What Makes a Catholic?
Someone seeking the answer to that question will probably come out of these forums more confused than they were on entering. Both sides can (and do) go on and on for days -- they've gone on for years -- about perceived disparities and alleged errors of formation, ecclesiology, liturgy, proper dress and presentation (or the lack thereof), textbooks, catechetics, "misguided compassion," and runaway pastoral associates.
But, from all this talk, is it any clearer? What makes a Catholic? Have we missed the point of it all? And is it possible that both sides aren't as far apart as some of us might make them out to be?
Think about it: The Left hones in on social justice, charity of spirit, our better angels and elevating the soul through love toward others -- a horizontally-geared philosophy meant to manifest the vertical; Jay Dolan called it "Enlightenment Catholicism." The Right places its focus on uncompromising doctrinal fidelity, a particular concern for the rights of the unborn, sumptuous liturgy that raises the soul to the heavens, a focus on our wounded nature, adherence to the letter of the law as gateway to the future -- a school of the vertical trickling down into the horizontal; Dolan called it "Tridentine Catholicism." Not that these qualities are mutually exclusive to one group, but both are doing great Thomas Jefferson imitations and doing a cut-and-paste of Bible and Tradition, creating divergent hierarchies of truth and true Catholicism not on the basis of the right, but the comfort level they engender for those who subscribe to each.
But as we all know and have long seen, when one side sees something it doesn't like, it goes on an expedition to call the other side "Catholic in Name Only," or "retrograde," or "heretical," or "un-Christlike," or "liberal," or worse.... You don't need me to run through the roster of epithets; and I am guilty of some myself.
Now, the traditional means of determining what's Catholic from what isn't is what the Pope and the bishops say. But even that has been subverted as both Left and Right feel free to ignore the judgments of competent authority when they see fit or, to hold onto some speck of credibility, stretch the limits of ecclesiology by instead pursuing the voices of those teachers who tickle their ears.
Just as Protestants "church-shop" and end up where they feel comfortable, so two thousand years of the structure whose purpose is to determine what makes a Catholic in a given place has been subverted, as the Left flocks to its Mahonys, McCarricks, and Gumbletons regardless of who their proper bishop is and the Right heeds its Bruskewiczes, Burkes and Olmsteds, irrespective of who their own ordinary is. And both sides do what they can to shred the credibility of the other, irrespective of the authority of the Popes who put them all in their places to begin with. And when you do all that, there goes the order of things.
In this schema, the church is no longer church but a cult of personality. And a church that is a cult of personality, as we all know, loses its timelessness, its real reason for being.
Is it possible that both sides are shooting shy of that vast middle where the church is, where the truth is? Quite so.
Is it possible that Left and Right can peacefully coexist and realize that what unites the two is immeasurably greater than what divides them? I hope so.
Is it possible for all of us, when we see something we don't like, to put our tastes aside and realize that, when something's valid, unity suffers when the tastes of each individual imposes itself and seeks to undermine those things that are not "Catholic like me"?
Again, I'm guilty of a lot of this... But let he who is without sin.....
Let's face facts: the only people who are, objectively, "out" are the SSPX, because -- and debate the validity of this 'til the cows come home if you must -- they obstinately ignored the law and assumed the authority of the Roman Pontiff on their own initiative and for their own motives, and thus were excommunicated until the Holy See relieves them of the penalty.
So that leaves us with these cats on the fringes: Call to Action, Catholics for a Free Choice, people who prefer to ignore Vatican II, anti-Semites, anti-Papists, ultra-montane popelovers, priests having affairs, Sophia-philes, deacons with vasectomies, Fr. Moderator, and the list goes on and on and ON....
But where's the line? And who can everyone trust to draw that line? The bishops? B16? America? First Things? George Weigel? Who?
It's a question we skirt every day. For clarity's sake, we need to strike the heart of it....