To be fair, Cardinal McElroy didn’t call for the Church to ordain women. And, technically, Cardinal Cupich hasn’t called for the Church to condone homosexuality.
Rather, what Cardinal McElroy said is that “the exclusion of men and women because of their marital status or their sexual orientation/activity is pre-eminently a pastoral question, not a doctrinal one.” Likewise, Cardinal Cupich condemned those who would “exclude sinners from fuller participation in the life of the church until they have reformed, out of respect for God’s justice.”
But we all know what that means. What’s more, they know that we know what it means. Their Eminences want everyone to understand that they dissent from the Catholic faith. They’re a fifth column of feminists and LGBT allies, working to recreate the Church from within. Of course, openly calling for such changes might cost them their jobs. So they’re not going to do that. But they still want us all to know they’re on the right side of history. They want implausible deniability.
Orthodox. Faithful. Free.
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What’s maddening is that, because progressive churchmen only speak in code, we can’t actually have one of those “dialogues” they’re always going on about.
Every time, it’s the same dance. These churchmen start using phrases like “culture of exclusion.” Conservatives ask them to explain how the Church could be more inclusive—short of changing her perennial teaching, of course. But the churchmen just respond with more buzzwords, like “welcoming those on the peripheries.” Pretty soon, conservatives realize these churchmen really do want to change Church teaching. (And, again, that’s exactly the impression they’re trying to give.)
Yet as soon as the conservatives say so, the progressive Catholic media come out to do their best Freud impersonation. “Why are all these right-wing bigots getting so worked up?” they ask. “Why are they so opposed to including women and welcoming gay people? Isn’t this proof that conservatives are really just a bunch of misogynists and homophobes? Maybe we should have women priests and gay marriage, just to own the trads.”
Some conservatives are accusing the Cardinals of heresy. But I’m not. Just the opposite, really. At the risk of sounding cute, I really don’t think they’re worthy of that name.
When I think of a heretic, I think of Giordano Bruno or Miguel Servetus: brilliant men living—and dying—in the service of some fantastical error. They might be wrong. They might even be damned wrong. But they possess certain virtues a Catholic can’t help admiring: courage, sincerity, a genuine desire for truth.
Objectively speaking, the missives published by Cardinals McElroy and Cupich were neither courageous nor sincere. That’s why my jaw hit the desk when I heard America Magazine praising Their Eminences for respecting “the pope’s wishes for frank conversation” by being “unafraid in sharing their views.” Of course, that’s exactly what they haven’t done. They haven’t shared their views. They’ve hidden them in plain sight. Their opinions are still a secret, albeit an open secret.
Yet, when it comes to heresy, it’s the desire for truth that really separates the men from the boys.
While reading the essays by Cardinals McElroy and Cupich, I thought of a passage from Four Witnesses by Rod Bennett—specifically a bit where he talks about the Docetists, a fourth-century sect that tried to synthesize Christianity with paganism. Mr. Bennett explains that, while there were many sincere Docetists, there were also large numbers of ordinary Catholics who joined the sect for pragmatic reasons.
The Docetists rejected many of the teachings that the Roman authorities found scandalous, like the Incarnation or Transubstantiation. The hope was that, by softening a few of Jesus’ “hard sayings,” they could endear themselves to the government. According to Mr. Bennett,
What they seem to have wanted (and some of their weaker elders along with them, no doubt) was something all of us are still tempted to want today. They just wanted to belong a bit better.
The Docetists did not want to drop their faith, they simply wondered whether it would really do all that much harm just to tweak it a little. After all, think of it: with just this one tiny adjustment to just one of the more obscure inferences of the new Christian gospel, all this horrible war between the Faith and the Empire could simply be called off…. If Christians, merely by making this single modest concession, were then allowed to take their rightful place in Roman society, who could say what great victories for Christ might be won? The Church might be able to shed her frightful reactionary image (still lingering from the days of Nero) and work to change the culture from within.
In other words, these men and women were not true Docetists. They were conformists. And that, I think, is much worse. The heretic makes an honest mistake; the conformist makes a dishonest mistake. The heretic might be a liar, but at least he’s trying to tell the truth. The conformist is like Pilate. For him, truth isn’t a factor.
I think it’s pretty clear that Cardinal McElroy and Cardinal Cupich aren’t driven by a deep love for truth. They’re not renegade intellectuals or reckless mystics rushing headfirst into error. They’re tweakers, includers, belongers, conceders. They would rather lie to God—and to themselves—than tell their neighbor the truth.
For all I know, Their Eminences would die for Christ’s love. But they can’t live with the world’s hatred. And that’s bad news. Our Lord is pretty clear on this point. “You will be hated by all for my name’s sake,” He said; “But the one who endures to the end will be saved.” (Notice the but.)
To speak this way about members of the clergy is a terrible thing. But as these attacks on Christian truth become more concerted, so must our defense.
And truth is its own advantage. We’re not obliged to stoop and skulk like these conformist churchmen. We don’t have to sneer and scheme like the conformist media. We can stand upright. We can speak our mind. We can be ourselves.
Libertas in Veritate. There’s freedom in truth.
[Image Credit: Getty Images]