Monday, 20 January 2014
Labels of Liberal, Conservative and Traditional; Laity, Prelates and Popes (updated)
On more than one occasion in seminary I was described by fellow seminarians as “ultramontane”. I received the label as willingly then as I do today -and just as easily as I accept being labelled a sinner, since I can say hand on heart with St Paul that “I do not do the good which I will, but the evil which I hate.” (Rom.7:15). I also accept the label Traditionalist, but not the label of Conservative or Liberal (no one would apply the latter to me anyway, I suspect), and while I regret the fact that we engage in the use of labels today, the reality is that we do have Catholics in our pews whose beliefs are diametrically opposed and clergy in our sanctuaries whose teachings are diametrically opposed. They are not usually opposed to one another in their underlying charity and mutual respect (though heated words can stray from charity), but in their understanding and values as Liberal, Conservative and Traditional Catholics. That said, what follows is simply my opinion.
A Liberal is one who seeks to change Church teaching or pastoral practice in order to accommodate the changing values of the world, such as artificial contraception, cohabitation and homosexual pairings. In reality they exchange the teaching of Christ for the theories of Rogers, Freud, Marx etc. Such a person has fallen into moral heresy, abandoning Gospel morality as taught for 2000 years under the guidance the Holy Spirit.
A Conservative is one who is loyal to Rome no matter what. Be they laity or prelates, they are blind ultramontanes; those who change their teaching and pastoral practice because Rome has said so –and without asking whether Rome was entitled to make the change. This form of ultramontanism is most dangerous because it appears loyal, but it is erroneous in that it is loyal only to the Pope of the day and not to the whole history of papal and Conciliar teaching.
A Traditionalist is one who is loyal to the Pope of the day as long as that Pope’s teaching is consistent with that of previous Popes and Councils. There can never be a ‘good Pope’ who changes doctrine or allows doctrine to be sidestepped for pastoral concerns, since doctrinal change is renunciation of previous teaching and a pastoral sidestep creates a lex vivendi which gives impetus to a change in the lex credendi. A Pope who changes doctrine or sidesteps it in practice cannot be a safe, good or loyal Pope, because his task is simply to defend and promote the Deposit of Faith. He may develop it in application to new situations, but he cannot distort it or discard it in order to accommodate new situations.
Doctrinal change and/or pastoral sidestepping are what liberals expect of Pope Francis, and at the end of the day I cannot see him obliging them. Certainly some of his off-the-cuff remarks have given a hope to liberals and in that sense they are to be regretted, but unless he has the arrogance of assuming that for two thousand years the Church has been wrong; that he alone has correctly perceived the mind and will of God who is “the same yesterday, today and forever” (Heb.13:8) and in whom “there is no change, nor shadow of alteration” (Jas.1:17), Francis simply cannot oblige liberal desires.
Moreover, it is only 23 years since the Bishops worldwide and their theological experts were consulted for the production of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (in a process overseen and presided over by one of the Experts at the Council, Joseph Ratzinger); a Catechism promulgated to provide a sure norm of faith in the light of Vatican II by a bishop of the Council (Karol Wojtila: Pope John Paul II). If these two participants at Vatican II –and two of the greatest thinkers of our time- did not know what the Council was saying, who did? Is Francis really expected to abandon such authentic teaching?
In expecting him to so oblige, liberals actually ascribe to Francis a devilish arrogance; one that does the work of the father of lies by abandoning long-held teaching and practice. It is understandable that non-Catholics expect Francis to change Church teaching since they have no concept of a Sacred Deposit guarded by a Magisterium; they live in a world of change and democracy, both of which are inconsistent with the practice of Catholicism (God does not change and the Church is not a democracy), but Catholics of any description should know better. Liberals who expect Francis to make such changes thus do him no favours. Rather, they typify those who “will not endure sound doctrine but having itching ears, heap to themselves teachers in accordance with their own lusts.” (2 Tim.4:3).
*Ultramontane: one who places maximum importance on the authority of the Pope. This label is often applied erroneously, since the sound Catholic is always ultramontane: one who gives maximum importance to the authority of the Pope without diminishing the importance of other factors (Councils etc) though these are always subjugated to the supreme authority of the Pope as affirmed by Vatican II.