, 2007 at 08:54:22 PM EST

Can you point me to the 1990's thing you reference.  I'm interested b/c in southern Mexico there is a religious, albiet minor, aspect of the conflict there.

by Don Niederfrank on Mon Jul 23, 2007 at 08:02:31 AM EST
tell me what to google.


by Don Niederfrank on Mon Jul 23, 2007 at 08:03:16 AM EST

Read this article from the New Republic which gives it to you in a nutshell.

by Frank Cocozzelli on Mon Jul 23, 2007 at 01:34:22 PM EST

by Don Niederfrank on Mon Jul 23, 2007 at 02:14:23 PM EST

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