What is a “neo-Catholic” and why do they hate us?
Let’s see how many people I can annoy today.
(Someone I like and respect recently called me a “Catholic shock-jock” and my head got THIS BIG!)
One of the things that happens when you Trad (yes, it’s a verb now) is suddenly a lot of your Catholic friends start being inexplicably mean to you and start acting defensive around you. People on whose side you generally thought you were start saying that you’re trying to be “too Catholic” or that you’re going off some sort of deep end. As soon as you start asserting that, no, actually you don’t go to the traditional Mass “just for the music,” but because it is objectively superior to the Novus Ordo, you find yourself anathematized.
They start getting critical of you personally, and get mad at you when you wear a mantilla or write articles about modesty in dress. (There’s more to modesty than covering up, but we can save that.) Generally, they start being kind of nasty and angry around you all the time and start acting like they don’t trust you. You tell your friends excitedly about how great the traditional Mass is – and often make the mistake of comparing it favourably to their “reverent” Novus Ordo – and you start hearing words used around you like “schismatic”.
Suddenly, you realize that you’re not really in the in-group of your friends anymore. If they’re tolerant – and you have highly refined social skills that let you navigate this mine field – you can keep some or most of your friends, but there will be those who will just flat out drop you. If you’ve already got a … let’s say an “Irish” personality, you’re going to be in for it.
If you work for a Catholic organization, like a diocese or a parish, this can cause fairly serious problems.
If you come from a Novus Ordo Catholic family, it can be devastating. I’ve seen people alienated from their families just for wearing a mantilla to Mass and going to a Catholic college. It was horrible.
If you’re a seminarian or a novice in a religious order – or want to be either of those things – the problems get way, way bigger.
A lot of the time the new Trad won’t really understand what’s going on. It can take a long time and a lot of figuring to figure out. At first you just think you’ve found something wonderful and beautiful and fascinating and important – a great treasure, one might say – and you want to share it with the people closest to you. You don’t understand the hostility. You know that your friends and family, your novice mistress or your spiritual director, are good, devout, serious-minded Catholics, people who in many cases have dedicated themselves to fighting evil in the world. You thought they’d be as thrilled as you are.
When I went through this transition, I was already completely immersed in a Catholic world. I worked for a (mainly) Catholic organisation, lived in a house full of serious Catholics; my whole social milieu was centered around my extremely devout and energetic parish. I had spiritual direction once a week and was seriously considering entering a monastery.
And then a friend of mine started taking me to the traditional Mass. It was offered every Sunday at our parish, and many of the people I knew – some of them among the most respected people in town – went to it regularly. It had the full support – so I thought – of the parish priests and there was no problem whatever associated with frequenting it.
At the same time, my friend started sharing some books with me in answer to my many questions about the Faith and the changes since Vatican II. He had lived through that period and was very knowledgeable. We spent many hours over dinners talking and reading and discussing. Indeed, it might be said that this friend was nearly singly responsible for my “second conversion,” what Trads often call their “tradversion,” from mainstream, Novus Ordo “conservatism.”
At first, of course, I had no idea that the distinction existed. I had yet to run across the term “neo-Catholic”. I remember discovering it in an article on the internet and brought it up when a mutual friend of ours, a priest from a neighbouring diocese had joined us for dinner. I asked, “Father, do you know the term ‘neo-Catholic’?” That evening, a few more scales fell from my eyes and I started to understand why some of the people I knew had been behaving so strangely.
Since then, things have moved along, and I believe that some of the reason I moved away from Canada was the alienation I had started to feel. I think I got just a little fed up with having to edit everything I said and with never being allowed to say what I actually thought. My friend and mentor had died and I found myself in the midst of many confusing and often heartbreaking conflicts. My happy little Catholic enclave had become a miserable stew-pot.
“Bugger this,” I thought, and left for England and my completely delightful and totally non-Catholic relatives.
I had come to realize that being a Traditionalist – unless one went to an SSPX chapel or something like it – meant constant conflict with the people closest to you, the people you really needed on your side, like your best friends and your boss and your parish priest and your spiritual director. By the best of these, I was merely tolerated most of the time.
Of course, it didn’t help to find out later that there were similar conflicts going on behind the scenes in some of these circles that my rather forceful enthusiasm had aggravated. In some cases, I went months without being on speaking terms with people whom circumstances forced me to see regularly. Awkward!
