Rorate Caeli

For the record: full text of Ross Douthat's "A Crisis of Conservative Catholicism" now online.

In recent days two articles have provoked much discussion about the true state of both Catholic Traditionalism and Catholic Conservatism. The first is Msgr. Charles Pope’s article “An Urgent Warning About the Future of the Traditional Latin Mass” which argues, on the basis of anecdotal evidence, that not only are the numbers attending the TLM not growing, but that these might soon decline. I hope to find time to say something about this in the coming days. 

The second is the Ross Douthat’s 2015 Erasmus lecture “A Crisis of Conservative Catholicism”, the full text of which has just been published by First Things

For not a few Traditional Catholics most of the points raised in this lecture are not surprising at all. The hollowness of what Douthat calls the "conservative master narrative" about the supposed "renewal" under the previous two Pontificates, the fact that Catholic liberalism is much more resilient than it has seemed to be, and the doctrinal ambiguity that lies behind the conservative facade of the Wojtylian-Ratzingerian hierarchy, would have been obvious to our regular readers (and those of other resilient Traditional Catholic sites) in the past decade. 

Nevertheless, it is one thing to give numerous individual counter-examples to the "conservative master narrative". It is another thing to actually spell out, in a very stark manner and in the open, the weakness of this narrative and the actual trends that belie it. Few have done this, and Douthat's stature and position as an opinion-maker ensures that this assessment of the internal weaknesses of Catholic conservatism will gain greater attention than would other similar assessments. 

Some might criticize Douthat for damaging conservative morale and for encouraging liberals. (The same with Msgr. Pope.) Nevertheless, perhaps the time has come for Conservative Catholics -- and even Traditionalists -- to openly ask painful questions. Have we allowed ourselves in various ways to be deluded by our own rhetoric and slogans, by our own wishful thinking, resulting in a dangerous complacency? Are we not now seeing, post-Benedict XVI, the bitter disappointment inevitably caused by unrealistic hopes? Have we allowed ourselves to be carried away by the demands of "PR" and the need to boost morale, at the expense of refusing to admit just how severe the crisis in the Church really is, and how distant its resolution actually remains? Most importantly: what must we do, as Catholics who understand the severity of the crisis but who refuse to surrender to hopelessness and despair?

(One of Rorate's posts yesterday, Priests Living in Fear of their Bishops, points out the isolation of many conservative priests and seminarians and why it is unrealistic to expect that the "John Paul II / Benedict XVI" generation of priests will save the Church.)