instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Fortess Catholicism's new tenants

Sherry Weddell picks up on the "purity v. charity" angle of the dotCommonweal discussion of Bishop Steenson's announced intention to enter the Catholic Church.

In yet another example of my lack of imagination, I was surprised to learn that there is a very lively concern in some Catholic circles that Pope Benedict XVI (as thorough-going an Augustinian as you'd hope to meet outside Villanova) is going to act on his alleged Donatistic impulse for purity, and thereby... er, preach Catholic doctrine on sexuality and Holy Orders, which those who disgree will disagree with. Or something.

The actual quotation, from Cathleen Kaveny, is:
There is a moral disagreement here --among Christians. It is a disagreement about what the faith actually requires. People who think a small religious group is trading in moral injustices aren't likely to be attracted to the beacon of light of that brilliant little community.
This, apparently, is a case of "purity over charity," the purity being Catholic doctrine and the charity being... er, either not preaching Catholic doctrine or changing it to accommodate those who don't like it. I'm not sure which.

Having poisoned the well, let me try to reconstruct her argument:
  1. Pope Benedict XVI has said a lot about the possibility of small numbers of Catholics being the key to the New Evangelization.
  2. Most people don't like the Church's teachings on sexuality.
  3. Therefore, small numbers of Catholics who hold the Catholic position on sexuality won't draw people to the Church.
Which is a weird argument.

A very weird argument, in fact, and not only for the immediately obvious reason that she seems to be arguing for changing Catholic doctrine to accommodate the preferences of others and calling it "charity."

For one thing, the argument seems to require a concept of reception into the full communion of the Catholic Church that entails nothing more than recognition and agreement -- "Say, what do you know! I just noticed I believe and profess all that the holy Catholic Church believes, teaches, and proclaims to be revealed by God. I should join the Church this Easter!" The idea that "very convinced persons with joy of the faith" (to quote Cardinal Ratzinger) might be more attractive than "women can't be priests" (to repeat Catholic dogma) is repulsive is a non-starter here.

For another, it ignores the role of the Holy Spirit.

Or -- well, frankly, what it requires is that the person making the argument have no faith in Catholic doctrine (either because she thinks it's false or because she thinks its truth has no power).

But the really weird part is that, as you remember, all this is taking place in comments on a post about an Episcopal bishop who is joining the Catholic Church. Kaveny and others express concern that Bishop Steenson's motives are political. David Gibson openly speculates that it is a "conversion of convenience." Kaveny claims the right "to gently raise an eyebrow" when Bishop Steenson's letter doesn't satisfy her curiosity as to his reasons (she seems particularly suspicious because it enabled "self-contratulatory crowing on the part of some conservative Catholics").

All this despite the fact that they know jack-all about the fellow or the "Anglo-Papalist" theological stream in which he has been swimming for decades.

So tell me: Who are the Donatists here? Who are speculating about the purity of others? Whose doctrinal concerns are trumping charity and openness?