"Last week I examined the Catholic Church's rightward lurch towards religious supremacism, and in closing I asked: who is driving this?
To a very large extent, it is a small group of Neo-Orthodox traditionalists and a carefully cultivated group of converts.
Within the United States there are about 66 million Catholics. Most of these are mainstream Americans who disagree with the Vatican on issues ranging from married clergy to undue influence on government. According to Creighton University's Kripke Center somewhere between 50,000 to 100,000 American Catholics describe themselves as "traditionalist" meaning that they favor a pre-Vatican II brand of Catholicism.
But such a small percentage of Catholics leaning towards orthodoxy (and an even smaller percentage towards neo-orthodoxy i) requires additional numbers. So, the Catholic Right -- unlike mainstream American and European Catholics -- have become evangelical. They have chosen to target certain individuals -- mostly dissident conservative Protestants -- to buttress their numbers.
With the increasing influence of traditionalist-minded groups such as Opus Dei and Tradition, Family and Property and receptive Popes such as John Paul II and Benedict XVI, a neo-orthodox outlook is a given (Benedict is far more of a traditionalist than John Paul II ever was). Not only is the current Vatican more receptive to the more authoritarian-minded -- they are being actively targeted for conversion.
The strategy of using converts to create a more authoritarian church is no secret. It is openly discussed by neo-orthodox lay groups such as Opus Dei. The group's public face, Rev. John McCloskey has written about it. He says that they stress quality converts over quantity. The thought being that if a high-profile fish is netted then perhaps a whole school of like-minded individuals will follow.
Among those who have converted from Protestant denominations to a more neo-orthodox brand of Catholicism are U.S. Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS), Crisis magazine publisher Deal Hudson, and Reverend Richard John Neuhaus -- a former prominent antiwar Lutheran minister, who has since not only become a Catholic priest but a leading neoconservative, involved in among others the Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD). What is significant about all of these individuals is that not only have they embraced a strident form of Catholicism, but they openly call for a Church that demands blind obedience. And if you dare dissent, they brazenly demand that you leave the church that you and your family have been part of for untold generations.
And yes, I have told the same thing by recent converts. It has been "suggested" to me that because I loyally dissent from certain Vatican teachings that I leave Catholicism and become an Episcopalian. Almost tongue-in-cheek I wonder what this would accomplish since the IRD seeks to turn the Anglican community into a carbon copy of a neo-orthodox Catholic Church?
But all humor aside, what right do these people have to order me out of my own faith? None whatsoever -- even though that is what these newcomers and their neo-orthodox allies truly desire.
Historical awareness and tradition has its place, even in Catholicism. But tradition is not only what the neo-orthodox say it is. Where were these converts when my Italian ancestors witnessed a Catholic hierarchy that openly sided with wealthy landowners against them? Did they witness -- as my Italian Catholic ancestors did -- a Pope Pius IX, unchecked by a secular government kidnap a Jewish child from his parents while openly opposing Italian unification?
If loyal dissent from the teachings of Peter's successors is such a mortal sin -- as it has been suggested to me -- where would Christianity be today if St. Paul had not challenged Peter himself over the issue of proselytizing to the Gentiles of the Roman Empire?
As I discussed last week, led by a bellicose Rev. Neuhaus (who oddly seems to enjoy a direct line of communication to Pope Benedict XVI as well as to a rigidly orthodox President George W. Bush) along with neo-orthodox allies George Weigel, Michael Novak and Robert P. George, these men seek to make American jurisprudence and Vatican theology one and the same. Rev. Neuhaus -- wants the Vatican to have the final word on, among other things, birth control and stem cell research, not you and I and our fellow citizens. He sees his conscience as your conscience. It is a factious scheme that the vast majority of American Catholics reject.
As a Catholic, I believe it is terribly wrong that this one man has so much influence on the Catholic Church in America and in the White House. He may think that he reflects God's will, but in actuality, he acts as if speaks in God's stead.
But here is the good news: the neo-orthodox hierarchy, even with their newly minted converts, still do not have the numbers to safely control the Catholic Church, especially here in America. Even among the hierarchy and ordinary clergy there are independent minded thinkers such as Cardinal Walter Kasper and Sister Joan Chittister.
But speaking of Sister Joan, she was dead-on when she recently stated that "it's up to the laity to decide which church they really want. " In no uncertain terms, that means you and me. It is time to show courage and push back when pushed -- especially when we are being pushed out. Remember: we, not they have the numbers.
American Catholics should welcome these newcomers into the Church, but not solely on their terms. We must remind them that it was our ancestors who suffered not only with the Church, but also at times, from the Church. And more importantly, we choose never again to suffer from our Church, but instead to live within it and with our non-Catholic neighbors without impressing our beliefs upon them.
(i) I use this term to describe the orthodoxy of certain neo-conservative Catholics such as Richard John Neuhaus, Michael Novak, George Weigel, Hadley Arkes (though not Catholic) and Robert P. George. What distinguishes neo-orthodoxy from ordinary orthodoxy is its very radical nature, i.e., the desire to impose basically pre-Vatican II orthodoxy on all members of American society. At one point in the 1990s they came within a whisker of justifying armed insurrection to bring this about (causing a near rupture with their neocon allies)."
Note: Content reposted with the permission of the author.