The day that Damian Thompson decries 'factionalism' is the day irony dies. Nevertheless, he has a point: the temperature of internal debate had gone up in recent years to levels not seen since the 1970s, the immediate post-conciliar period of ecclesial introspection and the ferocious persecution of those thought to be innsufficiently in tune with the 'spirit of Vatican II'.
The reception of Amoris laetitia has similarly stirred up a hornet's nest. I feel in fact that the frayed tempers on social media reflect something really worrying. A lot of Catholic commentators, from across the spectrum of opinon, feel as though they are in a pressure-cooker. Careers and livlihoods are on the line, along with fundamental issues of the Faith.
Here is something I wrote about factionalism back in the innocent days of November 2012. I've reposted the linked piece which had been on The Tablet blog on my philosophy blog, since it is no longer available on The Tablet website.
Today The Tablet has published a guest post mine on their own blog: see it here. It is a response to George Weigel's article in last weekend's Tablet, which itself was a response to John Haldane's article calling for married clergy.
See if you can spot the pattern here. In introducing his remarks, Haldane takes a moment to describe the two dominant traditions in the Church, conventionally called the 'conservative' and 'progressive' (or 'liberal') approaches, as, respectively, 'nostalgic and slavish' or 'faithless and craven'. Having thus established his bona fides as a non-partisan, independent thinker, he proposed the most predictable and re-heated item on the liberal menu, the ordination of married men, as the solution to the Church's difficulties.
George Weigel, in introducing his own remarks, condemns progressive Catholics for 'Catholic Lite theology and catechesis,' adding:
Not that the answer lies in the nostalgic Catholic traditionalism also manifest in Britain. Maniples, lace albs and Latin liturgies will not be the engines of a Catholicism worth engaging. Something different, something that cuts more deeply, indeed more radically, is needed; the tired alternatives of the past 40-plus years have clearly run their course.
So, having thus established his bona fides as a non-partisan, independent thinker, Weigel goes on to propose the most predictable and re-heated item on the conservative menu, a call for orthodoxy and evangelical zeal with no practical suggestions to give it any flesh, as the solution to the Church's difficulties.
I don't think this kind of political rhetoric has any place in the Church. We are interested not in whether we are on the left or right of anyone else: we are interested in the truth, the Gospel, the teaching of the Church, Tradition. If Weigal has anything useful to add to the debate, he should stop labeling those he disagrees with playground insults, and tell us what it is.
The point I make in the Tablet blog post is that, although Weigel hasn't noticed, we are moving into an era - thank heavens - when the Traditional Mass is no longer an ideological football. For forty years liberals hated the Traditional Mass because it represented the past, and theology they didn't like. And for exactly the same period of time Neo-Conservatives hated it because they dreaded association with 'disobedience', and kicking the trads was a tried and tested method of triangulation. But now, thanks supremely to the work of Joseph Ratzinger, now reigning as Pope Benedict XVI, people in both camps are beginning to look at the ancient liturgy on its merits.
But remember: Traditionalism is the centre ground in the Catholic debate, because it avoids the extremes of liberal heterodoxy and conservative ultramontanism. People need to wake up the errors of those sad extremes, and come back to the centre. The centre ground is where battles are won: right?