Quick Hitter: The Full Meltdown

Yesterday I wrote a post suggesting that Catholics should channel Nick Saban and embrace The Process.  Clearly, Michael Brendan Dougherty is not college football fan.

I guess I have two major take-aways from this piece.  One, I simply cannot fathom why people like Dougherty (and, to a less extent, Ross Douthat) think that so much is at stake with the so-called Kasper proposal specifically and the Synod discussions generally.  Prior to the coming of Pope Francis, the Catholic Church's position was that marriages are indissoluble in theory, but in practice in most dioceses in the world one could get out from under a failed marriage to remarry through the annulment process.  After Pope Francis's canon law reforms a few weeks ago, the position of the Church is that marriages are indissoluble in theory, but in practice in most dioceses in the world one could get out from underneath a failed marriage to remarry through the (now faster and more "user friendly") annulment process.  If the Kasper proposal is adopted, the Church will take the position that marriages are indissoluble in theory, but in practice there are ways to get out from underneath a bad marriage to remarry that involve some sort of interaction with clerics in your local parish and diocese--just like the annulment process.  What exactly are we fighting over here?

In fact, I think so little is at stake here that I have actually come to oppose the Kasper position simply because I think it will infuriate the delicate sensibilities of people like Dougherty without any tangible benefit to couples in that situation.  As the priest who preached the homily at my parish last night said, and I quote, "just go get an annulment and move on with your life."  Yes, a divorced person is at the mercy of a particular tribunal's interpretation of the annulment canons, but under the Kasper proposal one would be at the mercy of the parish priest or bishop's interpretation of "proper penance" or whatever the formula ends up being.  The technical mechanics of how this is put into place are not worth provoking a big fight, no matter how silly I think the concerns of people like Dougherty are.

The second take away, and this is more substantive, is that people like Dougherty have shown their cards.  This is not really about divorced people coming to Communion; this is really about Vatican II.  Doughterty very clearly believes that Vatican II, and everything has come in its wake for the last 50 years, is bad, and that this issue is simply the latest manifestation of the badness.  And the badness of Vatican II is not principally the specific changes that have come about in the wake of the Council, but the very notion that change is possible in the context of the Catholic Church.  Likewise, as Dougherty forthrightly states, the problem with changing the operating principle of the Catholic Church with regard to divorced and remarried couples is the very notion of change itself, separate and apart from the merits of any particular proposed change.

In this, at least, Dougherty is being intellectually consistent.  If you believe that the Catholic Church is the same yesterday, today, and forever, there is no way you can really embrace Vatican II.  It is simply too divergent from what has come before, not only in a "pastoral" sense but also in a strict theological sense.  Conversely, if you accept Vatican II as being a valid expression of the Church/Holy Spirit/People of God, then you must accept a more dynamic vision of the Church, which opens up conceptual room for the possibility of other changes.

Popes John Paul II and Benedict attempted to paper over this fundamental problem in various ways, allowing conservatives and traditional-oriented folks to accept some of the concrete fruits of Vatican II while holding to the idea of an unchanging Church.  But this papering over was always somewhat incoherent, and was entirely held together by a strong vision of the Papacy that would fill in the conceptual gaps.  The moment Francis arrived on the scene and announced that Vatican II had not been fully implemented, the papering over done by his predecessors fell apart.  The only real options are to go back to status quo pre-1962, or to move forward into a future that contains at least the possibility of change.  There really is no middle ground.

The problem, if you are Dougherty, is that I see no enthusiasm among rank-and-file Catholics, even rank-and-file conservative Catholics for winding the clock back to 1961.  There is a very small, very vocal minority that is really, really into the Latin Mass, but everyone else seems to be basically happy with the vernacular Mass with the priest facing the people (and the removal of anti-Semitic content from official Church teachings, and some openness to talk to people of other religions, and an embrace of democratic political values . . . .)  Dougherty is calling for storming the barricades, but I think he will be surprised by how few people are following him when he looks back.

If the price of admission for avoiding the conceptual possibility of change is to take on all of the baggage of Traditionalist Catholicism, the vast majority of folks are going to, say it with me, Trust the Process.


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