The New York Times has an article entitled “Catholic Bloggers Aim to Purge Dissenters.” As you might have guessed from the silly title, it’s about conservative/orthodox Catholics. The article tries to understand why at this moment in history, we’re seeing a sudden surge in conservative Catholic blogs online, and why their often hostile to their own bishops. There are four sections which, taken together, paint a good picture of what’s going on in the Church in America today.
First, there’s the opening paragraph, which is excellent: “Pressure is on to change the Roman Catholic Church in America, but it’s not coming from the usual liberal suspects. A new breed of theological conservatives has taken to blogs and YouTube to say the church isn’t Catholic enough. ” It accurately notes that liberals have been agitating for changes in the Church for decades, and that theological conservatives (note how the author distinguishes from political conservatives) are now pushing back. But why now, and why online?
The article also notes that this is occurring in the midst of a sea-change in the episcopacy, with the old liberal guard dying out, and a younger, more orthodox, episcopacy replacing them:
The rise in lay conservative fervor comes at a time when the need for activism would seem less urgent. The U.S. hierarchy has seen a wave of retirements in recent years that has swept out leading liberals. The men taking their place are generally more traditional and willing to take a harder line against disobedient Catholics, from politicians to parishioners.
This tidbit alone shows that the whole notion of “theological progressivism” is false: the “progress” is against theological innovations, and active Catholic youth are a more orthodox bunch than their elders. This actually hints at the answer, but I’ll wait to explain that below.
The third tidbit explains gives a much clearer sense of why the Internet has been where this has all gone down: “The activists also say that since the 1970s, after the modernizing reforms of the Second Vatican Council, liberals have filled the bureaucracy of the church, hiding dissent from the bishops they serve. ” This is really two points in one: the Church bureaucracy is filled with people who have agendas often diametrically opposed to Catholicism; and these people are in a position to filter the news that gets to bishops. The first point is certainly true; the second one, I can’t speak to. Some bishops, like Abp. Chaput, are Internet-savvy, fielding and responding to e-mails and generally aware of the world around them. Other bishops, particularly older ones, probably still rely on assistants to tell them what’s going on, and that’s far from ideal. In my own experience, I had two troubling incidents in which I had cause to speak to Bp. Finn of Kansas City, MO. The first time, I had his e-mail address (somehow), touched base with him and he responded right away, helpfully. The second time, I couldn’t find his e-mail address, and left a message for him with a secretary, and never heard back. Whether he ever got the message or not, I can’t say. Related to this is the last tidbit:
Many of the conservatives most active online had spent years raising the alarm about dissent on their own in their local dioceses without much effect. Now, they feel they are finally being heard online.
“There’s a general sense among many faithful Catholics that no matter how much they write their bishops, no matter how much they go to the pastors, all of these unfaithful things keep getting taught,” Voris said. “I think enough Catholics are saying, ‘That’s it. I’ve had it.'”
The short answer is simple: the older generation was liberal, and are still in power in many chanceries and parish offices; the younger generation are much more conservative, and aren’t in power institutionally … but are really good at using the Internet, unlike their elders. The slightly longer answer is that the aftermath of Vatican II saw a generation of Catholics who treated it as a green-light for anything and everything. In this, they were often supported by the instutitional Church, sadly. Time Magazine once praised Cardinal Luigi Raimondi, who served as Apostolic Delegate from 1967-1973, as “a liberal who knows his limitations,” and “a likable man who wants to be liked,” while his successor, Abp. Jean Jadot (1973-1980), was a liberal who knew no limitations: together, these two men were responsible for the appointment of a lion’s share of the nation’s liberal Catholic bishops. And these liberal bishops weren’t hesitant to use their power in the name of what they considered “progress.” In a rare public move, Bishop Tobin of Rhode Island denounced discgraced Abp. Weakland for using “his own persona and authority to impose his vision of the Church upon his own fiefdom in Milwaukee, easily dismissing those who opposed him as conservative, right-wing nuts.” Weakland was far from alone. This is why many orthodox Catholics love the Church, but struggle to love their bishops, and are hostile to Church bureaucracy. Now, we’ve got an increasing number of orthodox bishops, but they’re surrounded by the old guard, and are often a bit tone-deaf on important issues. But more importantly, orthodox Catholic laity have simply stopped assuming that bishops and priests were going to do the job of evangelization, and are finally taken up the mantle themselves, in a forum the laity are well-suited for, the Web. There’s much more that could be said about the Times article, but this is what I find most important. All in all, it’s worth a read, as is Long Island Catholic’s take.