The Catholic Right's Art of Constructive Schism -- Part 1
Frank Cocozzelli printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Mon Jul 20, 2009 at 01:50:43 PM EST
Many years ago when I was in law school I was taught the concept of constructive eviction. It is a process whereby a landlord wanting to evict tenants from one of his properties - say for converting the premises into a condo or a coop or to sell it - makes living conditions so unlivable that the tenants leave on their own volition.

I think something like this is going on in American, and even world Catholicism  -- since elements of the Catholic Right seem to be hell bent on driving out moderate and liberal Catholics.

The Vatican has been moving to the right since the ascendancy of Pope John Paul II in 1978. During this time open-mind bishops and cardinals have been replaced by increasingly strident confrontational conservatives and traditionalists. Independent-mind clergy such as the former Bishop Francis Mugavero  are replaced by dogmatists such as Archbishop Raymond Burke and Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Denver who do not hesitate to use the sacrament of Communion as a divisive political weapon.

The church that has emerged from this era is more authoritarian, treating new ideas or fresh insights as inherently threatening to faith itself.  For example such matters as women's ordination, embryonic stem cell research or the inclusion of the LGBT faithful, are likely to lead to charges of heresy and may lead to excommunication. Even if you write an academic thesis wherein you dare suggest Scripture has a more feminine view of God, you can be fired from your parish job.

This era of constructive schism is the reverse of the great schisms of the Protestant Reformation -- where the reformers willfully left and set up their own denomination. Today, the self-appointed landlords of the Catholic Right are attempting to evict those who disagree with them by treating them like unruly tenants.

This is mainly being carried out by two factions of right-wing Catholics, one neo-conservative and the other a more traditional group commonly known as "paleos."  And while they both seek to move the Catholic Church rightward, their political goals significantly differ.

Both factions tend to comprise traditionalists who frequently bemoan the reforms of Vatican II in the 1960s, (and especially pine for the return of the Latin Mass.) They also agree on biological issues: abortion, euthanasia, homosexuality and stem cell research. They derive their views from natural law -- but with a slight difference: While Catholic Paleos draw upon certain Enlightenment-era thinkers (Edmund Burke, for example), the Neos will reach further back to the Classic Greek teachings of Plato and others for prescribing societal order.

"Shrinking" the Church

"Shrinking" the Church to accomplish a "purer" following is a repeated theme of key players of the Catholic Right. One of those is Opus Dei's Rev. C. John McCloskey.

An August 2002 piece by Chris Suellentrop described John McCloskey as " Ivy Leaguer who graduated from Columbia and a former Wall Streeter who worked at Citibank and Merrill Lynch." Suellentrop further observed, "The self-described supply-sider has a top-down strategy to transform the culture, too. He wants to turn Blue America into Red."

A few years ago, McCloskey wrote about his dream Church of 2030, free of moderates and dissenters:

As you may have learned, there were approximately 60 million nominal Catholics at the beginning of the Great Jubilee at the turn of the century. You might ask how we went from that number down to our current 40 million. I guess the answer could be, to put it delicately, consolidation. It is not as bad as it looks. In retrospect it can be seen that only approximately 10% of the sixty or so were "with the program." (Please excuse the anachronism, but I am 77 years old!) I mean to say only 10% that base assented wholeheartedly to the teaching of the Church and practiced the sacraments in the minimal sense of Sunday Mass and at least yearly confession. The rest, as was inevitable, either left the Church, defected to the culture of death, passed away, or in some cases at least for a couple of decades, went to various Christian sects, what remained of mainstream Protestantism or Bible Christianity.

Continuing, McCloskey writes of a future Church in which the "Catholics we do have are better formed, practice their Faith in the traditional sense at a much higher level than ever." He also gleefully notes:  "Dissent has disappeared from the theological vocabulary." And he sees the remaining faithful's numbers enhanced by "the influx of hundreds of thousands of Evangelical Protestants."

It is no accident that those who advocate a smaller more orthodox church are closely aligned with movement conservatism.  For example, Catholic League President William Donohue is an adjunct scholar with the Heritage Foundation; pizza-franchise magnet Tom Monaghan bankrolls the laissez-faire inspired Acton Institute as well as orthodox Catholic GOP candidates for public office; Catholic neoconservatives Michael Novak; and the late Richard John Neuhaus co-founded the Institute for Religion and Democracy ("IRD") and McCloskey has served on the IRD's Board of Advisors.

