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the reckoning

By Diogenes (articles ) | Apr 29, 2005

George Weigel argues that Ratzinger's election signifies the twilight of Catholic progressivism:

It was expected that the Catholic Church would, indeed must, take the path of accommodation: that has been the central assumption of what's typically called "progressive" Catholicism. That assumption has now been decisively and definitively refuted. The "progressive" project is over -- not because its intentions were malign, but because it posed an ultimately boring question: how little can I believe, and how little can I do, and still remain a Catholic?

I'm not as sanguine as Weigel regarding the intentions of progressivists. After all, they haven't been low-profile churchmice quietly pleading for a live-and-let-live Catholicism. Though the now-comic 1960s culture of flowers and folk music may incline us to view them as harmless sentimentalists, they were and are revolutionaries, out to replace the old order with a new one of their own devising. Think of the way they've taken over most theology departments, some seminaries, some diocesan RE offices, and occasionally entire religious congregations. Think of the way they've used the shibboleth issues (contraception, women's ordination, gay rights, inclusive language) to hire and promote ideological allies and torpedo others. Weigel is right that progressivists failed to sell their project to the majority of churchgoers, and right that religious minimalism had much to do with this failure. But most of us probably know a seminarian or grad student or lay volunteer who, in spite of his good will and because of his orthodoxy, found himself unemployed and unemployable before he knew what hit him.

For the same reasons I don't expect progressivists to shrug and gracefully fade off the scene. What's at stake is not a failed literary review, but the meaning of their entire life. In the Bolshevik revolution, the young firebrands of 1910 did not cede authority to the young firebrands of 1980; once having seized power, they couldn't relinguish it, and kept a white-knuckle grip on the Party until it was loosened by clogged arteries. So too in the post-Conciliar Catholic putsch, the angry young mustangs of 1968 became the angry middle-aged mustangs of 1988 became the angry old mustangs of today. Only in the case of gay politics have younger men risen to form a wary alliance with the Humanae vitae dissenters. I agree with Weigel that their future is as bright as one would expect for a movement infatuated with sterility.

Remember too that mainstream Catholic liberals, largely through moral weakness, have blood on their hands -- at least via political complicity, when not in gruesome fact. Once they threw in their lot with contraception in 1968, the pressure to give a green light to abortion after Roe vs. Wade in 1973 proved too great to resist. This was a flat contradiction of their professed concern for the voiceless, of course, so, being good revolutionaries, they had to change their ideology to justify retrospectively their own history of blood-letting. That's why Catholic liberals detest any and all mention of abortion: it reminds them of their betrayal of the sole element of nobility in the progressivist project.

"Weak men are apt to be cruel," said Lord Halifax, "because they stick at nothing that may repair the ill effect of their mistakes." The ad hoc acts of injustice perpetrated in seminaries and theology departments -- rejections, firings, demotions -- were for the most part tactical cruelties necessitated by the dynamics of revolution: with 40 million casualties behind you, there's no stopping, and there's no going back.

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Show 13 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: - May. 02, 2005 11:08 AM ET USA

    The furor was from the public, opraem, not the Vatican. And "neocon" G. Weigel is thoroughly invested in the strong, orthodox spiritual leadership of our better shepherds. I AM from Missouri and our bishop has shown me plenty of the right stuff. We must keep the faith...

  • Posted by: opraem - Apr. 30, 2005 9:16 PM ET USA

    the progressives will be with us for quite some time. diogenes omitted one group still in the thrall of 'the spirit of vatican 2,' our bishops. as long as the vatican protects them, they will not feel compelled to act differently. remember the furor last year when a few bishops dared to criticize liberal politicians for supporting abortion? when we kill 4,000 babies each day, our shepherds are fighting capital punishment with maybe 4,000 criminals dying over many years. go figure.

