Wednesday, September 28, 2016

The collapse of institutional Catholicism

Michael Rea is a bigwig in the philosophy dept. at Notre Dame. That may be the most prestigious philosophy dept. in America, although Plantinga's departure a few years ago certainly reduced its nimbi aura somewhat. Rea's public apologetic disclaimer for Swinburne's keynote address at the SCP, where he defended the traditional view that homosexuality is a "disorder," is just another example in the ongoing collapse of institutional Catholicism. Notre Dame is technically Catholic. Why didn't the president of Notre Dame issue a disclaimer for Rea's disclaimer? Why didn't the president of Notre Dame express support for Swinburne's position?

Or take Georgetown recently hiring a Hindu chaplain. Likewise, when Georgetown law school graduate Sandra Fluke spoke at the 2012 Democrat National Convention, why didn't the president of Georgetown issue a disclaimer, explaining how her views don't represent the views of Georgetown? Or take  Barack Obama speaking at Notre Dame and Georgetown? The presidents of both institutions are Roman Catholic priests. So they are answerable to their religious superiors. 

However, the problem goes all the way to the top:

My immediate point is not about the policy itself. I don't believe in the indissolubility of marriage. My point, rather, is the leadership vacuum in Catholicism. Generally, if you wish to find people who still defend traditional Catholic dogma, the place to look is among the laity rather than the clergy. Yet that's catastrophic for Catholicism. That could work for evangelicalism because evangelicals have portable theological traditions. In evangelicalism, it's doctrine that produces religious institutions–but in Catholicism, it's the religious institution that produces theology. 

Evangelicals can always start over again with new institutions. They can zero out a preexisting denomination and start from scratch. That's because their theology comes first. Their theology is independent of any particular institution. 

By contrast, Catholic theology can't survive without the intubation of the sacraments, priesthood, and magisterium. That's why traditionalist Catholics have such a hard time. 

Institutional Catholicism is the essence of Catholicism. When institutional Catholicism collapses, it takes takes everything else down with it. Laymen can try to take up the slack, but that's a temporary substitute. 

This raises the question of why Catholic clergy are generally more liberal than the laity. I have two or three theories. These aren't mutually exclusive:

i) A certain percentage of Catholic clergy are homosexual. That inevitably has a liberalizing influence.

ii) Unlike evangelical converts to Rome, Catholic clergy attend Catholic educational institutions that usually present mainstream Catholic theology, which is liberal. 

iii) It's easier for the laity, and especially evangelical converts to Rome, to be taken in by the mystique of "the Church". They see it from the outside. Like a model home or display window.

However, priests and bishops see the church from behind-the-scenes. It's hard to maintain belief in the mystique when you're aware of the offstage machinations. Hard to believe this is supernaturally guided when you see the all-too-human intrigue.

To be fair, I'm not suggesting that's confined to Catholicism. Human nature, being what it is, you can certainly find that in Protestant institutions, too. Again, though, in evangelicalism, the theology is separable from the institutions. 


  1. "This raises the question of why Catholic clergy are generally more liberal than the laity."

    Actually, I don't think this is the case. Most Catholic clergy give at least lip service to opposition to abortion, divorce, same-sex "marriage" among other hings. Relatively few members of the laity do. That being said, there are a vocal section of the laity that oppose these things, and also oppose extreme ecumenicalism, Georgetown haing a Muhammadan prayer room etc.

    1. I think we're talking at cross-purposes. I'm not making a quantitative claim regarding the percentage of conservative Catholics among the laity, but the fact that it's typically prominent layman who defend traditional Catholic views while their clergy often say nothing or take liberal positions in writing or policy. That's easy to document.