Catholicism and the Appeal of Conservatism

Ecclesiology

There are Christians in the world who sincerely believe that if only Christianity would be come more liberal and “with the times,” renouncing traditional and unpopular doctrines and practices, it would gain more respect for its “relevance.” They are wrong, plain and simple. For a skeptic to observe a religion that holds beliefs that he regards as false, that’s one thing.  For a sceptic to observe a religious person who wants to keep his name tag so that it can have continuity with a historical movement, but who is frankly so embarrassed by what it teaches that he wants to water it down, hide less acceptable aspects of it, change some bits to try and make it look more palatable to those who reject it outright, end up with something that the sceptic still thinks isn’t really true, but now thinking that it’s going to look better to an unbelieving world because it’s relevant – that’s a spectacle of a whole other kind (and not in a good way).

I make no secret of my Protestantism, and my grounds for being one are very conservative and old fashioned. But this I know: Whatever additional theological baggage you might think the Catholic church may have taken on board over the years, they are pretty faithful when it comes to not jettisoning beliefs just because they aren’t popular. There’s something basically respectable there: No BS, you accept the faith or you don’t, but it aint changing to suit you. As numerous Christian movements go the way of trying to change in the mistaken belief that it will help their survival, disillusioned members of those movements may quite understandably look to Catholicism for a contrast.

The Pope knows this. He, like plenty of other Catholics, Anglicans, and Christians in general, knows that Anglicanism isn’t what it used to be. The current Archbishop of Canterbury, along with numerous changes (or perhaps reductions) in belief and practice in recent decades, are testimony to a liberal shift in a movement that is experimenting with survival tactics. Individual congregations do provide welcome exceptions, yes, and I don’t want to overlook that. But an an official level, it aint pretty. This is an opportunity for Catholicism, and they aren’t missing it.

The Church of England may see a “flood” of traditionalist members moving to the Roman Catholic Church following an offer by Pope Benedict XVI to welcome Anglican priests and worshippers, a religious group said.

The Vatican said yesterday it has set up a special structure to integrate Anglicans and enable the faith’s married priests to become Catholic clerics.

“It could well be a flood, provided the terms and conditions are favorable,” said Stephen Parkinson, director of the Anglican traditionalist group Forward in Faith. As many as 1,000 priests could convert, he said today in a telephone interview. “We haven’t seen the fine print yet.”

The offer may be the most important step toward unity between the two churches since they split in 1534 over Pope Clement VII’s refusal to grant King Henry VIII an annulment to his marriage. Traditionalist Anglicans have threatened to quit their church over the ordination of female bishops and acceptance of homosexual bishops and same-sex unions.

The Vatican’s new structure for Anglicans, dubbed “personal ordinariates,” would allow married Anglican clergymen to be ordained as Catholic priests, though not as bishops.

SOURCE

It’s not only a very smart move, but also one that will improve the priesthood by reintroducing the existence of married priests (the unwarranted prohibition on marriage among priests has, I am certain, contributed to way too many scandals in the church). It’s not a change in policy on clerical marriage, but it’s a start.

It’s official. Se the Vatican’s statement HERE.

(See also the discussion on this over at Being Frank.)

Glenn Peoples

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{ 18 comments… add one }

  • Tuckster November 6, 2009, 12:34 pm

    Whatever theological baggage you might think the Catholic church may have taken on board over the years, they are pretty faithful when it comes to not jettisoning beliefs just because they aren’t popular.

    This is the one thing that consistently gives me a nagging feeling of ‘Gee, maybe there’s something to the RCC’, even though intellectually I disagree with some of the doctrine. They have their moral theology down pat.

  • Glenn November 6, 2009, 12:42 pm

    Well they aren’t the only ones. There are liberal catholics and liberal Reformed folk, but I’d say the moral tradition of Reformed Christianity is pretty sparkling :)

    Interestingly, it’s primarily the traditional mainstream Protestant churches that once had (or even still have) state affiliation that are falling into the liberal trap that Anglicanism is riddled with.

    Take that, antidisestablishmentarianism.

    I cannot believe that I was actually looking for the correct word to use, and that was it! That’s the first time I’ve ever naturally used it.

    (On second thoughts, Methodism is in that group too and it never had state affiliation … but too late, I used the word and there’s no way I’m changing it now!)

  • Glenn November 6, 2009, 2:35 pm

    Having said the above – I don’t know if I agree with the assessment that Catholicism has its “moral theology down pat.” I support the death penalty in some cases, the RCC, as far as I know, no longer does. I’m a bit of a freemarket capitalist type, I get the impression that they’re not so inclined, I think contraception is permissible, they say it’s not. As on the liberal/conservative spectrum, they are (at the official level anyway) on the right side of the fence. :)

  • Ozy Mandias November 6, 2009, 10:17 pm

    Great post Glen. I work in a Catholic school and admire the stance of the Catholic Church on many of the moral issues.

  • D Bnonn Tennant November 7, 2009, 11:31 am

    How about their stance on covering up how some of their priests routinely sexually abuse small children?

