Wednesday, May 23, 2012


Crisis Magazine has a piece on "Liberal Catholicism: Rest in Peace" which you can read by pressing this sentence.

I come from a conservative Catholic family, but I was schooled in post-Vatican II theology and radically liberal Catholicism in the seminary from 1976 to 1980. As a 14 year old I loved every single change that began in our parish including most of all the Mass in the vernacular and facing the people. In fact prior to the Second Vatican Council I use to ask my father why the priest doesn't face the people and what the heck is he doing up there. My father's answer was that he thought it might be good to put mirrors up there so we could see! And then he told me that in churches in Italy, the priest did face the people. I think he was speaking of the Basilicas in Rome.

But I can still remember the palpable excitement I felt that first Sunday the priest faced the congregation and we had cards in the pew with all the new English responses we could use. This had to be around 1965 or 66. I also remember some of our friends in the parish who thought this whole endeavor was ill-advised and did not know what to make of it. I thought they were crazy!

The first time I began to have reservations about the "new and improved" liturgy was around 1967 when a Franciscan sister and two other cohorts helped us to experience folk music at Mass. They said this is the wave of the future! They sat to the left of the altar within the altar railing, all three of them on bar stools and all three of them with guitars and we suffered through it. I thought to myself, "what the heck is this?" At the same time too, the reform of the Mass was coming in drips and drabs and to me, even as a teenager, it all seem like degeneration rather that regeneration, disintegration, not renewal although it kept being called renewal. The priests kept saying that this is the "simplification" of the Mass to make it more intelligible. And then the revised English in 1969/70 clearly was less sacred and more banal than the original English first used in 1965.

Around the same time in the late '60's and well into the 1970's I began to think to myself if I hear the words the Second Vatican Council or Vatican II one more time in a homily I will stand up and say, "Give me Jesus, darn it!" Vatican II's name was mentioned more than our Lord's Holy Name and quite frankly was preached more than our Lord. How did this idolatry come about? I still wonder that to this day. How did Vatican II become the God of the Church in the 1960's. The people written about in the linked article above are the greatest idolators of this false God. And let's name it: ecclesiology, ecumenism, interfaith relations and liturgics. While authoritative, none of these lesser Vatican II teachings are "infallibly binding!" "The Second Vatican Council’s declarations on non-Christian religions and religious freedom do not contain “binding doctrinal content,” Cardinal Walter Brandmuller said at a press conference on May 21."

Then 1968 came and there was the Humanae Vitae debacle and strident division in the Church about Catholic sexual morality as the sexual revolution took hold and all the anti-authority issues of rigidly formed lay Catholics, who produced even more rigid Catholic vocations to the priesthood and religious life experienced liberation from the rigidity of the pre-Vatican II Church and lived as though Pandora's Box was the ultimate result of Vatican II. The most ultra conservative priests and sisters became the most ultra liberal priests and sisters dissenters. What a flip flop! For these religious, this was their adolescence. What was sad was that these religious were in the 30's, 40's 50's and beyond. It was not a pretty scene and from our 20/20 hindsight in 2012 we know that this adolescent acting out was more than just against rigid authority and emancipation from the pre-Vatican II rigidity. We've paid heavily for it in the loss of Catholic identity and moral leadership. The sexual acting out led to many priests and sisters marrying if they had normal heterosexual desires and others acting on perverted desires abusing their unsuspecting victims. All of it though was Pandora's Box opened in the Church and the culture at large, Catholic or not.

I'm not sure liberal Catholicism is quite dead and I won't sing a dirge quite yet and when the funeral is announced I might have a Mass of the Resurrection with "And the Father Will Dance" as the Song of Farewell. But that generation is surely fading away and dying off as the article I link above indicates.

What has replaced Catholic liberalism is Catholic secularism and the dis-connect between one's private faith and one's public life. Our Catholic politicians are the prime example of it but they are not alone.

There is clearly a strong move within the media, the political realm and academia (and Catholic academia) to make the Church, whatever Church, Catholic or not, conform to the secular agenda especially as it regards human sexuality and reproductive rights and marriage. Even the highest liturgy of the Anglican Church which makes even most Catholic high church liturgies in the Ordinary Form look like John Calvin's Church services can embrace the most liberal of politics and radical feminism and still have all the bells and smells. It is faux Catholicism at it worst.

But many Catholics, especially younger ones, are thoroughly imbued with the spirit of secularism and if they have any interest in religion it is for community and relief from the stresses and anxieties of life. They use it like a recreational drug to medicate and placate their depression.


Father Shelton said...

