Where Was Our Catholic Culture?

As anyone who has been to Rome can see, the Church – in the city that it has so profoundly shaped – has preserved, adapted, repurposed, and integrated pieces, large and small, from thousands of years of different cultures and even whole civilizations, into a rich and humane tradition. Among the various puzzling things about the past three weeks is how small a role that deep, many-hued Catholic culture has played during the Synod on the Family. It certainly did not play much of a role in the creation of the Working Document, which instead relied more on a shallow sociology and anthropology to describe problems and on a thin rationalism for answers to them. And that, to say the least, is a sad state of affairs.

We’re at a lull in the synod process at the moment. The bishops were given the progetto, the first draft of the Final Document, yesterday at 4:30 PM. They were supposed to hear it presented until 7. But I happened to be walking near St. Peter’s at 6 and many of them were already coming out. I’m writing late and expected that there might be some leaks by now, not the whole document, but some of its basic tendencies. Everyone is mum, however, and there are worries that since the Synod committee has decided to issue the document only in Italian – which many Synod Fathers do not know well, or at all – all sorts of serious stumbles are possible over these final forty-eight hours.

While we’re waiting on the bishops to work their way through the text and offer their last round of suggestions, I’ve been thinking about the position of Catholic culture in deliberations like these. Please do not misunderstand. I’m not speaking here of the kind of “cultural Catholicism” that served very well for many years in a place like America. That kind of cultural Catholicism flourished because there was a distinct Catholic community, sometimes called the Catholic ghetto, shaped by certain values and concrete practices like popular devotions and a social life centered on local parishes. We’ve lost that, just as we’ve lost the once saner traditions of our public life (though we need to work to renew both, if in different, contemporary forms). Noxious cultural elements have ravaged them and without such communities of sane understanding, it’s hard for what the bishops are after to get a hearing – or become a reality. When you see how young Italians, for example, are imitating the worst parts of our American pop culture, it’s clear what a plague that pop culture really is. We’ll have a lot to answer for on Judgment Day.

The Catholic culture I’ve been most worried about these weeks, though, is that richer culture, the one you expect most educated Catholics to have been introduced to and to be prepared to apply in a fairly sophisticated way to serious issues. If the Synod Fathers as a body have any great depth or formation in that crucial element for responding to our situation, it hasn’t been obvious. Indeed, we’ve been hearing instead over the course of the two synods now that classical notions like natural law don’t speak to people anymore; key Catholic concepts like sin, adultery, etc. are “offensive” terms. And, of course, this is true in a way since we haven’t even taught ourselves how to understand them.

But how can you counter the deep decay we all see without an equally deep way to heal it? Instead, most participants in the Synod seemed to look at problems of marriage and family from the kind of thin rationalist standpoint of our politicians in democratic countries. Get policies right, listen to people, respond to their requests, and we’ll be on the right path. If that approach were enough, the political process itself would have already solved marriage and family problems. But that shallow rationalism is precisely what gave us contraception, abortion, no-fault divorce, gay marriage, and much else that threatens the future of our societies.

Ironically, this approach is the exact opposite of what Pope Francis and his two predecessors have been advocating. Catholicism in its fullness is not a mere set of propositions, like some secular philosophy or political theory. It must first be deeply rooted in a vision of God and His Creation, which explains to men and women their deepest identity, and the nature of a proper life in society. When that understanding is strongly present, then the more piecemeal debates on this or that question participate in a wholly different set of meanings and a deeper reality than do the kinds of discussions we see on the everyday news programs.

More than a few Synod Fathers from all parts of the globe have complained about the way that the same small set of questions – on divorce and sexuality, for example – drew inordinate attention, serious as they are in our societies. Los Angeles Archbishop José Gomez, at the press briefing Thursday, spoke of a broader cultural stance, a spirituality of the family. How do we provide parents and children with more adequate religious means to confront everyday challenges, as well as the bigger issues like immigration troubles and poverty – and how do we get them the kind of education that allows people to live up to their full potential in every aspect of their lives.

Gomez was introduced as the archbishop who has Hollywood within his archdiocese, and he acknowledged how much Tinsel Town affects cultures around the globe. In an aside that suggested the truly worldwide reach of the Church, Fr. Federico Lombardi, director of the Holy See Press Office, joked that another member of the same panel, Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Bombay – a member of the committee preparing the draft of the Final Report – has Bollywood in his diocese.

