Lesson 6: Conservative Roman Catholicism

Evangelical Christian NationalistsThree weeks ago, I included conservative Roman Catholics in a list of Christian Nationalists. I want to take that back. At the time, I had no idea how outlandish and dangerous these new groups are. Conservative Roman Catholics are responding to the same social changes and also challenge the way our democratic government is trying to handle the new pluralism. However, only a very few of the most radical advocate using violence.

Let me examine what I think is going on by tracing developments in my lifetime. During my high school and college days, my Roman Catholic friends were always talking about their obligation– that could refer to eating fish on Friday, two-minute confessions on Saturday, and church attendance on Sunday. My Lutheran confirmation classes included one explaining that Lutherans should not marry Catholics, because they would be obligated to raise their children in the Roman Church. During college religious discussions, Catholics pulled out catechisms hat contained the doctrines they were obligated to accept.

All of these obligations pertained to disciplines that bound their close-knit community together. None had to do with political positions in the larger society. Throughout most of our nation, Roman Catholics were a minority group working hard to maintain their identity. Even in small towns like mine, they had their own schools, stores, social clubs, and bars.

During my young adult years, my Catholic friends who included many priests and nuns spoke about choice. Against all of our expectations, an ecumenical council was held giving bishops a chance to choose doctrine. Ever since the 1870s, most of us felt there would never again be a need for one. The tension between the authority of bishops expressed in ecumenical councils and popes exercised through the bureaucracy of the Vatican seemed resolved in Vatican I. The Pope was declared the one-man benevolent dictator through whom God worked in matters of doctrine. Once that happened, we got used to hearing papal pronouncements about the dangers of modernism based on Enlightenment principles and that included democratic government.

Now, Vatican II gathered bishops from all over the world in hopes of bringing this church into the modern world. Choice replaced obligation. John Kennedy ran for president claiming his religion would not affect his political decisions. Lutheran leaders purchased a full-page ad in the New York Times assuring Lutherans they could vote for a Catholic. Couples in mixed marriages chose to raise their children Protestant.

During my middle age, the fallout from these changes took place. It became apparent,at least to me, it was not the Enlightenment or parochial communities opening themselves up that was making the difference. It was modern technology that brought new choices enabling people to do things impossible and sometimes prohibited in traditional societies. The world became so interconnected, the walls separating communities no longer held. This new world forced the church to turn obligations into options and many people chose to leave.

Now in my older age, many conservative Roman Catholics are participating in the reaction shaking our society. Some of them joined with Orthodox and Evangelical individuals whom they formerly regarded as heretics to sign the Manhattan Declaration in 2009. It significantly talked of a healthy democracy that it asserted depended on protecting the sanctity of all human life and heterosexual marriage. The signers pledged cooperation in political action to combat abortion, the gay lifestyle, and the denial of religious freedom.

Pope Benedict retreated from Vatican II after student riots in Germany convinced him that the Vatican had to return to supporting the values of a traditional European civilization in which Christianity was the cultural religion. Conservative bishops insisted politicians who did not support church doctrine should be excommunicated. More and more articles in Catholic media called for a restoration of the old obligations.

The American constitution is meant to provide a democracy protecting the rights of all communities. Now, conservative Roman Catholics are claiming their freedom is being denied in the new interconnected world because they are led to do things against their religion. In reaction, they call for grasping political power that enacts laws according to their teachings. The problem is in doing this, they deny the freedom of other communities and sadly this includes other Christian communities who do not accept these teachings.

I traced the development because this seems to be an effort to return to the authority enjoyed in the past. Like the MAGA movement, it tries to make the new world go away but that is not going to happen.

Tags: , , , , ,

1 Enlightened Reply

Trackback  •  Comments RSS

  1. Fritz Foltz says:

    I received a larger than normal number of personal emails responding to this lesson.In general they either were people who had given up on the Roman Catholic Church or retained some hope. I decided to post part of Sister Rita’s, because I think she offers a good critique of what I wrote.

    Dear Fritz, Needless to say, I found this interesting and true, but I was sorry that you ended with the Emeritus Pope and not the current one. Francis has been working hard to bring Vatican II back to life, and his own life has been threatened because of it. And, yes, it is his own hierarchy who are his most dangerous enemies… We simply reflect the country right now and the world at large… Love, Rita


By continuing to use the site, you agree to the use of cookies. more information

The cookie settings on this website are set to "allow cookies" to give you the best browsing experience possible. If you continue to use this website without changing your cookie settings or you click "Accept" below then you are consenting to this.