It’s familiar news by now that the German “Synodal Way” has moved forward with the heterodox “reforms” of women’s ordination and gender ideology. Familiar, too, is Cardinal Robert W. McElroy’s plea for a similar “inclusion” in the wider Catholic Church. They both have generated much conversation and criticism, giving the impression that we’re observing something comparatively new in the Church.
But these are just the latest attempts in the now decades-old project to make Catholicism socially acceptable by compromising on hot button issues. It arguably began in 1960 with John F. Kennedy’s famous address to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association. Faced with mounting Protestant worries about his Catholicism, the future President proudly declared that he would approach and act on every issue—whether “birth control, divorce, censorship, gambling, or any other subject”—based only on the “national interest” and without reference to any teaching of his (or any other) religious faith.
Seven years later came the (in)famous “Land O’ Lakes Statement”, sponsored by the University of Notre Dame. In the midst of a growing movement for radical academic freedom, numerous Catholic universities declared themselves free of “authority of whatever kind, lay or clerical, external to the academic community itself.” No longer, the signers thought, would Catholic colleges and unversities serve the truth as known through the Catholic Faith, but only the interests of scholars.
And then, of course, came the Pope Paul VI’s controversial 1968 encyclical Humanae vitae and the condemnation of artificial birth control. Dissenting reaction rose up not just from individual politicians or isolated academics but even from entire bishops’ conferences. The West was ready for sexual freedom, and no pointy hat was going to stand in its way.
But all such participants remained Catholic. Kennedy didn’t say, “My Catholicism is a barrier to my political aspirations; therefore, I reject it.” Catholic university leaders didn’t remove all Catholic art or labels from their institutions. And the dissenting bishops still thought themselves Catholic bishops.
Rather than a rejection of their Catholic faith, such dissent was an attempt to bolster it in the eyes of the world. Putting up with just a little cogitative dissonance, the politicians and signers and clerics of such molding could say, “Look! You actually like our Catholic Faith after all.” Just compromise here and there on the points wider society hates, and suddenly you (and the broader message you preach) are welcomed into polite society again.
And it worked. JFK won. Catholic scholarship (and Catholics in general) became more accepted. Artificial contraception became mainstream. And it continued to work for over a generation, with “personally opposed, but politically for” Catholicism rising to the heights of power and cultural respect.
Which brings us to the German Synod and, strangely, New York City mayor Eric Adams.
Adams is the type of nondenominational Christian who appears to have no content beyond a vague spirituality of prayer and a hazy belief in God. Politically, the Democrat is on the “accepted” side of every major issue—strongly supporting abortion, same-sex “marriage”, and gender ideology.
But when he mentioned the one, irreducible part of his Christianity—his belief in God and the importance of spirituality for people—he was roundly mocked. MSNBC said he had “theocratic impulses.” The New York Times said his words were “dangerous.” And so on.
Adams has already come under fire for appointing “anti-gay” pastors to leadership roles in NYC’s bureaucracy. The proof of their bigotry? Calling homosexuality a “mortal sin” in 2013 (two years before it was even legal in some states). And though all of these appointees have adamantly claimed their views have evolved to meet the current standard, this is not good enough for many.
This is why I can only see the German “path” and McElroy movements as tragically ironic. I have no doubt that the German Synodal Path is trying to take the accommodation path of JFK and the rest with the apparent intent of making their Church attractive to people again.
However, the case of Eric Adams proves this is no longer viable.
To the technocrats, secular elites, and upcoming cultural movers, Christianity in general is suspicious—even the practically contentless, pro-LGBT, pro-choice Christianity of Mayor Adams. The German Bishops, at least if transplanted to American culture, will find that they are hated no matter what they say about transgenderism, women’s ordination, or same-sex relationships. They will be hated just for saying Jesus Christ is Lord—even when they evacuate that claim of any and all meaning.
The Germans are competing in a race to the bottom. You can empty your belief of essentially all its content in an attempt to be tolerated—and you’ll find that your Christianity still isn’t acceptable in polite society. Or even tolerated.
Of course, East Coast sensibilities haven’t taken over everything just yet. There are still places, at least for now, where compromising on controversial doctrines will earn you a seat at the table. But no changes in practice or doctrine by German bishops and 800,000 employees will reverse the hemorrhaging, as Catholics continue leaving the German Church.