Strange to contemplate, but when you think of the influence that those two places exert globally – influence that widely conveys background assumptions very far from Christian teachings – you have to ask yourself why that undermining element, which also exists in television, pop music, schools, colleges, and the media were hardly mentioned in the Working Document, or (so far as we can tell) the Synod debates? Or where was the discussion of Internet pornography, another cultural factor that, alone, causes all sorts of marital problems?

Significantly, the third member of yesterday’s panel was a new cardinal, the youngest among the college of cardinals, Soane Mafi of Tonga in Oceania, who remarked that the kinds of breakdowns common in the first world were not very common among his people – yet – because they still have a culture of extended families. But they see the wave of disruption approaching them via the Internet, like a tsunami.

The Synod seems to have talked a great deal about all sorts of things: but the crucial questions of recreating a vibrant Catholic culture, and spaces where it can survive, were muted. The Church still inhabits some of the richest spaces ever created by human art – literally so in Rome and many other places. Marriage prep and “accompaniment programs” are all to the good. But can we neglect the effort to maintain a richer, more human cultural environment for families threatened by its absence?

  • Tanyi Tanyi

    Amen and Amen, Chris in Maryland. God bless you for this insight.

  • kathleen

    Could someone at TCT write a piece on the Eucharistic Prayers – all of them – currently being used at Holy Mass? My friend and I were recently discussing the Novus Ordo Mass and I lamented that the Eucharistic Prayers of the New Mass were too short and seemed to me to lack something,except for one, and I can’t remember which number that is.. My friend told me that the oldest Eucharistic Prayer is sometimes said and is listed in some Missals used in various parishes. Is that accurate?

  • Manfred

    And Paul VI is”Blessed” and on his way to canonization. Thanks for a great colmment, Chbris

  • Florian

    Oct. 23rd. I keep wondering why the documents handed out were all in Italian. It just doesn’t make any sense. Surely there are many translators in Rome, even among the Clergy…so why hand over documents to read that many will be unable to read?

    • Evangeline1031

      That is why.

  • Fr. Peter Morello, Ph.D.

    Most comments I’ve read about Paul VI speak of him as if he were the Antichrist. They trace virtually every malaise in the Church today to his pontificate. I studied for the priesthood in Rome during his pontificate. Rome was turbulent with communist marches, and Red Brigades violence [knee cap shootings of politicians] and murderous kidnappings. Remember Aldo Morro? Paul VI was viciously attacked with large insulting posters. One notorious defamer was a former Dominican. The Catholic Church in the US and elsewhere seemed on the verge of breaking with Rome. In the midst of this he is my hero. Why? Because in the midst of this he wisely managed to keep the Church intact. And he courageously twice refused the findings of an elite panel of theologians etc. examining the issue of whether the contraceptive pill was acceptable and wrote Humanae Vitae. That document although widely contested by virtually everyone at the time has proven to be most necessary and prophetic regarding the sanctity of family life. Of course his detractors do not recognize this and neither are they willing to give him the least bit of acknowledgement. It doesn’t take much intelligence to acknowledge the moral debacle that refusing to abide to the moral teaching of Humanae Vitae has caused within our culture today. It only requires a bit of moral acumen.

    • kathleen

      Thank you for that, Fr. Morello. Was Blessed Pope Paul VI manipulated by those around him who had evil intentions, and is that why so many things happened after Vatican II during his papacy that were not good for the Church? Also, on another topic: certain passages from Scripture relating to homosexuality have been removed from the current Lectionary, and some psalms removed from the Breviary that are considered too harsh – that happened in the early 1970’s.Why would St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI allow this? I love, admire and respect these popes but I am wondering about all this. I read about the deletions from the Lectionary and the Breviary today on Taylor Marshall’s website.
      Can you advise, please. Taylor is an Anglican convert to Catholicism.

      • Fr. Peter Morello, Ph.D.

