Friday, May 23, 2008

Quebecois Catholicism: A cautionary tale

Richard John Neuhaus writes in his March 2008 Public Square Column about one Michael Gauvreau's examination of the decline of Catholicism in Quebec.

Within, it seems, the blink of an eye, the Church retreated and the state took over. For the most part, the Church willingly, even eagerly, retreated. It is not too much to say that the Church led the retreat, and did so in the name of a more “authentic” ­Catholicism...

The revolution got underway long before that. Its young leaders in Catholic Action were “the brightest and the best” and were inspired by Pius XI’s 1931 encyclical on social doctrine, Quadragesimo Anno. They construed that teaching in a way that created a category of “youth” that was depicted as modernity pitted against the way of their elders. The Catholic Action renewal proceeded, as Gauvreau writes, “from a negative reference point: the values of previous generations could offer no guidance or salvation for young Catholics confronted with the pressures and challenges of modern society.” Many bishops and priests ardently supported this youthful demand for an “authentic” Catholicism. The leaders of Catholic Action believed themselves to be fervently Catholic in seeking a more genuine form of lay Catholicism. The male leaders who dominated Catholic Action were disdainful of “feminized” popular piety and devotions centered on the family and extended families of parish communities. They were inspired also by the 1930 encyclical, Casti Connubii, which places a new emphasis on the spiritual and sexual dimensions of marriage. An enormously popular marriage-preparation program was launched that promoted a “sanctification of sex,” strongly favoring the nuclear family and mutual satisfaction over ­traditional familial patterns. Marriage was elevated over celibacy, and it was urged that the clergy had little to say about how the faith should be lived in the real world. The new approach was described as “personalist,” in contrast to the cultural and routine Catholicism of the past...

With the support of the more influential clergy, it was proposed that there are two Catholicisms: “one authentic, heroic, spiritually pure, communitarian, appealing to masculine reason, and the other routine, sentimental, unthinking, overly pious, excessively individualistic, appealing primarily to women and the less educated.”

Neuhaus notes the obvious parallels, such as a certain emphasis in some "Theology of the Body" discussions.

The sentimental cheering about how the heroic youth of the present will undo Baby Boomer vandalism still feeds contempt for the past. Those youths too will grow up someday. If they deeply imbibe the flattery about themselves being the "wave of the future," in their maturity they'll be just as insufferable as today's aging hipsters.


ben said...

I let my subsciption lapse for a few months, an I don't actually have the March issue, so thank you for posting this interesting excerpt.

Recently, the question of the personalism of Pope John Paul II vs. a more traditional understanding of family relations, has been a personal concern of mine. Something fundamental in my understanding of marriage began to change about 3 years ago when we had our 7th child.

I've begun attending the traditional mass at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel several times per month since last fall. This piece gives me more fodder for reflection. Thank you.

Steve Nicoloso said...

I saw this too, Kevin, and found it very interesting. I think it strange, really ironic, to note that the Catholic Dissident Movement (for lack of a better term) was inspired, at least in part, by an attempt to masculinize the Church. All those old biddies (mindlessly?) praying the rosary instead of listening to the homily were seen as contemptible by those who favored an "authentic, heroic, &c." Catholicism.

And yet it was this very impulse, largely self-loathing, that has led to a great femininization of the Church. We now have priests that are positively (and publicly) embarrassed by the Church's position on women's ordination; scandalized by the "lack of power" (hah!) that women posess in the church. It seems we have thrown away the old femininity (pious, sentimental, unquestioning) with a new and far more disgusting femininity (agressive, iconoclastic, deracinating) that is to say a femininity poisoned with worse parts of masculinity. Betty Friedan would be proud.

And so for all its ostensible support of things feminine and persons female, the modern AMChurch really does so in a way that rejects femininity, and embraces a misplaced (often disordered) masculinity. It really is masculine to, for example, vandalize old hymns by removing male pronouns; masculine to blithely alter the bits of the liturgy not seen to comport with your ideology; masculine, ultimately, to feel it one's obligation to reject the liturgy as a gift of God through the Church and see it instead as an instrument in defense of entrenched power.

One really cannot be too careful about what one wishes for.