Dissenting Catholics

Objections to Roman Catholicism

edited with an Introduction by Michael de la Bedoyère
J. B. Lippincott, 184 pp., $3.95

The self-examination of the Catholic Church, begun overtly and publicly with the election of Giuseppe Roncalli to the Papacy, is a wonderfully interesting process. Here is the oldest institution in western Europe, substantially unchanged in structure, in liturgy, and in theological language since the reform of the sixteenth century, now engaged in—it is no longer possible to doubt this—a radical criticism of all those things which separate Catholicism, as a religious cult and a way of life, from Orthodoxy and Protestantism on the one hand, agnostic and humanist culture on the other. It is possible to be disappointed, agonized, amused baffled before this spectacle.

It had been an article of faith among the philosophes that the Catholic Church was a sour conspiracy against the liberty and well-being of mankind. It was in the long run not to be taken too seriously simply because it was at bottom no more than the ideological expression of the old regime, and was pervaded by a nostalgia for the days when throne and altar were in alliance and when the spectacle of burning heretics delighted both secular and ecclesiastical eyes. Such an enemy of humanity might be malignant, for its powers where men were poor and superstitions were still great, but it must in the nature of things be finally ineffectual. The view of those “prophets of gloom” in the Curia—as they were characterized by John XXIII—is fundamentally the same as that of the philosophes. They, too, thought of the body of Catholicism as having precisely the shape of its historical carapace. To break the carapace would be to kill its tenant.

What is not perhaps sufficiently taken into account is that the present period of self-examination has long been in preparation. No one certainly could have anticipated that an aged papal diplomat who seemed to have been elected to the Chair of Peter as a stop-gap pontiff would be the man to inaugurate the period of open discussion. But it was fairly certain, once a Council had been called, that what had long been said among theologians and among educated layman would be said openly by at least some bishops, and would sooner or later produce institutional changes in the government of the Church. From Mohler and Newman in the nineteenth century to Congar, Rahner, and De Lubac in our own day, there has been a constant witness against reactionary tendencies in theology and in the conception of the Church’s social and political role. From time to time there has been virtually a reign of terror administered by the Holy Office and the other Roman congregations. Such was the repression of the scholarly study of the Bible in the pontificate of Pius X. Such, more recently, has been the attempted repression of the “new theology,” the secret proscription of works by Congar and De Lubac, the attempt to discipline the French Dominicans, the brutal treatment of the French bishops in the matter of the worker priests, the campaign against Father Courtney Murray’s theories…

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