I had unknowingly broken ranks, and was experiencing what people who do that experience. (This was also the experience that confirmed for me that there was simply no way I could possibly survive more than a week in a Novus Ordo “conservative” religious order. I would necessarily be there like a spy or a mole. Hardly conducive to spiritual growth.)
Since then, the conflict comes up again now and then, but at least now I can recognize what’s going on. I think also that having been in this sad condition of Traditionalism for 13 years, and having been very vocal about it in public, the people I know who aren’t in the same condition themselves have learned to accept our differences. I try not to pick fights with them, at least.
But having been through it, and written about it publicly, very often people ask me for definitions, and I have tried my best to explain. But, honestly, I’m pretty lazy these days and scouring books and encyclicals really isn’t my favourite way to spend my time. Fortunately, other people more dedicated and more patient and more methodical have done this work already.
A very useful article is posted to the Remnant website that explains very clearly what the differences are between a Trad and a “neo-Catholic”. You will often hear people say – and you can pretty much picture the self-righteous sniff that goes along with it – “I’m not any kind of Catholic; I’m just Catholic.” This rather transparently judgy assertion, however, is really nothing more than an attempt to deny observable realities.
Those of us who have been on the receiving end of neo-Catholic contempt and abuse can indeed assure their critics that there are differences, and where there are differences, it is intellectually irresponsible not to make distinctions. This is the function in biology of the science/art of taxonomy. Observable differences are catalogued and distinctions made between species because we humans have a drive to understand. Categorization is a function of an alert intelligence. The desire to deny the existence of differences, and refuse to make necessary distinctions, is a function of politics.
The article, “‘Neo-Catholicism’: A Comprehensive Definition on Wikipedia” only lists “Wikipedia entry” as the author, but I suspect it is the work of our friend Christopher Ferrara, one of the great mouthpieces of the Traditionalist movement in the Church, and one of the few people I know who can take a subject like this and not make it either incomprehensibly complex or deadly-dull. (Seriously, the guy has a terrifyingly huge brain… Also a wicked tennis backswing.)
Nevertheless, it is pretty long for the casual internet user, and … let’s see… dear me! thirty-nine footnotes! So I will attempt a summary. There may be bullet points.
If you need to know more details, (or if you also have the kind of titanic Ferrara-brain that can handle it) you can go read the full thing, and then look up all the footnoted texts… and then set up your own blog.
What is a neo-Catholic?
– Neo-Catholicism and neo-Catholic are shorthand terms for a new form of “conservative Catholicism” or “neo-conservative Catholicism” that emerged in the Catholic Church during and after the Second Vatican Council.
– the neo-Catholic is doctrinally conservative
while nonetheless progressive in embracing or defending changes in Catholic practice, attitudes, and theological speculations arising during the post-conciliar period…
It could be said that a neo-Catholic is mostly defined by what he is not. He’s not a “liberal” Catholic in the post-conciliar sense of the greying and wrinkling denizens of National Catholic Reporter or Call to Action. But since no one really takes any of those guys seriously any more, it’s much more important to the neo-Catholic that he’s not a Trad and it is against the Traditionalists that he considers himself to be at war, particularly if he is a blogger in the Bergoglian period. (This is mainly because the Bergoglian pontificate is proving us and not him to have been right all along… and who needs that, amirite?)
Chris.. err.. the anonymous author helpfully provides us with a quote from a 1996 (mid-JPII era) article in the strongly neo-Catholic Crisis magazine by George Sim Johnstone that makes clear the specific ways in which a neo-Catholic is not a Trad.
“The featured players [James Hitchcock, Helen Hull Hitchcock, George Weigel and James Sullivan, formerly of Catholics United for the Faith] do not locate themselves on the theological “right.” They embrace Vatican II,
don’t pine for the Tridentine liturgy,
and support the historically radical ecumenism of John Paul II…”
[HW. This list is not comprehensive of course, but it is accurate and illustrative. Since this article was written, the Bergoglian pontificate has pushed these people further to one side or the other, either away from the position we may have to start – with the SSPX – calling “conciliarism” or closer to the overtly heretical positions on the ‘left’. This is the phenomenon I have identified as “the great clarification”.]