        Kathleen apparently there were attempts of manipulation. You cite a very real and concerning omission and editing of several important texts condemning homosexuality from the liturgy. One is chapter 1 of the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Romans that strongly condemns the practice-he attributes it to abandonment by the Holy Spirit of idolatrous Romans-but is nowhere found in its original form in the Lectionary we use for the Mass. There is also the purposeful misinterpretation of the Greek word pornos in the New Testament which refers to deviate sexual behavior inclusive of homosexuality. The liturgical texts for the Mass and the Breviary used by the Church have been structured by Benedictines whose faith is questionable and Church leaders have been weak in addressing that and the truth regarding the abomination of homosexual behavior as Saint Thomas Aquinas calls it apparently for fear of hostile response. Pray for convinced and firm leadership.

        • Fr. Peter Morello, Ph.D.

          I should add Kathleen that the liturgical changes did take place during the watch of Pope Paul VI. Since Vatican II 1962-1965 there was demand by many in the Church for liturgical changes, to the vernacular, for simplification and so forth. The changes and omissions I mentioned above as said were not warranted. I was in the seminary at the time in the US and the situation then could only be described as bedlam. The Church was caught up with change including radical. It’s a wonder I continued to the priesthood. By the time I continued in Rome 1975-78 the situation in seminaries had much improved largely due to Paul VI. He died 1978 and was eventually succeeded by Saint Pope John Paul II who I said elsewhere I met twice and was convinced he was a living saint. The intellect behind much of his doctrinal writing such as Fides et Ratio and Ad Tuendam Fidem were largely the work of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger later Benedict XVI. Ratzinger did much to bring the Church back from the abyss. I recommend for what is still the best translation of the Bible The Jerusalem Bible with commentaries.

  • Manfred

    “…key Catholic concepts such as sin, adultery etc., are “offensive” terms.” I am very pleased with this two part Synod and your reporting on it Robert. As Chris in Maryland points out today, the church (sic) has not been Catholic for the last fifty years and this Synod proved it. The sole reason the Church was founded was to: TEACH. GOVERN and SANCTIFY i.e., to bring as many souls to God as possible. On this count, it has been an abject failure and it must be cleaned out from top to bottom.
    There are rays of hope! The body of SAINT Maria Goretti, the youngest canonized Saint, who was canonized by Pius XII (so we know she is truly a Saint) when I was aged eleven, is being brought around the U.S. to various churches where her story of her martyrdom for chastity may be known and she might be revered.and asked, by prayer, to assist us with chastity in our lives.
    Also. the African cardinals, almost to a man, and the Polish carfdinals unanimously, showed how truly Catholic they are. Our own Cdl Burke, and Abp Schneider who warned that the Church was in Its Fourth Epoch, (after Arianism, the Grest Schism and the Protestant Revolt) will be placed by history as the true lions for the Faith. The real lesson we should come away with is how difficult it is, with large parts of the Church presenting substantial obstacles, for each one of us, with God’s Grace, to save our souls.

    • Fourteen

      What do you mean by Catholic concept of sin and adultery being offensive. Of course, you are kidding, right. What would one use in the place of calling sin, sin or calling adultery, adultery? And, are you saying that Christ teachings, are concepts? You are too funny. Of course you’re kidding.



  • TBill

    Looks like the Synod tried to do too much at once. Reminds me of unfocused committees at work.

    • Evangeline1031

      If by fitting in too many heresies, you are right. Better to take it one heresy at a time. But they are under a time crunch, what with this pope being his age and all, so you can’t blame them. I mean, God may intervene! And you can’t have that.

  • Beatitudes

    I watched Raymond Arroyo’s “World Over” last night in which yourself and Fr. Gerald Murray? were commentators.
    In watching the clip in which Card Reinhard Marx commented on TRUTH. He said: “Truth is a person”. Just before that, he made a statement that knocked my socks off.
    Did I misinterpret him, since neither you nor father commented on it?
    He said: “The Tradition of the Church cannot be closed but open…….find a greater Truth”
    A GREATER TRUTH than what? A greater Truth than the Truth Christ gave us and is found in the bible? If God is Truth as a person, can we find a GREATER TRUTH than that?
    It is so distressing to loyal Catholics to hear such words.
    As you mentioned about children not even discussed, the main purpose of a True Marriage is to bring children into the world. This lack of speaking of children was hardly helpful for marriages fighting contemporary errors of the world, attempting to destroy the holiness and purity of children. This was more a synod for adulterers than for families.
    In throwing Catholic Culture and Catholic Tradition out of the window, what will replace it?
    The heresy of Modernism is upon us. What can we poor Catholics in the pews do to stop this hemorrhage of Truth and twisting it into opinions of those in “power”?

