What’s A Conservative To Do?

Ross Douthat explained what converts did not have in mind when they swam the Tiber:

Conservative Catholics need to come to terms with certain essential failures of Vatican II. For two generations now, conservatives in the Church have felt a need to rescue the real council, the orthodox council, from what Pope Benedict called “the council of the media.” This was and remains an important intellectual project, and the debate about what the council means for Catholic theology is a rich one that deserves to continue for generations to come.

But this work needs to coexist with a clear recog­nition that the council as experienced by most Catholics was the “council of the media,” the “spirit of Vatican II” council, and that the faithful’s experience of a council and its aftermath is a large part of its historical reality, no matter how much we might wish it to be otherwise.

It needs to coexist, as well, with a recognition that a major part of Vatican II’s mission was to equip the Church to evangelize the modern world, and that five decades is long enough to say that in this ambition the council mostly failed. Since the close of the council, we’ve seen fifty years of Catholic civil war and institutional collapse in the world’s most modern (and once, most Catholic) societies, fifty years in which only Africa looks like a successful Catholic mission territory, while in Asia and Latin America the Church has been lapped and lapped again by Protestants. The new evangelization exists as an undercurrent, at best, in Catholic life; the dominant reality is not new growth, but permanent crisis.

This doesn’t mean the council was a failure in its entirety, or that arch-traditionalists are right to condemn it as heretical, or (as more moderate traditionalists would argue) that the council itself was primarily to blame for everything that followed. The experience of every other Christian confession suggests that some version of the same civil war and institutional crisis would have arrived with or without the council.

But we need to recognize, finally, that for all its future-oriented rhetoric, Vatican II’s clearest achievements were mostly backward-looking. It dealt impressively with problems that came to the fore during the crises and debates of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries (the Church’s relationship to democracy, to religious liberty, to anti-Semitism). But its deliberations simply took place too soon to address the problems that broke across Catholicism and Christianity with the sexual revolution and that still preoccupy us now.

In this respect, Vatican II partially resembles not the great councils of the Catholic past but one of the largely forgotten ones: Fifth Lateran, the last council before the Protestant Reformation, which looked backward toward the fifteenth-century debates over conciliarism and promoted some reforms that were half-implemented and insufficient to address the storm that began just seven months after the council’s closing, when Martin Luther nailed his theses to the door in Wittenberg.

Which is not to say that what the Church needs right now is a Council of Trent, exactly. The recent Synod on the Family suggests that, if attempted, the outcome would be either empty or disastrous.

This is not business as usual so shrug. This is crisis.

9 thoughts on “What’s A Conservative To Do?

  1. “This is not business as usual so shrug. This is crisis. ”

    Hmm. “In this respect, Vatican II partially resembles not the great councils of the Catholic past but one of the largely forgotten ones: Fifth Lateran, the last council before the Protestant Reformation…”

    RCism survived the Reformation and grew since its occurrence.

    “The experience of every other Christian confession suggests that some version of the same civil war and institutional crisis would have arrived with or without the council.”

    So I take it you aren’t shrugging and are cognizant of the crises within Christianity. I presume the Chicken Little posts will be forthcoming.


  2. “RCism survived the Reformation and grew since its occurrence.”
    In what way is that true? Of course it is trivially true in the gross sense, but what about proportionally? RCism is something like 15% or so of the world’s population now (depending on how you count ex/recovering catholics – polls generally come in lower than official church stats from what I gather). There were about a 100million Europeans in 1500 and world population was 400-500million. So a reasonable guess is that somewhere in the neighborhood of 20-25% of the world’s population was Catholic. It seems that even with the spread of Catholicism to Asia, Africa, and South America (not exactly following MT’s (non)evangelization methods!), haven’t allowed RCism to keep pace with population growth – market share took a big hit with the reformation and hasn’t recovered. Given the sharp drop in adherence in S/LAmerica, Ireland (!), and NE US, it is likely that market share will be significantly smaller in the next generation. Not NAPARC small of course, but the MOCS don’t exactly point to being bigger than the OPC. Not sure if it counts as chicken little-ism – seems to me that Douthat is more a realist than an alarmist.


  3. James Young, so Bryan and the Jasons (and Mermaid and Susan) are really saying “called to crisis”?

    Your problem is that you show no embarrassment. Douthat and Boniface do. For you, anything embarrassing is simply the result of the fall.

    You’re like Bob in “The Big Kahuna.”


  4. Darryl,

    No, they’re saying “called to communion and don’t be ignorant of history”. Is anything embarrassing for you simply the result of a rejection/confusion of 2k, thus your shrugging? Or do you agree with Douthat that the “experience of every other Christian confession” shows an institutional crisis? If so, where are the “Christianity in crisis” tagged posts?

    Sure things are embarrassing within RCism. Clown masses are pretty embarrassing. Cardinals and priests and nuns and popes can be embarrassing. Embarrassing doesn’t equate to “CRISIS! THE END OF RCISM IS NIGH!” chicken littling. Just as embarrassing for you doesn’t equate to “CRISIS! THE END OF CHRISTIANITY IS NIGH!” chicken littling.


  5. James Young, Right, clown masses don’t amount to crisis. Read Douthat. Vatican II and Francis constitute a crisis.

    When are you going to figure out the importance of the magisterium — you know stMMMMMMM.

    Some of us think you’re embarrassing to waste your brain on hype.


  6. Here it is in print:


    The guidelines say that some civilly remarried couples who can’t adhere to the Church’s teaching of “living like brothers and sisters,” who have complex circumstances, and who can’t obtain a declaration of nullity for their first marriage, might undertake a “journey of discernment,” and arrive at the recognition that in their particular case, there are limitations that “diminish responsibility and culpability.”

    For these exceptional cases, the bishops wrote, “Amoris Laetitia opens up the possibility of access to the sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist.”

    Yet, they warn, “it’s necessary to avoid understanding this possibility as an unrestricted access to the sacraments, or as though any situation might justify it.”

    The guidelines, dated Sept. 5, reached Francis, who answered on the same day, writing: “The document is very good and completely explains the meaning of chapter VIII of Amoris Laetitia. There are no other interpretations. And I am certain that it will do much good. May the Lord reward this effort of pastoral charity.”

    Now, the bishops “warn”, but once the door has been cracked opened, who imagines that there won’t be anyone rushing through it?

    Of course, maybe “faithful” Catholics will still take comfort in the fact that “no dogma has been changed”. But that’s really meaningless in a situation where the actual practice will now be 180 degrees opposite if what it has been.


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