Church for a New Generation

“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.

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About Dick Dalton

Dick is a third generation native of Phoenix, Arizona, and has a BA in political science and a BA in French from Arizona State University. He currently pursues a Global MBA program in marketing at Thunderbird School of Global Management. -- While very local, he does manage to get around, having visited 23 countries spanning four continents. Some of his interests include travel, foreign language, social justice, culture, religion, politics, and writing, of course!

4 thoughts on “Church for a New Generation

  1. I thought the Time article was interesting, but where was the basis for his claim? My experience with our generation has been if they don’t like what the church has to say, they don’t find another church, they just don’t go. It seems young Catholics, aside from us as is case in point, are either conservative and even militantly so or just don’t go to church at all. Maybe holidays. I don’t find a lot of our generation joining up with the local evangelical or Methodist churches, do you?

  2. Rick and Lauren- I think you are both right in that the author made the wrong asumption from our generation not arguing with bishops. Sure, there is the loud and millitant Conservative minority, but for the most part, our generation doesn’t know or care what the bishops have to say. They are going to make their own decisions, and church is a place they go they want a little “old time religion.” Most experience spirituality elsewhere.

    According to the new PEW study, released in February, the author has it right.-Millenials are leaving the Church in droves. According to the study, 10% of all American born people (the majority in their teens to thirties), were raised Catholic but no longer consider themselves such. 10%! The Catholic church is losing more members than nearly all other churches combined, and only 2-3% are going to other churches (fundamentalist/Evangelical). So, what I get from that is our generation finds it useless to argue with bishops and choses to tell them what they think by not showing up to Mass and donating any money… diocese across the country are in debt and it isn’t just from the law suits. Young Adults are protesting like the Church has never seen…don’t show up and don’t pay. Maybe they will get the message that the Church is out of touch and needs to be relevant in the modern world again.

  3. I would like to say that I come from a very liberal background. I have a liberal Democratic voting record. I was in the feminist and homosexual activist groups in college (I am a straight guy, so no personal benefit / motivation to be in those groups other than existensial). I feel that I am still very liberal in a lot of ways.

    I went to Catholic school and lapsed from my faith for over ten years (I’m 29, hadn’t seriously been to mass in 13 years, hadn’t been to Confession in…well probably 20…I used to hate Confession). I only got back into the Church in February after deciding that we would get married at the Catholic church we’ve lived two blocks from for over a year and a half and hadn’t seen the inside of.

    Now a few months later, I am wrestling with those liberal beliefs and the Catholic Teaching. I am attending Mass regularly, I have a bunch of Catholic writings, and I feel as though I am drawing the conclusion that the Church never lost relevance to this world, but the world is abandoning the Church.

    The Catholic Church believes it holds the true deposit of faith, the most complete Christian Truth available to the world. If suddenly it changed an ancient belief to appease a modern audience, wouldn’t it be selling its soul?

    Change is good, and change happens in the Catholic Church, it is slow and not very radical (usually). But there are some things that cannot change, like the Sacrements (instituted by Christ – hello! not even the Pope can change what Christ Himself laid out for us). These unchanging truth’s are the rock we should build our house on. If we pick an choose the pieces of the rock we like and disregard the rest, we will have built our houses on sand.

  4. The point of Church reform is not to overturn the Sacraments… however there are teachings and practices in the Church (and have been throughout the centuries) that need to be reformed. After all, the Protestant Reformation (operative word “reform” ) would most likely not have occurred if not for corrupt Church practices. The Counter-Reformation (again key word is “reform” ) was a direct response to those corrupt practices as a result of the Protestant Reformation.

    Historically speaking, the Church has changed quite a bit, being that the Canon of Scripture changed a little bit every now and then before it became the Canon we know today at the Council of Trent at the end of the 4th century. There were also female deaconesses until the end of the 4th century. Thus, over time Catholic belief does change and is refined (the conciliar movement is a good example. For that reason, reform is still relevant to our Church as we continue to perfect ourselves.

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