The Pope is Christian

S.M. Hutchens on dissapointing Catholic Revisionists

[. . .] Just what was it about the Catholic Church that could be “brought up to date,” at least that would have enough significance to justify the fuss certain Catholics were making about its old-fashionedness? (My Catholic playmates would have suggested the retirement of Sister Ursula and her yardstick as a useful update, but nobody asked them.)

Might the papal tiara be replaced by a ceremonial homburg, those red slippers with Earth Shoes? The Ave Maria performed in rock-and-roll mode? How could guitar Masses or even the sprouting of all those ugly church buildings change what was essentially Catholic? I had been brought up to understand that the differences between us and the Catholics were doctrinal. What, really, could a pope do to update the doctrine of his church? Could he make Leviathan believe anything different than it did? Any change by way of making the Catholic Church more “relevant,” as the liberalizing Protestants were so intent to effect among us, must be a change in its very constitution.

Change doctrine, and it wouldn’t be the Catholic Church anymore, at least as we conservative Protestants understood it. Anything less would be merely a stylistic adjustment, and surely not worth all the agitation we were hearing from Catholic progressives. Just what did they want of each new pope, anyway? An ex cathedra pronouncement that “mistakes have been made”? Would the pope who made it be Catholic?

The progressives clearly didn’t find Vatican II (much less Pope Paul VI) as helpful as they had hoped, but seized upon its “spirit” (fairly well disembodied from its letter, I later discovered) to question traditional church teachings—not to deny them outright, but to establish themselves in a persistent interrogatory state that escaped obedience while not directly renouncing it.

I experienced this first-hand while taking classes at the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago. There was constant questioning of the “opinions” of the pope, then John Paul II, and outright contempt for his odious henchman Cardinal Ratzinger. When the title “Holy Father” was used, one could expect the slight smile and ironic inflection that made it mean “that old fool in Rome.” The Catholics seemed to expect this, but comparing notes with the other Protestants, I found that they were, with me, deeply disturbed. Why on earth, we kept asking ourselves, were these people Catholics?

That, indeed, was the question. At every papal election the ante seemed to up, and the progressives sounded more like radicals who wanted to make the Catholic Church not only different than it had been, but very much like what we knew as liberal Protestantism, and therefore not only not-Catholic, but not-Christian. These progressive Catholics were singing a tune we had heard before.