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Catholic Social Science Review

Volume 14, 2009

Joseph A. Varacalli
Pages 143-165

A Catholic House in Repair or Further Dividing?

As she emerges from the immediate post-Vatican II period, the Catholic Church in the U.S. is experiencing simultaneously both positive and negative developments. Negatively, the immediate post-Vatican II period, characterized by the institutionalization of internal dissent, predictably produced various religious and social dysfunctions and witnessed increasing numbers within the ranks of Catholic leadership accepting secular assumptions of reality as superior to those of the historic and organically developing Catholic tradition. During the immediate contemporary era, the growth of this institutionalized dissent—characterized as a “first wave” of decomposition—has been capped but has not been significantly reduced. Key to contemporary positive developments occurring at the moment is the appearance of a significant minority of young people in search of a worldview and lifestyle consistent with the spiritually rich and life-affirming worldview of the Catholic faith. Key to contemporary negative developments is a more recent “second wave” of decomposition characterized by needless and self-destructive rancor taking place within the remaining sectors of orthodox Catholicism. This second wave of decomposition is partially the result of the inability of a Catholic leadership too enamored of a secular bureaucratic mentality to articulate and enforce the parameters of Catholic orthodoxy in the form of a “Catholic center” as defined by Magisterial thinking. The failure to forge an effective Catholic center has resulted in the continuation of the general decomposition of the Church in the form of a partially hidden but operative “protestantization” and individualization within the Catholic community. In this second wave, elements of orthodox Catholicism conflate their time and space-specific responses to the unsatisfactory condition of the Church in America with the far wider range of legitimate responses acceptable within the tradition of the Church Universal, thus absolutizing what are, in reality, responses that are relative, incomplete, and, in some cases, simply false. Because of the lack of an effective “Catholic center” in America, in other words and in too many cases, the organizations and movements created by serious Catholics in response to the present unsatisfactory condition of the Church have failed to revitalize and invigorate the Church and her tradition through an organic development. Rather, they are serving to further splinter her into competing, and at best, partial and incomplete versions of the Catholic faith. The immediate future of the Catholic Church in America, and derivatively, the direction of American civilization depend on whether legitimate Catholic leadership can create a functioning Catholic center based on Magisterial authority that is consistent with the adage, “in necessary things, unity; in doubtful things, liberty; in all things, charity.” The task of this Catholic center, under present circumstances, is to suppress and control the two waves of decomposition, both of which operate simultaneously within the contemporary Catholic Church. The Catholic center must discipline and reject the overt dissent generated by secularism, focus attention on the basic and non-negotiable principles of the Catholic faith, and significantly reduce needless conflict on prudential concerns and issues between the various sectors of orthodox Catholicism in the United States.

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