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The View From Catholic Schools

The new springtime (Happypix/Shutterstock)

In a way, I’m glad for the letter asking the MagisteriumNew York Times to put Ross Douthat in the Index of Prohibited Writers. That missive, signed or otherwise publicly supported by members of the liberal Catholic establishment, shows their hand. And it shows the nature of the battle that the Catholic Church is engaged with itself. I talked by phone today to a prominent Catholic academic who had reached out to me over e-mail, then later told me a story about his interaction with this bunch, including one signer of the Douthat letter.

“You have no idea what a bunch of fascists these people really are,” he said, of progressive Catholic academicians, then told a story of a situation he witnessed not long ago. I can’t give the details here, to respect his privacy and the privacy of others involved, but he said the experience revealed to him the degree to which many of these progressive Catholics in academia will sabotage fidelity to the Church and the character their own institutions for the sake of their ideological vision. Outsiders — parents, donors, and others — often don’t understand what’s going on, because the progressives cloak their actions behind anesthetizing rhetoric. The event taught my interlocutor that these people do not play: their rhetoric (e.g., the Douthat letter) cloaks the face that they mean business.

Along those lines, a reader of this blog, on another thread, wrote:

I was in a Catholic college seminary many years ago, but I think many of these points are still valid:

I lost my faith in Theology classes. Scripture was presented as prescientific myth and fable. Deconstructive Theory applied to theology was very much in vogue. My children, who went to a Catholic high school, got a lot of the same deconstructive analysis of scripture. They view the faith as purely as myth and fable and practice nothing now. The teachers who were most destructive to their faith were priests and sisters who spent time talking about the historical Jesus, Q, and whether miracles really happened. One teacher tried to teach lectio divina but handed out complex philosophical works and expected college level analysis of the work. Good preparation for college but not lectio divina.

The traditional morality of the Church in the seminary was not taught outside of the lens that it is oppressive psychologically to all people, but especially oppressive to women and gay men and women. The book I read in my morality class was Human Sexuality: New Directions in American Catholic Thought.

Prayer was very didactic and logical. Things like devotions (holy hours, the rosary, benediction) were discouraged. They were things only ignorant country people did. As recently as five years ago during a sermon my mother’s pastor mocked people who say the rosary and light candles in front of statues.

Treating my faith academically only killed it. It only began to thrive again after I left the seminary and got back to my backward county ways: saying the rosary, going to confession, and reading some of the old devotional material that was laughed out of the seminary.

My experience with many priests is that they are ashamed of orthodoxy and traditional piety. They undercut it but fail to replace it with anything except pop psychology and social action. I guess I’m saying that many priests seem to be Moral Therapeutic Deists–and that they do not want to see orthodox Christianity survive.

I was not able to hear his entire Erasmus Lecture on Monday night because of a poor Internet connection, but I did hear Ross Douthat say that one of the faults of conservative Catholics (like him) is that they underestimated the resilience of Catholic dissenters within the institutions of establishment Catholicism. Well, now they know.

Here is a very powerful piece by a Catholic theologian who taught at the Jesuit-run Loyola High School in Chicago. His name is Elliot Milco. Excerpts:

Like many Jesuit institutions nowadays, Loyola is a bit ashamed of its Catholic roots.  When the term “Catholic” pops up in official correspondence, it is usually prefaced by “Jesuit” or “Ignatian”, as if Ignatian Catholic were a distinct religious identity to which the school subscribed.  This subtle distinction is amply internalized by the student body.  Students periodically refer to themselves as “Jesuit”; I have even heard it used in contrast to “Catholic” as an expression of deprecation for the Church.

The Ignatian ideals of the school are informed by the mission of social justice, which the Society of Jesus embraced following the Second Vatican Council.  Superior General Pedro Arrupe is frequently invoked, as are his catchphrases “educating for justice” and “men and women for others”.

… The spiritual identity of the place is captured by the word Experience.  The school’s “Chapel of the Sacred Heart” (a dedication few people are aware of, as it is totally devoid of iconography related to the Sacred Heart) inspires slightly less solemnity than an airport chapel.  The tabernacle is hidden in a back corner, where awareness of it will not trouble the relaxed conviviality of the space.  For the most part, students only enter this place for “Gesu Chapel Services”, in which episodes from the life of Ignatius of Loyola are used to lead them to reflect on their own experiences and struggles.  Mass is offered daily, but few students attend.  The atmosphere fits the ideal of the liturgical movement: the president of the assembly leads a dialogical reflection on the experiences of the community and the call of the Gospel.