    • Dave

      Please allow a small precision to your comments. The main purpose of a true marriage is to bring children in the world, when God grants them, in order to prepare them for heaven; and to be light and grace and peace for all who are touched by the marriage, whether the couple has children or not.

  • Evangeline1031

    While religious pundits were busy being polite and forming careers, moving steadily up the food chain in order to be more comfortable in life, heretics were busy preparing the stage for the absolute destruction of our Catholic church. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be comfortable in life, I hope to be one day myself, but anyone who works in the area of religion and politics (are they different from each other now?) must be prepared to identify errors boldly, willingly, doggedly, so as to do what used to be called “nipping this in the bud”.
    I have a hard time listening to religious pundits any longer. We all want a civil society. We want some measure of decorum, but the rules seem to be that if one is bold, they are now “strident”, and that begins to worry people, and careers may flounder. So we have a culture where TRUTH cannot be spoken, unless it is spoken in “gentle” and “modulated” tones, and we “don’t want to be too harsh” or “say too much”. And therefore, inch by inch heretics make their way, and here we are.
    The only thing that will help us now is the Holy Spirit, and boldness. Boldness is needed, in great, big, gargantuan amounts. Boldness to call out the heretics and heresies. Boldness to publicly identify the problems. Boldness to defend the teaching of Jesus Christ and Scripture, right back to the Ten Commandments, because these heretics have the Ten Commandments in their eyeballs, and want to change them to suit them, because they CAN DO BETTER THAN GOD.

  • Dave

    “Where was our Catholic culture?” is an excellent question. In this country, it was dealt a deathblow by the Land-o-Lakes Conference of 1967, when leading Catholic university educators decided it was more important to be in tune with the world than with the Church, her tradition, and culture; and then it was off to the races with Catholic “wannabe” academics showing they could be as cool as the other progressives in the secular and Protestant universities intent on tearing Christendom apart. It was dealt a second blow by the Vatican’s betrayal of Cardinal O’Boyle, who, alone among the American prelates, was enforcing the teaching of HV and the censure of dissidents to it until Rome closed him down. From that point on, the “official” Catholic establishment was clearly aligned with the Democratic Party’s secular progressivism, (mis)using social doctrine to show that “we are in the game, too,” and it found itself without the tools and the support to teach authentic doctrine courageously. So it stopped, to keep the bucks coming in. Those of us who try to live and extend authentic Catholic culture have been relegated to the sidelines. For those who complain that the Novus Ordo is at the heart of the problems, I am sensitive to the argument, but: I am a convert who came into the Church seeing that the NO had something — Someone — that Protestant liturgies did not, even though the NO was nowhere near as elegant as some of those liturgies; and I find the traditional Latin Mass hard to understand, to penetrate, and to enter — I always feel like an outsider looking in on the action. So I’m not quite as convinced that a return to the TLM is the answer to our problems — though, if the Holy Father were so to mandate, I would gladly and willingly comply as a faithful son of the Church.

  • Bill Russell

    Was it not moral weakness in Paul VI that allowed him to promulgate a Liturgy which he knew was defective ? And what about his failure to even mention Humanae Vitae for ten yeas after its publication, and his failure to discipline dissidents such as Charles Curran ?

  • Fr. Peter Morello, Ph.D.

    I dislike adding the following. Do we need further dismay? At any rate I will post it because we should share information and discuss matters openly if only to edify each other. Catholic News Service reports today 10/23 that Bishop Lucas Van Looy, Ghent posted a statement saying the leaning of many at the Synod, and apparently, and quite surprisingly at least to me, including Cardinal Peter Turkson is no longer in support of “a Church of judgment but a Church of tenderness including everyone”. Turkson who stood by Van Looy along with Cardinal LaCroix of Quebec said Synod was “transformative.” Taken at face value what Van Looy says effectively ends the Church’s call to repentance. If this as it stands is actually the new ecclesiology of the Synodal Church there will be division unless Pope Francis steps up.

