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, Im 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. Theres 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 Christs 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 dont 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.
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. Thompsons 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!
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 worlds 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, its 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.