Thursday, May 30, 2002

Conservative Catholicism v. Liberal Catholicism

Let me say something right off the bat: I hate those two phrases. Always have hated them, always will hate them. Matter of fact, I think those two phrases are oxymoronic. If catholic means "universal", how can one be liberally universal or conservatively universal? Doesn't the word "universal" mean all-encompassing? To clarify the point I am trying to get across, allow me to quote Blaise Pascal:

I do not admire the excess of some one virtue unless I am shewn at the same time the excess of the opposite virtue. A man does not prove his greatness by standing at an extremity, but by touching both extremities at once and filling all that lies between them.

Exactly what does a Catholic mean when they call themselves "conservative" other than the fact that they don't want to be labeled a "liberal"? Exactly what is a liberal Catholic anyways? I've heard it used in the sense that a "liberal" Catholic is one who tends to focus on social justice issues to the detriment of liturgical issues. Hrm... last time I opened up the Gospels, Jesus could be viewed as someone concerned with social justice issues. Do you think Jesus wouldn't speak up against abortion or euthanasia or the misapplication of capital punishment in today's world? If you think He'd stay silent you're sadly mistaken. Would this make Jesus a liberal?

I've heard the term "liberal" used to label people who hold dissenting positions from those of the Catholic Church, such as advocating a woman priesthood for example, but is that really a liberal Catholic viewpoint at all? I don't think it is, seeing as how the Magesterium of the Catholic Church has infallibly stated that a woman priesthood is impossible, that the Church has no authority whatsoever to ordain female priests. So is it a liberal Catholic viewpoint or a dissenting Catholic viewpoint? I would venture a guess that it is the latter.

I guess my major problem with the terms "liberal Catholic" and "conservative Catholic" are that they sound much too political, and if they sound much too political then they sound much too pharisee-ical too. When someone labels themself one or the other, typically they stress one aspect of Catholicism over another. This doesn't make them more Catholic, it makes them less Catholic. In my opinion, either you hold the Catholic faith, or you do not. One does not hold "some" bits of Catholicism (usually those bits that appeal most to them) and discard the rest and get to be Catholic. Catholicism is the perfect example of all or nothing.

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