  • Posted by: - Apr. 29, 2005 10:48 PM ET USA

    Father E you're right. The progressive revolution is an old hippy, Marxist cause that doesn't resonate with young people today who are really repulsed by their elders who hold on to power with desparate cat claws, walling in prisoners like communists. They are really afraid of a free exchange of ideas because they will be annihilated by reason. So they work in stealth, undermine from within, sabotage orthodox seminarians. The real danger is their defection to political power like in Spain.

  • Posted by: Gil125 - Apr. 29, 2005 7:51 PM ET USA

    Let's wait 5-10 years and see who's right, Weigel or Diogenes. If Benedict XVI proves to take his role as administrator of the Church, or PRIMUS inter pares, more seriously than did his predecessor, it is fair to assume that Weigel will win the wager. If not, Diogenes will win, but all believing Catholics will lose.

  • Posted by: - Apr. 29, 2005 7:25 PM ET USA

    Has there really ever been a stop to the "Good Bye, Good Man," phenomenon ? I can name a couple of good seminarians recently ousted for orthodoxy. I suppose all they have to do to be re-instated, would be to bed down with the seminary rectors. Pope Benedict is a realist who sees things as bad as they are. That is probably why the doped-up "liberals" in the land of myopia so vehemently hate him.

  • Posted by: - Apr. 29, 2005 7:25 PM ET USA

    Undoubtedly stung by the obvious observation that the failed liberal project is nothing if not OLD, I notice that Call to Action has taken to posting photographs of its "youth" movement on its website -- the only problem is, the youth are truly young; children, most of them. It's more as though Gramps and Gram took the grandkids for a day, to their favorite progressive cause. One imagines their own children shaking their heads in wonder: why should anyone care about God?

  • Posted by: - Apr. 29, 2005 3:30 PM ET USA

    Most of the progressive Catholics are over the age of 45. They are dying out, literally. I agree with you that they will not be able to recruit because of religious minimalism. There will be a day that there will be no grey haired religious sister advocating for women's ordination, abortion, homosexuality, because they will be dead. They cannot recruit because they believe in absolutely nothing at all. There is no faith at all.

  • Posted by: Eleazar - Apr. 29, 2005 3:23 PM ET USA

    I also agree with your analysis and warning..the "progressives" are still out there..still a virulent threat. The real question in my mind is whether those of us who consider ourselves orthodox have the will to insist that they make that "heaven or hell" choice...to insist that, if they're going to call themselves "Catholic" they "walk the walk, as well as talk the talk."

  • Posted by: Fatimabeliever - Apr. 29, 2005 2:24 PM ET USA

    Those cornered animals need to be reminded, truth or lies, Heaven or Hell its your time to choose.

  • Posted by: patriot6908 - Apr. 29, 2005 2:19 PM ET USA

    I agree with your analysis and warning. Yet, there is something that happened with the death of Pope John Paul and the election of Pope Benedict that took away any edge the self-defining "progressives" had. From the outrage among them and their media allies, it is clear the Rocky I and Rocky II, along with legions of supporters and well-wishers, got in some pretty good blows against the obnoxious Apollo Creed. He's not down for the count, but he's hurting.

  • Posted by: - Apr. 29, 2005 1:54 PM ET USA

    Revolution, revolution,... I think that was a song made famous by the Beattles. It was also Bob Dylan's main theme too. In fact it is the principal theme of the Neocons who propel Dubya. But, wait, don't forget, in spite of some fine work otherwise, that Weigel is also a neocon, not as bloodthirsty as some of the others, but he's made a few dollars from it. Maybe he's decided to stick at something that could repair his own mistakes, unlike Novak!

  • Posted by: - Apr. 29, 2005 1:45 PM ET USA

    Catholic "progressives" are not going to fade into the sunset. Their decline will be gradual. Orthodox believers must strive for sanctity and let the light of Christ shine forth in their own lives. Only in this way will the heresies of modernism and secularism be defeated once and for all.

  • Posted by: - Apr. 29, 2005 1:29 PM ET USA

    A cornered animal is when it is most dangerous and has nothing to lose.

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