Do liberal Catholics love the Catholic Church?
In my view, the answer is no. And I don't mean that in a malicious or pugnacious way. I simply mean that when you examine the true nature of love, liberal Catholics don't seem to love the Church very much.
There was a recent outrage over an atheist-sponsored ad in the New York Times that encouraged Catholics to leave the Church. I wasn't outraged at all. The ad asked a good question. If you don't love something, why hang around it?
Perhaps a contrast would help illustrate the point. If someone were to ask me why I love the Catholic Church, my answer would be somewhat along the lines of the following:
I love the Catholic Church, to quote Chesterton, because I believe that what she teaches is true. That is to say, I believe that God is not a distant and capricious force beyond joy and reason, but a person. Furthermore, I believe that, through the death of Jesus Christ and the gift of the sacraments, the Catholic Church offers freedom. Yes, there are rules based on scripture, reason, tradition and the natural law, but those rules and traditions are intended to bring us freedom. Both through mastery of the self and making oneself a gift to others, especially the poor, one if set free.
On a more personal note, I love the Catholic Church because she helped save my Irish ancestors during 600 years of British tyranny. The Church also came to America and built the communities and institutions that created the learning, prayer, friendships and joy that created the foundation of my friendships and education.
At Our Lady of Mercy on Maryland, then Georgetown Prep and Catholic University, I was taught about how faith and reason compliment each other. I realized that social justice is not only for the migrant worker who deserves a living wage, but for the unborn child.
Of course, there is also the intellectual tradition. I teach a high school journalism class at Georgetown University in the summer, and sometimes when I'm walking across campus or through Healy Hall I feel a surge of happiness and gratitude for the hands that built that institution. I share a Church with St. Augustine, Teresa of Avila, Dietrich Von Hildebrand, Ignatius Loyola and Dawn Eden, to name just a few. I have blessed enough to benefit from the wisdom of Blessed John Paul II, Josemaria Escriva, and Dorothy Day. I am a lucky man.
Yet as Pope Benedict noted in his encyclical Deus Caritas Est ("God is Love"), genuine love is not just good feelings, even if those feelings are grounded in reason. True love endures suffering and he emptying of the self even when doing so seems foolish; genuine love, in Pope Benedict's phrase, "goes all the way to the cross." This does not mean ignoring faults.
There was no one who was more furious about the Catholic sex abuse scandal than I. Like others, growing up Catholic I encountered priest, nuns, and other Catholics who were mean, petty, even abusive. Genuine love does not overlook these things. It aims to correct them, even using shame if need be. Growing up Irish Catholic, shame was a powerful and necessary weapon.
But genuine love does not make faults the central focus of all of one's attention. Whenever I see E.J. Dionne, Nancy Pelosi, Andrew Sullivan or some other liberal Catholic -- or "Catholic Lite," as George Weigel calls them -- answering questions about being Catholic, it reminds me of one of those verbally abusive spouses who can't even contain their anger in public. You know the type: the woman in the neighborhood who publicly humiliates her husband at a cocktail party.
The instant default position for Catholic Lites is criticism of the Church; their answers are never nuanced reflections along the lines of, "Well, in the recent past the Church has made some terrible mistakes and allowed some of its members get away with truly demonic sin, but I still believe in the soundness of the teachings."
Ask a Catholic Lite about their religion, and there is not even a preamble about how much they care about the Church. It's always some variation on this: "Well, I am proud of my Church's tradition of social justice, of feeding and caring for the poor, of involvement in the Civil Rights movement, of anti-war activism and speaking truth to power. I don't agree with everything it says, and I think we have reactionary pope, but that will change."
In other words, I am a member of the Catholic Church because it perfectly reflects my political philosophy. The parts that don't agree with I either ignore, or renounce; indeed, to establish my liberal and secular bona fides, I will lustily criticize the Church, in public, and often. In effect, my church is the Democratic party and the progressive philosophy. The Catholic Church exists to serve my politics, my narcissism, and my self-aggrandizement.
This isn't love. It's spousal abuse.
The controversial ad in the New York Times was spot on. Why are these people still Catholic?