If you ask a Loyola student what the Gospel is about, they are likely to answer “service”.  If you ask them what prayer is about, they are likely to tell you “reflecting on your experiences”.  Service and self-awareness make up the heart of Ignatian Catholicism.  In the theology classroom, these two themes predominate.  Other, more doctrinal strains occasionally enter and fade, but from the first semester “Sacramental Journeys”, to the senior elective “Justice Seminar”, theology courses are centered on coming to terms with one’s own narrative, being authentic, and seeing how Christian stories of justice, solidarity, community and leadership offer valuable tools in these tasks.

More:

From 2003 to 2007 I was a student at Loyola Academy.  I experienced the school as an evangelical protestant, and it left me with a very cynical understanding of what Catholicism is about.  Catholicism, I would have said in 2007, is an old religion that has recently tried to modernize, and done a bad job of it.Catholics do not have any special respect for Scripture.  In order not to have to say that the Bible is a bunch of fables, they warp their understanding of “truth” into something relativistic and experiential. Throughout my years there, I saw atheist classmates repeatedly praised by religion teachers as being more “advanced” than the rest of us, which led me to question whether my teachers really believed in anything.  Catholicism, I thought, was vague, overly political, and sentimental.  It was a spiritualization of socialist politics that had collapsed into all-inclusive formlessness.

Milco ended up converting to Catholicism, obtaining a theology degree, and returning to Loyola to teach theology. More:

To this day, I’m not sure how I got the job.  They had a last minute opening, and I was familiar enough with Ignatian jargon to make a good impression in the interviews.  My first day at work with the department, I was subjected to a conversation about the future of Catholicism.  The consensus among my co-workers was that the hierarchical, institutional Church needed to go, and would eventually fall apart.  They thought institutional collapse would liberate the Church and enable it to become something new, something better suited to meet the needs of the age.

I was never sure to what extent the department saw through me.  I’m not very good at dissembling, though I held my tongue and generally avoided confrontation.  What I experienced in most of my colleagues there was a deep loathing for many of the fundamentals of the Catholic Faith: the hierarchy, tradition, Catholic morals, the idea of doctrinal orthodoxy, the sacraments, the truth of the Gospel—even, in one case, the person of Christ.  Day after day, I quietly witnessed conversations in which religious were mocked for wearing habits, the Catechism reviled, proponents of chastity lambasted, the virgin birth casually rejected, and Christ displaced from the Gospel.  I was given syllabi for courses in which I was required to teach the primacy of individual conscience over Magisterial teaching, explain that grace is “God’s ubiquitously offered gift of self”, and direct students to adopt a “realized eschatology” in which heaven is seen as nothing more than an aspect of the present life.

All of this was deeply scandalous to me, and upsetting when I thought of the spiritual corruption that awaited my students after they left my classroom.  I laboriously reframed all the “Ignatian” spiritualistic nonsense in terms of actual Catholic doctrine, and tried to make sure that all of my students had at least a basic grasp of the Gospel.

Now, says Milco, the Jesuit pope has given Chicago a liberal archbishop, Blase Cupich, who is perfectly in tune with the spirit of Loyola High. And this leads The Paraphasic to his conclusion about conservative Catholics who insist that “Everything Is Fine.”

“These people do not have to stand before hundreds of children who are already mostly committed to the corruption of the present age, and hear the words of the Supreme Pontiff quoted as evidence against the teachings of Christ,” writes The Paraphasic. And:

How easy it must be to stand by “Everything is Fine”, when the life of the Church is an abstraction, and not dozens of real faces one has to see and attempt to guide day after day.  How comforting it must be to say “Things have been this bad before!” when the corruption of the times is thought of generally and not with respect to a particular person’s spiritual development and eternal destiny, which is being visibly impacted for the worse by the scandalous vagueness of those in authority.  With such an easy frame of mind at stake, who can blame these Catholics for defending the comfortable abstraction against the doomsayers and cranks?

Read the whole thing. The stakes are very high here. Faithful Catholics like these teachers and parents are facing a determined enemy.

 

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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