The Acid Reflux of the Questioning Church

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There is so much good news in the Church these days that it is hard to know where to start. One could tick off half a dozen cases, including the visit of Barack Obama to Notre Dame, which became the occasion for seventy bishops to issue public condemnations. Amazing.

But let’s look at all the good news through the dyspepsia of the Ever-Questioning Church. I hesitate to call them the Left because that is a political category, and I don’t want to call them heterodox, though many of them are. Let’s give them benefit of the doubt. For the Questioning Church, there are no settled questions. Everything is up for endless and oh-so-thoughtful debate. And just now the Questioning Church is in a tizzy. No, a howl. They are fuming. And cranky.

Read the pages and blogs of the National Catholic Reporter, Commonweal, or America and you will see how well things are going in the Church. This is the crowd largely responsible for the Great Emptying of the priesthood, the religious orders, and the pews with their crazy interpretations of Vatican II and their general inability to proclaim Catholic truth. Their project has failed and they are in a full-out, bitter death rattle.

They are angry that Benedict cut through the failed ecumenical project and simply invited Anglicans to join the Catholic Church, creating a way for them to do it. They are angry that Rome has allowed and encouraged the Mass of Blessed John XXXIII (also known as the Tridentine Mass). They are angry that the Church continues to demand the protection of unborn children as the central human-rights issue of our day. They are angry about Humanae Vitae. They are angry!

In recent days two issues have particularly roiled the Questioning Church, the Vatican-led visitation of the congregations of American nuns, and the new translation of the Missal and other common prayers of the Church.

Anyone who has participated in the Mass of Blessed John XXIII knows how profound and beautiful are the Latin prayers that are translated in any Latin Mass missal. The prayers are rich, powerful, beautiful, inspired. They raise the mind and the heart to God and are deeply contemplative. By comparison, we must admit, the prayers of the Novus Ordo are thin and uninspiring. Now, the Novus Ordo is valid and anyone who says otherwise is outside the Church’s understanding. Prayed reverently, it can be quite effective, though it can’t compare to the 1962 Missal. Yet the Novus Ordo is the Mass the Questioning Church gave us, and it is at least partly responsible for the Great Emptying.

Catholics welcomed the announcement some years ago that Rome had ordered a new translation, not least because that task was taken away from a committee called ICEL and given to a Vatican-selected team. They will not give us translations like the one in the 1962 Missal, but there will be similarities. This is what has so roiled the Questioning Church.

They howl that the wonderful word “ineffable” will be incomprehensible to the stupid pewsitters like you and me. They don’t like the word “consubstantial” either, or “incarnate,” “inviolate,” “oblation,” or “suffused.” They don’t like the new beginning of the Creed. We now say, “We believe,” it will soon become “I believe,” a personal statement.

The Questioning Church is now appealing to legalisms saying that these translations violate the Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy. And some, like one Jesuit in America magazine, are calling for pastors not to use the new translations.

The Questioning Church is also having a hissy fit over the Vatican visitation of American nuns. You know the ones: they wear pantsuits, live in their own apartments, work only on “social justice,” and publicly disagree with Church teaching on women’s ordination, abortion, contraception, homosexuality, and God knows what else. I used to see them at Mass at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops: nuns who refused to kneel during the consecration and practically shouted out “God” instead of choking on the word “Him.”

The National Catholic Reporter, bulletin of the First Church of Questioning, has become a cottage industry of angry complaints about the visitation, even encouraging congregations not to cooperate. In recent months, they have published about fifteen bitter stories about the investigation. They are even reporting on the bishops who have had the temerity to help fund it.

The bulletin of the Second Church of Questioning, Commonweal, published an anonymous piece complaining that the Vatican is not investigating priests and bishops, perhaps failing to recognize that they have come under much scrutiny lately. This sister, who wrote the article with a grant “from the Henry Luce Foundation” wouldn’t most of these nuns whoop-up on the Vatican for free? provides us with a sustained howl, mostly about power. Most Catholics would probably think the Vatican might indeed care about nuns, who represent the Church, publicly rejecting Catholic teaching. She uses words like “target,” “collective punishment,” “insulting,” “absurd,” “inquisitorial,” on and bitterly on.

The good news: If the Questioning Church is so angry and bitter about new developments in the Church, then faithful Catholics should rejoice knowing that wonderful things are coming. Writing in America almost ten years ago, a priest sadly declared, “The revolution is over.” Thanks be to God.

The Questioning Church stayed for a long time because it held the buildings – the chanceries, the rectories, the seminaries. Slowly, they are losing even those. A few years ago, Bishop Finn of Kansas City began the process of rejecting the pernicious work and influence of the National Catholic Reporter, which is in his diocese and worked closely with previous bishops. For his effort, he was attacked in a huge article in the Reporter. Yes, they used to stay for the buildings. After those go, whither the Questioning Church?


