Sunday, August 28, 2005

Catholic Catagories

A Baptist minister with whom I have been having a dialogue, recently posed this question:

"It seems to me that there are different categories of Roman Catholics today. Is this true? One author put it this way, "Ultratraditionalist Catholics (those critical of changes brought by the Vatican II counsel), Traditional (critical of liberalism, but generally accept the changes brought about by Vatican II, Liberal (replaced Bible and Church authority with authority of human reason and question papal infallibility) charismatic/evangelical (more evangelical in belief and affirm conservative orthodox doctrines and emphasize gifts of the Holy Spirit, some speaking in tongues), Cultural Catholics ('womb to the tomb' born, baptized, married, and buried in the Catholic Church, and popular folk Catholics, (predominate in Central and South America, (Eclectic in their beliefs and combine elements of animistic or nature culture religion with traditional medieval Catholicism)." Would you agree with this Categorization? Is there a dividing line, in your thinking as to what categorizes a congregation that is part of Catholic Church?"

Here is my answer: Within any large community or congregation, you will find varying degrees of religious zeal from individual to individual. With over a billion people in the Catholic Church, you can certain find varying degrees of fidelity to Church teaching. Yes, there are conservatives, liberals, traditionalists, charismatics -- you name it, we probably have some, although I might not define them exactly the same as the author you quote. Differing viewpoints exist within the structure of the Church, but I think that is probably true of most denominations. I would imagine in your own church, you may find some who prefer traditional Christian hymns, others who want more upbeat contemporary Christian worship, those with conservative views of Scripture, maybe others who interpret the Bible more liberally. Such differences do not mean the Church is divided or in conflict.

It seems to me that in the Protestant churches, people can seek a denomination that conforms to their personal beliefs. In that sense, like-minded people would tend to worship together. If serious doctrinal disagreements arise, people can move on to other Christian communities. In apologetic discussions with our Protestant brothers and sisters, we Catholics sometime like to point to the wide range of conflicting beliefs in the Protestant denominations as evidence of the inevitable division that result with the rejection of an authoritative Magisterium. To counter that point, I think some Protestant authors try to portray the Catholic Church as beset by internal strife and division. There is a distinction, however. The Catholic has that unifying bond with the Pope and Bishops of the Church. If one denies that authority, even though he may call himself Catholic, isn't he really a Protestor of sorts?

As far as having a dividing line between what constitutes a Catholic congregation, the Church structure (or hierarchy) is fairly well defined. The Pope assigns Bishops to oversee each diocese throughout the world. Within each diocese are parishes headed by priests assigned by the Bishop. Every parish (congregation) under this authority would be considered Catholic. There are several different Rites within the Catholic Church (Eastern, Latin, etc.), but all of these can be distinguished by their submission to the Bishop of Rome. So, it may be more proper to say there are just two categories of Catholics -- those who submit and those who have separated themselves.

I belong to a very small town parish of about 300 families. Within our typical parish, we have some who tend to be conservative, some who tend to be liberal, and maybe even a few trads! There are a few who may disagree with some Church doctrine. (We sometimes disparagingly call them "Cafeteria Catholics" -- those who like to pick and choose which teachings they accept! They act according to conscience, but do not necessarily have a properly formed conscience.) Normally, these differing viewpoints can co-exist in a parish without being divisive.

As Catholics, we should all try to maintain our fidelity to the teachings of the Church because we believe that is what Jesus intended for us to do. Are there Catholics who openly reject Church teaching? Certainly. We have our Ted Kennedys and John Kerrys who claim to be Catholic, but do not practice their faith. Are they still Catholic? Well, technically yes. They are baptized into the Church which contains both the wheat and the chaff! They do not experience the great joy and inner peace that comes when one submits to the will of Our Lord.