Sunday, December 04, 2011

My Official “Neo-Catholic” Acid Test

Are you a "neo-Catholic"?

I've heard this classification bandied about in traditionalist circles for some time now. But I paid it particular attention recently, when I read an article in The Remnant, written by one Hilary Jane Margaret White.

As the term is used on the internet ... it refers to a "conservative" Catholic, often an American convert from evangelical protestantism, who adheres generally to and likes to make a show of defending the sexual moral teachings of the Church but is generally satisfied with the direction taken by the modern Church and the modern world.

Part of the difficulty with the term is that it describes a set of characteristics that can only clearly be observed from a certain vantage point, namely, that of the Traditionalist. Neo-Catholics themselves frequently become angry when it is pointed out ...

I take this to mean that a traditionalist is the most competent judge of whether someone is a neo-Catholic. So I must establish that I am a good judge of how one fits this classification. To put it another way, I must establish my "street cred." Here goes.

I attend the Traditional Latin Mass almost exclusively. I am the Senior Master of Ceremonies for the only Traditional Latin High Mass conducted every Sunday in the Washington DC area. I have trained dozens of young men to serve this Mass, and have assisted not only in the training of other priests, but of seminarians. And let us not forget how, just last year, I played the Palace.

Fortunately, I am not one to brag. Now then ...

I also required a set of criteria that could help me in this evaluation. I was then directed to a piece written on the blog authored by the same writer. Using myself as a case study, I shall determine how I rate with each one.

• A "Yes" answer (meaning, yes, this characteristic applies to me) is two points.

• A "Maybe" (meaning it applies in part) is one point.

• A "No" (meaning, no, it does not apply to me) is zero points.

Some require an explanation, especially the "maybes." In any case, the scores will be added up and divided by ten, so as to determine my "Neo-Catholic Index" (to coin an adjoining phrase) on a zero-to-ten scale. Strap yourselves in, kids. Here we go!

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Neo-Catholics ...

- are often American converts from evangelical protestantism,

No. When my ancestors came over on the boats in the 1840s, the vast majority were Catholic. Most who were not were Methodists, but they eventually converted to Catholicism, and had to leave town. (Long story.)

- adhere generally to and defend the sexual moral teachings of the Church but are either ignorant of or opposed to the Church's teachings, as defined by the 19th and early 20th century popes, on the proper construction of the social order, ie: the Social Reign of Christ the King

Maybe. I do hear a lot of talk about a restoration of Catholic monarchism, and while I find the idea intriguing (and the subject of a novel I am writing), we may need a new generation of Catholic nobility, as some of them are not all that noble. I also read a lot about that "Social Reign" thing, everything but what it actually means.

- are generally satisfied with the direction taken by the modern Church with regards to "freedom of religion" and other beliefs, but believes that a return to the traditional sexual moral teachings is essential in both the Church and society

Maybe. As a Catholic, I believe in free will. At the same time, I also believe that, in the words of one pope, "error has no rights." The problem with denying "freedom of religion" in practice, is that there is no guarantee that yours will NOT be the one denied.

- indulge in a selective enthusiasm for the 20th century popes, with the usual exeption of Pius X. They normally believe that John Paul II was "Great" and should be canonised

No. Hell no.

- usually know very little about the Church's struggle in Europe and the US, through the 18th and 19th century with secularists and anti-clericals


- are convinced that the principles behind the US constitution (liberte, egalite, fraternite, freedom of speech, separation of Church and state) are entirely compatible with the Catholic Faith and are usually totally unaware of the writings of the popes

Maybe. Not entirely compatible. Workable, so far.

- often oppose what they believe to be "the Vatican's" objections to US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and will argue vociferously that this does not constitute opposition to the Pope

No. The bravery and nobility of servicemen in action in these two countries notwithstanding (and we are known for our moral support of their humanitarian efforts in at least one venue), neither involvement of the USA is compatible with the Church's "just war theory."

- believe that the liturgical reforms following Vatican II are mostly either innocuous or acceptable, and the ones that aren't were not direct products of the Council but unapproved aberrations

Maybe. Most of the Council Fathers believed the Roman liturgy was in need of reform, but not the one we ended up with. Both points are reinforced by the interview with the late Abbot Boniface, and the memoirs of Cardinal Antonelli.

- oppose "gay marriage" but believe that marriage should be an "equal partnership" between the man and the woman, don't see any problem with "natural family planning" and think feminism was generally founded on good ideas but went astray and can be "Christianised"

Maybe. There are three issues here, not one. There is also an implicit confusion between being "equal" and being "the same." And while some traditionalists have a problem with NFP, Mother Church does not when it is used according to the mind of the Church (in other words, being open to the transmission of life, as opposed to avoiding it).