The role of McCloskey and other prominent conservative Catholics in this anti-liberal Protestant agency deeply troubled the late Rev. Dr. Andrew Weaver, a prominent Methodist writer, who called it "the most grievous breach in ecumenical good will between Roman Catholics and Protestants since the changes initiated by Vatican II."   Frederick Clarkson aptly described the central tenet leading to the IRD's formation as one "...intended to divide and conquer-and diminish the capacity of churches to carry forward their idea of a just society in the United States-and the world."  In this way, Catholic elements involved in IRD not only sought to hobble the politically and socially more liberal Protestant Churches, but also to divide what they saw as their main competitors for influence and the direction of the culture.

But while Clarkson and Weaver say that the role of these (and other) Catholic Right leaders in disrupting and dividing mainline Protestantism has been overlooked, we could also say that their role in the constructive schism of Catholicism has been overlooked as well.

Neocons Versus Paleocons

The Paleos are essentially the pre-World War II version of conservatism: Isolationist, anti-immigrant and at times, Confederate apologists such as Buchanan and Thomas DiLorenzo. These are the advocates of a small inward looking government, one that adheres to the old John Quincy Adams adage that "America does not go abroad in search of monsters to destroy."

The Catholic Neocons are different. They are internationalist, very pro-Israel and are open to somewhat larger government, including certain - albeit limited - social programs such as affirmative action. They are the (relatively) new kids on the block, and are part of the wider neoconservative movement. This evident in their many writings adopting much of the neoconservatives favorite philosopher Leo Strauss's desire for the need for benign tyrants to rule over a general population, which they believe cannot always handle the truth. They employ many of Strauss's terms of art such as "nihilism" and "moral relativism" while impugning modernity.

But whereas the paleos will eschew the international view, neos embrace it full tilt -- and view institutions with global reach as vehicles to export their political agenda. The Catholic Church is one such institution and the significance of its global reach has not been lost on neos such as George Weigel or Michael Novak -- a point we will discuss in part 2.

I've heard it said by moderate and liberal Catholics that "the hierarchy just doesn't get it."

Actually, i believe they do get it...and that is why they want us to leave.

by Frank Cocozzelli on Mon Jul 20, 2009 at 01:54:48 PM EST

They want us to leave, and we won't. We should as a group exercise the power of the purse, but a lot of people won't do it.

by khughes1963 on Mon Jul 20, 2009 at 04:34:11 PM EST

I am a Unitarian Universalist student in ministry and after pondering this for the thousandth time, I blogged about it on my own blog, u-dont.html

by Diggitt on Mon Jul 20, 2009 at 10:13:27 PM EST

  • I am a Trinitarian;

  • Because I believe in the Church's view on science and evolution, bio-ethical issues not withstanding;

  • I believe we can get the Church back on track to the aggiornamento days of Pope John XXIII;

  • Because we can make Magestrerium and bottom to top as well as a top down mechanism some day; and

  • Because Sola Scriptura and justification of the faith do not stand on its own in my personal view -- acts count.

That's why.

by Frank Cocozzelli on Tue Jul 21, 2009 at 08:28:57 AM EST
Please take private theological discussions offline.  The site topic is the religious right and what to do about it.

by Frederick Clarkson on Tue Jul 21, 2009 at 03:40:07 PM EST
My apologies for violating the rules, but in reality my desire was actually in line with taking on the religious right.

My intention in responding was to illustrate that Catholicism has been so politicized around issues such as abortion, stem cell research and LGBT rights that people often forget the real reasons some of us stay in the Church.

My point was basically to show that even some of us on in the center and left unintentionally buy into the Catholic Right's vision of how one's Catholicism should be defined. However, I failed to complete my thought and for that I apologize.

by Frank Cocozzelli on Wed Jul 22, 2009 at 07:04:55 PM EST

...would be to require any organization seeking tax-exempt non-profit status file a Federal 990 form. Designated churches do not have to file the 990. This requirement would still allow non-profit status for those organizations meeting the criteria and would shine a light on the political lives of religious organizations. The political maneuverings of all organized religious/political organizations needs to be publicly examined and adjudged within the context of secular law. I believe this would promote openness and accountability within church hierarchies. I also believe it would promote a refocusing of church ideals toward being more responsive to the needs of the congregation, and inhibit using the congregation as a political tool. It would also provide an independent verification to congregations on exactly how their monies are being spent, promoting a more active, less passive role among the congregations. I'm wondering if the neoconservative Catholics share in the End Time vision the neoconservative Evangelical and Fundamentalist Protestants espouse. I'm also wondering how the two separate Catholic camps respond to current social issues, i.e. The Ryan Report and it's implications for US churches, The historical revisionists restored to The Society of St. Pius and recognized by the Vatican, The coverup of the actions of Fr. Marcial Maciel Degollado and the Legionnaires of Christ, the Vatican persecution of the Sisters of St. Joseph. Could the schism be relative to the congregations' responses to these issues?

by Cornelius on Wed Jul 22, 2009 at 09:09:40 AM EST

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