Sunday, March 25, 2012

Catholic Protestants

Imagine a kid who thinks his parents let his younger brother get away with too much bad behavior. His parents think that some of his younger brother's bad habits are just "phases" that he will grow out of. They are wrong; the younger brother's habits are at least semi-permanent and will negatively influence his life for a very long time.

But the older kid still tries to fill up what he sees as a lack of discipline through his own action, although he is just an older sibling. Of course, this doesn't work very well. He knows something needs to be done, but has no idea of what it should be. So he manages things in horribly incompetent ways; he lacks the knowledge of what offenses must be stopped and what offenses should be ignored; and even if he possessed the knowledge, he still would not be able to enforce it. So he mucks it up.

Take this as an analogy for the current situation in the Church.

Catholic bishops and, perhaps, the Pope, are the parents. Crazed Catholic traditionalists are the older brother. The parents' refusal to act as an authority is the hierarchy's refusal to actually teach the Church, in a substantive manner, over the last forty-odd years. The unfortunate attempts to teach the younger brother are like upstart traditionalist groups attempting to bring right doctrine to the world.

The attempts are awkward, first, because often the traditionalists are somewhat theologically inept, at least sometimes. They don't always know what is absolute and what is not, just like the brother does not; the groups often come from laymen reacting against egregious abuses, and who are well-intentioned but know little theology. So they make mistakes, and the mistakes sap their already non-existent authority.

The attempts are awkward, second, because if authority abdicates then the people who try to fulfill its functions (by teaching correctly) will be matched by those who who also try to fulfill its functions (by teaching incorrectly). So if you have someone out there saying that Catholics can't say sodomy is great, you'll also have someone out there saying that Catholics must say that sodomy is great, because if we do not then we will not be tolerant like Jesus.

So we need authority, and if we don't have it we're in trouble.

Authority cannot be willed into existence from nothing. It cannot be remedied by having someone who isn't the authority try to do all the things authority doesn't. There actually has to be the power to bind and to loose, in some sense. And if you speak without having that power, you soon tend to be a bit shrill: no one is listening, and so you perhaps feel the need to assert yourself even more.

In some ways, I fear some--not all--traditionalist Catholics can become somewhat Protestant in their attitude because of the aforementioned. Some Protestants--not all, necessarily--set up little enclaves, which then often split because no one has real authority in them. (I grew up in West Virginia, where these enclaves could be small indeed.) And traditionalists also seem to set up little enclaves, which also perhaps have a tendency to split over little things that might not even matter.

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