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By Brad Miner   
Monday, 28 March 2011

With apologies to Leo Tolstoy: All faithful Catholics are alike; every unfaithful Catholic is unfaithful in his own way. To be faithful is to give heart-and-soul assent to the Church; to popes, to Creed, and to Magisterium.

A traditionalist argues that the Church has veered off course, as a ship would when captain and crew have abandoned their duties, and the traditionalist and his confreres see themselves engaged in a kind of first-class passengers’ mutiny. Meanwhile, down in steerage, restless liberationists – convinced the ship has gone full stop – are jettisoning everything they consider dead weight.

“Catholic” dissent is about course correction – it is anyway in the minds of the dissenters, right or left. And both agree the course we’re on was set by Vatican II. So: “Turn hard starboard!” say the traddies.“Tack hard to port!” say the libs. To them the Church some sort of yacht or cargo ship.

Actually, the Church is an ark, floating in the flood. But enough of nautical analogies.

Traditionalists would roll back the “reforms” of Vatican II and the liberationists would push on in the “spirit of” Vatican II. Both agree that recent popes have been misguided. On the far edges, you have sedevacantists and revolutionaries: the outright vertical and the downright horizontal. Both are deeply nostalgic – one for an ancien régime, the other for a dream deferred.

Nobody has better analyzed this discontent than our dear, late The Catholic Thing colleague Ralph McInerny. In What Went Wrong with Vatican II?, written thirty years after the Council ended, Professor McInerny made clear his opinion that the four Dogmatic Constitutions, three Declarations, and nine Decrees of the Second Vatican Council do not represent a break with Sacred Tradition. And he had a message for traditionalists:

That which makes Vatican II valid is what made Vatican I, the Council of Trent, and every other council valid. To accept one council is to accept them all; to reject one . . . is to reject . . . all; we cannot have pick-and-choose conciliarism.
The teachings of Vatican II are as official as the others, which is what makes the Lefebvrite dissent “incoherent.”

Concerning what I’m calling liberationists, the larger body of dissenters, McInerny insisted the work of the Council is not at all the genesis of their frustrations. Humanae Vitae is; not so much because of the encyclical’s content – although that is often assumed to be the case – as because of the assault on papal authority that attended its publication.

What Humanae Vitae did was reconfirm the Church’s teaching about human sexuality, including the prohibition against artificial birth control. But a panel of lay and clerical advisors (assigned by John XXIII – and expanded by Paul VI – to consider the issue in light of modern science) had recommended that the prohibition be rescinded. When Paul VI left it in place, “progressives” were outraged.

“Great cultural changes,” wrote Jacques Barzun, “begin in affectation and end in routine.” Paul VI knew this. Sexuality was being sundered from its rootedness in natural law, and the pope did his best to forestall an emerging conventional hedonism. But contrary forces were at work; Satan no doubt among them.


        Ralph McInerny

Neither John XXIII nor Paul VI, neither any subsequent popes nor Vatican II, are to blame for the “crisis” dissenters bewail. The Roman Catholic Church didn’t create the historical and cultural situation in which its teachings came to be considered out of step and which it tried to address at Vatican II. The Council itself officially changed very little – even including the reformed Mass, although the sacrament certainly became less beautiful (but Christ is there!). Still the Council became, alike for it-went-too-far Lefebvrites and it-didn’t-go-far-enough Liberation Theologians, an excuse to assume equality with papal and conciliar authority, to become shadow churches.

John Paul II convened a Second Extraordinary Assembly of  the Synod of Bishops  in 1985 on the twentieth anniversary of the end of Vatican II with the clear intent – and this is its ongoing legacy – of beginning to put right the mistaken interpretations and innovations that arose from the perfectly sound teaching of Vatican II. The Synod initiated a new Catechism of the Catholic Church and made important changes in canon law, all overseen by Joseph Ratzinger. Other loving steps have been taken by the Vatican to correct the dissidents (see John Paul II’s Ad Tuendam Fidem and Benedict XVI’s letter to SSPX), but the schismatics seem more numerous and more intransigent than ever.

In my opinion, this has principally to do with poor catechesis.

There are 65 million Catholics in the United States today with a little over 2 million children enrolled in Catholic schools. By contrast, there were 44 million American Catholics in 1965, more than 5 million of them Catholic school kids. I was unable to find data about enrollment in catechism classes for children not in Catholic schools, but I’d be stunned to learn that the numbers have gone up in the last forty years. When you get your . . . impressions of Catholicism from dissenters, chances are you’re not consuming Christ’s new wine or the Bread of Life, so beware: Thou shalt not drink of the Châteauneuf-du-Pape of Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, neither shall thou eat the sourdough of Professor Hans Küng.

As Ralph McInerny wrote: “The choice is not between arguments. The choice is between authorities.” So choose wisely.

 
Brad Miner, a former literary editor of National Review, is senior editor of The Catholic Thing. One of his books, The Compleat Gentleman, was recently published in a revised edition. 
 
