Thursday, November 08, 2012

Guest post on The Tablet blog: and factionalism

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.

Both of them decry party spirit in the Church, but both of them use party labels as a lazy and uncharitable way of scoring points against unnamed opponents, and in attempting to create the impression that they are above all that kind of thing, while clearly being no such thing. Politicians call the strategy 'triangulation': you present yourself as moderate by showing how you avoid two extremes, represented by two kinds of opponents. The trouble is, with a bit of practice, everyone from Mao Tse Tung to Ghengis Khan can triangulate, it is just a matter of being clever about how you describe the alternatives. Hey, Bishop Williamson must be a 'centrist', because he avoids the extremes of liberalism and sede vacantism: right?

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?


  1. Interestly both Bishop Egan and Davies speak of the Διάβολος (divisive) nature of right and left, conservative and liberal.
    Questioned on this Bishop Davis told me the alternative is orthodox or heterodox.

  2. I wasn't actually invited, I asked to be allowed a full length reply to Weigal. The blog allows more length than a letter, so it was a sort of compromise.

  3. George Weigel's name is misspelled in this blog post.

  4. You are right in saying that Traditionalism is the centre ground of Catholicism.

    But I don’t like the word. It has come into use in the past fifty years to distinguish what we would now call Catholicism in Continuity from what amounts to a an attempted Relativist Reformation (as in the Protestant Reformation sense ), with a manipulatively constructed liturgy as the vehicle of belief change, such as we have experienced in the post Vatican II period.

    There are therefore those who wish to progress in Continuity, as the Pope has indicated, that is mainstream orthodox Catholics, and those who wish to break with Continuity, for whatever reason.

    Liturgy expresses what we believe, and the Catholic Mass of Ages does just that. As the Reform of the Reform gradually brings the Novus Ordo back to what Sacrosanctum Concilium wanted, the Mass of St Pius V, or Tridentine Mass, what I personally prefer to call the Catholic Mass, will be the benchmark against which progress with the Novus Ordo will be measured.

    As for Haldane’s idea that married clergy will solve anything, that is just silly. At best it will have a very marginal positive effect and at worst would further weaken priestly commitment in the few who would take up the option.
    Christ’ preference is clear, as in Mark 8 : 34, he want his priests to give up everything of this world and follow Him.

  5. Although I agree with your conclusions (both generally in your response to Weigel and specifically in response to the proposal for married priests) I'm not sure you're being quite fair to Haldane. The remark in Haldane's article about 'conservative' and 'progressive'approaches are explicitly described as two forms of 'the politicization of religious thought and behaviour'. I'd read that not as saying that the Church is split between two movements -conservative and progressive- or even that all (who might be described as) conservatives and progressives are politicized, but rather that, of those who are politicized in the Church, some are going wrong in conservative ways and some are going wrong in progressive ways.

    That said, I was surprised (and unconvinced) by Haldane's analysis and conclusion.

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  7. Excellent blog Joseph. I always find labels (except when I use them) to be rather silly. The real issue is whether something is true or false. The word "extreme" is a good example. If truth is at the "extreme" that’s surely where we should all be standing.

    Unfortunately for liberals, it is just an observable fact that what they say is more often false than true.

  8. Your triangulation at the end is quite appropriate. I am always mystified and infuriated by men like Haldane, who have a reasonable idea of the situation in the Church, not loudly demanding that we be given Catholics as priests; surely this takes precedence over having married priests. They should know that the seminaries at which priests are trained punish or eradicate the faith in seminarians; that this has been going on for 40 years; and that it has not been corrected. They can get the ear of the Catholic public due to their own public profile. Wh don't they do this?