There is war afoot. It’s taking place within and throughout the Catholic Church. It’s a practical schism that threatens to lead to an actual schism. While we should be focussed on the real battle against the “powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil”, as St. Paul tells us in his letter to the Ephesians (Eph. 6:12), we’re overly busy waging war against each other, and against the Church. This war is being fought by, and between various camps; Political Catholics, Traditionalists, and Modernists.
This is the first of a series of posts where I’ll make my best attempt to describe and explain these camps, why they’re destructive to the Church, and why they are a recipe for disaster in a time when we most urgently need a strong, unified, clear thinking Church/Laity. The first camp I’ll talk about here is what I call political Catholicism. I’ll also briefly talk about Traditionalism and Modernism which I’ll give a more thorough treatment in subsequent posts. I’ll provide links to those posts here, as they go public.
The Catholic Civil War
This Catholic Civil war is real. Just as the American Civil War split the nation in two, the Catholic “civil war” is also dividing us, damaging us, making us weaker, and preoccupied with the insignificant, or with minutia, when there is real evil going on all around us, and—very likely—more on the way.
Fighting the American Civil War left America vulnerable to foreign attack. We’re fortunate that foreign enemies didn’t take advantage of our division. As Catholics our situation today is more grave. As the ancient enemy—satan—is inching toward the borders of the civilizations of man, we’re too busy, too otherwise invested to track his movements, to grow in strength and holiness, to plan and mount our personal or collective spiritual and cultural defenses. By being divided, and by wasting our time and resources on in-fighting, we are vulnerable.
At the center of our vulnerability is a lack of Catholic identity. That’s the nature of these “camps” I’ll discuss. We Catholics are largely un-Catholic. We’re nationalists, we’re Democrats or Republicans, we’re conservative or liberal, we’re traditionalists, we’re progressives, we’re this or we’re that, before we’re Catholic. Across the spectrum that means we’re un-Catholic. Consequently we are in a position to be overrun and conquered, because we are everything else before we are Catholic—I don’t mean Catholic by identity, or by name, but by our very being.
Traditionalism divides and harms the Church by taking a position that the Church’s Sacred Tradition precludes its organic growth through time. It confuses the Catholic faithful by imposing a false belief that the Church should not only be bound by Tradition, but should be hamstrung or stunted by it. Modernism harms the Church by taking a position that the Church’s Sacred Tradition has no binding authority, that the Catholic Church was effectively born, or born again, at Vatican II, and that the organism of the Church doesn’t simply need to grow over time, but needs to change with time. It imposes a false identity on the Church and on the faith, and it poisons the faithful. Political Catholicism, which I’ll discuss now, harms the Church by subordinating the faith to secular political philosophy political party lines. That’s exactly what the Chinese government does to the Church and the faithful in communist China. Through political Catholicism, Catholics in the Western World choose to do to the faith what the Chinese government forces on Chinese Catholics.
The first way in which many of us have become un-Catholic is through political Catholicism. It’s an attitude of Catholicity where a Catholic identifies first as a member of a political party or political affiliation, instead of identifying primarily as a Catholic. Their politics inform their faith, rather than their faith informing their politics.
Those in the Church with conservative or liberal political views are at odds, as each attempts to claim the title of “Catholic”, and use their political views to define what it really means to be “Catholic”. Sometimes one or both of those groups will get it right. Sometimes they don’t. But overall when a person’s Catholicity is defined according to their political identity first and foremost, the person exists in a state of error, and what follows progressively are problematic or dangerous beliefs that are guided by worldliness before holiness.
For example, conservatives rightly defend life, pointing to Catholic teaching on the dignity of the human person. Liberals often support abortion laws, and that support is attributable to a gross misunderstanding of the Catholic principal of compassion. Compassion for women, in this case. Pro-life conservatives support the right to life, but, more often, with exceptions. For instance they may support abortion in cases of rape, or they support the death penalty.
On the other side, liberals rightly refer to the Catholic teaching on social justice as they defend the average person, and average worker from the greed made possible by predatory capitalism. Conservatives tend to leave others to fend for themselves, even if the odds are stacked against them. But a liberal’s understanding of the Church’s teachings on social justice is so warped that it takes precedent over other doctrines. They’ll give a poor person a sandwich with one hand, and a condom with the other. The cure for poverty, according to many of them, is to practically sterilize the poor.
Political conservatives and political liberals are both wrong, because neither group is Catholic first. They’re Republicans or Democrats or Americans first, and Catholicism becomes secondary. That’s why they get some issues right, and others wrong, and the issues that they get right aren’t even consistent in their rightness, but go astray with just a little nudging. Their identity is first informed by their political affiliation or political views, and their faith is forced to be a backup singer, rather than the band’s front man.
Catholics need to remember that we are Catholic first. Our faith has to inform every other aspect of our being—our behavior, our ethics, our national identity and our politics. If Catholicism takes a back seat, we may be the ones in the driver’s seat, but it’s the devil who hitches a ride, rides shotgun and becomes the navigator. Be Catholic. Nothing else is as important.
In later posts this week I’ll write more about Traditionalism, Modernism, and plain ol’ Catholicism.
Ave Maria, virgo fidelis!