The Neo-Orthodox Margin and Their Converts (The Catholic Right, Thirty-four in a Series).
Frank Cocozzelli printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Sat Jul 28, 2007 at 09:28:24 AM EST
Last week I examined the Catholic Church's rightward lurch towards religious supremacism, and in closing I asked: who is driving this?

To a very large extent, it is a small group of Neo-Orthodox traditionalists and a carefully cultivated group of converts.

Within the United States there are about 66 million Catholics. Most of these are mainstream Americans who disagree with the Vatican on issues ranging from married clergy to undue influence on government. According to Creighton University's Kripke Center somewhere between 50,000 to 100,000 American Catholics describe themselves as "traditionalist" meaning that they favor a pre-Vatican II brand of Catholicism.

But such a small percentage of Catholics leaning towards orthodoxy (and an even smaller percentage towards neo-orthodoxy i) requires additional numbers. So, the Catholic Right -- unlike mainstream American and European Catholics -- have become evangelical. They have chosen to target certain individuals -- mostly dissident conservative Protestants  -- to buttress their numbers.

With the increasing influence of traditionalist-minded groups such as Opus Dei and Tradition, Family and Property and receptive Popes such as John Paul II and Benedict XVI, a neo-orthodox outlook is a given (Benedict is far more of a traditionalist than John Paul II ever was). Not only is the current Vatican more receptive to the more authoritarian-minded -- they are being actively targeted for conversion.

The strategy of using converts to create a more authoritarian church is no secret. It is openly discussed by neo-orthodox lay groups such as Opus Dei.  The group's public face, Rev. John McCloskey has written about it. He says that they stress quality converts over quantity. The thought being that if a high-profile fish is netted then perhaps a whole school of like-minded individuals will follow.

Among those who have converted from Protestant denominations to a more neo-orthodox brand of Catholicism are U.S. Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS),  Crisis magazine publisher Deal Hudson, and Reverend Richard John Neuhaus -- a former prominent antiwar Lutheran minister, who has since not only become a Catholic priest but a leading neoconservative, involved in among others the Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD).  What is significant about all of these individuals is that not only have they embraced a strident form of Catholicism, but they openly call for a Church that demands blind obedience. And if you dare dissent, they brazenly demand that you leave the church that you and your family have been part of for untold generations.

And yes, I have told the same thing by recent converts. It has been "suggested" to me that because I loyally dissent from certain Vatican teachings that I leave Catholicism and become an Episcopalian. Almost tongue-in-cheek I wonder what this would accomplish since the IRD seeks to turn the Anglican community into a carbon copy of a neo-orthodox Catholic Church?

But all humor aside, what right do these people have to order me out of my own faith? None whatsoever -- even though that is what these newcomers and their neo-orthodox allies truly desire.

Historical awareness and tradition has its place, even in Catholicism. But tradition is not only what the neo-orthodox say it is. Where were these converts when my Italian ancestors witnessed a Catholic hierarchy that openly sided with wealthy landowners against them? Did they witness -- as my Italian Catholic ancestors did -- a Pope Pius IX, unchecked by a secular government kidnap a Jewish child from his parents while openly opposing Italian unification?

If loyal dissent from the teachings of Peter's successors is such a mortal sin -- as it has been suggested to me -- where would Christianity be today if St. Paul had not challenged Peter himself over the issue of proselytizing to the Gentiles of the Roman Empire?

As I discussed last week, led by a bellicose Rev. Neuhaus (who oddly seems to enjoy a direct line of communication to Pope Benedict XVI as well as to a rigidly orthodox President George W. Bush) along with neo-orthodox allies George Weigel, Michael Novak and Robert P. George, these men seek to make American jurisprudence and Vatican theology one and the same. Rev. Neuhaus -- wants the Vatican to have the final word on, among other things, birth control and stem cell research, not you and I and our fellow citizens. He sees his conscience as your conscience. It is a factious scheme that the vast majority of American Catholics reject.

As a Catholic, I believe it is terribly wrong that this one man has so much influence on the Catholic Church in America and in the White House.  He may think that he reflects God's will, but in actuality, he acts as if speaks in God's stead.

But here is the good news: the neo-orthodox hierarchy, even with their newly minted converts, still do not have the numbers to safely control the Catholic Church, especially here in America. Even among the hierarchy and ordinary clergy there are independent minded thinkers such as Cardinal Walter Kasper and Sister Joan Chittister.

But speaking of Sister Joan, she was dead-on when she recently stated that "it's up to the laity to decide which church they really want. " In no uncertain terms, that means you and me. It is time to show courage and push back when pushed -- especially when we are being pushed out. Remember: we, not they have the numbers.

American Catholics should welcome these newcomers into the Church, but not solely on their terms. We must remind them that it was our ancestors who suffered not only with the Church, but also at times, from the Church. And more importantly, we choose never again to suffer from our Church, but instead to live within it and with our non-Catholic neighbors without impressing our beliefs upon them.

Endnotes.
(i) I use 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 neo-orthodoxy 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 insurrection to bring this about (causing a near rupture with their neocon allies).

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   Part Thirty-three




Display:
Simple. Not only do these nefarious characters want to impose their own subjective will on the majority as well as the minority (and in our democracy we cherish the right of the minority to dissent as a form of public education), but quite often they have suggested the use of armed insurrection to get their way.