- usually want to be seen as a supporter of "womens' rights" and like to say, often and loudly, that "women are just as much victims of abortion as their dead children"

Yes. You got me here. Probably because I've met at least one woman who was dragged against her will by her husband and mother-in-law to a doctor to perform such a procedure, in a country where abortion is illegal. Maybe it's just me, but I think that fits the "victim" bill very nicely.

- are strongly clericalist, particularly when it comes to Bishops and believe it is always wrong to criticise bishops

No. As anyone who knows me can tell you, I kiss rings, not asses.

- believe in the "reform of the reform" for the liturgy and (recently) that the two "forms" can and should exist side by side and "enrich" each other

Yes. Wow, nailed again! I actually DO believe in the "reform of the reform." So did Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, who had the unmitigated gall to coin the phrase. He's the Pope now. As a liturgical counter-reformist, I am in great company.

- believe that the Second Vatican Council itself was either innocuous or a good thing, but that it was hijacked by 'liberals' and its documents distorted and misapplied

Yes. Of the twenty-one ecumenical councils, some were subject to attempts at so-called "hijacking" (like that Arian thing at the first one in Nicea, a real cliff-hanger back in the day) and others did not necessarily end with everybody shaking hands and playing nice. Florence did not bring back the Orthodox, Trent did not stem the tide of Protestantism, and Vatican I did not prevent the Old Catholic schism. (That's just off the top of my head.)

- generally hate and fear Trads, but lately have learned to be polite to them, at least while Teacher is looking.

No. Actually, a few of them are more scared of me. I must be a scary guy.

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Again, we refer to our Neo-Catholic Index, a zero-to-ten scale where zero means totally bitchin' über-Trad, and ten goes to that movin'-and-groovin'-with-the-Spirit neo-Cath. The numbers for all fourteen criteria were added up, for a total raw score of 11. Divided by 10, we arrive at an Index score of


So, by the most reliable, objective means available, by an expert on the subject other than myself, I am a bona-fide certified Catholic traditionalist. My life can go on.

(H/T to Steve Skojec.)


Mercury said...

Aside from that fact that the very term "neo-Catholic" is a pejorative that has no other purpose than to insult 99% of Catholics in the world, as well as the heirarchy of the Church, there are many problems in the criteria.

First, why do traditionalists think they have the right to interpret tradition over and above the Magisterium? Don't the pope and the Magisterium have the first place in interpreting the past? For example, while I am sympathetic to te idea of Catholic monarchy, and lament the loss of the Habsburgs (even the Romanovs for that matter), much of the Church's writing on the issues were dealing with the situation of the times. And while we can debate the merits of the way history has come, the fact I that we live in the now, and it's ludicrous to imagine that we need to take the right to vote AWAY from certain people, create a nobility out of thin air in a country which has had nothing of the sort for centuries, and START prohibiting non-Catholic religious practices.

Besides, while the US Constitution is far from perfect, it is not about "liberte, egalite, fraternite", and to use terms like that is to deliberately conflate the United States with the ideals of the French Revolution, which is inaccurate at best and deliberately pernicious at worst.

As far as NFP goes, the trads are wrong to equate it with contraception. Numerous Church documents since the 19th century make it clear that it IS licit to limit ("avoid") pregnancy for serious reasons, and though trads like to play a game where they ignore all popes after Pius XII, the moral theology literature of Pius' time (giants like John C. Ford, George Kelly, etc.) made it clear that "serious and just reasons" could be all kinds if things, and that spouses are soon nothing illicit in temporarily using NFP to space births to give the mother some breathing room, or even to limit pregnancy permanently or indefinitely for good reasons, and that's where a couple needs to consult with a spiritual director, not trads on the internet.

No, using NFP for frivolous reasons is not right, but it's also such a pain in the neck to do, and places such strain on the marriage that couples tend to not use it for frivolous and selfish reasons. Again, no one is free to deliberately reject Humae Vitae or the writings of the popes since then, nor reject the orthodox moral theologians of the 20th Century as "liberal". Catholics who condemn NFP as the same as contraception are wrong.

And why stop there? Why not be like some trads who insist that sex during pregnancy or after child-bearing years is venially (or even mortally) sinful, as many trads claim, based on the writings if several saints? Why not reject everything written by moralists since the 19th century in favor of teaching St Alphonsus' views on the use of marriage, as one famous trad priest with online teaching does, claiming mortal sin in issues which "liberals" like Fr John Hardon and Pope Pius XII saw no sin ( as well as all 20th century moralists)?

And why the vile hatred directed by some trads at John Paul II and Bendict XVI when he doesn't do what some trads believe he must do? I don't believe it's right to call JPII "the Great" yet, but he was a holy man, and the Church has beatified him, so why is it wrong to pray he is canonized a saint (I would also like to see Pius XII beatified)?