“By any historical measure, the “conservatives” in this volume are progressive Catholics. Until recently, their views on the role of the laity would not have played well with the Roman curia. Nor would their choice of philosophical mentors: von Balthasar, de Lubac, Congar, Danielou — not to mention John Courtney Murray.”
[HW: all noted Modernist and Neo-modernist heretics of the post-conciliar period, with Murray being perhaps the most famous as the principal US opponent of Humanae Vitae] …
“Unlike the Sadducees on the Catholic left and the Pharisees on the truly Catholic right, the “conservatives” in this volume understand the pontificate of John Paul II because they understand the Second Vatican Council. They understand that Christ founded a teaching Church whose doctrines are not subject to whim and manipulation. But they also realize that the Church, being human and organic, has to change. Vatican II was the antidote to the triumphalism, legalism, clericalism, and, yes, Jansenism, that plagued the Church forty years ago.”
And a more candid description of the fence-sitting, preference-chasing, lukewarmist position of neo-Catholicism will not now be found from any among them, mainly since it is a straight-up admission of everything the Traditionalists accuse them of.
Let’s look at each point one at a time.
1) “Doctrinal conservatism” The neo-Catholic is, or more accurately thinks he is “doctrinally conservative.” What does this mean? Generally it means he is a moderate social conservative on issues that the US media identifies as the key political topics in that sphere, often described succinctly as “the pelvic issues”. To wit, he is against “gay marriage” and abortion.
He leaves the topic of contraception alone, partly because (as his love of John Courtney Murray demonstrates) he doesn’t really agree with the Church on it, and partly because it is a subject that tends to alienate his Protestant political allies. In our latter times, he is often quick to deny that his opposition has anything to do with what “gays” do, but is only about the need of children to have a mother and a father. The neo-Catholic’s wishywashyness on sexual morality has left him uniquely vulnerable to political Stockholm Syndrome, protesting his moderateness to an audience that mostly doesn’t care.
The neo-Catholic position, in fact, is more political than anything doctrinal. It was born in the US from the Regan-era pro-life alliance between Catholics and conservative Protestants. It was greatly supported by the “Ostpolitik” policies of Paul VI and later by the “ecumenical” and “inter-religious” “gestures” that were so much a feature – and so outraged Traditionalists – of the John Paul II period.
The neo-Catholic’s “doctrinal conservatism” is nearly always predicated on little more than preference. His embrace of the notion of “primacy of conscience,” that he holds in common with the most radical of the revolutionaries like Walter Kasper, Bruno Forte, Reinhard Marx and Jorge Bergoglio, will tend to undermine any doctrinal position he holds when he is faced, as the expression has it, with certain “concrete circumstances.”
Indeed, the whole notion of “primacy of conscience” as it is currently promoted by the Church’s clerical enemies is internally contradictory and in practice can mean nothing more than “primacy of my personal preference” since its first principle is to deny the authority of objective moral norms. This is seen when his “doctrinal conservatism” crumbles to nothing when he wants to get “remarried” after a “divorce” or his brother “comes out” as a homosexual.
On all other matters, his “doctrinal conservatism,” tends to be somewhat limited and left to personal taste, and will sometimes be used to justify outright denials of Catholic doctrine, like the admissibility of the death penalty or the Just War.
If he is very educated, he will know in a vague way about the Syllabus of Errors, the Church’s longstanding condemnation of the “Enlightenment” principles behind American liberal democracy, including “freedom of religion,” but he will dismiss them as antiquated relics of a less sophisticated Catholic past. (cf: “the triumphalism, legalism, clericalism, and, yes, Jansenism, that plagued the Church forty years ago.”)
He will usually know nothing whatever about the Social Reign of Christ the King and will believe, if he is ever forced to think about it, that it is about the “reign of Christ in our hearts,” which is all he’s ever heard of it from the pulpit. The idea, that is in fact the doctrine of the Church, that all nations must be guided in their lawmaking according to Catholic moral teaching, he would regard, if he ever heard it, as an example of “the triumphalism, legalism, clericalism, and, yes, Jansenism, that plagued the Church forty years ago.”
