The Acid Reflux of the Questioning Church

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 Washington, D.C.-based Center for Family & Human Rights (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.