Carol Platt Liebau: Liberal Catholics Reach for Smelling Salts

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Liberal Catholics Reach for Smelling Salts

The election of Pope Benedict XVI came too late in the day on Tuesday for "reaction" to hit yesterday's newspapers. But reaction comes today, with a vengeance, from liberal Catholics who are dismayed by this unequivocal reminder that they are not nearly as significant in the grand scheme of things (in both the Catholic world and the world generally) as their overrepresentation in the media would lead them to believe.

Charles Curran, a priest whose license to teach theology was revoked under orders from Cardinal Ratzinger, opines here. Although he hasn't made out too badly -- he teaches "human values" at SMU now -- he's upset that the Catholic Church hasn't liberalized its views on sexual morality so that they agree more with (surprise!) his. He is unhappy that Church teachings on sexual morality aren't allowed to "change with the times." Interestingly, however, he spends most of the piece arguing that they could be changed, rather than even attempting to convince anyone that they should be changed (perhaps in his world, that's a given?).

Joan Vennochi, columnist for the Boston Globe, feels "Orphaned by the Church". "From the pews," she opines, "you can feel the church flex new political muscle, making it harder to draw a personal distinction between political belief and religious belief." Hmmm. If that's the case, then isn't that a function of a religion simply doing its job? After all, how effective is any religion that allows someone to claim to be an adherent, but then support political policies that are diametrically opposed to its teachings? That's not "political muscle" being flexed -- that's "religious muscle."

And finally, the most empty-headed and empty-hearted of them all, Tina Brown, weighs in here with her regrets over the new Pope, detailing her "disappointment [that] was also the flip side of the wishful, desperate expectation that the new pontiff would be a standard bearer for a refreshed discourse of ecumenism, tolerance and openness."

Obviously, all three writers are most upset about the Pope's teachings on sexual morality -- the teachings that are seminal to voters' views on some of the most hot-button issues of the day, including gay marriage, abortion and euthanasia (along with a whole host of tough cultural issues, exemplified by the Church's prohibition on premarital intercourse).

The one thing missing in all these pieces is any religious basis for arguing that Church teaching should change, based on the same eternal laws that gives rise to the teachings in the first place. Rather, the liberals want Church law to change either because (1) of what they think is more "moral" than the current teaching (e.g. being "tolerant" of homosexual marriage) or because (2)increased permissiveness simply recognizes "human nature" and makes life "easier" (e.g. winking at premarital intercourse).

As for #1, it's pretty arrogant for these people to think that they can (or perhaps even should) be substituting their own morality (derived from what besides their own puny minds?, by the way) for the Church's -- and yet be entitled to remain Catholics in good standing. As for #2, those people seem to ignore the whole purpose of religion: It's not to make life easy -- it's to make life godly. No one said that living a faith was going to be simple or temptation free (that's where God's grace comes in, by the way).

For a refreshingly different approach, check this piece out -- by William Donohue, it's titled: "The absolute is not obsolete: A morality based on fixed principles still resonates for Catholics despite what critics may believe."

There are some Catholics who don't observe all the Church's rules (e.g. on contraception), but they acknowledge the validity of those rules and the fact they are breaking them. The pernicious ones are the "Catholics" who want to change the Church itself so that it conforms to today's mores -- turning religion into nothing more than a convenient justification tool for what they want to do or to believe. In other words, they seem to think their views shouldn't be shaped by Church teaching; instead, Church teaching should be shaped by their views.

In setting forth the probable views of the new Pope, Joan Vennochi puts it pithily: "The Vatican is not progressive, nor is it a democracy. Accept the views or leave the pews."

My thoughts exactly. The problem is that most of those disaffected liberal Catholics become Episcopalians. And then where do all the Episcopal traditionalists go?


Blogger Ruth Anne Adams said...

Hey, Carol!
Where's a traditionalist Episcopalian to go? Come on in! The [holy] water's fine! All roads lead to Rome!

12:28 PM  
Blogger jchess said...

Well, as Hugh Hewitt put it, albeit in a slightly different context:

Welcome to the Reformation.

James C. Hess

8:13 AM  

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