He will have much to say on “ecumenism,” frequently confusing it with what is described as “interreligious dialogue,” and will have not much idea that his notions have been quite forcefully condemned as “religious indifferentism” by a phalanx of popes and Doctors of the Church. If you inform him on these subjects, he will dismiss them in the manner mentioned above.
His “doctrinal conservatism,” therefore extends only as far as his mainly unconscious adherence to the heresy of Americanism allows, and his enthusiasm for Vatican II will be mainly about that Council’s document on so-called “religious freedom,” a topic that has become a pillar of his political ideas since Barack Obama started bringing the US political experiment to a close.
Anonymous Remnant Author continues, saying that neo-Catholicism is, “…a form of liturgical, theological, philosophical, and ecclesial progressivism that would not have been viewed favorably by Rome before Vatican II.”
It is, in other words, uniquely a product of that Council and can probably more fruitfully be described as the SSPX do: “Conciliarism,” a term that does not bother its head about the increasingly meaningless and endlessly motile distinctions within neo-Catholicism between “conservative” and “liberal.” For my own convenience, I have described this position as “Novusordoism,” a term that is starting to be picked up around about the ‘sphere, to the delight of my wicked heart.
2) The neo-Catholics “don’t pine for the Tridentine liturgy”
I have written elsewhere that the reason for this is that liturgy is merely theatre to him. The modern Catholic, whether we call him “liberal” or “conservative,” thinks of liturgy as a means of expression of personal preferences. If you like giant puppets and guitars and lumbering middle-aged women in leotards, you can use the Novus Ordo rubrics to “express” those ideas. If you happen not to like those things, the Novus Ordo rubrics will allow for a “reverent” liturgy, perhaps with a token bit of Gregorian Chant or some incense. It’s all up to you.
In both cases, the idea that the liturgy must be completely restored to its pre-conciliar form for the salvation of souls is abhorrent to him. Personal preference being the only metric by which liturgy (or doctrine) can be justly judged, the notion that a single form is necessary – and pleasing to God – strikes him as an example of “the triumphalism, legalism, clericalism, and, yes, Jansenism, that plagued the Church forty years ago.” Apparently it never occurs to him that God might have preferences, or that they matter in any way if He does.
He will often loudly proclaim that he “has no problem” either with traditionalists or with the traditional Mass (“Some of my best friends…”) as long as it is chosen only and strictly as just another expression of personal taste. In fact, he uses this as a means of distinguishing “nice” traditionalists from the “Bad Rad Trads,” who hold that liturgy is an expression of the Church’s doctrine and was handed down by God through the Apostles. Don’t you Dahkies dare think of leaving the plantation, y’heah?
For the neo-Catholic, liturgy is either theatre, with nice noises and pretty vestments, or it is politics. In the sense that the Church has always held, until 1965, it is not “worship”. Worship, to the neo-Catholic is entirely something subjective that he brings to the Mass himself. His feelings of “reverence,” his preferences. He thinks much about what he “gets out” of the Mass.
The one question he will never ask himself is, “What does God want out of it?”
3) The neo-Catholic is “progressive in embracing or defending changes in Catholic practice, attitudes, and theological speculations.”
This is more or less precisely the definition of the “neo-modernism” that has been the hallmark of the Catholic Church since the beginning of the pontificate of John Paul II, and it underpins the entire conciliar experiment:
“Modernism is the idea that there are no eternal truths, that truth is the correspondence of the mind with one’s lifestyle (adaequatio intellectus et vitae), and that, therefore, old dogmas must be abandoned and new beliefs must arise that meet ‘the needs of modern man’…
“…[T]he post-conciliar theological principle is neo-modernism, and the theology that is based on it is known as the nouvelle theologie. It is the idea that old dogmas or beliefs must be retained, yet not the traditional ‘formulas‘: dogmas must be expressed and interpreted in a new way in every age so as to meet the ‘needs of modern man’.
This is still a denial of the traditional and common sense notion of truth as adaequatio intellectus et rei (insofar as it is still an attempt to make the terminology that expresses the faith correspond with our modern lifestyle) and consequently of the immutability of Catholic dogma, yet it is not as radical as modernism.
It is more subtle and much more deceptive than modernism because it claims that the faith must be retained; it is only the ‘formulas’ of faith that must be abandoned – they use the term ‘formula’ to distinguish the supposedly mutable words of our creeds, dogmas, etc. from their admittedly immutable meanings.