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written by Bill, March 28, 2011
"I want a laity, not arrogant, not rash in speech, not disputatious, but men who know their religion, who enter into it, who know just where they stand,who know what they hold and what they do not, who know their creed so well they can give an account of it, who know so much history they can defend it." John Henry Cardinal Newman

How many laymen today could meet that standard? How many POPES and BISHOPS today could meet that standard? That is why the FSSP, the Institute of Christ the King and similar groups hold all the cards for the future of the Church. That is why it is reported that the new Motu Proprio on Summorum Pontificam requires that all seminarians learn to say the Extraordinary Form of the Mass. The Mass and Church of the "past" will be the Mass and Church of the future when this theological nightmare is put behind us.
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written by Titus, March 28, 2011
enrollment in catechism classes for children not in Catholic schools

Well, however many there are, they almost undoubtedly aren't becoming the solution to the problem. The curricula used in most of these programs is even worse than the vapid swill found in most parochial schools. And because the programs are run by a single DRE and manned by volunteers (themselves scandalously uncatechized) instead of, as in a school, featuring a larger control structure, the problem is almost impossible to root out. Exceptions exist, but our schools and catechism programs are not at the moment a solution: they've been part of the problem.
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written by Dave, March 28, 2011
Mr. Miner, you couldn't have said it better. At the risk of being overly reductionistic, what the traditionalists and the progressives have in common is this: once they arrogate themselves to decide, for the Church, where the Popes and Council have "erred," they cease to be Catholic. Or as the old saying goes, you can't be more Catholic than the Pope. Thanks for a very useful article.
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written by jsmitty, March 28, 2011
I have to say, I was underwhelmed by this McInerny book. It had the being and appearance of an effort that was cobbled together over the course of a couple of weekend. To start with, it was badly mis-titled. The book is all about dissent over Humanae Vitae with precious little to say about any of the hot button interpretive issues over Vatican II itself--issues concerning which conservatives have at times been every bit as tendentious as the liberal reformers they attack.

But the real problem with the book is that it ascribes far too much influence to theologians and their critiques of Humanae Vitae. The cow was out of the barn in terms of Catholics and birth control years before Humanae Vitae. The dissent by professional theologians on birth control only gave voice to the de facto behavior of millions of Catholics by the late 1960's.

Also Brad, if your thesis about the root problem being poor catechesis as measured by poor Catholic school attendance is true, how exactly did ecclesiastical authority on matters of birth control collapse so quickly in the early 1960's when the products of the halcyon years of Catholic education in the 1950's began using birth control in large numbers?? This is a more fundamental question that neither you nor McInerny address.
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written by Louise, March 28, 2011
Not long after our second conversion to Catholicism at Christmas 2002, my husband I attended Lenten classes about something to do with the Faith, but I don't remember what. The two things I do remember were the deadly dull video series by (a now Cardinal) but then an Archbishop who thinks of himself as a teacher. I don't remember anything he said. The other thing I remember was the Facilitator (aka teacher) asking the class of cradle Catholics and us two new converts how many Bible passages were read every Sunday during the Mass. Blank looks all around. "I thought Catholics didn't read the Bible" was the unspoken response. Finally, I couldn't bear it any longer and spoke up: "Three. NO, four, I forgot the Psalm." Eyes widened all around, and I became either the class genius or the know-it-all. I'm not sure which.

At the end of our first attempt at being Catholics, I was teaching a 5th grade religious ed. class. The question came up, "Is taking a quarter from the kitchen table without asking permission stealing?" Now, maybe my Yankee-Protestant-white-clapboard-church-and-steeple background made me overly scrupulous, but I was appalled when every child in the class answered "no."

So, there you are.
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written by Brad Miner, March 28, 2011
To Jsmitty: Two points, 1) McInenry was mostly addressing one sure legacy of the Council, which is disobedience. Yes, he might have written a bigger book about misapplication of the documents, but he believed all those problems arose from the rejection of authority, and he saw plenty of that at Notre Dame; 2) dissent over Humanae Vitae and poor catechesis are related. (My point about schools is intended simply to indicate that catechesis has declined.) And, sure, there were Catholics contracepting before HV, but many might have been brought back to truth had the Church's teaching been more fully explained. Many of those who attended Vatican II took dissent with them to the sessions, so questioning about contraception was in the air. But the real vocal dissent came after HV. I wish I'd had space to say more about the Mass - those changes also led to considerable disaffection.
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written by Kathy, March 28, 2011
Excellent post, Brad. As an RCIA Coordinator/Instructor and a mom who is about to bring her kids back to homeschooling again, I can't commend you enough for the wisdom of this piece. We have to start living in accord with the will of God. That means that we have to humbly accept the teachings of the Church, even those we find difficult. Where there is latitude -- discipline, not doctrine -- we can share our voice. However, it must be with charity and clarity, not clanging gongs and clashing cymbals of dissent.

Catechesis is key! Teach, govern and sanctify -- the work of our Holy Bishops and Priests, and ours to extend out into the world through our sharing of Christ's Holy Office as Priest, Prophet and King.

