5 years later: I wish I had been wrong

By Diogenes (articles ) | Apr 29, 2010

Exactly five years have passed since I originally posted the comment that is reproduced below.

At the time, one reader (Gil125) commented:

 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. 

 I would be happy to report, 5 years later, that Weigel was right and your Uncle Di was wrong. But in light of the worldwide torrent of criticism directed against the Pope-- much of it from Catholic quarters-- I wonder.

[The following item first appeared on April 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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  • Posted by: sparch - May. 03, 2010 10:13 AM ET USA

    Cornelius, I think we agree. To use your analogy, our ship is being righted. The changes that seem to be occuring are due to the the perspective of the Church as well as the relitivism of the world. He is setting the Church back to the right course. My point is that he is not making the Church anything other than what it has always been.

  • Posted by: Gil125 - Apr. 30, 2010 6:12 PM ET USA

    So, once again you were right, Di. Unfortunately. (And I'm still around to acknowledge it. Fortunately.)

  • Posted by: John J Plick - Apr. 30, 2010 5:43 PM ET USA

    If you don't tame the lion he will bite you.

  • Posted by: - Apr. 30, 2010 7:13 AM ET USA

    sparch - I respectfully disagree, if I understand you correctly. Benedict has a vision for genuine reform and is implementing it, but when changing the course of a massive ship, the turn is done in a wide arc. To some it might seem like we're moving in a straight line, but we are indeed changing course.

  • Posted by: - Apr. 29, 2010 7:47 PM ET USA

    Distressingly accurate.

  • Posted by: sparch - Apr. 29, 2010 3:47 PM ET USA

    Benedict has taken the veil of the pragmaist. Holding to the precepts of the Church, he allows them to dictate the timbre of his office. He makes no long strides to regress or leap ahead. He is positioned to set the Church right, to define again what it means to be Catholic. This stance has nothing to do with right, left, up or down. It has to do with what is the Church needs to be and how does it serve God.