Therefore, neo-modernism can effectively slip under the radar of most pre-conciliar condemnations (except Humani generis, which condemns it directly) insofar as its practitioners claim that their new and unintelligible theological terminology really expresses the same faith of all times. In other words, neo-modernism is supposed to be ‘dynamic orthodoxy’: supposedly orthodox in meaning, yet always changing in expression to adapt to modern life…”
Anonymous Remnant Author continues:
“Neo-Catholicism cannot be equated with simply ‘all Catholics except traditionalists.’ Nor is it merely a pejorative coined by traditionalists for polemical purposes. The term is intended to capture the unprecedented development Johnston describes: the post-conciliar division of the body of Catholics into three main currents: a Catholic ‘left’ (Modernists or liberals), a ‘truly Catholic right’ (traditionalists), and the new ‘conservative’ middle ground occupied by those who “by any historical measure… are progressive Catholics.’”
This post is long enough, but I think what we have already examined is enough to show the hapless new Trad where the hostility comes from. No one wants to be told he is lukewarm, half-assed, uninformed, compromised and flirting with condemned heresies. Particularly if he has a social or professional stake in being “orthodox”.
And he certainly doesn’t want to be told this by a young punk like you!
Looking more deeply, the more he acknowledges what you are telling him, the more it dawns on him that he must change his position. But rejecting the comfortable “middle ground” would place requirements on him that be believes he is simply not ready for. It would require that he turn down the invitation to the brother’s “gay wedding,” thus alienating himself from the rest of his with-it family. It would mean that he could not get “remarried,” even if his paramour had already borne him children.
It would imply a need to be more forcefully Catholic on some very unpopular topics in his Sunday homilies. It would risk ostracism, condemnation, conflict with superiors, possible loss of jobs and residences. It would require, for instance, entirely giving up on a vocation to the religious life.
And as the squeeze is increased in the Church against the “middle ground” position from above, the hostility increases. At some point, that ground is going to disappear with a pop and a whiff of ozone, and its long-term residents are simply going to find themselves on one side or the other. Until then, the Trad who innocently and enthusiastically holds forth at the parish tea n’ biscuit hour on the superiority of the traditional Mass is going to be the scapegoat for all these fears.
But this “middle ground” is very precisely that which I have said many times is disappearing faster than an ice floe under a polar bear in a Greenpeace video. The only reason it exists at all is a combination of circumstances that were ultimately extremely harmful to both the Church and the secular world. The 1960s – 2016 was hardly the time when the world needed a Church dominated by lukewarm, compromising, friendly Catholicism.
Neo-Catholicism, the “moderate” and therefore comfortable “middle ground” position was designed quite specifically for political purposes that ultimately had the effect of corroding away the very social glue – that ultimately can be squarely identified as Catholic moral teaching – that has held us together as a civilization since the 4th century.
Christ Himself had some rather stern things to say about the “lukewarm,” those who are “neither hot,” (the “truly Catholic right”) “nor cold” (“Modernists or liberals”). Pick a side, people!
However, things are definitely looking up in this regard. I will keep saying until I am blue that the current pontificate (whether it is real or merely widely agreed-upon for these purposes is irrelevant) is having the one effect that was an absolute necessity, and that no other person than Jorge Bergoglio was capable of producing. That comfortable, lukewarm, easy-going, “ecumenical,” friendly, unobtrusive and unthreatening “middle ground” is now no longer occupiable. These neo-Catholics are being forced to choose a side. Shortly a sword will be thrust into their hands, willing or not. Many of them are going over to the true Modernists and forthrightly anti-Catholic forces that are currently in the ascendancy. This is to be regretted, but it is a function of free will.
For the fifteen years I worked in the pro-life movement, I and my colleagues many times observed that the “sides are lining up.” The divisions in our societies, both ecclesiastical and secular, are becoming clearer by the day. In the last three years it has been made abundantly clear that only one kind of “Catholic” will be allowed to function in the Church. We must be either for him or against him.
I find this situation much to be preferred to the English tea-party atmosphere in which no one ever said what was really going on: “Don’t mention the war!”
If we are to have a schism, let us have one.
I think I’m not the only one to prefer a straight fight to all this sneaking around.