Meet America's Catholic tribes

Catholic Herald | 11/17/2018 | Michael Warren Davis and Damian Thompson
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The Catholic Herald’s new US readers know that this is a horrible time for American Catholics. Mass-goers were assured that the Church had tackled clerical sex abuse. Alas, the assurances came from bishops who were still covering up crimes, including those of arch-abuser Theodore McCarrick, who – incredibly – drew up the bishops’ sex abuse guidelines.

What many readers may not know is that the civil war provoked by the McCarrick revelations, and by mixed messages from Rome, is being fought by a colourful array of Catholic “tribes” – noisy groups of priests and laity who disagree on pretty much everything. Liturgy, sexual morality, Pope Francis, Vatican finances – there are fault lines everywhere, growing wider thanks to a deadly combination of scandals and social media.

Observers - Battle - Camps - Liberals - Conservatives

Casual observers usually assume that the battle is being fought between two camps: liberals and conservatives. Pious Catholics remind us that “there is neither Jew nor Greek, conservative nor liberal,” for we are all one in Christ Jesus. And that’s perfectly true. Yet the American Church is rife with factionalism – sometimes toxic, sometimes comically petty, often both.

Yes, this is essentially a fight between conservatives and liberals. But there are sub-divisions within both camps, and they do matter. For example, you can be orthodox and conservative without being “traditionalist”. Lots of right-wing Catholics dislike the elaborate rubrics of the Old Missal. Many “trads”, meanwhile, regard these doctrinally hard-line New Mass adherents as vulgar televangelists.

Holy - Father - Conservatives - Mention - Name

As for the Holy Father, some conservatives recoil at the mention of his name. Others are worried by his pontificate, but won’t tolerate personal criticism of the Successor of Peter.

On the Left, meanwhile, “Team Francis” propagandists come close to deifying the Pope. Other liberals are pro-Francis but their true obsession is LGBT identity politics. To further confuse matters, there are unusual points of...
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