Austin Ruse is the President of the New York and Washinton, D.C.-based Catholic Family & Human Rights Institute (C-FAM), a research institute that focuses exclusively on international social policy.

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  • Martin Dybicz

    Hastening the Process
    The demise of the Questioning Church could be hastened if every bishop would ask anyone in a position of authority in his diocese: Do you agree that every part of the Catechism is objectively true? Do you agree that the fullness of the means of salvation objectively subsists in the Catholic Church? Those who answer affirmatively should be asked: What are you doing in your ministry to make others aware of your convictions? Those who answer negatively should be shown the door.

  • Rev. Msgr. Don J. Fitzpat

    The truth with love!
    God loves you. God loves me. God loves the “Questioning Churc”. He is near us with His Love. He Incarnates His Love. Let us in each present moment go ahead together seeking and living His Plan. Thank you for expressing His Truth so clearly.

  • Ars Artium

    Powers and Principalities
    “Our battle [and theirs] is not against human forces but against the principalities and powers, the rulers of this world of darkness …” Eph. 6:12 It is essential that we understand the nature of our enemy – not misguided and in many cases well-meaning persons or even great sinners. We must “stand firm against the tactics of the devil”. If ever, now, let us not fail to act with dignified “caritas” , to speak the truth with courage, firmness, and civility.

  • William H. Phelan

    Quo vadis?
    Thanks for a great article, Mr. Ruse. When my family joined an FSSP chapel ten years ago, we left not only the Questioning Church, we left THE Church as the two were inseparable! We returned to the true Church and never looked back. Benedict is only now reversing forty years of insanity and heterodoxy which were the hallmarks of THE CHURCH. It was THE Church which tolerated abortion, contraception and homosexual behavior for the last fity years. It is time for THE Church to admit it

  • M.P. Ryan

    Amen, Brother
    A very well done essay. As someone who grew up in the 60’s and 70’s in Catholic schools, I had to read my way back into the Catholic Church because the formation provided to me was so thin. (One semester in high school Religion consisted of a lengthy exegesis of the rock opera “Tommy.”) I am reminded of G.K. Chesterton’s description of the Catholic Church vis-a-vis the cranks – It is the only thing that frees a man from the degrading slavery of being a child of his age.

  • Vincent Muscarello, MD

    “An Exhausted Project”
    As Mr. Ruse aptly suggests, this is indeed an exciting time to be a Catholic. Cardinal Francis George addresses this same issue eloquently in his book “The Difference God Makes” on pages 166-168. He calls the efforts of the
    Questioning Church (what he refers to as “liberal Catholicism”) an “exhausted project”. This is a very worthwhile read.

  • Timothy O’

    Sound the applause
    Bravo!!! Thank you for writing this article and Thank You for “The Catholic Thing”. Publications such as this not only help restore the Holy Catholic Church’s orthodox identity, but also signify by its very existence that a vibrant Catholic intellectual tradition is once again ascending.

  • Peadar Ban

    Poisoned Apples
    I used to read the NCR and the Register each week, because I thought I would find truth between. I stopped reading the NCR long, long ago. It has no part of truth in it at all. It should be called Pravda. I have never read Commonweal or America and don’t intend to start.

  • Christian

    Death Rattle
    I believe we’re hearing the death rattle of the worldwide Left.

  • Willie

    Just My Two Cents
    This article makes my day. Maybe there is hope that the years of prostitution of Vatican II will come to an end. If these radical feminists, homosexual lovers and abortion advocates are unhappy with the Catholic Church, why don’t they find another niche to crawl into. I really do think that most of today’s nuns are of good intention and welcome this Vatican review. Many religious orders need, however, to redefine themselves or disband. Most of all they need to try praying together again!

  • Jennifer

    American and Americans
    I’ve been puzzled as to the reaction of so many regarding the Vatican’s reasonable study of the American sisterhood. The fact that so many are reacting as if this is some sort of attack indicates the level of their estrangement from the Church, I think. Sad days, but perhaps from it will come a reinvigorated group of nuns and sisters who can lead the next generation within Church teachings.

  • Zach

    Novus Ordo
    The Novus Ordo isn’t that bad, when prayed correctly!

  • Joseph

    And your point is? Stop all questions? Accept all dogma as pronounced from Rome? People have been asking questions and for the most part getting few answers before and after they sat in Plato’s Cave wondering what all those shadows on the wall are. Austin, life remains a perpetual mystery and some of us who remain puzzled and seek answers, and, alas, are left with doubts that can never been resolved so long as man quibbles over what words mean and what purpose, if any, life holds for us.

