unhappy traditionalists vs unhappy progressives

In response to recent Catholic news headlines, a dear friend mused…

I find it interesting that unhappy traditionalists tend to send letters to Rome (witness the attacks on the Australian bishop, complaints against a newly named French bishop) while progressives unhappy with the status quo assemble and practice what they want to see in the church. This says a lot about our views of church!

It is an astute observation. On one side of the trenches we have Catholics who place all their faith and obedience in the hierarchical leadership (as long as the said leaders are of a traditional mind-set.) These Catholics are the loyal spies for orthodoxy, eyes and ears carefully tuned to spot the heresy or liturgical faux pas. It is their holy duty to record the failings of priests and fellow parishioners. They send regular, carefully written dispatches to their local chancery. If there are no sympathetic diocesan ears, or if the guilty party is the bishop himself, then the accusatory missives are sent directly to Rome.

On the other side of the trenches, we have the Catholics who have lost faith in the hierarchical structure of leadership in the Church. They support priests and bishops of integrity, but will not offer blind obedience based on ordination alone. They believe that the Church is the People of God, and it`s time for God`s people to stand up to injustices and inequality. They gather together for inspiration, support, and to strategize for change. The mere act of gathering will set off warning bells among traditionalists.

The former group believes that excommunications are an effective way of purifying the Church. The latter group does not bow to threats of censure or canonical punishments, as was shown in the recent gathering of the American Catholic Council.

I admit that the above descriptions are stereotypical caricatures, painted with very broad strokes. But it shows the deep theological differences that are present in our Church. As with all trench warfare, there is lots of noise and damage but little progress in finding common ground.

What will it take to cross over this ideological divide?



2 thoughts on “unhappy traditionalists vs unhappy progressives

  1. I agree–the same situation is true in the Netherlands. I have spent more than ten years analyzing the polarization of what is left of the Dutch church in an an attempt to understand the situation from a most unique perspective. After nearly a decade of pondering the subject and only very recently; did I begin to think of the challenges in terms of the 1983 Code of Canon Law promulgated by Blessed John Paul II. I firmly believe that a good place to begin with discerning how to move the situation in a new direction is with understanding the “Rights of Catholics in the Church”, written by one of the leading canonists in North America. It is a clearly written, relatively short book that no Catholic should be without.

    Our parish community is so far to the (progressive) that Confucius and his “universal rules” is on the cover of the curent issue of the parish newsletter while scarely no mention is made of Ascension or Pentecost; the January issue featured an extended article on Martin Luther, and last month’s newsletter featured an article by a pastoral worker title, “Bidden voor Pedofielen” (Praying for Pedophiles). It may be shocking, but it is true….

    Is it any wonder that Catholics in many regions are repulsed by traditional parish life?

  2. I so appreciate hearing your experience of the Dutch church. It`s sad to think of the increasing polarization within our church during these times of crises – at least in our western world. Thank you for enriching the dialogue!

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