The Catholic Thing
Tears of the Catholic Left Print E-mail
By Austin Ruse   
Friday, 07 September 2012

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Many years ago a Dominican priest published a piece in America magazine about how the “revolution” in the Church was over. He bemoaned the new conservative seminarians and the new conservative bishops appointed by Rome. That was maybe ten years ago.

Like the Japanese soldiers climbing out of a cave twenty years after the World War II, bit by bit, others on the Catholic left are straggling into the light of day and realizing the war is over. And they have lost.

J. Peter Nixon, one of the less breathless contributors to publications of the Oh-So-Thoughtful-Church, is the latest example. He has published a piece on the Commonweal site discussing a John Allen column in the National Catholic Reporter about how the “center-left” could survive in the current Church climate.

Allen said the center-left would probably not want to go whole-hog with what they see as the lead issues of the bishops – abortion, contraception, marriage – but that they could latch onto some of the other more acceptable concerns of the conservative bishops, like religious liberty, and help out as best they can.

He called this giving “surprising support”: the center-left ought to help the bishops on the HHS contraceptive mandate, but only with respect to the narrow religious exemption. They could help the bishops on Christian persecution around the world and assist in navigating the Church’s transition from the global north to the global south.

Then Allen added something that made Nixon stumble – and rightly so. Allen wrote that, “Once upon a time, when the tone-setting camp among the bishops came out of center-left circles, it was the conservatives and the center-right that had to be intentional about building relationships. Today the shoe is on the other foot, and showing ‘surprising support’ at least seems a possibility worth pondering.”

Nixon pointed out that, rather than building relationships, conservatives began both public campaigns against positions taken by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and, perhaps more importantly, these roughnecks began regular trips to Rome to whisper complaints into eager Vatican ears.

What Nixon doesnt say, probably because he does not understand or agree, is that conservatives had to go around local bishops and the USCCB, and talk directly with Rome, because dialogue is not real for the left, particularly to the left in power. When you run the rectories and the chanceries and the USCCB, you can pretty much make the decisions and completely ignore the concerns of those who may fundamentally disagree with you.

    The battlefield at Gettysburg

Maybe the bishops reached out to the likes of Michael Novak and William Simon prior to publishing “Economic Justice for All.” But I doubt it. Maybe Novak, Simon, and others tried to get a hearing, but if they got a meeting, it is clear their concerns were not seriously considered. Otherwise Novak and Simon wouldn’t have felt it necessary to produce a public “Lay Letter” criticizing the document. I suspect also that Novak and Simon burned up transatlantic phone lines and lots of jet fuel back and forth to Rome, too. And God bless them for it.

Nixon has it right that the conservatives did not offer “surprising support.” They fought back and largely won the argument. This highlights that not only was there a lack of dialogue, but a profound disconnect between the center-left in America and the home office in Rome.

The most interesting thing in Nixon’s piece is where he writes of surrender:

Am I suggesting, then, that “center left” Catholics should adopt the bare-knuckled tactics of their conservative counterparts rather than the dialogue favored by Allen? I am not, for the simple reason that I can’t imagine it being effective.  Nor, however, can I imagine Allen’s approach yielding any substantive benefits for the center left.  The truth is that, like the South after Gettysburg, the left has been defeated and little is left but to negotiate the terms of its surrender.

Linger over that for just a moment: “The truth is that, like the South after Gettysburg, the left has been defeated and little is left but to negotiate the terms of its surrender.” Who would have thought back in the darkest days of 1975 that such a statement would ever be possible?

Back in 1998, Chicago’s Cardinal Francis George famously said that liberal Catholicism is an “exhausted project.” He was roundly criticized for saying that. In the intervening years, you sometimes had the feeling that everyone knew that except the liberals. With Nixon’s admission, maybe that’s finally changed.

But how could their project be anything other than exhausted? The Leadership Conference of Women Religious hosted a national conference last month at which they featured a poor creature from Cloud Cuckoo Land named Barbara Marx Hubbard. Listen to her comical gobbledygook and ponder that this is where the institutional Church left chooses to make their last stand. Talk about exhausted.

Should “conservatives” proceed to the end-zone dance? Not by a long shot. Exhausted does not mean finished. It just means tired. They could revive. They will revive. This argument has been going on since the Garden of Eden and will continue until Christ returns.

Even so, while we do not wish ill for any individuals not even nutty nuns, we should be pleased that the ideas that have done so much harm to the Church seem to be receding – at least for now.


