Under the Glass places both the secular and religious media’s coverage of the Church and other issues of importance under a magnifying glass to uncover what is hidden between the lines.
May 06, 2009

‘America’ and the new Inquisition

Every time the Catholic magazine “America” drops a major bomb on the Church in the U.S., it carefully chooses to do so through an article collectively signed by “The Editors.”

Recently “America” proposed, via their editors, that the U.S. bishops should get rid of mandatory celibacy, as if the episcopate could choose to change a Christ-established tradition on its own, and obey a Jesuit magazine instead of the Vatican.

“The editors’” latest treat is the self-elevation of “America” to the role of a new Inquisition.

In fact, as if calling their doctrinal rivals in the Church “extremists,” “far right” and “Republicans” was not sufficient, “America’s” editors have found that their contribution to civility and reconciliation within the Catholic Church needs to go a little further: calling them “heretics” and “sectarian.”

More specifically, Donatists, “a perfectionist North African sect that attempted to keep the Church free of contamination by having no truck with Roman officialdom.”

In its recent editorial “Sectarian Catholicism,” America complains that:

For today’s sectarians, it is not adherence to the church’s doctrine on the evil of abortion that counts for orthodoxy, but adherence to a particular political program and fierce opposition to any proposal short of that program. They scorn Augustine’s inclusive, forgiving, big-church Catholics, who will not know which of them belongs to the City of God until God himself separates the tares from the wheat. Their tactics, and their attitudes, threaten the unity of the Catholic Church in the United States, the effectiveness of its mission and the credibility of its pro-life activities.

Of course, to the editors, a half-line quote from Augustine turns the great saint of Hippo into a promoter of a vague “big tent” Catholicism, the kind that would include, of course, not only all types of dissenters, but, most importantly, the non-Catholic they are really concerned about: Obama.

Just look at the Obamaphilia in their next sentence:

The sectarians’ targets are frequently Catholic universities and Catholic intellectuals who defend the richer, subtly nuanced, broad-tent Catholic tradition. Their most recent target has been the University of Notre Dame and its president, John Jenkins, C.S.C., who has invited President Barack Obama to offer the commencement address and receive an honorary degree at this year’s graduation.

"The editors" show great skill in cutting and pasting Church documents and papal quotes for their own purposes, that is, to call for a “big tent” Catholic Church… but not so big that it includes the Cardinal Newman Society, because these “self-appointed watchdogs of orthodoxy” have been deemed Donatists by… the self-appointed champions of heterodoxy.

Thus, to the half-line quote of Augustine, they add a two-line quote from Pope Benedict XVI, who asked –“What does the pope have to do or say to a university?” And he answered, “He certainly should not try to impose in an authoritarian manner his faith on others”… and voilá! Presto chango! The editors are right, they are the real Catholics and everyone else not willing to join this “big tent” Catholicism a la “America,” is wrong.

"The editors" continue with an accusation whose boomerang effect surprisingly escapes them:

The divisive effects of the new American sectarians have not escaped the notice of the Vatican. Their highly partisan political edge has become a matter of concern. That they never demonstrate the same high dudgeon at the compromises, unfulfilled promises and policy disagreements with Republican politicians as with Democratic ones is plain for all to see. It is time to call this one-sided denunciation by its proper name: political partisanship.

A call to both civility and to leave behind partisan politics is certainly needed. But “the editors” seem to forget that such a call has no effect whatsoever when it:

  1. Comes from someone who not only calls fellow Catholics “sectarian” and “heretic,” but has been consistently defended doctrinal positions that would make all the holy men who attended councils from Nicaea to Trent blush.

  1. Comes from someone who has been rightly perceived as embarrassingly bending over to the other political party.

Of course, if "the editors" of “America” have the chutzpah to tell the bishops what to do in matters pertaining to priestly formation, no one should be surprised if they come up with a “solution” that suits their own ideological bias.

Four steps are necessary for the U.S. church to escape the strengthening riptide of sectarian conflict and re-establish trust between universities and the hierarchy. First, the bishops’ discipline about speakers and awards at Catholic institutions should be narrowed to exclude from platforms and awards only those Catholics who explicitly oppose formal Catholic teaching. Second, in politics we must reaffirm the distinction between the authoritative teaching of moral principles and legitimate prudential differences in applying principles to public life. Third, all sides should return to the teaching of the Second Vatican Council and Pope Paul VI that in politics there are usually several ways to attain the same goals. Finally, church leaders must promote the primacy of charity among Catholics who advocate different political options.

Let’s skip "the editors’" naïve superficiality in thinking that their four truisms can actually solve the deep reef of U.S. Catholicism.

More significant is the fact that “America’s” editors are so convinced that they are above the fray, that they actually believe they have the power and credibility to call together “all sides” as if they were not one of “them.” Whoever is not aware of the radical nature of “America” magazine should go to their blog and look at the postings of Mr. Winters.

Moreover, "the editors" think that “church leaders must promote the primacy of charity among Catholics,” but they surely do not believe that this would include them being reprimanded for calling the most vital, vibrant and youthful part of American Catholicism heretical and sectarian.

A call of this nature, which basically means “you are bad and mean because you don’t think like me” is not surprising, coming from “America.”

What is surprising is that “the editors” think that someone is taking them seriously.

--Alejandro Bermudez

* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.


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