If anyone would like reassurance that Pope Benedict XVI is truly Catholic, all he would need to do is look at the recent reactions to Caritas in Veritate and the Supreme Pontiff’s recent revocation of the excommunications of the bishops of the Society of St. Pius X. On the one side, there are the ultra-liberalist “Catholics” who have essentially set up a parody church: and since they promote things such as womynpriests, likely they are less Catholic than many Protestants – or at least as equally deprived of the Sacraments. These people, who probably could not really be bothered to read the entire encyclical, heard that some of their favorite by-words were in the document, such as “redistribution,” and phrases like “international political authority,” and in a superficial imitation of joy, went out to a liturgical dance party and celebrated the community and their religion of man. On the other side, there are the radical ultra-traditionalists, who rightly view the Church as unchanging, but wrongly view the world as at fault for changing. This latter group, who certainly deserve more sympathy, nonetheless have erred so far to the “right” that they have essentially ended up in the same skewed perspective as their too-far-“left” counterparts. The liberals praise the Pope for his misinterpreted encyclical, and the traditionalists condemn him; meanwhile His Holiness is upbraided for cooperating with the SSPX and… well, grudgingly acknowledged from the other side, at best – ultra-traditionalists do tend to be a mite stubborn.
At any rate, those on each side want the Pope to be on their side. Ultra-liberals want to see him skipping to the altar throwing flowers and wearing a rainbow mitre, while ultra-traditionalists want to see him nailing the Syllabus of Errors on every lamppost in the world. As always, the words of the great Defender of the Faith, G.K. Chesterton, are pertinent: “For not only (as I understood) had Christianity the most flaming vices, but it had apparently a mystical talent for combining vices which seemed inconsistent with each other. It was attacked on all sides and for all contradictory reasons. No sooner had one rationalist demonstrated that it was too far to the east than another demonstrated with equal clearness that it was much too far to the west.”1 Indeed, if one rationalist is standing in San Francisco, wearing his zebra-striped leotard and celebrating diversity, he will find Rome too far to his right; and a man standing in Sydney clutching his Oath Against Modernism and Syllabus of Errors will find Rome too far too his left. But the simple fact is that wherever people want the roots of Catholicism to be, ubi Petrus, ibi Ecclesia.
What both dissenters ultimately share is a persistent refusal to not only subjugate their pride, but to exercise their reason. Each is a sort of cafeteria Catholic; one indulges in sweets and luxuries and all manner of gluttony, while the other fasts to the point of malnourishment (Gratias, CE, for the example). The latter’s deviation is closer to the mean, but still off the mark. This “cafeterism” carries over not only into their doctrinal acceptance (or nigh total repudiation) but also their ability to read, apparently. If there is one problem with the Holy Father’s pastoral approach to his flock, it is that he expects too much of them. People, it seems he thinks, ought to be capable of reading an entire document, beginning to end, and understanding each part as it relates to the whole – as was previously pointed out on this blog, a continuous hermeneutical approach to the truth (see this article). Unfortunately, both the ultra-liberals and the ultra-traditionalists have the tendency of picking out sentences that only convey a tiny part of anything’s meaning and holding it up as either blasphemy or the immutable Truth.
Either way, each is arrogant and obstinate – hopefully, not to the point of damnation. Each needs to ask himself – what does it really mean to say, “I am a Catholic?” If he answers that, truthfully, correctly, maybe he will see things clearly at last – not that Church is too far “right” or “left,” but that he is – and maybe he will realize that there is no such thing as “direction” when it comes to sempiternal truth; for while the Church changes Her accidents in accord with what best allows the shifting world to see God clearly, those who stand recalcitrant upon their own egos are ground to dust in the churning of this world against the next.
1 Chesterton, G.K.. Orthodoxy, Ignatius Press: San Francisco, 1995: 91.