An article worth reading, and an enlightening post, Father.
It's easy to understand the attraction of novelty in the Sixties and Seventies because we all find novelty and the unveiling of mysteries exciting, for better or worse.
But what I don't understand is how so many Catholics from that era have still not gotten over their commitments to these distortions that occurred after, and perhaps contrary to, the Council. Versus populum during the Eucharistic Canon is a dead idea, and Communion in the hand offers not defense of itself in the school of reverence. These practices, in themselves, are no longer novelties, just empty plates being passed on to a hungry generation that asks, "is this really all that's left of what you yourselves received from your fathers?".

Joseph Johnson said...

"if I hear the words the Second Vatican Council or Vatican II one more time in a homily. . " Gosh, Father, you are beginning sound like ytc! I have to agree with you (and ytc), though, I can recall the priest at the FSSP Masses the I attended in law school referring to "our dear Lord" or "our Blessed Lord" in his sermons with great frequency. This was a most refreshing phenomena and threw "the Novus Ordo Church" (as he referred to it then in 1993-'94) in sharp contrast to what I was experiencing for the first time as an adult in the EF Mass.

My brother (who really strongly agrees with ytc's viewpoint) and I got a good laugh at his "VATIKAN TEW!" rant a few weeks ago but he was definitely "onto something" then and you have elaborated the point very nicely in this post!

I think priests should catch themselves and be more conscious of how often they refer to our Blessed Lord as opposed to Vatican II in their homilies. Nothing wrong with a legitimate reference here and there to Vatican II but references to our dear Lord should far outnumber them!

Robert Kumpel said...

Liberal Catholicism may not be dead, but make no mistake, it is clinging to the ropes, taking its last gasps. Its purveyors are retiring and dying and its tasteless legacy continues to reveal itself as a sad joke.

Liberal Catholicism will soon be dead for one reason: It cannot sustain itself. If you don't believe me, look at the Anglican/Episcopalian meltdown.

William Meyer said...

To borrow from Samuel Clemens, I'm afraid that the reports of the demise of Catholic liberalism are exaggerated.

My own parish may be one of those where they are hiding out, blissfully overlooking the fact that new Catholics--especially converts--tend to be very traditional, so the numbers of liberals are declining. However, so long as the music is dominated by Haugen/Haas/Schutte, and there are ad libs aplenty in the liturgy, it seems little has changed in the last 40 years.

So far as I know, the Catechism remains a treasure not mentioned in RCIA classes. The tabernacle is still exiled to the chapel, and those hideous banners still "decorate" the wall behind the altar.

rcg said...

These are the same sorts of people who threaten to move to France if they lose an election. So Meyer is right. There is only one way to be sure. We need sunlight and stake.....

Henry said...

William: "However, so long as the music is dominated by Haugen/Haas/Schutte, and there are ad libs aplenty in the liturgy, it seems little has changed in the last 40 years."

I know what you mean, there being parishes uncomfortably near me just like yours. But this does not contradict the inevitable demise of liberal Catholicism, for in their lack of belief the aging folks (and especially the priests and religious) who maintain these adolescent embarrassments are like the living dead, holding on beyond their time.

William Meyer said...

Sunlight, to be sure, and the stake, perhaps, for some. It's not charitable to say, but I do have a few candidates.

Another of the problems with these uber-liberal parishes--or at least those I have seen--is that they seem at least peripherally aware they are off-course, and that is why they tend to be very inward looking. My parish invites very few outsiders to speak at events, and those few are fellow travelers.

Templar said...

The best thing we could do for the libs is to re-institute the Inquisition. Get them to confess their Heresies and then send them off to Eternity with a purified Soul. It would be a kindness rather than to let them die in obstinate sin.

William Meyer said...

Henry, you are correct, of course, about the aging of these liberals. But I am 63 myself, and can't help wondering whether aging will get me first. ;)

Andrew Berrigan said...

Your mention of he song, And the Father Will Dance brought back a memory. As I approached 8th grade graduation of the Catholic school I was attending in the early 90s, our Church Music Director told our class that we could nominate songs to be played at our graduation Mass. 

And the Father Will Dance was at the top of my list. I remembered it from my early childhood, and the joyful message and catchy tune had always appealed to me ever since then (even though I think I only ever heard it once!). Imagine my disappointment when our 
Music director, with what I interpreted to be a look of distaste, explained that it wasn't the 70s anymore.

But I'd heard it in the early 80s!  Oh, the fond memories I had of growing up Catholic in the 1980s. I don't remember the "proper" church building too well, but I do remember the 
metal folding chairs and fun music that contributed to the ambiance of the folk Mass we used to attend in the basement underneath the church.

Unfortunately for us children, when the new church building was built the basement Masses became a thing of the past. The new church was big enough and nice enough to accommodate everyone. Plus, with at least three different choirs (Adult Choir, Folk Choir, Children's Choir), you could easily pick whichever Mass you enjoyed the most.

