In the previous post I addressed why Catholicism is incompatible with both conservatism and liberalism. Catholics are neither conservative, not are they liberal. Yet, I tended to focus on political conservatism and political liberalism. What about in religion?
Theologically-speaking, it would be worse for a Catholic to consider him/herself liberal or conservative. As I have stated, Catholicism is incompatible with either one. Conservatives and liberals absolutize. Catholicism is concerned only with the truth.
There are those who call themselves “Liberal Catholics”. These people, true to Chesterton’s words, tend to be concerned with change. Their mantra is “Progress”, but the changes they seek in Catholicism can’t be viewed as progression, but it is regression.
One change many so-called “Liberal Catholics” want is the dismantling of the hierarchy. Look, the hierarchy was divinely instituted. It can not be dismantled or destroyed. It can be altered, so long as the basic offices of pope and bishops remain. We don’t have to have cardinals or monsignors. At one time we had the office of archpriest, but no more. So some alterations may be made, but they are limited.
Another change liberals often seek is the institution of priestesses. Jesus selected only men to be a part of His “inner circle” (Apostles). Only these twelve were present at the Last Supper when Jesus ordained them priests. Neither the Catholic Church, nor anyone else, has the right to change this.
Yet another change liberals are often concerned with making is accepting the homosexual lifestyle. I have a homosexual cousin, and I have had homosexual friends and co-workers. I treat them no different than anyone else, but I make my stance on their lifestyle clear. I believe in treating everyone with respect and dignity.
I don’t blame them for having a tendency they didn’t ask for. All humans have tendencies they don’t want. Mine is my harsh temper. Yet, that does not excuse acting on these tendencies. The Old Testament calls homosexual acts an “abomination” to God. Jesus never abrogated that decree. In fact, every one of His words on marriage and sex indicates Jesus’ belief that both are between one man and one woman.
This is just a sampling of what “Liberal Catholics” would like to see changed in the Church. The point is, change is what liberals are after. Constant, unimpeded change is what they seek. Indeed, this follows from the liberal idea of “progress”. Progress is constant, therefore, we must be constantly progressing!
“Conservative Catholics” can be just as bad. I generally refer to “Conservative Catholics” as Traditionalists. Whereas liberals want only change, Traditionalists want no change. They see every little thing about Catholicism as unchangeable. Every point of view, ritual, ceremony, etc. must remain exactly as it has always been.
This stance fails to recognize that the Mass, administration of the sacraments, various rituals and ceremonies, and even points of view of all changed over time. Although basic parts of the Mass remain, certain elements can and have changed over time. The same with everything else. It took the Church about 300 years to formally workout and define what our stance is that we now call the Trinity! Ways of explaining that mystery have changed over time, too.
There are things in the Church that can never change. Anything formally defined by an ecumenical council, and then ratified by the Supreme Roman Pontiff, is unchangeable. Ex cathedra statements by popes are unchangeable. Stances on issues of faith and morals taken by the bishops while in their respective dioceses, and while in communion with the Pope, is considered unchangeable. Anything, however, that does not fall under these categories, is changeable.
Traditionalists, however, would have us believe that virtually nothing changes. We should keep the old arrogant, superior, holier-than-thou attitude of some earlier Catholics. The Mass must not be altered, despite the fact that the Mass of St. Pius V was itself an alteration. Ignore the fact that the Mass has changed at least several times throughout history. No, nothing may change!
Catholics must not define themselves as either liberal or conservative, in respect to politics or religion. There are elements of the Faith that have always been recognized as alterable. In fact, these elements have been altered from time to time in history. Then there are some elements which are unalterable.
Catholicism realizes the balance between what can change, and what can not change. Liberalism wants too much change. It would have almost everything in a constant state of change! God, however, is constant. He does not change. What He and His Church establish as permanent must remain so.
Traditionalists accept almost no change. They believe just about everything in the Church is unalterable. Yet, not everything was divinely established. Private confession of your sins to a priest, and private penances, were not always the norm for Catholics. Yet, the Irish clerics brought about that change. Oh, how the Traditionalists of that time must have fumed! Especially when the über severe penances were done away with.
Jesus says God is “God of the living”. Would He then found a stagnant Church, as the Traditionalists seem to desire? Yet, God is also constant. He never changes His mind. His decisions are final. Would God then establish a Church which would be “swayed by every change of the wind”? So let us not bother with liberalism or conservatism/traditionalism in our Catholicism. Let us just have Catholicism!
Peace in Christ,
David J. Pollard
American Catholic Solidarity