  • TonyC

    Hope and Prayer
    I do hope and pray that your assessment is correct.

  • Chuck

    “Hastening the…”
    Martin: there are some bishops that would not answer all of those questions affirmatively. The Novus Ordo was an important part of my conversion. It can be understood by a “Bible Christian” as simple as I was. It has also served as a way to see the “fruits” of those perverting the truth. Novus Ordo as presented by EWTN daily, can be a beautiful Mass. But when reverence is lacking it can be awful. If the “revolution is over” I say “good riddance!”

  • Bill Daugherty

    The Church Questioning
    Poor Questioners – “always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth.” Even they were included in Jesus’ prayer that we all be one; let’s all be ready to welcome them back if they ever stop asking the wrong questions.

  • Judy Knutsen

    Austin Ruse Column
    God Bless You, Mr.Ruse for writing this brilliant article. The nuns in the pantsuits whom you refer to are typical of the Dominican nuns who taught me in college and looked NOTHING like that. I have long ago stopped supporting them.
    God Bless our holy Catholic Church and people like you who are speaking out for the truth and the beauty of the Church. So much has been lost and generations are growing up without a single clue as to what the Catholic Church really is. You give me much hope.

  • Achilles

    Dear Joseph, What did St. Augustine suggest we do? Instead of floating down the river currents of modern thought where we all have to see it to believe it, we “must believe it first, then we will see it.” We use our intellects to confirm what Christ told us, we are compelled to ask questions from a stance of reverence, The Q Church, asks questions from the stance of defiance. It is all the difference in the world. Bless you, please pray for me too!

  • Thomas C. Coleman, Jr.

    Dear Msgr Fitz
    Dear Msgr Fitzpat: Yes, God loves us all and He wants to us know and proclaim the Truth, which means accepting and procaliming what the Church founded on the Rock of Peter holds to be true. If you are not disturbed by members of your flock or your fellow priests deceiving innocent Catholics into believing that evil things are good and that Catholics can believe whatever they want, then you, Monsignor, are a part of the problem. You must recall what happens to the lukewarm.

  • Bender

    flip side of same coin
    **the Novus Ordo is valid . . . it can be quite effective, though it can’t compare to the 1962 Missal. Yet the Novus Ordo is the Mass the Questioning Church gave us.** Such faint, damning praise. Actually, there is only ONE Mass. ONE. One God, One Faith, One Church, One Sacrifice, ONE MASS. The *Questioning Church* did not give us the *Novus Ordo* Mass. What is so contemptuously called the Novus Ordo here and elsewhere is the One Holy Mass given to us by the Lord Jesus Christ.

  • Adam

    what’s effective?
    I second Bender’s comment. What in the world is a “quite effective” Mass?? A very poor choice of words indeed!

    And I agree with Ars Artium. Generally I concur with the content and the aim of this article, but am troubled by its strident tone and playful, ad hominem barbs.

    We must love the Church, and defend her everywhere she is attacked. But we are certainly not called to attack our fellow baptized children of God. The condescension in this article will convert no one’s heart.

  • Joseph

    Response to Achilles
    Dear Achilles, thanks for reminding me of Augustine’s advice. If faith is a gift from God, as we are told, is it a gift given to all? Does one pray for the gift of faith as a condition to receive it? If so, I have asked for that gift and have yet to receive it, it appears, as I am constantly plagued by doubt. So, too, was the apostle Thomas, who had to be convinced by seeing first. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe, Jesus said. That remains my prayer. God be with you all!

  • Achilles

    To Joseph
    Dear Joseph, I too am a great doubter and a very slow learner- I don’t think prayer is a pre-condition for the gift of Faith, but it is an act of the will to believe, a root if you will, and the vision that follows is the gift and the fruit of the tree. “Credu ut intelligam” believe my brother and you will soon see it! This modern world is adroit at clouding our minds with radical skepticism, radical individualism- see through the mist, but not through our first principles.

  • angela

    its not the Novus Ordo
    For those who think that the novus ordo is a product of the “questioning church”: If anything, the fault belongs to the ICEL, not the NO. Go to a mass not in english (say, Spanish), and you will see that the translation is much more faithful to the Latin text (ex: El Senor este con ustedes- y con tu espiritu). When I saw the changes that were going to be implemented i was quite amused how much more like the Spanish its diction was.

    Just my two cents…

  • Todd

    Oh, please.

    Next time, try sorting out secular politics from open theological issues from actual history from the core issue of unity–that’s a credal element, by the way. Unlike blind obedience.

    Its in the nature of resistance to sin to think of others as more sinful (read: angry, heterodox, etc.). The culture of victim has spread to the Catholic Right: it was someone else’s fault we couldn’t hold on to a rosy-colored past.