The hour is simply too late. It is no longer inconvenient morality turning people away; it is the very notion of God and faith in Jesus Christ.
Jesus once lamented those who would lose their souls to gain the whole world. How much greater is the tragic comedy of those losing their souls—and still forfeiting the world.
In this, at least, there’s cause to be grateful. Making the choice to lose the world is tough, even if it means keeping your soul.
But the choice is quickly becoming much simpler. We’re going to lose the whole world, regardless. Do we at least want to keep our souls?
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Great insights and such!
But, hey, maybe the slippery slope became obvious long before the JFK Address…And, worse than today’s pandemic Spirit of “compromise.” The academic groundwork, also long before Land O’Lakes, surely includes the fantasizing sociocrat Auguste Comte (1798-1857)!
About whom we find these summary words in de Lubac’s “The Drama of Atheist Humanism” (1953):
“August Comte […] thought to satisfy [‘the virtue of religion’] by offering it a deity that was perfectly ‘homogeneous’ [today, as in “diversity, equity, identity” incarnated as homo-sexuality!] with itself, a being ‘composed of its own ‘worshippers’ [“aggregated, compiled and synthesized” sin-nod-ism?].
And, still much earlier, some guy named St. Augustine discerned (!) all:
He warned that real freedom “cannot be reduced to a sense of choice: it is [instead] freedom to act fully. . .” And, speaking to today, he would have us resist and transcend what he broadly termed “fantastica fornicatio”—the fornication of the mind with its own fantasies (our literalist “gender theory” which, in days of yore, still was only a figure of speech)!
Loved this. Salted with some belly laughing humor to lighten the tragedy of it all. I’ll fight to keep my soul… and I’ll laugh.
“But the choice is quickly becoming much simpler”.
Essayist Lucas captures the moment in short humor, “The West was ready for sexual freedom, and no pointy hat was going to stand in its way”.
Not only was his pointy hated authority dismissed, he was attacked, besmirched, ridiculed. Rome was a carnival of abuse of the pontiff.Not only was his pointy hated authority dismissed, he was attacked, besmirched, ridiculed. Rome was a carnival of abuse of the pontiff. Related to the dilemma of unmitigated sexual freedom was the rejection of Humane Vitae and the Card O’Boyle Wash DC debacle.
“The battle between the Roman Catholic hierarchy and dissident priests over Pope Paul’s anti-contraception encyclical continues. Patrick Cardinal O’Boyle suspended one of his priests and threatened 51 others with disciplinary action unless they abandon their opposition to the Pope’s teaching” (Time 1968).
O’Boyle, the only ranking US prelate to decisively follow Humanae Vitae had a rebellion of priests to deal with following this suspension. The Cardinal also acted to stamp out dissent at Catholic University, of which he is the chancellor. The trustees reneged citing ongoing controversy.
At center of the rebellion was religious freedom and conscience as defined by Jesuit Courtney Murray in Dignitatis Humanae. Freedom of conscience became the rallying cry of dissidents throughout the Church. Paul VI was shaken with the prospect of a schismatic break with the American Church. Some hold Paul was intimidated [Hans Kung railed unceasingly in public]. At the time schism did appear a reality if the issue weren’t alleviated. O’Boyle was instructed by the Vatican to relax his policy of suspensions.
Dignitatis Humanae did not address the obligation of Catholics to form their conscience in accord with the commandments given to the Church by Christ, the coercive dimension of faith in Christ and the limits of religious freedom. That theological fissure widened the chasm [which includes conscientious freedom for same sex, Trans sex mutilation, LGBT, adultery, licentiousness in general] into which countless souls have since jeopardized their salvation – if we are to believe revelation, our required positive response to Christ and the authority of the Church he instituted.
What we’re suffering today during the present pontificate is precisely the result of that controversy situated in an interpretation of conscientious freedom as the arbiter of truth, once again, effectively reversing the corrective teaching of John Paul II in Veritatis splendor, Benedict XVI on conscience – as presented in Amoris Laetitia. A fallacy in Amoris that defines reason as the rule of truth, whereas it’s reason that is the measure of truth. Conscience literally means, to act with [con] knowledge [scientia]. Truth is the rule to which reason and conscience must conform.
I now pray daily for Jesus to return before any more are led astray by these evils.
I’ve learned that compromise just makes you feel dirty when in the end you still don’t get what you thought was your side of the deal.