Sectarian Catholicism

Subscribers can read our editorial in America online here, but here's a few snippets in advance.

"The clouds roll with thunder, the House of the Lord shall be built throughout the earth, and these frogs sit in their marsh and croak—‘We are the only Christians!’” So wrote St. Augustine about the Donatists, a perfectionist North African sect that attempted to keep the church free of contamination by having no truck with Roman officialdom. In the United States today, self-appointed watchdogs of orthodoxy, like Randall Terry and the Cardinal Newman Society, push mightily for a pure church quite unlike the mixed community of saints and sinners—the Catholic Church—that Augustine championed. Like the Circumcellions of old, they thrive on slash-and-burn tactics; and they refuse to allow the church to be contaminated by contact with certain politicians.


For today’s sectarians, it is not adherence to the church’s doctrine on the evil of abortion that counts for orthodoxy, but adherence to a particular political program and fierce opposition to any proposal short of that program. They scorn Augustine’s inclusive, forgiving, big-church Catholics, who will not know which of them belongs to the City of God until God himself separates the tares from the wheat. Their tactics, and their attitudes, threaten the unity of the Catholic Church in the United States, the effectiveness of its mission and the credibility of its pro-life activities.


Four steps are necessary for the U.S. church to escape the strengthening riptide of sectarian conflict and re-establish trust between universities and the hierarchy. First, the bishops’ discipline about speakers and awards at Catholic institutions should be narrowed to exclude from platforms and awards only those Catholics who explicitly oppose formal Catholic teaching. Second, in politics we must reaffirm the distinction between the authoritative teaching of moral principles and legitimate prudential differences in applying principles to public life. Third, all sides should return to the teaching of the Second Vatican Council and Pope Paul VI that in politics there are usually several ways to attain the same goals. Finally, church leaders must promote the primacy of charity among Catholics who advocate different political options. For as the council declared, “The bonds which unite the faithful are mightier than anything which divides them” (“Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World,” No. 92).

Jim Keane, S.J.

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9 years 5 months ago
There are ''several ways to attain the same goals'' if in fact the goals we have are the same. In this case, they really are not. It's true that President Obama is a skilled rhetorician who can make it sound as if killing babies and nurturing them are simply two sides of the same coin. As Cardinal George said of the President, ''It's hard to disagree with him because he'll always tell you he agrees with you,'' and we face the same situation with fellow Catholics who follow the President's lead. But on the issue of abortion, we do not agree. And only one of us is following natural law and the teaching of the Catholic Church.
9 years 5 months ago
I am very troubled by the absolute fact that A/B Burke. Bishop Finn et al have turned the entire pro life agenda over to the Randle Terrys [pushing bloody dolls in carriages on the ND campus] or the radical Newman Society... are we to wait for some bishops weasel worded statement about Terrys actions 'while it's something we would not do but we admire the motivation'?? When will some bishop/bishops stand up and wrestle the pro-life agenda away from the inept. These 'ND is evil' inept bishops were of the same cloth as those who dissed Bernardin's 'seamless garment' common ground approach. One of these inept resides in St Mary Major in Rome.. Retired A/B John R Quinn is the only one saying 'cool it, you are doing harm'
9 years 5 months ago
It appears that most of the bishops are intimidated into silence by the bullying tactics of the anti-abortion (refuse to call them pro-life) crowd. Most people, bishops included, would chose to remain silent rather than be bombarded with hate mail and demands that you be ousted from your job for saying the equivalent of ''Cool it!''. Card. McCarrick learned that lesson a few years ago when he was publicly attacked by the arrogant George Wiegel. At the time, the self-styled ''orthodox catholic'' blogs were on fire with support for Weigel over McCarrick. And they wonder why we call them Republicatholics! It looks like Randall Terry and his groupies along with the ringmasters at EWTN, Dominos Pizza Radio and the RNC are now the public face of the American Catholic Church. Newt Gingrich also seems to be a fast-rising star in the ranks since joining the church 3 weeks ago. We are wondering just how long until the Church completely ruptures under the stress of this corruption.
9 years 5 months ago
There is more than a small element of good old fashioned hypocrisy in all of this kerfuffle. The traditional argument for the Church’s teaching that there is never any justification for the direct killing of the innocent is always and everywhere a sin. During the Second World War, both the British and German air forces deliberately bombed cities with the intention of killing civilians. There was no pretence that these deaths were the consequence of the victims living close to military targets. The use of atomic weapons against Hiroshima and Nagasaki also had the intention of killing civilians. Even if it were argued that the civilian populations contained war workers who were not “innocent” in the context of war, their deaths would not justify the killing of the children and foetuses in these populations. In any case, the prime purpose of bombing whole cities was not to kill workers but to break civilian morale, and/or to bring the war to an early close. To the best of my knowledge, neither the Catholic hierarchies in the countries concerned, nor the Pope, condemned these bombings. And no Catholic participating in them was excommunicated.
9 years 5 months ago
I have no truck with Randall or the Cardinal Newman Society and I don't like the appeals they have sent me which somewhat have the flavor of your editorial which is poor history and poor theology. Augustine would be on the side of those who refuse to bend to the evils of the state much as his mentor St. Ambrose stood his ground and called out the emperor to repent of his evil deeds. The Donatists had wanted to condemn and throw out those bishops and their flocks who had abjured the faith, denied Christ, and turned over the sacred vessels and holy books to the Roman persecuters of Christians. Augustine was all for forgiveness for those who repented of their cowardice once the dangers had passed, the Donatists wanted to recognize only those who had stood firm in the faith. What does this have to do with the non-repentant and boisterous who stand firm in opposition to the tenets of the faith regarding the unborn in order to receive political power and positions? And, sometimes honorary degrees from Catholic Universities!
9 years 5 months ago
For a piquant change of pace, it may prove illuminating to scour the blogosphere for entries along this subject and then -- this is the fun bit -- look at the comment boxes. Do a quick inventory and see who is calling whom hypocrites, thugs, "ayatollahs" and the like. Then, for extra credit, ponder who is served by this rhetorical tack. AMDG,


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