  • Glenn November 7, 2009, 2:37 pm

    Dom, I hardly think that could be fairly called part of their moral theology! In fact that’s really no part of their theology at all. In fact, I believe that in spite of their failure to live up to their stance, their stance is actually to not protect priests who do that.

  • Shawn November 7, 2009, 3:32 pm

    “Whatever theological baggage you might think the Catholic church may have taken on board over the years, they are pretty faithful when it comes to not jettisoning beliefs just because they aren’t popular.”

    That really depends on pov though. Traditionalist Catholics would argue that jettisoning is exactly what happenned at Vatican 2.
    I understand the appeal though, having once been a Catholic convert. Nevertheless Catholicism in NZ at the parish level is fat too left wing (if not exactly liberal) for me.

  • Glenn November 7, 2009, 7:09 pm

    Shawn, I know what you mean. The political side of Catholicism is pretty sad.

    Interesting point about Vatican 2. Perhaps the thing to say is that the Church is not terribly inclined to cave in to secular pressure. I look at Vatican 2 as an attempt to strip away some of the extra theological baggage that the church was admitting it had accumulated. It’s awkward to do that when the statements of the earlier councils that added that baggage to the faith are supposed to be “irreformable,” but Vatican 2 was just that, a theological reform, done for what I take to be theological reasons.

  • iambobthebuilder November 7, 2009, 8:34 pm

    Vatican 2.0? :)

  • Shawn November 7, 2009, 9:55 pm

    Glenn, thats a fair point about the RC church not being prone to secular pressure. Sadly, so many churches today are. Even in Evangelical circles I am starting to see the same slow but sure caving in to issues like “gay rights”. It’s repackaged as “refocusing on social justice instead of family values”, but its the same cancerous process.

  • Tuckster November 9, 2009, 5:47 am

    Even in Evangelical circles I am starting to see the same slow but sure caving in to issues like “gay rights”.

    Are you really? I do find that surprising.

    And Glenn:

    Having said the above – I don’t know if I agree with the assessment that Catholicism has its “moral theology down pat.” I support the death penalty in some cases, the RCC, as far as I know, no longer does. I’m a bit of a freemarket capitalist type, I get the impression that they’re not so inclined, I think contraception is permissible, they say it’s not.

    Well, I know your stance on some of those issues; my views have been changing a bit, though, and may not be the same as yours now. With respect to the RCC’s role in this change, maybe I would put it something like this: the fact that they won’t compromise on key issues makes me re-evaluate whether they might also be right about others.

  • Glenn November 9, 2009, 3:15 pm

    Tuck, well you know that the Catholic Church did once support the death penalty, so if their refusal to compromise is a good thing, that’s a black spot against them.

  • ZenTiger November 10, 2009, 12:22 am

    The Catholic Church does not preclude the death penalty. The American bishops are not the Pope.

    However, John Paul II argued that the need to exercise the death penalty, in a modern democracy should be extremely rare.

    Unfortunately, many Catholics who identify as Catholics don’t much care for Catholic Theology, and come up with their own interpretations. It’s a pity, because reading into it more deeply can reveal some surprising insights.

  • Glenn November 10, 2009, 10:03 am

    What do you call it whent he church (the body) teaches something that conflicts with the Pope?

    The reason I ask is that on a practical level I find it frustrating to be told “the church doesn’t teach…” When the actual church does, but the official mouthpiece of the church does not.

  • Cedric November 10, 2009, 10:34 pm

    We call it lazy Catholicism! The “actual” church is not always up with the official teaching, and the above death penalty example is classic. I call it lazy, because anyone can go striaght to one place to get the 411 on any Catholic teaching from sorcery to sandals from the universal Catechism of the Catholic Church, here…
    http://www.scborromeo.org/ccc.htm
    type in celibacy, and it explains that the Pope hasnt “reintroduced the married priesthood” to get bums on seats, married priests have been around since day dot, http://www.scborromeo.org/ccc/para/1580.htm
    BTW, great blog!

  • Lucia Maria November 13, 2009, 10:47 am

    Glenn,

    Cedric is right – it is lazy Catholicism, but that doesn’t really answer your question.

    The problem is that Bishops acting together in a way that conflicts with the Magisterium means that the Bishops at that point are outside of the teaching of the Church, which always goes back to the Magisterium. The Pope is able to add to the teaching of the Church and when talking on faith and morals, cannot err. Unfortunately, Bishops can err.

    We do not consider the Church to be a democracy – if She were, She would have fallen to Arianism centuries ago.

    For more, have a read of this article : What is the Magisterium.

  • Glenn November 13, 2009, 11:28 am

    Well yeah, I know the role of the Magisterium. What I’m pondering, however, is how useful it is to sy “the Church teaches….” if all we mean is “the magisterium teaches.” Maybe we ought to say something like “the chuch is supposed to teach x, but unfortunately it doesn’t.”

  • Lucia Maria November 13, 2009, 1:51 pm

    I suppose it comes back to what we mean by “church”. When I say “church”, I mean a building, and when I say “Church”, I mean the Bride of Christ that came into being when Our Lord died on the cross. The Magisterium is merely Her teaching office.

    But then, when you talk to me, you are talking to a Catholic. I understand that Protestants have a different understanding of what “Church” means. As do dissident Catholics.

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