June 1988

What Do the Dissenters Really Want?

The worldly enemies out­side the cathedral doors are not half so deadly as the enemies within. We are all familiar with the fact of dissent in the Catholic Church. But that fact presents it­self with increasing force and frequency to my mind as a mystery. Briefly, I’m perplexed about the why. Deep down, what do the dissenters wish to do to the Church? I do not speak of the dissenters who seek an obvious personal comfort: the divorced who wish to remarry, the homo­sexuals who want the Church to discover that what they very much want to do is what God wants them to do, the women who want to have one little abor­tion. There’s no puzzle there. The mystery I speak of has to do with what Ralph McInerny calls “the petulant heterodoxy that flourishes in rarefied settings” — the theology departments of the Catholic universities. These theo­logians — constantly sniping at John Paul II, who seems to me (an historian) to be one of the great popes, and at the gentle and courteous Cardinal Ratzinger — appear to be not only denying but attempting to destroy the Magisterium (the teaching au­thority of the Church).

We who came to the Catho­lic Church from Protestantism, particularly from the rudderless Anglican Communion, have one great advantage: we first saw the Catholic Church from afar, and we saw that the first essential mark of the Catholic Church — a sine qua non — is the Magister­ium, the principle of unity. The Catholic Church with that “other lung” of the Universal Church, the Orthodox, constitute three-fourths of Christendom. The oth­er, Protestant fourth in its few centuries of existence has splin­tered into nearly 30,000 separate sects. Without the Pope and Mag­isterium, that would be the fate of what was the Catholic Church. Fr. Charles Curran, with his petu­lant heterodoxy, must, surely, know that he endangers not only the faith of his students, but the Church. Does he not see it? Is he unable to see the forest for the trees? Does he not understand what is at stake: the sine qua non of the Magisterium?

Or do the dissenters, of whom he is the type, see all too well? What the dissenters have for their public agenda is well known: almost every item is sex­ual. They demand sexual equal­ity (altar girls, priestesses), sexual liberties (homosexuals), and sex without consequences (contra­ception, abortion). What a brave banner they march under! But behind these demands is the deadly Non serviam to Christ’s Church. The Magisterium patient­ly restates the ancient moral law, and the dissenters deny both the Magisterium and the law. They will have their own way, even if it means wrecking the Church — all to conform it to secular Amer­ica and the Spirit of the Age. But what is it that these dissenting Catholic churchmen see as the future of the Church? What do they really want? There is some­thing here that eludes any expla­nation ever offered.

They know, these dissenters, that they get their names in the papers only because they are Catholics, Catholics in positions of trust. But are they Catholics? No, they are protestant, and there is nothing to stop them from ex­communicating themselves and joining one of those Protestant churches where only a statement of orthodoxy would shock any­one. But if they left the Catholic Church, no one would give a damn what they said. Do they stay in the Catholic Church for publicity? Or do they stay in the Church in order to wreck it? I know that that is a rough and dismaying question — but why do they stay? If they are, in fact, disobedient and protestant, why don’t they leave and be Protes­tant? Or start their own libertar­ian churches: if Wesleyans, why not Curranites (or Currants)?

The mystery remains: what sort of Church (or churches) do they really want to bring about? They know that the Magisterium is the basis of Catholic unity, yet they are doing all that they can do to destroy it. What, deep down, do they want? To destroy the Church? To destroy the Faith itself, as some of the neo-Modernists certainly do?

We need to know. Can we find out? Not by asking bluntly, for they will plead that they are good and faithful Catholics. But in the university theology depart­ments there are a few token or­thodox Catholics, possibly soft-pedaling their orthodoxy. They must hear some of the talk of the dissenters. Perhaps the NOR could find and enlist some of these — and sifting through the layers of rubbishy statements about the Pope not understand­ing America (I suspect he under­stands all too well), the NOR might discover what the dissent­ers really intend.

If so, the NOR would serve the Church and all who hold the faith by showing us the real and unmasked face of the enemy.

Sheldon Vanauken
Lynchburg, Virginia




Still Sinners

James J. Thompson Jr.’s ar­ticle “Out of the Briar Patches of Divorce, Remarriage, & Annul­ment” (April) was absolutely heartwarming! I am not a Catholic (yet), but keep wondering if I ought to be with the Pope and other Catholics feeding the poor and preaching — especially by my life — the Gospel of Jesus. Like Thompson, I have been helped much by Sheldon Vanauken — by correspondence over the last nine years. I want to meet Vanauken someday, having read his A Severe Mercy three times and his Under the Mercy two times. Thompson “paints” Vanauken just as I imagine him to be: nonjudgmental, caring, and a friend.

I have been separated for two years, with no reconciliation in sight. I came out of fundamen­talism “all the way” to the United Church of Christ. I have corre­spondence from Vanauken about the Catholic faith which makes sense. Still I have some ques­tions.

If there is one thing that would keep my wife and me sep­arated for sure, it would be my becoming a Catholic — my wife is still a fundamentalist.

Should this letter be printed, then Thompson and Vanauken will get my public thanks for all they have done for me by way of the written word. Perhaps I shall meet them both someday. Thompson’s story makes me real­ize I am not alone in having mari­tal problems; also that believers in Christ are thwarted in their at­tempts to seek God and do His will. Still sinners!

Wally Leitel
Janesville, Wisconsin




A Temporal Dualism

I was deeply interested in your editorial on the new encyc­lical, Sollicitudo Rei Socialis (April). It seems that the Pope is chal­lenging a certain temporal dual­ism. In its most familiar version, this dualism takes the following pattern: “This world’s scene is dominated by a single vast con­frontation and conflict — that between the cause of Freedom (led by the United States) and the cause of Communism (led by the Soviet Union). Between these two causes there can be no possi­ble peace or compromise.”

The reality of this dualism is an article of faith for American conservatives and for any fully orthodox Communists who may still exist. (The latter would of course say “the cause of capital­istic exploitation” rather than “the cause of Freedom.”)

To many of us — the Pope apparently included — this seems a grossly unrealistic way of per­ceiving this world and its prob­lems. One can dichotomize it like that. But one can also dichoto­mize it in any number of other ways. These, however, will give less satisfaction to certain peo­ple, since they afford less pretext and rationalization for hatred, bellicosity, and genocidal weap­onry.

The real pattern of good and evil in this world is of inex­tricable complexity. In order to reduce it to that false simplicity of Good Us vs. Bad Them, one must do two things: (1) One must attach near-supreme impor­tance to politics. (2) One must then regard Freedom as the su­preme political value. Either way, we shall be taking a line which gets no support whatever from Scripture, the Fathers, or the de­veloped teaching of the Church.

I suggest that this dualism needs to be regarded as a prime enemy. Its invocation falsifies just about every real discussion: if we desire to think primarily as Christians and Catholics, we shall need to cut right across it at any number of points. At best, it’s a colossal distraction from real problems.

There are some people, not only in the U.S., to whom these remarks of mine will give great offense. Let me assure them they would give equal offense in Mos­cow.

Christopher Derrick
Surrey, England



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