“Is Liberal Catholicism Dead?” is the title of David Van Biema’s article in the May 3, 2008 edition of Time. His query, which leads to his assessment that liberal Catholicism is bound to diminish, of course moves me to introspection of what it means to be a young progressive Catholic in the 21st century.
The author contends that Pope Benedict’s recent visit to the U.S. dealt a crippling blow to liberal Catholicism, insomuch as he admitted there were mistakes made in the priest sex scandal that rocked the U.S. Catholic Church. The pope made his efforts to allay the concerns of the faithful, and Van Biema states that liberal Catholics formerly unified under a front against the scandal. He believes that the pope’s comments will bring down the banner under which progressives unify.
Van Biema further states that the wave of change that came with Vatican II was also accompanied by a generation of Boomers more accustomed to questioning authority. While he does not think small liberal interest groups will fall by the wayside, or that conservative opinion will overrun the laity, he does note that the “millennial” generation (that’s us) does not tend to argue with the episcopacy. Our generation apparently either just does what the bishops want, or we find another church.
It is true that Benedict XVI did address the long overdue issue of the sex scandal, and while it was needed, it far from undoes the decades of cover-up. Furthermore, it does not address a multitude of other salient issues.
It is an erroneous notion to think an entire movement would fold based on the pope’s comments in Washington, D.C. Especially when one cannot ignore the many statements made during his papacy. While Pope Benedict XVI has been more moderate since ascending the papal throne than when he was Cardinal Ratzinger, head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (formerly known as the Inquisition), however he has not been unyieldingly moderate, and not all of his words are as glimmering as in Deus Caritas Est.
Benedict’s speech at the University of Regensburg inflamed Muslims worldwide when he quoted Byzantine Emperor Manuel II who said, “Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.” The Pope did apologize for perhaps not being as prudent, however this speech was a step in the wrong direction of solidarity, contrasted with the pontiff of John Paul II.
Also two very important issues within the Church are those of human sexuality and gender. After the California State Supreme Court declared the denial of marriage to same-sex couples unconstitutional, the pope did not miss a beat in reaffirming traditional marriage is limited to one man and one woman, though he did not reference the State Supreme Court’s decision.
Perhaps most overlooked are values of solidarity and social justice, longtime tenets of the progressive movement. This extends far beyond the Bishop of Rome, and includes all bishops. There does need to be more acknowledgment that the whole Church is the Body of Christ. There cannot be a continuation of this stratification between the clergy and the laity.
While the Bishops should be given respect and they do speak with authority, not every proclamation or statement that comes from a bishop, or even the Vatican, carries the weight of infallibility. There are many instances in history where we have unequivocally known clergymen to make false statements. And that’s fine; clergymen are human and make mistakes.
However, as Catholics we cannot permit the exclusion of the laity in matters of faith and morals. Beyond conservative and liberal agenda setting, the clergy and the laity must pursue Truth as the unified Body that we truly are. However until we arrive at that moment as Church, there will always be room for the progressive movement. And contrary to Van Biema’s position, hopefully this “millennial” generation will avoid the sheepish rank and file and continue the pursuit of Truth and justice.