Saturday, April 25, 2015

D. G. Hart and Ross Douthat: Should the tail of Papal biography wag the dog of Church policy?

D. G. Hart, "Should Biography Be So Important?" (Old Life, April 22, 2015):
Ross Douthat’s article on Pope Francis reflects the smarts, insights, and courage that characterizes almost everything the columnist writes. His conclusion about a potential disruption of the church by the current pope is again refreshing, especially coming from a conservative, since most converts and apologists hum merrily the tune of “nothing changes, we have the magisterium.” Douthat recognizes that this ecclesiology makes it almost impossible for conservatives to stop a progressive-led disruption:
In the age of Francis, this progressive faith seems to rest on two assumptions. The first is that the changes conservatives are resisting are, in fact, necessary for missionary work in the post-sexual-revolution age, and that once they’re accomplished, the subsequent renewal will justify the means. The second is that because conservative Catholics are so invested in papal authority, a revolution from above can carry all before it: the conservatives’ very theology makes it impossible for them to effectively resist a liberalizing pope, and anyway they have no other place to go.
But the first assumption now has a certain amount of evidence against it, given how many of the Protestant churches that have already liberalized on sexual issues—again, often dividing in the process—are presently aging toward a comfortable extinction. (As is, of course, the Catholic Church in Germany, ground zero for Walter Kasper’s vision of reform.)
Contemporary progressive Catholicism has been stamped by the experience of the Second Vatican Council, when what was then a vital American Catholicism could be invoked as evidence that the Church should make its peace with liberalism as it was understood in 1960. But liberalism in 2015 means something rather different, and attempts to accommodate Christianity to its tenets have rarely produced the expected flourishing and growth. Instead, liberal Christianity’s recent victories have very often been associated with the decline or dissolution of its institutional expressions.
Which leaves the second assumption for liberals to fall back on—a kind of progressive ultramontanism, which assumes that papal power can remake the Church without dividing it, and that when Rome speaks, even disappointed conservatives will ultimately concede that the case is closed.
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[Hat tip to JM]


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