These people view themselves as standing where the abolitionists stood just prior to the Civil War. The better analogy is that of Confederate hotheads who were all-to-willing to destroy our government simply because playing by the rules doesn't work for their highly subjective agenda.


by Frank Cocozzelli on Sat Jul 28, 2007 at 09:30:08 AM EST

I had no idea that they were advocating armed insurrection.

by nogodsnomasters on Sat Jul 28, 2007 at 11:00:21 AM EST
Parent


The laity  may support their parish priest and their local programs (homeless ministry, food bank, etc), but their donation also supports the conservative ambitious hierarchy. This makes it really difficult to exercise power of the purse in order to work against bishops' coverups of clergy sexual abuse, and other problems . The absolute monarchy of the Church also makes it very hard for priests (and even laity sometimes) to utter dissent. There's a "don't ask, don't tell" secretive culture among the lower clergy and laity.

All this adds up to the common attitude of many American Catholics - voting with their feet. Worshipping Sunday mornings at St. Arbuck's. Which doesn't change the culture of the Church either.

by NancyP on Sat Jul 28, 2007 at 12:53:37 PM EST

Voting with our feet doesn't work. Instead, it is time to organize, speak up and most of all, actually put our money where our collective mouth is.

by Frank Cocozzelli on Sat Jul 28, 2007 at 01:53:59 PM EST
Parent


Frank-

I agree with you about the danger these neo-Orthodox converts pose to ordinary Catholics. Sister Joan is right, but I don't think the lay people have learned how to push back. I also feel the same way that you do about "what right do these people have to order me out of my own faith?" Are they going to force me to choose between my political allegiances and views and my faith? They don't remember what happened to English Catholics in the 16th and 17th centuries when a series of authoritarian Popes, such as Paul IV and Pius V did exactly that. Do they read no history? Geoffrey Robertson described the problems that resulted in his book "The Tyrannicide Brief." The institutional Church was clearly on the side of the divine right of kings, authoritarian government, and social stratification. Do we really need to return to such outmoded governmental structures?

I have known some converts who don't profess quite the zeal that these neo-Orthodox folks profess. Most of the converts I am acquainted with converted due to marrying a Catholic spouse, although I know at least one person who converted when his parents converted. They also weren't converted by the likes of Fr. McCloskey.

Don't forget too that the American Catholic Church was influenced heavily by the Irish (the majority of the hierarchy and many of the priests and religious were historically Irish) and tended to be influenced by the history of the Catholic Church in Ireland. This explains the siege mentality of the Church before Vatican II.

My mother has a saying "the Church should be for the people, not the people for the Church." My parents both grew up in the pre-Vatican II church, and while they are practicing Catholics, they are not doctrinaire, and they don't care for Opus Dei, the Legionaries of Christ, and similar groups. The institutional church seems to be forgetting this principle.

It seems all the neo-Orthodox want is your conscience and your soul. They want to substitute their consciences for yours, they want secular as well as spiritual power, and they have an instinct for authoritarianism in both the spiritual and secular realms. National Catholic Reporter is one of the few publications to honestly deal with this issue. The Legionaries bought Twin Circle and National Catholic Register, and Our Sunday Visitor tows the Vatican's line.

Kathy

by khughes1963 on Sat Jul 28, 2007 at 10:04:11 AM EST

There are a few converts in my family and they are good, mainstream Catholics as well as being outstanding citizens.

A large part of individual zeal has to do with who is associated with the conversion. If they are welcomed by folks who respect the religious beliefs of others and have no sense of religious supremacism, then that speaks volumes. If Rev. McCloskey is the means, there probably is a certain amount of zealotry involved.

As for "pushing back," it is up to us to show our fellow Catholics how to do so in a highly dignified manner.

by Frank Cocozzelli on Sat Jul 28, 2007 at 10:23:32 AM EST
Parent



Frank, I feel for you. your home has been flooded out and you have no where to go.
Why not investigate the Eastern Orthodox Church in any of its manifestations in the USA?
We are pretty small,  we don't have political  clout,  we just try to follow the commandments of Christ and save our souls. Our kingdom (like His) is not of this world.  We used to be  rich and powerful in Constantinople and a few other places, but we were decimated by the schism of the RC Church in 1204 and then by the Moslem conquest.   But we are still here in the USA since 1794 when a few Russian monks established a foothold  in Alaska and converted many because they simply  lived a holy life and proclaimed the Love of Christ.  

We even have some Italian converts, along with many others.
We are conservative (we don't favor abortion) and we are collegial (we rely on local councils of bishops to figure things out) and we are usually small parishes that are 'family' and we  all  believe the same things.
Rdr. James Morgan
olympia WA

by rdrjames on Mon Jul 30, 2007 at 10:29:43 PM EST

...but I'm staying to fight. Besides, there are many other things I still love about the Church.

by Frank Cocozzelli on Tue Jul 31, 2007 at 12:31:39 PM EST
Parent
Leaving the Church one loves simply because some people in history do things that are so contrary to what one 'knows' in one's heart is sort of short sighted. I, too, love the Church and although I am not blind to its obvious faults, neither am I blind, I would hope, to its obvious good attributes. As to defining converts, I would assume converts are pretty much like everyone else in that each individual chose the Church for an individual reason, or reasons. And I am one. This is a great article. I intend printing it, and sharing it.

by shirleybianchi on Wed Aug 08, 2007 at 06:17:42 PM EST
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