  • J.T. L.

    Robert, I cannot thank you enough for the hard work you have put in on writing these articles. Yours is a voice of clarity but one that also includes tones of trepidation. Again, my hat is ceremoniously “off” to you as a sign of sincere thanks.

  • Gail Ferraiolo

    Fake Religion! Don’t prepare the flock for the end times. How we are going into a One World Political System. How Satan comes to heal the deadly wound. The whole world will worship him instead of waiting for the true Christ. Satan is the antichrist. He comes in peace. He is very deceiving and people who are not taught will worship him! KJV 1611 God Bless

  • Fr. Peter Morello, Ph.D.

    The Cardinal O’Boyle controversy and the 1968 policy regarding enforcement of the teaching of Humanae Vitae on contraception was motivated by very real concern by the Vatican of schism by the American Church. The Congregation of the Clergy ordered Cardinal O’Boyle to lift canonical penalties on priests who openly dissented on the condition that they privately agree that the objective evil of contraception was an authentic expression of the Magisterium. In that context to avoid further protest and division in America the Congregation did not require that priests recant their dissent publicly. This is far from betrayal by the Vatican. The unfortunate result was that many priests refused to recant and laity were led to believe that the issue of contraception was simply a matter of conscience. Clearly if Paul VI was aware of the grave possibility of schism in the US in 1968 and nevertheless issued Humanae Vitae it does not follow that keeping Vatican coffers filled was his preoccupation.

  • Eric Robert Brown

    After watching the coverage of the Synod on the World Over last night, I ask myself how did some of these bishops become bishops? After three weeks of listening to “watered down” and strange ideas that emanated from them, I think not a few should be removed! This is a scandal to the faithful who are loyal to the Church and Christ. I am beginning to think the way bishops are selected needs an overhaul. To prove my point, Edward Pentin reported yesterday that many of the bishops were ignorant of St. John Paul II teachings on the family ! How does that happen? JPII probably picked many of these bishops. The Church is in trouble. Jesus’s promise about the Church and the consolation of the Holy Spirit be our strength during these troubling times. St. John Paul II, Pray for the Church!

  • samton909

    To put it bluntly – the church talks the philosophical language of Natural law, which no one understand these days. We are in mission territory now, and you don’t send missionaries into darkest Africa and insist the natives speak English before you will deign to convert them. No, you learn the language of the locals and tell them things in language they can understand.

    Today, people speak secularism. The Church must learn the language of secularism and use secular arguments if they want to convince people. For example, during the debate about gay marriage, gay marriage proponents said “All the studies prove that children do fine with gay parents”. To counter this with an advanced series of syllogisms laid down by Thomas Aquinas is to bark at the moon. What somebody, anybody, in the church should have said was “Wait a minute. Who did those studies? Were they valid studies? Was it real science or was it junk science?” No one in the church seemed to be able to do that.

    The Catholic Universities, which should have been able to do that, were useless and were basically fighting on the other side. No, the church needs to be able to use church teaching to get a sense that something is obviously wrong. Then they have to use secular science-based arguments to show that the principles the church teaches work everywhere – in philosophy, in Natural law, and in the world of hard science.

    What SOMEONE in the church should have been able to do is make mincemeat of those obviously fake studies. But they couldn’t, because they knew the language of the church – Natural Law, but they could not speak the language of that poor missionary country they were sent to convert.

    • John Stevens

      “For example, during the debate about gay marriage, gay marriage proponents said “All the studies prove that children do fine with gay parents”. ”

      Except that wasn’t true. The “study” repeatedly referenced is, when you go look at it, a beautiful example of “lying by study.”

      Not that it would have mattered much if the Church had pointed that out. Go read the books published about the topic: eminently readable, in terms an educated secularist can understand. But, a secularist will not READ such books, nor will they listen to any arguments that go against their feelings even if they were made aware of such books.

      Reasoned discourse is only possible where a person is seeking the truth, and where said person is disposed to accept reason as a method for finding that truth. The vast majority of the people who support the secular humanist agenda do not do so out of a belief in its logic or reasonableness, but because it confirms them in their sin.