This might sound like a sarcastic title coming from me, but it is not.
Except for groups like Byzantines, most practicing American Catholics have a view of the Church and her doctrine that can usually fit into one of these three categories:
Liberals—These are the Catholics who believe that the Church’s doctrine can change not only organically but even essentially. For example, Chicago’s Archbishop Cupich has called Pope Francis’ doctrine “a game changer.”
Traditionalists—These are the Catholics who believe that the Church’s doctrine can not change in its essence. Because of this, traditionalists believe that there is a general apostasy of modernism in the Church, all the way to the top, fulfilling the third secret of Fatima. “Rad-trads” are grumpy about it; “Glad-trads” believe God will work it out in His time.
Neo-conservatives—These are the American Republican Catholics who speak a lot about the “True Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist” but never the “Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.” “Neo-cons” are pro-life but few would ever claim that a heresy of modernism has invaded the whole Church.
Here’s a simple truth that flows from logic and Church History:
If doctrine can change, the liberals are correct.
If docrine can not change, the traditionalists are correct.
I’m not talking about the organic development of doctrine as seen in, say, the Christology of the Council of Chalcedon (AD 451.) I’m talking about definitive breaks in capital-T Tradition. And for this reason, the one group that can not possibly be correct are the neo-cons. Perhaps the neo-cons have not studied study Church History enough to see that there have been several crises in 2,000 years where a small group of faithful (like themselves, actually) may be called to transcend the opinion polls of bishops. (St. Athanatius is not the only example!) Or, perhaps the neo-cons know this very well, and they are simply unwilling to lose their soft suburban pastorates or high-paying lay-ministry jobs. A prophetic witness will always cost either popularity (priests) or money (lay workers making bank.)
At least the liberals who work for publications like America and National Catholic Reporter recognize that Pope Francis’ doctrine is a “game changer.” I admire their honesty and clarity. Just this weekend, National Catholic Reporter published an article titled Francis: Sexual morality determined case-by-case, even for transgender. Of course, I disagree theologically with both of them, but journalistically I appreciate their transparency in presenting Pope Francis as he truly is.
Neo-cons, on the other hand, disingenuously twist Pope Francis into their own idea of “strategic” orthodoxy, as seen in this inconsistent article here, published by National Catholic Register. This is a guaranteed-fail in fabricating a long-gone “hermeneutic of continuity” (a hermeneutic slowly becoming the emperor’s clothes to any neo-con not paid by the Catholic Church.)
So, why do the rest of the conservatives insist on living in that lukewarm middle-ground between traditionalists and liberals?
“I think I know why. Scratch a conservative—and more often than not you’ll find a traditionalist. But a traditionalist who shrinks from resolving the ambiguity of his own position. This is not surprising. It hurts to change.”—Neil McCaffrey Sr., requiescat in pace+.