Question posted by Paula Ruddy
As much as we all want this long culture war to be over, the conflict is hard to resolve. It came up in a committee in my parish this week; it is the main thread on the dotcommonweal blog just now about the role of Catholic theologians. The conflict is a constant undercurrent in Catholic life.
Usually labeled “liberalism” and “conservatism,” the division has been thoroughly analyzed for why it exists, what historical and psychological factors account for it. But what is the bottom line?
I’m calling it a difference between broad and narrow and I am asking you not to place a value on either word for the time being. Like the uses of optical lenses, both broad and narrow are good, but they are different. Narrow can be “bad” because it misses a lot. Broad can be “bad” because it can get very fuzzy without showing anything clearly. There are upsides and downsides to both.
Broadly Catholic Catholics recognize God in “the world” (hereafter BC’s). Another way of being Catholic is to recognize God within the Roman Catholic magisterial world, as distinct from “the world.” It is a narrower focus (hereafter NC’s). BC’s set out into the “secular” world in a maze of paths, highways, byways, guided by faith, the tradition, and a community, discerning the true, the good, and the beautiful from step to step. NC’s are happy with the path laid out by the magisterial community, illuminating the true, the good, and the beautiful in age old forms, warning of fruitless byways and evil open highways. Tradition is a guide to the BC’s, a set path for the NC’s. Too simple, I know, but the general idea is useful.
The bottom line raises fearful questions: if most Catholics turn to “the world” to be broadly Catholic, will the Roman Catholic magisterial world fall apart? If dogma is discarded because we all now know that truth is always on the horizon of knowledge, and goodness and beauty are all around us, what will happen to the magisterium? Will it have finances and authority to continue? If that world falls apart, how will the tradition be maintained and grow? Will most “broadly Catholic” people lose their way to the world’s banality without the guidance of the large community? Will Catholics who depend most on the Roman Catholic magisterial world be left behind with no support?
I see the magisterium in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis trying to solve the problem by narrowing the focus, trying to gather Catholics together for strength inside the corral of dogma, Catholic identity, pre-Vatican II practices, condemnation of “broadly Catholic” and “the world.” They are looking to Evangelical Protestantism for ways to narrow the focus and attract more people to be churched.
Wouldn’t it be better to spend the energy talking with the “broadly Catholic” to find ways to support all Catholics in living in the world and maybe even to influence the world? Could we get some leadership in that direction? What does anyone think?