Catholics are stylish

Posted at 01/19/2014 1:09 AM

Damon Linker of the New Republic writes that liberal Catholics are impressed beyond reason by Pope Francis’s “gestures of modesty and expressions of loving acceptance of all;” such as gays (“Who am I to judge?”), Muslims (he washed their feet on Good Friday), atheists (a person is better judged by his acts than his beliefs (which is Existentialism); and especially the poor, says Linker (which is news only to American Catholics because, for the civilized world, justice for the poor has been the central message of Christianity, as Jesus and Saint Francis took pains to explain).

Pope Francis has moved decisively to reform the Vatican bureaucracy by, shall we say, reducing the Italian presence; but he has not stirred a finger to reform doctrine: such as married priests, ordaining women, gay marriage, and leaning toward a blithe regard of abortion as akin to visiting a spa or getting colonics in the other place.

There is clearly a shift, says Linker, from obsessing on sexual conduct to addressing economic injustice (caused by capitalism, such as human trafficking I might add); but there hasn’t been the slightest movement toward reforming doctrine. So Linker wonders if liberal Catholics really care about substance rather than style. Indeed, the pope seems to be all style with no change of substance. Right off, before I forget, let me ask what doctrinal change would amount to with, say the ordination of women and the religious (not just civil) celebration of gay marriage in the teeth of Cana if it did not make the world a better place for the worst treated in it? It would amount to nothing much.

Linker is right. We Catholics are stylish; we care a lot about style; because style makes substance easier to take, easier to swallow; and that includes a colorful ritual that pleases the eye and the ear and makes it more congenial to pray, which is the among the first obligations of the faithful of any religion.

It is not that Catholics do not care about doctrine; but,as the genuine faithful know, it isn’t doctrine for nothing. It is most likely what God revealed and expects of us. Linker interviewed Trish, a liberal Catholic, who said, “Catholics do not care about doctrine; it’s irrelevant; a non-issue.” So Linker says doctrine is trivial in her case; is it trivial to all Catholics?

Linker misunderstood her. Her extreme way of expressing herself merely underscores the right priority of reforms: which is the worst abuses first, the second worst second and so on; and among the first abuses of the Catholic Church has been the arrogance of its most devout; the self-righteousness of its priests and bishops, which has made an already hard, not to say a very harsh message of the way to redemption, that much harder to follow. For sure, shoving doctrine in the faces of the faithful does matter. It is a big turn off. Like refusing a religious burial for suicides. What the fuck. He’s friggin’ dead already and taking your own life takes some doing. Try it sometime.

Linker asks if liberal Catholics like Trish are unconsciously hoping that the pope’s compassionate style points to a gradual but certain evolution toward a mellower Catholic doctrine?

Apparently there is no such unconscious hope. They know nothing will change and “We don’t care,” Trish said.