God bless you!
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written by jsmitty, March 28, 2011
Brad, do Catholics who dissent on birth control really not know the Church's teaching on this subject? Or is it that they really haven't heard the right homilies on it or haven't sat through the right RCIA programs or didn't have the right teachers in high school religion? That is what connecting the dissent to faulty catechesis implies in my mind.

I think nearly all of them knows very well what the Church teaches. I just don't see how more persuasive catechesis on this realistically will make that much of a difference for most practicing Catholics--let alone the vast numbers who don't practice.

Birth control is a fact of life in modern society. The number of Catholics who follow the Church's teaching in this regard will probably always remain a small minority while the continued non-reception of the Church's teaching will remain prevalent for the foreseeable future. It's unfortunate but this is the reality as I see it.
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written by Brad Miner, March 28, 2011
jsmitty, Well, you've asked such good questions I'm forced to remind myself I'm not a sociologist. I don't know the answers with certainty, but I do believe that the lives of Catholics, if they are to be faithful Catholics, depend upon knowledge and acceptance of Church teaching. Further (and assuming these faithful truly believe in the Trinity and in Church authority), I believe knowledge got through good catechesis will lead most, though surely not all, to acceptance. Our Catechism is that good, and our practice would be better if we learned it more effectively. But - and this is true as well of a lot of academic knowledge - because so many believe any opinion is as good as another, too many have become inured to the idea of versions: yes, there's the Church version, but there's also the Rembert Weakland version too. Having so many versions of Catholicism asserted as options has made true Catholicism (the one in the Catechism) seem optional. This is why the Holy Father is, I believe, willing to accept a smaller Church. He doesn't want a smaller Church, but the price of clarity may demand it.
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written by Bill, March 28, 2011
Brad and fellow readers. This is a great piece with great replies. jsmitty correctly points out that contraception has become a fact of life for Catholics today, and this is exacerbated by the fact that Catholics are competing with two-income families for food, clothing, autos and lodging. The suspension of the teaching of the evil of contraception was deliberate! I asked Abp. Stafford (now retired) if contraception was still a mortal sin (it had been before the Council), and, after minutes of staring at me from the podium, he answered "Objectively, yes." By the way, do the readers think that the 3% of Catholics who are NOT CONTRACEPTING would be described as Traditional or Liberal/Progressive?
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written by John Paul, March 28, 2011
The breakdown in catechesis often is right down the line, priests, DREs, volunteers, etc..who then pass that on. And yes, homilies too, or just good counsel in Confession. If I had heard Father Corapi clearly say what is and isn't a mortal sin regarding contraception years before I heard him on EWTN it would have been clear what the Church's teaching is. Absent that, we often were influenced by the local "interpretations."
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written by Brad Miner, March 28, 2011
Bill asks: "By the way, do the readers think that the 3% of Catholics who are NOT CONTRACEPTING would be described as Traditional or Liberal/Progressive?" Isn't the answer obvious? You'd call them "faithful Catholics."
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written by Achilles, March 28, 2011
jsmitty, McInernery's book does get at the root problem of our modern world, no new sins just new appearances. The devil would love for us to get caught up with specifics and get tangled in the details. The root is pride. Read also Dietrich Von Hildebrand's Trojan Horse in the City of God.
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written by Victor, March 28, 2011
Brad, regarding "But a panel of lay and clerical advisors (assigned by John XXIII – and expanded by Paul VI – to consider the issue in light of modern science) had recommended that the prohibition be rescinded. When Paul VI left it in place, “progressives” were outraged." See http://tinyurl.com/6gtnfy2
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written by Deacon Jim Stagg, March 28, 2011
Great article, Mr. Miner! You hit the nail on the head. After many years facilitating RCIA, I am in doubt of any substantial (true) Catholic education coming from any type of "Catholic" school, including Catholic colleges. The lack of proper catechesis is appalling.
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written by William, April 02, 2011
All I can say is: "thanks God for the internet." Having matriculated from Catholic education when it was robust and faithful, I've long bemoaned the deplorable state of latter-day catechesis--that is until I discovered the Catholic blogosphere. Much solid instruction and remediation is being done by Zhulsdorf, Voris, Miner, et al. Thanks, guys, I've both learned and re-learned important tenants and traditions of the Faith.
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written by Michael Baker, April 08, 2011
Brad, Your analysis is simplistic. The Church has not veered off course. She is the spotless Bride of Christ, infallible and indefectible. It is the bishops of the Church, both fallible and defectible, who have done so. Ralph McInerny's book was unsatisfactory. He effectively rejects the burden of the book's attention grabbing title on p. 114. Nothing went wrong with V II ! I sent him my criticism of the book by email in June 2009. He never responded. I don't expect you to print this.

Regards, Michael Baker
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written by Brad Miner, April 08, 2011
Mr. Baker: Thanks for condescending to comment. As you see, we have printed your comment, but without the link to your website. You'll note this in our Rules for Commenting: "And, please, do not include links to other websites; we simply haven't time to check them all."

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