Tuesday, July 31, 2007


Rocco writing in Whispers in the Loggia blogspot makes an interesting point about current factions in the Catholic Church. Writing about Benedict XV (who became Pope in 1914) he quotes the Pontiff's encyclical: "24. It is, moreover, Our will that Catholics should abstain from certain appellations which have recently been brought into use to distinguish one group of Catholics from another. They are to be avoided not only as "profane novelties of words," out of harmony with both truth and justice, but also because they give rise to great trouble and confusion among Catholics." Rocco asks if this sounds familiar to anyone.

Of course it does. I read a number of "conservative" bloggers. Anyone who reads such bloggers is familiar with the contempt some of these bloggers seem to have for other Catholics who do not share their point of view. These other Catholics are called by a variety of names, one common name being "cafeteria Catholics". Sadly some of these "conservative" writers even directly attack the character of particular Catholics who disagree with them. I was particularly distressed a while back when one of these authors made a particularly nasty and personal attack on the character of the well known auther Fr. Ron Rolheiser. Now Fr. Rolheiser's spiritual writings often do not seem to reflect the usual traditions of Catholic spirituality but then again perhaps that is because he is not writing to "traditionalist" Catholics but is in fact writing for those who might be alienated from the Church in some way. Anyway, It seems to me that personal attacks like the on just mentioned can not be justified. Of course "liberal" writers would not allow such attacks to go unanswered. Most recently a liberal writer coined the term "neocath" to describe such writers. Naturally by his definition "neocath" is not a positive word.

Now I know that this kind of factionalism is nothing new in the Church. St. Paul frequently writes to urge unity in the Church. In first Corinthians he writes: "10 Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters,* by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you should be in agreement and that there should be no divisions among you, but that you should be united in the same mind and the same purpose." In the letter to the Ephesians he writes: "4There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, 5one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all." So, even in the apostolic era we seem to have had some divisions in the Church. The current factions are nothing new. This same problem also shows up later in the Church of the first few centuries. Ignatius of Antioch in his letters frequently urges the faithful to be united and faithful to their bishops. Now Rod Bennett writing in his book, Four Witnesses: The Early Church in Her Own Words makes the point that Ignatius was struggling against factions that wanted to dilute the original message of the Apostles. So when we have factions one faction might be faithful to "pure" Catholicism and the other not.

I'm not sure how to draw conclusions here. I am probably more "conservative" than I was thirty years ago, but it troubles me that people take their differences so seriously. The Church is called catholic (small c) because it is capable of embracing everyone. People who are baptized into the Church are in fact Catholic. We need to make every effort to welcome everyone into the Church without diluting or distorting the message of Jesus. That is why I welcome the recent motu proprio restoring limited use of the missal of John XXIII for Mass. If doing this makes some Catholics feel more welcome in the Church it will be a positive move. If (as might happen) it ends up being another case of "who wins" and "who loses" then we all lose. We should fight for what we feel is right but a Church that is needlessly divided is a scandal to the whole world.

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