What an interesting time it was for our parish. Our new church had an enormous pipe organ (which saw much use), and the beautiful altar was elevated for all to see. These both seemed to be elements of Tradition. On the other hand, there was the folksy music, that wonderful (although wrong, as I would learn from later priests) Easter Vigil-type service we celebrated at either 2 or 4 in the morning on Easter Sunday, and of course there was that cross with the risen Jesus in front of it that replaced the crucifix year-round save Lent.

Oh, and all of us altar servers were boys--no girls allowed (though that may have changed by now).

With such an eclectic mix of the old and the new (although, admittedly, more new than old), it's no wonder I had no idea what "traditional" (in a Catholic sense) was supposed to mean. (I'm better informed now, but I'm still learning!)

As a child of Vatican II and a joyful participant of folk Masses when I was a young boy, I have a soft spot in my heart for some of the music created during that time. Even so, when we (meaning my wife, children and I) occasionally attend a Mass replete with drums, guitar and overhead projector displaying the words of some Protestant pop tune, I look at all the good parishioners around me in their jeans and Hawaiian shirts and I become incredibly distracted. I try my best to focus more on the liturgy and less on these other elements which seem to be taking from it, but it's a difficult battle.

Knowing that chant and polyphony have the place of preference for liturgical music, and understanding that even after those two there are other musical stylings more appropriate for use in the Mass than the folk music I grew up with (and the pop music still found in churches today), it's my feeling that Christian folk and pop is just fine--listen to it in the car while driving home from Mass, perhaps. But stick to the real stuff during Mass itself.

I still love the Ordinary Form of the Mass (especially when done "right"), but my wife and I are very strongly drawn to the Extraordinary Form, and if we had the opportunity, I could see the EF Mass being our "regular" Mass. Considering my experiences growing up, I guess that's a little surprising... but on the other hand, I'll bet it means there are other people from my generation who are coming around to the same realizations my wife and I are.

Kay K. said...

Liberal Catholicism is not dead, it has just evolved to a non-linear form of Catholicism. Non-linear in eithics and morals, where one can be against abortion, but still support birth control... where one can be against gay marriage, but still support the homosexual lifestyle... where one can desire a traditional Mass on Sundays and pray the rosary and Divine Mercy chaplet every morning, yet indulges in pornography, masturbation, and promiscuous sex at night. This is the new Catholic liberal with non-linear ethics and morals, and as the old style liberals die off, this new form of liberals will thrive and grow.

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

Kay, I'm not sure what you describe would be the new Catholic liberalism. It sounds like to me the old Catholic sinfulness. People today do struggle more with pornography and the sexual sins you mention, but I think traditional Catholics still go to confession for these and actually struggle to overcome these. I don't think the "reform of the reform" is about Catholic puritanism or that sex is the greatest sin on earth, although certainly the most common for people. It is about Divine Mercy and appreciating the ideals of the moral life and its perfections that won't happen for most of us until a long stint in purgatory. Perfection will be in heaven.

Gene W. (formerly Pin) said...

Although, the Church may return to a traditional Catholic identity and weed out the silliness of the post-Vat II Woodstock, Progressivism and liberalism will continue to be a menace from within the secular/modernist culture. Wherever the Church and these forces meet, the Church is going to have to be tireless in Her battle. I fear that Progressivism and liberalism will grow because they feed upon self-indulgence, laziness, and narcissism. These things grow from Original Sin, and are well catalogued in Sigmund Freud's writings. Although Freud was an agnostic, he reflects great insight into what we call original sin. He said that, subconsciously, we all want to live like psychopaths. Liberalism knows this, and cynically exploits it. (Kay,you could get a job at the Whitehouse as a press!) Liberalism promises all the sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll you want...a high degree of legalistic/moral freedom...while enslaving you to an entitlement welfare state.
Conservatism/traditionalism thrives on individualism, ambition, initiative, a sense of duty and obedience, personal responsibility, and law. These things take work and they require some degree of self-sacrifice, the sublimating of immediate self-gratification, and impulse control. Liberalism has created an atmosphere where these things are scoffed at.

ytc said...

Yes Joseph and Fr. M, I get nauseated too when I hear Vateken Tew more than once a month in a homily.

It's funny because the only thing I ever hear my pastor talk about in relation to Vateken Tew is how "great" and "liberating" and all other vague nonsense it was. I never hear any concrete qualities or, for heaven's sake, any quotes!

I really don't hate Vateken Tew. I just wish we could change the name for a few years.

Gene W. (formerly Pin) said...

We really like Vatican Two
There are so many things we can do,
Clowns and the dance,
With nuns in short pants,
And Mass is a carnival, too.

Anonymous said...

"And the Father Will Dance."

I'd forgotten that one for years-- and with it memories of school choir-- until you had to bring it up just now.

Gee, thanks a *lot*, Father!