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Dispatch from the Lunatic Fringe

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Dispatch from the Lunatic Fringe

Post  MRyan on Thu Jan 31, 2013 6:24 pm




Dispatch from the Lunatic Fringe


January-February 2013

"Astute readers will have observed that during 2012 nary a word was spoken in these pages about the 50th anniversary of the commencement of the Second Vatican Council. The reasons are simple: We don’t publish “theme” issues. And besides, virtually every other Catholic periodical — no matter the stripe — went about probing the Council’s meaning, its triumphs and failures, its deepening significance or diminishing relevance, its overwhelming betrayal or its calamitous institutionalization. Why should we add to the clamor? So much has been written about the Council, not only in the last year but over the past fifty years, that we were content to leave the endless hashing out to others. That is, until we were presented with one of the loonier dispatches on the subject from the progressivist fringe.

The write-up appeared — where else? — in the National Catholic Reporter (Oct. 10). It was penned by Robert Blair Kaiser, a former religion editor for The New York Times who won an award in 1963 for his coverage of Vatican II for Time magazine. Blair is a committed member of the “overwhelmingly betrayed” camp. Who does he believe has betrayed the Council? Why, the Popes, of course. “Rather than wring our hands over what the church has become under back-to-back popes who have acted in an arrogant and authoritarian manner,” he begins, “we should celebrate what Vatican II has already done for us.” And what, pray tell, has Vatican II done for us? It has, Blair writes, “given us a new view of ourselves. It’s made us more free, more human and more at the service of a world that Jesus loved.”

So Catholics were less free and less human prior to 1962? It appears that Kaiser is guilty of what Dietrich von Hildebrand called “temporal parochialism,” which he defined in Trojan Horse in the City of God: The Catholic Crisis Explained as “a special kind of pride in the idolatry of one’s epoch. It produces a spirit of irreverence toward all tradition.”

Put in terms Kaiser can understand, we might call this the “Now Is Better than Before” heresy.

As von Hildebrand explains, “It is a characteristic symptom of immaturity to feel oneself more mature and independent than men of previous times, to forget what one owes the past, and, in a kind of adolescent self-assertion, to refuse any assistance.” This self-serving illusion of superiority “bears a striking resemblance to a puberty crisis in the life of the individual person.” A puberty crisis! This is especially tragic when one considers that Kaiser is an octogenarian.

If anyone doubts that the preceding description applies to Kaiser, read on. The Council, he insists, “has given us a new view of the church. It’s our church, not the pope’s church, or the bishops’ church, or a priest’s church. It [the Council] has given us a new view of our place in it [the Church]…. Rather than whine over what Daddy won’t let us do, we can put the council into play ourselves.”

Talk about adolescent self-assertion! Somebody here has daddy issues. Did Kaiser’s old man not hug him enough when he was a child?

So, according to the award-winning journalist, the Council Fathers — bishops, popes, et al. — signed away their authority at Vatican II, and the Church is now ours and not theirs. Say what? Did the Council really re-establish the primacy of the laity, the “People of God,” as Kaiser and others have claimed?

Nein, says Pope Benedict XVI, a Vatican II peritus. The Council, our ecclesiastical father figure explains in Light of the World, a 2010 book-length interview, “applied a very simple rule in these matters: A Church in the proper sense, as we understand it, exists where the episcopal office, as the sacramental expression of apostolic succession, is present — which also implies the existence of the Eucharist as a sacrament that is dispensed by the bishop and the priest.”

Put in terms Kaiser can understand: No pope, no bishops, no priests: no Church.

Twenty-five years earlier, in The Ratzinger Report, a 1985 book-length interview, the future Pope was emphatic that “the Church is not our Church, which we could dispose of as we please. She is, rather his Church. All that which is only our Church is not Church in the deep sense; it belongs to her human — hence secondary, transitory — aspect.” In fact, it is in this defective view of the Church that the rejection of ecclesial authority originates: “If the Church, in fact, is our Church, if we alone are the Church…then it is no longer possible to conceive of the existence of a hierarchy as a service to the baptized established by the Lord himself. It is a rejection of the concept of authority willed by God, an authority therefore that has its legitimation in God and not — as happens in political structures — in the consensus of the majority of the members of an organization.”