Austin Ruse
is the President of the New York and Washington, D.C.-based Catholic Family & Human Rights Institute (C-FAM), a research institute that focuses exclusively on international social policy. The opinions expressed here are Mr. Ruse’s alone and do not necessarily reflect the policies or positions of C-FAM.
The Catholic Thing is a forum for intelligent Catholic commentary. Opinions expressed by writers are solely their own.

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Comments (15)Add Comment
written by Deacon Ed Peitler, September 07, 2012
#1 I have never trusted John Allen. Smart guy but his interests are in who has the power not in truth as taught by the Church.

#2 Looking back over 40 years of American Church life, it is safe to say that the problem with the bishops was their mealy-mouth defense of the faith and their abdication of their rightful role to govern. They deferred to left-wing political types who hijacked the Church and who took over mega organization like diocesan Catholic Charities, Catholic Charities USA, CCHD, CRS and the offices of USCCB. This was the legacy of Bernadin.

Once Catholics who adhered to ALL Church teachings dicovered what was going on, it was almost too late but the tide has finally begun to turn - NOT due to the bishops, but to the efforts of the laity whose tolerance was exhausted. I might guess that the Holy Spirit had had enough as well.
written by Michael Paterson-Seymour, September 07, 2012
I am frequently reminded of something that Maurice Blondel wrote in 1904: “With every day that passes, the conflict between tendencies that set Catholic against Catholic in every order--social, political, philosophical--is revealed as sharper and more general. One could almost say that there are now two quite incompatible “Catholic mentalities,” particularly in France. And that is manifestly abnormal, since there cannot be two Catholicisms.”

It seems that this is as true today as when Blondel wrote it and not only in France.
written by Dave, September 07, 2012
One wonders whether the bishops would have more the more courageous all along had they not been dependent upon Federal largesse to run Catholic social service agencies. The more courageous among them now, and may their number increase, seem quite willing to close down agencies rather than cross the last moral line, and this is actually good. One also wonders -- well, we know -- there were bishops who were quite happy indeed support the program of the Left, and wonders how they got appointed in the first place.

But all that is water under the bridge, in a way: Austin is right to point out that the tide has really turned. Marginally orthodox Catholicism lacks power to transform individual lives and societies in ways that cause human thriving, and it lacks power to attract the vocations the Lord and Church require in order for the Church to run as our Lord intended. Young faithful priests and religious, borned and formed during the pontificate of John Paul II, are populating the seminaries, and, increasingly, the chanceries, and the future is bright -- even if the immediate horizons are ominous. Still, even there, as Tertullian taught us, the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church. The new springtime of the Church is upon us, even if the winter be dark, hard, and long. "Be of good cheer: for I have overcome the world."
written by Suzanne, September 07, 2012
I never understood how some people call themselves Leftist Catholics... I don't think I ever will. The two are incompatible. A great article, I enjoyed the last two paragraphs!
written by jsmitty, September 07, 2012
I read this and I can't help but think this development (if true) is 20-30 years too late. The time for social and economic conservatism was the 70's-90's when all the intellectual momentum was on the right and the left was on its heels...out of ideas after the dismal 70's.

Now unfortunately legitimate economic issues are coming back to the forefront worldwide--especially in the US, where we are going to have to debate more and more (whether we want to or not) the effects of income inequality, wage stagnation, and how to affordable health care, housing and higher education. I'm afraid we can't simply assume any more that these are boutique concerns of the peace and justice crowd. And here the right wing has no real answers either.

Like it or not, we're not going to be talking only about HHS mandates, abortion and gay marriage.
written by Jacob R, September 07, 2012
Heartening to an extent.

But I suppose I'm the opposite of the Japanese soldier left behind after WWII who would not admit defeat.
When I go out in society every day it's clear to me that we're on the verge of defeat, but apparently we've won and I just won't admit victory!
(I'm going to keep fighting like I'm Frodo in Mordor because that's still how it feels to me.)
written by Sue, September 07, 2012
" The more courageous among them now, and may their number increase, seem quite willing to close down agencies rather than cross the last moral line, and this is actually good. " No, what would be good would be to keep the agencies open (especially the adoption agencies, the signature Catholic charity) but support them ONLY by donations from the pew.

More generally, the left is exhausted only the sense that they've run out of ideas, but they have not run out of raw power.
written by Achilles, September 07, 2012
Jacob, my fellow gaucho, this one time I am with you, Frodo in Mordor!

Wow! Check out that hubberd video, that was one of the most bizarre things I have ever had the displeasure of seeing. Narcissism dressed up like granny.

I hear John Allan is good, but I always feel slimy after reading his articles and I don't know if it is becuase of him or the insane comments that follow.

