Time to Rename the Catholic Church
It's time for the Catholic Church to restructure and rename itself. It's the only way to acknowledge the schism that has taken place over the last 40 years and is now reaching a crisis point.
Taking a cue from Judaism, the Church should now be divided into Orthodox and Reform camps. The liberals would be known as Orthodox Catholics. Conservatives would be Reform Catholics. You read that correctly. Let me back up and explain.
This would make things like the recent decision by Georgetown University to let Kathleen Sebelius to speak at a graduation ceremony easier to debate.
Kathleen Sebelius, of course, is the Secretary of the Department Health and Human Services. She is a Catholic who is implementing President Obama's health care mandate, which will eliminate the first amendment rights of conscience for Catholics who do not want to pay for birth control. She is set to speak at the commencement of the Georgetown School of Public Policy on May 18.
There has been an uproar about Sebelius speaking at Georgetown, and a defense of the decision among other Catholics.
I am a part-time teacher at Georgetown University. It's a summer contract position teaching visiting high school kids, so I am far from being regular faculty or even that knowledgeable about the inner workings of the school (I also went to high school at Georgetown Prep). But in the three summers I've been there I have learned that Georgetown is not just one university, but several. There are conservative and liberal Catholics on campus, as well as all other kinds of people. Many conservative Catholics have insisted that Georgetown is no longer Catholic. In fact, Georgetown, a school in the Jesuit tradition, is Catholic -- that is, it represents the Catholic Church in America. And the Catholic Church, like Georgetown, is divided.
In fact the Church is so divided that it is now time to give the different factions their own names. I don't mean this sarcastically or with malice; as a journalist I simply believe that it will help us speak about Catholicism in the early 21st Century with clarity. It would also relieve tensions in the Church because each side, Reform and Orthodox, would know exactly what the other side believes in. When Catholics like the Kennedys or Andrew Sullivan or Kathleen Sebelius speak in favor of gay marriage or contraception, it would no longer be a shock or a scandal. Because giving each side their own designation beforehand would cut down on the outrage that often follows their individual pronouncements.
Forty years after Vatican II, the liberal philosophy of 1960s Catholicism has become a hardened orthodoxy. Liberal Catholics are as doctrinaire and dogmatic as the most reactionary medieval pope. They believe in peace (forgetting that the U.S. military allows said peace), social justice (except for the unborn), sexual freedom (poverty has nothing to do with broken families), and massive government spending (even if we can't afford it).
Is there a more predictable writer in America, particularly when it comes to Catholicism, than Maureen Dowd? When Chris Matthews addresses Catholicism on Hardball, is there any doubt what he will say? Has Andrew Sullivan read a single copy of any one of the dozens of books written by Pope Benedict? To ask the question is to answer it.
Conservative Catholics, on the other hand, are the real reformers.
A couple weeks ago I was at Georgetown to hear Representative Paul Ryan speak about his budget. The man stood there for more than an hour and presented fact after fact after fact about the economic catastrophe that is headed our way if the United States does not control its spending. The Catholic left, including both students and faculty at Georgetown, are protesting Ryan's budget. I should note that I disagree with Ryan slowing the rate of growth (not cutting) programs that serve the poor. But he is spot on when it comes to the absolute necessity of reforming social security and medicare.
The reaction on the Catholic left to Ryan's speech was remarkably fact free. There was a lot of screaming about cutting off the poor, but no engagement with the entitlement spending bomb that could ultimately bring down the economy. There has been a similar dynamic in the reaction to the Vatican's criticism of the orthodoxy, that is to say liberalism, of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious -- i.e., the nuns in the Unites States.
The Vatican is trying to reform the liberal orthodoxy of many women's religious orders in the United States. In reading the coverage of the issue, I noticed (I was not surprised) that whereas liberals like Georgetown professor and columnist E.J. Dionne were basing their arguments entirely on feelings, the conservative, or Reform, Catholics like George Weigel were citing facts. The response on the Catholic left was to accuse George Weigel -- official biographer of the pope, baseball fan and one of the most sanguine people I know -- of wanting to ethnic cleanse the nuns.
I'm sorry, but that kind of calumny indicates that the National Catholic Reporter represents not a different point of view, but a different religion. It's Orthodox Catholicism, a 1960s model where argument is based on emotions and feelings more than facts.
Finally, a very important word about Georgetown University. I noted above that Georgetown, like the Catholic Church in America, is divided. This does not mean that there is acrimony on campus; in fact, all I've seen is the opposite. It is a community where people like each other and the work they are doing, and where you can see a Reform (i.e. conservative) Catholic like Fr. James Schall next to Fr. Thomas Reese, an Orthodox (i.e. liberal) Jesuit who criticized Paul Ryan's budget on CNN the day Ryan spoke at the university.
Simply calling the different philosophies by their right names would only increase understanding of what the problem is. It would leave us free to stop expecting the other side to change.