Tuesday, April 09, 2002

Exhibit A

If anyone would like to see a textbook case for the sort of political categorization which too many people impose on their understanding of Christianity and Catholicism in particular (see my post below), I would direct you to Andrew Sullivan's blog (one of the oldest out there) and his comments today on an article written by Fr. John McCloskey in Catholic World Report a couple of years ago.

Fr. McCloskey's article sees the Church in the U.S. consolidating -- as Mr. Sullivan puts it -- "around an Opus Dei-inspired rump." You see, Fr. McCloskey has converted a couple of columnists (Robert Novak and Larry Kudlow) to "a highly conservative form of Catholicism." Do you see what Sullivan is doing? By referring to Fr. M's, Novak's, and Kudlow's "flavor" of Catholicism as "highly conservative", he implicitly identifies his own form of Catholicism as liberal and at the same time seeks to legitimate it, as another legitimate brand of Catholicism.

Mr. Sullivan goes on to contend that Opus Dei's agenda is to reverse the liberalization that has occurred in the Church since Vatican II. This kind of statement is a mess to interpret. What exactly does Mr. Sullivan mean by "liberalization" in the Church? Does he mean the legitimate reforms sought by the Fathers of Vatican II as enuciated by the 16 documents of that great Council? Or does he mean the illegitimate de-forms which individual priests and various communities "enacted" by their own authority?

He also recommends reading Fr. McCloskey's article to "see what a conservative vision of the future of the American church looks like, one in which every Catholic is either married and reproducing throughout their lives, in religious orders, or celibate." By my count, he's covered every state of life that the Church has ever (in 2000 years) recognized. And that's the "conservative vision"? He makes me wonder what the "liberal" (i.e. heterodox) vision looks like. (NB: "reproducing throughout their lives" doesn't mean 12 kids per family.)

Mr. Sullivan also reads Fr. McCloskey to mean that "American constitutional democracy" is a "real threat to the Church". Here's the passage from Father's article: "The final short and relatively bloodless conflict produced our Regional States of North America. The outcome was by no means an ideal solution but it does allow Christians to live in states that recognize the natural law and divine Revelation, the right of free practice of religion, and laws on marriage, family, and life that reflect the primacy of our Faith."

Now, one may disagree with Father's take, but he certainly isn't saying that our present system is a threat to the Church; rather, he is arguing that there is a better system. Surely Mr. Sullivan wouldn't argue that American constitutional democracy is the perfection of political structure, never to be improved upon, would he?

Sullivan then asserts that this Catholic, Francoite Reconstructionist "visceral disdain for modern America found expression not so long ago in Richard Neuhaus's journal 'First Things' which toyed with the idea of armed rebellion against the American constitutional order because of the Godlessness and faithlessness of this country's judiciary."

I know that Mr. Sullivan is a very intelligent man, but this quote makes me wonder if he ever read actual articles which made up the symposium in question, The End of Democracy? The Judicial Usurpation of Politics. I would say the same thing to Mr. Sullivan which Fr. Neuhaus himself stated in the aftermath of the controversy which the symposium generated: did you catch the question mark in the title? The symposium posed a question; it didn't make a call to arms. Not only that, but there is absolutely no indication whatsoever of the symposium's participants suggesting armed rebellion against the godless courts. This is a caricatured reading of the symposium, nothing more. As the editors stated in their response to the controversy, "we do not believe that the government of the United States is illegitimate. Ours is not a revolutionary situation and, please God, will never become that. [...] Nor have we issued a call to civil disobedience." How much more clarity does Mr. Sullivan require?

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