Good Article Austin. Pax et bonum.
written by jane e petry, September 07, 2012
Austin, excellent description of the lefts position. Cloud Cuckoo Land is an excellent description of the piece done for the LCWR. I yearn for the nuns of my own childhood who were above reproach. My admiration for Archbishop Sheen grows as he tells us we are the eyes and ears of the church. I believe it is our role to monitor the church and pray for those who are our shepherds.

written by WSquared, September 07, 2012
"Like the Japanese soldiers climbing out of a cave twenty years after the World War II, bit by bit, others on the Catholic left are straggling into the light of day and realizing the war is over. And they have lost."

...the future's so bright, they gotta wear shades.

Speaking of the image of Japanese soldiers straggling out of a dark cave into the light, if leftist Catholics are going to insist on slowly committing theological and liturgical hara-kiri, we should at least pray that they won't take any more souls with them.

Furthermore, is it uncharitable of me to point out that in so far as they lament seminaries being more populated by "conservatives," the fact that they essentially contracept themselves out of existence might well imply that they had it coming, ergo they have no business complaining? You reap what you sow, and I'm hearing an awful lot of what boils down to "not enough of us; way too many of you." How deliciously ironic that in all those years of trying to do an end run around "Humanae Vitae," scoffing at it, and trying to ignore it, it's more relevant now than ever in ways that are painfully clear.

The other parlor trick they like to pull is to tell us to "go with your conscience," but then they fume like crazy when our consciences don't agree with theirs for darned good reason: a conscience has to be well formed; and if the Word of God (note that I do not restrict the understanding of this term to Holy Scripture) does not form that conscience, then what does? Consumerism? Materialism? Political parties? Advertising? One's libido? Basically, anything less than God. You can talk about how deeply you "feel" about something, thinking that that equates to your conscience, but the truth of the matter is that feelings are overrated: not that one ignores one's feelings, but rather that one acknowledges that left unchecked and undisciplined, our feelings can run us off the rails. We know this much during Mass: are our feelings and senses directed outside of ourselves and elevated toward God during the liturgy, or not?

We should, however, thank leftist Catholics to some extent: in so far as the Church in the U.S. went through a real silly season, the Truth may be obscured, but sooner or later, the Truth will indeed out. One either embraces it, or in deciding to reject it, as has certainly been the case with "Humanae Vitae," a Christ-centered liturgy (and indeed Christology, period, for the "Beyond Jesus" folks-- seriously, if we understand who and what Jesus is, where do they even think they're going?) and the Eucharist, there are consequences that follow-- namely that one loses one's faith and one certainly does not know it as intimately as one should. One is faced with Christ either way, and either way, therefore, the Church will win: the Church gets renewed by both drawing the faithful to deeper conversion, and by pruning back dead wood (which is what happens to each and every single one of us when we partake in the Sacraments, anyway). Christ will speak, and not only will He be heard, one way or another, but He will not be mocked. And He gets an "in," and gets His say, so to speak, as soon as Catholics who adhere to *all* of the Church's teachings start asking poignant questions, thus making dissidents-- who think they own "questioning" the faith as well as compassion-- rather uncomfortable. We should view this ultimately as a victory for the Lord, and not primarily that "we win."

All of these conversations also raise the interconnected issues of what Catholicism actually is, who Christ is, who and what Man is, and what it actually means to BE Catholic (to say nothing of what it actually means To Be). These are conversations that are long overdue. One is Catholic because one practices that faith, thereby partaking in the Sacramental Life of the Church, and not because one is "born and raised Catholic" (whatever the heck that means) and has "received all the Sacraments." Since "without Christ, we can do nothing," the latter approach to Catholicism results in one being DOA. And it matters not a jot that you've "been going to church every week for fifty years"; it simply does not follow that you have actually *been* Catholic for as long.

"Allen said the center-left would probably not want to go whole-hog with what they see as the lead issues of the bishops – abortion, contraception, marriage – but that they could latch onto some of the other more acceptable concerns of the conservative bishops, like religious liberty, and help out as best they can."

These issues are connected: those connections are clear enough to anyone who is not pressing that contraception be outlawed, but who nonetheless resents the proposed practice of other people forcing their bedrooms into our wallets while simultaneously maintaining that what they do in said bedrooms is "none of anybody else's business," to say nothing of anyone-- and indeed any Catholic-- who has read both "Humanae Vitae" AND "Rerum Novarum," both of which stress both the dignity of human life as well as the family as the building block of society (and therefore why labor and wages befitting a man's dignity and which do not exploit him and his family are both important). In so far as any of them profess to be Catholic, what excuse do they have?

