Liberalism in the Catholic ChurchApr 14th, 2011 | By Sean Patrick | Category: Blog Posts
Catholicism is a religion of truth, not opinion. This truth is a divinely revealed truth, not simply one we make up as we go along. Be that as it may, it is no secret that the Catholic Church is beset by certain elements that reject the revealed truth of the faith. It is a spirit that seeks to overturn revealed truth in favor of modern capitulations. It is an idea that the revealed truth is ‘outdated’ and needs to be revised because modern man is, well, modern. This spirit is often called ‘Liberalism.’
What do I mean by ‘Liberalism?’
Liberalism in religion is the doctrine that there is no positive truth in religion, but that one creed is as good as another, and this is the teaching which is gaining force and substance daily. It is inconsistent with any recognition of any religion, as true. It teaches that all are to be tolerated, for all are matters of opinion. Revealed religion is not a truth, but a sentiment and a taste; not an objective fact, not miraculous; and it is the right of each individual to make it say just what strikes his fancy. Devotion is not necessarily founded on faith. Men may go to Protestant Churches and to Catholic, may get good from both and belong to neither. They may fraternize together in spiritual thoughts and feelings, without having any views at all of doctrine in common, or seeing the need of them. (Blessed John Henry Newman’s Roman Address of 1879 as quoted in “Letters to a Young Catholic” by George Weigel)
As was true in Newman’s day there are lay people, theologians, clergy and religious to whom this definition of liberalism applies. This is possible because of the visibility of the Church where the tares can always be seen among the wheat until Christ returns.
When we see examples of liberalism in our church such as homilies laced with dissent or perhaps a nun advocating women’s ordination why doesn’t the bishop swoop through the window like a swat team member and lay the smack down? Imagining such a scenario is rather cathartic isn’t it?
Although it does not quite work like that there are times when situations get so bad that they cannot be ignored. In recent years there have been excommunications of people for supporting abortions or publicly advocating dogmas that are contrary to the teaching of the Catholic Church. There have also been censures of teachers and repudiations of theological works. Here is one such example. Sister Elizabeth A. Johnson, a nun and professor of theology at Fordham (a Jesuit university), wrote an unorthodox book which among other things taught ideas about the Trinity which are inconsistent with the Catholic faith. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) responded with a 22 page condemnation of the work. This is not the first time the USCCB has identified a Catholic book as unorthodox and it won’t be the last. The response is a good read and a look into the mind of the United States Bishops when faced with heterodoxy.
There is also an ongoing inquiry into American religious orders called the Apostolic Visitation which many believe is, in part, a response to various religious orders participating in heterodox ideas.
So, while the response is sometimes painfully slow, the Church does respond to liberalism.
Liberalism may never die out completely but there is hope that the post Vatican II spirit of liberalism is certainly waning. Many studies have shown that the fastest growing religious orders in the Church are those which are marked with a spirit that desires to be obedient to the Magesterium. The orders that treat orthodoxy as “the greatest human adventure” are the orders which are bursting at the seams. Meanwhile, orders which are decidedly liberal are literally dying out. Young Catholic women seeking the religious life are not rushing to join orders where they can dress like they walked out of an episode of ‘Golden Girls’ and do yoga meditations but are seeking orders that are serious in their commitment to the habit, prayer and their vows. The same goes for vocations to the priesthood. Catholic seminaries teaching orthodoxy are finding that they need to expand their dormitories, while liberal ones are dwindling.
In summary, there is liberalism in the Catholic Church, and we should be prepared to encounter it. Because of the charism Christ gave her, the Catholic Church will never lose a single dogma to liberalism in spite of the liberal element’s best efforts. The gates of hell cannot prevail over the Church. To see liberals fighting to influence the Church away from her dogmas is to witness the effects of the war between the forces of heaven and the forces of evil. Liberalism should be expected in the Church that Christ founded, because Satan hates the Church and wishes to destroy her.
So how are we to deal with liberalism in the Catholic Church? We ought to pray earnestly for orthodoxy to flourish, support religious orders that are obedient to the teaching of church, support Catholic schools that are obedient to the teaching of the church, volunteer in our parishes and if we encounter truly egregious heterodoxy in our parishes we should contact our bishops.
Lastly, if you are not yet Catholic and are turned off by seeing liberalism in the Church; know that Christ’s calling of you into the Catholic Church does not depend on waiting until there are no liberals or hypocrites in the Church. And know that the Catholic Church can certainly use you to join the cause.