Last week I reviewed and commented on the conservative narrative as described by Ross Douthat in”A Crisis in Conservative Catholicism.” This week I would like to continue the conversation by looking at his comments on Pope Francis and his recommendations to conservatives.
Douthat believed that there was no “vibrant, potent alternative” to conservative Catholicism until the election of Pope Francis. “The waning of liberal Catholicism seemed to be continuing, and outside of certain theology departments and the pages of the National Catholic Reporter, the idea that the Church needed constant revolution seemed to have lost its once intoxicating appeal.”
I will ignore his rhetorical excesses (that liberal Catholicism wanted “constant revolution”) and partially agree with him. It is true that the hierarchy suppressed progressive voices in their publications and seminaries. Only NCR and Commonweal, as lay-run publications, were able to be critical voices in a time of heavy-handed censorship. Likewise, only tenured lay theologians in Catholic universities had the freedom to speak and write, which was not enjoyed by their clerical colleagues.
Liberalism did not die because it lost the argument; it was forcibly suppressed wherever church authorities had the power to do it. The weakness of the conservative cause was shown by its need to use power when persuasion failed.
I agree with Douthat, the response to Pope Francis “should be revelatory for conservative Catholics accustomed to thinking of theological liberalism as moribund, frozen in amber with felt banners and guitar Masses and the Call to Action conference. Liberal Catholicism turns out to have been more resilient than the conservative master narrative suggested. It has resources, personnel, and a persistent appeal that were only awaiting a more favorable environment to make themselves felt.”…