Catholic Culture Liturgical Living
Catholic Culture Liturgical Living

Ecclesiastical Sea Change

By Dr. Jeff Mirus ( bio - articles - email ) | Nov 08, 2010

Stop and think about the most important news over the past few days. Is it that five Anglican bishops are set to enter the Church? No. Or how about a Syrian Orthodox bishop urging Christians to leave Iraq? Again, no. Or perhaps it is that the upcoming consistory of Cardinals will address sex abuse, religious freedom and the liturgy? Sorry, buzzer.

No, it’s our Catholic World News exclusive on the opposition of liberal priests to the reform of the Catholic Campaign for Human Development in Chicago. And the reason this is such overwhelmingly important news is that this outrage by disaffected liberals led by the notorious Fr. Larry Dowling will make absolutely no difference to Cardinal George’s CCHD policy. A generation ago, such an outcome would have been unthinkable.

Now don’t get me wrong, different problems in the news can be more or less important to any particular person or group based on how closely that person or group is affected by the problem. But the Dowling story is a textbook example of secularist irrelevance in the face of a hierarchy which no longer cares to be secular. This is a story of enormous proportions in the contemporary history of the Church in the West. It is also a huge generational story, and I don’t want it to be missed.

Back in the 1970’s, when a rising generation of orthodox Catholic laymen was first struggling to put some countercultural backbone into the American bishops, that generation—of which Phil Lawler and myself were a part—issued sharp criticisms of the CCHD, making the very same points that have finally found a hearing between thirty and forty years later. But in those days we could not get the bishops or their bureaucracy even to flicker an eyelid in response. The secularists (or, in more theological terms, Modernists; or in even more honest human terms, those who were seeking to ride the wave of the world) were firmly in charge, and were part of a virtually impenetrable club.

Fast forward to 2010 and the shoe is on the other foot. The difference—obvious to anyone who understands how the Church works—is that there are now a large number of courageous bishops who understand the difference between Christ and the world. The battle goes on, as the continued skirmishing over the guidelines and results of the central management of the CCHD make clear. Even with the recent reform, problems continue to surface. But Chicago’s own hierarchy, which had been ahead of the secularist curve a generation ago, is now ahead of the curve of the ongoing renewal which is slowly transforming the Church, and with it the CCHD.

Of course the battle goes on, in every day and age. We are not in some naïve war to end all wars; no, to get into that zone we have to die. But my point is that in contemporary Chicago there will be no going back. Fr. Larry Dowling’s efforts—his gathering together of the usual suspects to try to seize control of the media and force Cardinal George and his associates into a hasty retreat—will bring little more than a yawn from the chancery even while it strengthens the resolve of those promoting reform. I don’t mean that we have reached the point at which Fr. Dowling and his cohorts will be disciplined or dismissed from the priesthood. But we have reached the point at which they can be safely ignored. And so these veteran Modernists in the clergy, so used to having their own way, are now going to learn exactly what it feels like to attempt to implement a program in the Church when you don’t have the bishops on your side.

This may seem like a little thing, but it isn’t. Yes, there are way too many Modernists still in positions of influence, especially in the mainstream religious communities and universities. Yes, many dioceses still have grave leadership problems. Yes, there is work to do in far more areas than the CCHD. The battle always goes on. But here at long last those who would betray the Church in favor of the values of the surrounding culture are going to find themselves on the outside looking in.

In other words (and you can quote me), this story is overwhelmingly important precisely because the protesters will make no difference whatsoever. And that means there has not been just one sea change in the history of the Church in the lifetimes of those of us who have lived for more than fifty years but—at long last—two. You'll notice this new change either early or late, depending on where you are. But the secular, Modernist, culture-bound tide is falling now, and it is falling fast. Fr. Larry Dowling’s vain protests are but the slipping and sucking sounds as it drains away.

Jeffrey Mirus holds a Ph.D. in intellectual history from Princeton University. A co-founder of Christendom College, he also pioneered Catholic Internet services. He is the founder of Trinity Communications and See full bio.

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  • Posted by: paul.goodell1892 - Nov. 13, 2010 10:47 AM ET USA

    LifeSiteNews has more info, in an interview with Rey Flores (the now-former Chicago CCHD Director): "Cardinal George – under the recommendations of Auxiliary Bishop Francis Kane, who serves on the U.S. Bishops’ CCHD subcommittee – has agreed to recommit the diocese to CCHD’s long-time policy of not funding groups that offer direct service to the poor, and will also require again that grantees’ boards be mostly composed of low-income people." That's truly a shame, if it proves accurate.

  • Posted by: JimKcda - Nov. 10, 2010 12:26 PM ET USA

    I hope and pray that you are correct, but I can't agree. They will still have the collection this year and still send the money to our enemies! It will take more good bishops to cancel the collection in their dioceses altogether before they get the message. We cannot claim victory as yet, this battle is still going on.

  • Posted by: Jeff Mirus - Nov. 09, 2010 7:00 PM ET USA

    To paul.goodell1892: According to the best inside information I've been able to get, Rey Flores' firing had no connection with Fr. Dowling's protest. But, of course, time will tell if the limb I'm out on is about to be sawed off.

  • Posted by: pauljworthington637024 - Nov. 09, 2010 3:54 PM ET USA

    Deo gratias! Pass the ammo.

  • Posted by: paul.goodell1892 - Nov. 09, 2010 1:01 PM ET USA

    I don't know if those protests had NO effect. They helped lead to the sacking of the head of the Chicago CCHD, Rey Flores, who had instituted those worthy reforms. Hopefully the person who succeeds him will continue the course that he started, but Rey was certainly a casualty in the battle with the forces within the Archdiocese who sympathize with Fr. Dowling.

  • Posted by: 30 year priest - Nov. 09, 2010 11:53 AM ET USA

    Unfortunately, the secularists still reign in the chancery of Chicago. Pastors are little more than branch managers who have the support of the ordinary only when there is "peace" in the parish. 1 year, 2 months, 7 days....

  • Posted by: Contrary1995 - Nov. 09, 2010 9:45 AM ET USA

    And who made Francis George archbishop of Chicago? And who aapointed the vast majority of bishops with backbone?

  • Posted by: Justin8110 - Nov. 08, 2010 6:17 PM ET USA

    The Church is the body of Christ and when the modernists fight against it they fight against Christ Himself. It will take awhile--perhaps a century or more--but the Church will reclaim what it has lost in the last 50 years at the hands of the neo modernists. I'm not even 30 and I do not believe I will see it in my lifetime but I have faith that things will change and this era in the Church will eventually just be a bad chapter in a history book.