Certainly, there are many factions within Holy Mother Church, and always have been. That’s what the seven letters in Revelation Chapters 3 & 4 are all about, not to mention numerous admonitions in the letters of St. Paul. Indeed, while there are tens of thousands of Protestant denominations, one could argue there are just as many “Denominations” of Catholicism.
However, it’s perfectly clear that, in the contemporary West, particularly in America, there are two principle divisions, out of which several smaller divisions permeate. These are often described by political terms, since the people who tend towards one side or the other tend to share common political ideologies as well. Another term that has been used by some commentators is “American Catholics” versus “Roman Catholics,” with the odd caveat that “American Catholics” generally tend to be pretty hostile to America as such, while “Roman Catholics” tend to be patriotic or even jingoistic conservatives. That these divisions exist should be patently obvious to anyone with a modicum of understanding of the situation in the American Church.
Each “side” of the division believes its vision is authentically Catholic and that the other side’s vision is precisely un-Catholic. There are also those who attempt to straddle the “middle ground” and say that both sides have strengths and weaknesses in their arguments. This is a position which Dietrich von Hildebrand declared untenable in that one cannot pick and choose from modernist political ideologies and peace together an authentically Catholic vision. The idea of treating ideology as a puzzle or a recipe and picking and choosing ingredients that one prefers out of various “options” flies in the face of political philosophy as it ignores the need for first principles.
That said, I think many people choose where they stand on the Catholic spectrum largely by what their mothers or grandmothers taught them. Some people’s mothers and grandmothers taught them to live in fear of the spectre of anti-Catholicism, the problem of “fitting in” back before the Council when Catholics supposedly were so different. Their mothers also taught them that, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” Their understanding of Catholicism is very akin to so-called mainline Protestantism: Jesus was a nice guy who taught some nice stuff and ultimately wants everyone to be nice to each other. Whatever their “personal views” of various Catholic moral teachings (which they often think are open to question), they generally do not believe morality should be publicly enforced, partly because they realize that enforcement of morality necessarily implies nforcement of some religious view, and their ancestors came here fleeing religious persecution only to find more religious persecution. Indeed, their ancestors often came here fleeing European monarchies (even the Catholic ones), and tended to accept a Masonic mistrust of the Church along with Masonic mistrust of monarchy. They rightly emphasize the Church’s “preferential option for the poor,” but wrongly emphasize it at the expense of public morality. While they theoretically oppose authority, they seem to welcome authoritarianism when it comes to economics. They see a kinship between the socialist’s concern for the worker and the Catholic’s concern for the worker, even though 19th Century Catholics and Socialists alike understood their interests to be opposed rather than allied. They think that the proposals of _Rerum Novarum_, which were radical when compared to the established aristocratic and capitalists classes of Europe and America in the late 19th Century, mean the Church endorses the economic radicalism of Democrats today, in spite of the numerous encyclicals written to update the Church’s teaching to suit advances in economics. Finally, like the Catholics who willingly voted for Hitler and Mussolini because they promised economic security, jobs and universal health care, these Catholics willingly vote for people like Bill Clinton and Barack Obama in spite of the various warning signs.
On the other hand, we have the Catholics whose mothers emphasized good behavior, moral uprightness, and daily devotions. They follow a model of general obedience to the Church, except when obedience to local hierarchs means disobedience to Rome. Some of them see the flaws of the American system in general and choose to work towards a return to the days of Christendom, while others to varying degrees accept the Republicans as the lesser of two evils. Both those sub-groups fight amongst each other but generally recognize that they’re all in a common fight for some level of traditional Catholicism. They are baffled why the other side puts economics above morality. They themselves sometimes compromise Catholic principles in their alliance of convenience with the American Right. Catholics of the “Right” tend to have an approach that’s more akin to Evangelical and Fundamentalist Protestants. We emphasize the documents.
Nobody’s perfect, but what gets to me about the “Left” is its attitude towards Rome. I blogged recently about badly catechized Catholics–Catholics who are not ignorant of the Church’s teachings but have been taught to look at the Church from a distorted lens of Masonic principles, which they mistakenly believe are Catholic principles. I compared liberal Catholics to mainline Protestants: like mainline Protestants, their view of Catholicism boils down to “what Father So-and-so says.” They are at least consistent in their views. The “We Are Church” mentality leads to the conviction that if a Catholic believes something, a Catholic *can* believe that, whether for good or bad. So, like a secular anti-Catholic (the very anti-Catholics they claim to fear but kowtow to), they’ll point to Catholics who supported the antebellum South, or Catholics who supported Hitler (even though those Catholics agreed with them that “social justice” trumps morality), or Catholics who committed atrocities during the Crusades, and they try to say that those Catholics, even if they were criticized by their Popes, somehow represented the teaching of the whole Church. Conversely, if they can find some random Catholic bishop or priest who supported homosexuality or abortion or socialism in the past, they’ll take that person’s opinion as authoritative Catholic teaching. They care far more about the opinions of Hans Kung, Charles Curran or Karl Rahner than they do about the opinions of John XXIII or Paul VI.