Why not, like some trads, claim it's a son for women to wear pants, or makeup, or any bathing suit? Why not, as many trads, insist that dancing is gravely sinful?

Why close oneself off an stand in direct opposition to the Popes and everything the Magisterium teaches, unless it agrees with MY interpretation if what tradition SHOULD be?

David L Alexander said...

"Why close oneself off an stand in direct opposition to the Popes and everything the Magisterium teaches, unless it agrees with MY interpretation if what tradition SHOULD be?"

You have raised excellent questions to put to whomever originated the term, or whomever composed the questionnaire (for which a link is provided where it says "a piece written on the blog authored by the same writer").

Unfortunately, I did not take the time to draw a proper conclusion to this sort of examination, and I should own up to that. But you did, and very well on most points, I might add (although you neglected to mention Pius XII's 1951 address to the Italian midwives. You know the one, right?).

I'll link to your comments in a footnote later tonight. Or maybe you can raise them on Facebook as well. That oughta bring them around.

Stay tuned, and stay in touch.

Mercury said...

Most of the standard Catholic moral theology about NFP today is actually based on the stuff worked out by moral theologians directly before and directly after Pius XII's address. The moralists of that day (many who knew Pius XII personally) were nowhere near as severe as many modern Internet trads are.

The idea that NFP could be used to space births only in dire, life-or-death cases is far from the reality described and understood by Pius XII or any theologian writing since the fertility cycle became generally known.

The moral issue is based on the choice for limiting intercourse to infertile times, NOT on the morality of having intercourse during such times, nor on the perceived need to limit births for serious reasons. Theoretically, if te husband is away on business trips every time his wife is fertile, they would come together only during the infertile times, and there'd be nothing wrong.

The issue is not even based on chastity (as is the son if contraception) but a question of generosity. The truth is that yes, many couples could be more generous, and many spouses probably could do more to have more children, but using NFP, even for the wrong reasons, is simply not the same as using contraception, nor is any son as clear or easy to name.

"Have as few kids as possible" is not the right attitude at all, but for trads to act like "let my wife rest for a year and fake care of this baby before trying for another one" is not an evil motive, nor does it require total abstinence for that time period, which some trads claim is required. Not only is it not required, but it CAN be morally dangerous or dangerous to the marriage. People need to stop placing requirements on others that the Church does not require.

Read the moral theological literature of the time. It was the moral theologians who actually penned the address anyway, and who actually penned Humanae Vitae. John C. Ford ad George Kelly, one of whom may have written HV, have the best survey and summation done at the time (1963, i think) of opinions on the use of "rhythm" in marriage. Their book is called "Contemporary Moral Theology, Volume II: Marriage Questions".

Pius XII was not speaking in a vacuum, but in a context. And trads love to ignore HV as if it didn't happen.

Mercury said...

And unfortunately, I don't really wanna engage any uber-trads on the issue. I suffer from intense scrupulosity - which is why I am so well-read on these issues in the first place.

It's hard enough for me to get over the idea that God does not hate marital sexuality, or a host of related issues. I'm actually supposed to be under strict adherence to my spiritual director.

Of course, it brings up why many Catholics are "scared" of traditionalists - they claim thy there are many more requirements to get to heaven than those laid out by the Catechism and the Magisterium - claims thy usually back up with the words of saints.

I have trembled with fear over the issues of dancing, of going to (and working for) a secular university, marital sexuality (my wife and I are separated - she left me over a stand I took on contraception, but thank God she hasn't been around for all the other worries I've gone through), whether I can even pray for the souls of dead Protestant friends and relations or must assume they are in hell, whether my female family members and friends are going to hell for wearing jogging shorts, playing sports, or wearing bathing suits, etc.

The problem is that one can find all kinds of worrisome things from the works of te saints in the past. That's why it's very important to recognize that only the Magisterium has the right to authentically interpret Tradition. Thas also why we have pastors and trained (orthodox) theologians, moral and otherwise, so that we don't rely on laymen on the Internet for our guidance (not at all a swipe at you).

Estase said...

I read the article and needed hip waders for the job. The author identified William F. Buckley and Richard John Neuhaus as neo-caths. Is neo-cath just an insult for conservatives? William F. Buckley certainly was not a Protestant convert. So basically the trads hate political conservatives just as much as liturgical liberals?

Jason Hull said...

If I can be of help, contact me via FB: Jason G. Hull

RC said...

Puritanism/Jansenism lives, apparently. I guess we should all be fleeing to St Francis de Sales to pray for their return to sanity.

Anonymous said...

So after reading this I'm wondering where I am left. I won't post a lengthy post here, just a link. But i'm getting very tired of trying to classify people with these labels that don't quite fit. I like Orthodox Roman Rite Catholic myself if I were to choose a label.