Kaiser, of course, will have none of this. He is adamant that we are the Church and the Church is us, and the hierarchy is nothing more than a gaggle of fossilized incompetents who’ve forfeited their moral authority. In Kaiser’s “church,” the religious sisters have assumed that mantel, pointing the way forward to the further empowerment of the laity in matters of doctrine. For example, Kaiser states that when Benedict the Buzzkill “dissed” the U.S. nuns for failing to “help the bishops speak out on core faith issues like birth control and abortion,” the sisters answered that “the pope can’t force them to talk nonsense.” Right on, sisters!

We are reminded of Kierkegaard’s quip: “Having refused to use their freedom of thought, men claim freedom of speech as compensation.”

We the laity can “further marginalize our bishops,” Kaiser continues, “every time they misinform the people and the press about ‘the Catholic position’ on moral issues that are beyond their competence.” Which moral issues are beyond the bishops’ competence? “The reasonableness of family planning,” says Kaiser, “is a moral issue.”

Ah, so now we understand why Kaiser considers today’s Catholics to be more free and more human than all those benighted believers who didn’t live to witness the transcendent advent of the Church’s new age in 1962, those poor suckers who had to fret over what “Daddy” didn’t want them to do: Contraception makes us whole!

The inimitable Dietrich von Hildebrand has some pointed words for this type of thinking: “The drift of the Catholic progressives reaches its ugly climax when they extend their enthusiasm to things which not only are worldly, but embody a blatant disvalue in their absurdity, vulgarity, and impurity.”

Even more pointedly, von Hildebrand said that “he whose heart is more thrilled by the idea of a changing Church than by the glorious identity and stability of the Church has lost the sensus supernaturalis and shows that he no longer loves the Church.”

Behind the overweening narcissism at play in Kaiser’s approach, there lurks an idolization of the Council or, more generally, the “spirit” of the Council. “There’s no suppressing the spirit of Vatican II,” he boasts. Recall von Hildebrand’s definition of temporal parochialism as “a special kind of pride in the idolatry of one’s epoch,” one that “produces a spirit of irreverence toward all tradition.” As with all forms of idolatry, the object of inordinate worship takes on greater, more profound significance than it warrants, such that one wonders whether Kaiser loves the Council, or its alleged “spirit,” more than he loves the Church, the nature of which he fails to comprehend.

The moral is that we should be wary of where we place our praise. Kaiser’s beloved “spirit” of Vatican II is, according to Benedict, “in reality a true ‘anti-spirit’ of the Council.” According to this “pernicious anti-spirit,” says the Pope, “everything that is ‘new’…is always and in every case better than what has been or what is. It is the anti-spirit according to which the history of the Church would first begin with Vatican II, viewed as a kind of point zero.”

The Council doesn’t belong to those who think thus, says the Holy Father, those who “want to continue along a road whose results have been catastrophic.” Rather, the Council belongs to he who “clearly and, consequently, painfully perceives the damage that has been wrought in his Church by the misinterpretations of Vatican II.”

The answer to the riddle of Vatican II, says the Pope, is found in Vatican II itself: “The reading of the letter of the documents will enable us to discover their true spirit.” Thus rediscovered “in their truth,” those “great texts” themselves — and not their “superficial or frankly inexact publications” — will make it possible for us to “understand just what happened” at the Council and to “react with a new vigor.”

And then perhaps, instead of getting bogged down in circular debates over credible interpretations of the Council, or rehashing those “catastrophic results” ad nauseam, we can join in a more fruitful discussion of the true renewal of the Church in a post post-conciliar era."
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