And then there’s the whole “Spirit of Vatican II” thing. Many of us have heard the argument that what happened after Vatican II was not the intent of the Council, that the people who “implemented” the Council went against what the Council Fathers actually said and manipulated the interpretation of the documents. I’ve looked at the documents many times over the years but mainly in a “research” capacity. Certainly, those readings have confirmed that view. Lately, I’ve been actually reading them, straight through, per Pope Benedict XVI’s call for us to seriously study the Council Documents for its 50th Anniversary in this “Year of Faith.” Well, guess what? That argument is true in spades. I read Sacrosanctam Concilium, the Sacred Constitution on the Liturgy, and what that document describes is nothing like what happened. Indeed, the collected documents of Vatican II volume we have has a note after S.C. that says how the reason it’s so different is that there were a bunch of other documents that came out after the Council closed that decided to go with more radical reforms and ignored what S.C. actually said (i.e., its requirements that all laity be taught Latin and that priests and religious continue to say the Office in Latin). It struck me as ironic that SSPX-ers are told they must 100% assent to every word of the Council Documents because it’s a Council and it’s binding, yet the people who “implemented” the Council ignored those very documents.
So, the “Left” has its popular refrain of “Vatican II got rid of that,” or that anything deemed “too conservative,” whether in devotions or liturgy or politics is “not in keeping with Vatican II.” Advocates of a hermeneutic of rupture make much of then-Cardinal Ratzinger’s statement that the Council was a kind of “anti-Syllabus” or “counter Syllabus,” referring to Pope Pius IX’s Syllabus of Errors that condemns many modernist ideas. Yet he was referring to the approach, not the content of the Syllabus. Vatican II simply changed how the Church deals with the world. First, where official documents have traditionally been addressed by the Vatican to the bishops, expecting the bishops to relay it to priests who in turn relay it to the people, Vatican II and subsequent Vatican documents have generally been addressed to *everyone*, and not just to Catholics but to *everyone*. I think part of this is precisely that the Vatican *did* recognize the widespread infiltration of the priesthood and episcopacy and that that priests and bishops could not be relied upon to spread the message. Also, the “Vatican II approach” is to invite people to explore the wonders of the Catholic faith rather than presuming people are Catholic and condemning them for not getting it (arguably, there’s something to be said for both approaches). Even so, the content of the Syllabus has been in many ways reaffirmed since Vatican II–for example, by Pope B16 in _Caritas et Veritate_, which in many was is just an explication of what Pius IX says in the Syllabus.
And that gets to the thought that inspired this post, which I may have blogged before, but it bears repeating: who has the better “case” for their “view” of what Catholicism fundamentally is? The main argument the “Catholic Left” has in its favor is the “spirit of Vatican II,” a notion that is easily discredited, combined with the teaching of Bishop X (Arius was a bishop), and “my great grandfather was a Catholic, and he voted for FDR”.
The Catholic “Right” has as its argument that its positions are backed up by the actual documents. It has a general favorability of the Popes towards its positions (i.e., while the Popes acknowledge the failures of Catholicism–Bl. John Paul II in his encyclical on the 100th Anniversary of _Rerum Novarum_ argued that we should distinguish between a truly “free market” and laissez-faire Capitalism–they acknowledge that capitalism is far closer to what the Church calls for than socialism is, and that at least Capitalism gives people the freedom to implement privately what the Church teaches). If one looks at most pre-Vatican II Catholic figures, including “anticipators” of Vatican II like Dorothy Day and Josemaria Escriva, one sees a general favorability towards conservatism over liberalism, even if it’s not entirely the “conservatism” of the contemporary GOP.
It’s not that Republicans are perfect, by any means: I have always questioned whether a Catholic can be 100% comfortable in a country founded on Masonic principles. It’s just that it’s really hard, as I see it, to argue that the Democrats are “right” vis-a-vis Catholic teaching. And *we* have a legitimate explanation for why we believe the Catholic Left went off track: the systematic infiltration of the Church by Masonic and Communist agents, an infiltration that is often dismissed as a conspiracy theory, yet it has been well documented by no less than Dietrich von Hildebrand, the “20th Century Doctor of the Church,” and testified to by Communist agents during the McCarthy hearings. The Left doesn’t have a legitimate reason to explain why “we”– Catholics who lean towards either a conservative view of Vatican II or a traditionalist or radical traditionalist approach — are collectively “wrong,” other than taking that usual liberal attitude that we’re just angry, hate-filled people. Besides that, the best they can muster is that “neoconservative” Catholics are falling prey to the influence of Evangelical converts like Scott Hahn, whom they consider “infiltrators.” They see no contradiction in dismissing Right Wing talk of Left-wing infiltration of the Church as a crazy conspiracy theory while openly discussing their own conspiracy theories about Right wing infiltration of the Church.
So, whatever our differences on the “Right,” we generally have the documents on our side, and we have the backing that the Left’s view has been distorted by corrupt prelates. They back their position up with emotionalism, appeals to non-Papal “authorities,” and dismissing actual Catholic teaching as “hateful rhetoric” and “judgementalism.” So who has the more solid case?