...and please, I hope none of them drag out the usual dead donkey that "'my' Catholic faith exhorts me to do blah, blah, and blah," because I can smell the snake oil from the other side of my computer screen. I tell you what: actually pay attention to the Confiteor at Mass, and then tell us whether you think it describes "your" (individual) faith or not, as opposed to that of the entire Church throughout all ages. What we pray is what we believe.

"Should “conservatives” proceed to the end-zone dance? Not by a long shot. Exhausted does not mean finished. It just means tired. They could revive. They will revive. This argument has been going on since the Garden of Eden and will continue until Christ returns."

Indeed not. Furthermore, we weren't referred to as "The Church Militant" at one time for nothing. "Church Militant" became such an unfashionable term; I think it's high time we brought it back. Let's keep in mind, however, that we don't fight Catholic dissidents as people per se; just their nutty ideas for the simple reason that bad ideas have bad consequences-- they not only ruin our souls, but they make us stupid. In the venerable words of Dr. Peter Kreeft, they are our patients, not our enemies. They need Christ to doctor their souls as much as we need Him to doctor ours.
written by Thomas C. Coleman, Jr., September 07, 2012
I do not take joy in ruining a party, but honesty forces me to suggest that it might be too early to break out the champagne. In many parts of Europe and the US Mass attendance is low and many never go near the confessional after theier "First Reconciliation." Priests still praise Luther from the pulpit. Humane Vitae is mocked, along with ideas of penance and temporal punishment. The Abortion Party will garner a large part of the Catholic vote. Secular humanists calling themselves Brother This and Sister That will demand homosexual marriage and ordination for women in an "institution" they claim is fraudulent in the first place. Many of us will not see our grandchildren baptized, since their parents graduates of Cathollic colleges, believe that Christianity is a homophobic, patriarchical Bronze Age myth. I wishs that I had better news to report from the front, but from here the campfires of the faithful seem to burn but dimly on the horizon.
written by G.K. Thursday, September 07, 2012
There are two sides to what Mr. Ruse perspicaciously points out here. And Paterson-Seymour's reference to what Blondel observed in France at the beginning of the last century is very apt for the situation we find ourselves in at the beginning of this century in the U.S. For although the bishops and most of the younger clergy have returned more or less to a plainly orthodox Roman Catholicism, there are significant pockets of anti-orthodox older clergy and religious who insist that they speak for the "spirit of Vatican II". I think I know that Dominican priest who wrote that article in America lo these ten years ago personally, and I can tell you he is still a raging liberal. Incidentally, he is regarded as a theological wisdom-figure in the Dominican Order, and is still regularly consulted by the Master of the Order for his theological "insights."

On top of these pockets of anti-orthodoxy, there is a large group of laity whose faith formation has been woefully lacking and who regard the bishops not as the bearers of the Holy Apostolic Succession entrusted to them by Christ and guaranteed by the continual presence of the Holy Spirit, but as churchy bureaucrats equivalent to any other governmental bureaucrat. As such they can be treated with little attention or respect. How to educate these laity about the profoundly serious reality of their faith? How to awaken them to the Four Last Things and get them to take their Roman Catholic faith seriously?

So while liberal Catholicism is indeed moribund and has no future, it has poisoned a great chunk of Roman Catholicism and the poison it still in the system. We desperately need a vibrant Catholic evangelism!
written by Chris in Maryland, September 08, 2012
I believe Dave puts his finger on a very big problem. If it is true, as it appears, that "Catholic" social service agencies are primarily dependent upon Federal money, then the sad truth is - they are not Catholic - they are masquerading as Catholic - and as such they DO NOT serve The Church. This Catholic self-deception is in the process of coming to an end, because the truth is resilient to suppression. The "Nuns on the Bus" from LCWR relish playing the "sister role" on the media screen for the man waging war against The Church, and then retreat to their conferences where they commend themselves for "moving beyond Christ."
written by Achilles, September 09, 2012
Chris, so true- In THe Spiriutal Combat, Dom Lorenzo Scupoli discribes the difference between "being perfect" as is our Father and perfectionis. The false is external and the true is internal. He discribes good acts without the proper internal disposition, a will unified with that of the Father, as criminal. Our sister have strayed far from the path, imagine, "going beyond Christ". I have never imagined something so hubristic in my life.
written by Paul Bergeron, September 09, 2012
There was nothing Leftist about the Confederacy, but look at some of the German immigrants who fought for the Union. A better analogy would be the defeated Spanish Republicans.

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