Chartres 2006
Photo Story

Remnant Tours

Click Here to visit
THE REMNANT Scrapbook!


See Remnant


Signs of the Times...

Revenge of the Neo-Cats

Hilary White POSTED: 11/23/11

( A lot of my friends are in Catholic media, in one way or another. Today I watched a podcast by a friend who used the term “neo-Catholic” to refer to the kind of Catholics who feature prominently in publications like the National Catholic Reporter. I thought it was important to correct this, since the term is often used but seldom defined.

My note to my friend:

You are using the term "neo-Catholic" incorrectly and it will cause a lot of confusion. The definition, because it is a term used widely by Traditionalist Catholic bloggers, can be obscure, but it is most decidedly NOT synonymous with the kind of "liberal" Catholics to whom you are applying it in your latest piece. It was first coined in a 2002 book called The Great Façade: Vatican II and the Regime of Novelty, by Christopher Ferrara and Thomas E. Woods Jr.

As the term is used on the internet (by people leveling it [me] and by those denying it applies to them [Mark Shea]) it refers to a "conservative" Catholic, often an American convert from evangelical protestantism, who adheres generally to and likes to make a show of defending the sexual moral teachings of the Church but is generally satisfied with the direction taken by the modern Church and the modern world.

Part of the difficulty with the term is that it describes a set of characteristics that can only clearly be observed from a certain vantage point, namely, that of the Traditionalist. Neo-Catholics themselves frequently become angry when it is pointed out that it is an observable fact that there are certain taxonomic features that create an identifiable classification to which a distinguishing term, "neo-Catholic" can usefully be applied. They become doubly angry when they realize that it can usefully be applied to them. (Hours of fun can be had at the after-Mass tea ticking these characteristics off one's fingers.)

Common characteristics of neo-Catholics (often also called neo-conservative Catholics) are a fanatical devotion to a small selection of popes, often incorrectly termed "ultramontanism." This is manifested mainly in their belief that John Paul II was the greatest pope of modern times (who probably walked on water but was too modest to do it in front of anyone) and should be canonized immediately. They often oppose what they believe to be "the Vatican's" opposition to US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and will argue vociferously that this does not constitute opposition to the Pope. (They are not too sure what to make of Benedict, by the way, and like to talk about his "mistakes" and "blunders" particularly with regards to Islam, but I don't think they are sincere about this. I think they only do it to look "moderate" and "one of the gang" to the liberals and secularists.)

As a group, they were opposed to altar girls until the pope said it was ok, then they en masse did a U-turn because it was JPII The Great Who Can Do No Wrong. They are often ultra-clericalists and will frequently blindly attack anyone who criticizes bishops either individually or as a group no matter what the latter's crimes.

They may often attend either regularly or occasionally the Traditional Mass for aesthetic reasons, insisting on using the term "extraordinary form" at all times. One of their favorite things to say is that there is nothing inherently wrong with the New Mass  because it "can be celebrated reverently". They will then proceed to bore everyone in the room into a coma by reciting their lists of places where this is done.

Since the beginning of this papacy, it has become fashionable among them to be nice to Trads in a patronizing way, sympathizing with our anger because, they concede, we have been horribly suppressed for decades. (The fact that it was frequently they who were doing the horrible suppressing is something they don't like to have pointed out.)

But they are quick to denounce Traditionalists' criticisms of the new Mass, and to dismiss as fanaticism or even insanity any of  the Traditionalist political positions, particularly with regard to the Social Reign of Christ the King. (Get them started on the Catholic Confessional State as a political concept and watch their heads explode. In fact, start a conversation on the Social Reign of Christ the King at the tea and cookies after a Traditional Mass. It flushes them out; they start screeching like vampires splashed with holy water, to the amusement of all.)

They will turn purple when you recite sections of the Syllabus of Errors, Quanta Cura, or any of the pre-conciliar papal writings condemning the philosophical principles behind modern liberal democracies, especially freedom of speech and religion and (among the Americans) the separation of Church and state. Neo-Catholics are steadfast supporters of the principles of liberal democracy, even, or especially, those bits that were condemned by the Church. The bits they love most about Vatican II were the refusal of the Council to denounce communism and the approval of "religious freedom". They will defend to the death the right of a heretic to pronounce his heresies, in the grand tradition of liberté, égalité, fraternité, which they will argue, are soundly approved Catholic principles.

Religiously, they like loudly to proclaim that they believe everything the Church teaches, and are the proponents of the theory that there was nothing wrong at all with Vatican II ("Just read the documents!") but that it was "hijacked" by "liberals" after the fact. They are very big on ecumenism, and love to screech at the Trads for our opposition to the Assisi fiascoes and love to say things like, "Well, we all worship the same God." Another amusing way to unmask the neo-Cats at a party is to say loudly: "Extra Ecclesiam nulla salus." It’s like a duck call and the reaction of any within earshot will be instantly to launch into a long explanation of how that doctrine is perfectly compatible with Vatican II's assertion of the right to religious freedom. (You will probably have to translate it into English for them first.)

They are opposed to "gay marriage" but believe that marriage should be an "equal partnership" between the man and the woman, that the concept of the headship of the man in marriage is merely an unfortunate cultural holdover from St. Paul's social milieu which he was, sadly, unable to throw off. They love to take courses in the Theology of the Body, and Natural Family Planning, and talk about it to all their friends, often while their friends are trying to eat. (The young ones often get married with these secularist principles in mind and can't understand why their marriages are falling apart.)

One of their oddest quirks is that they love Harry Potter, and will become almost violent when you show any disapproval of the books. A similar reaction can be had from their females when you suggest that they should not be wearing men's clothing (trousers) in public. They often categorically reject any idea that modesty in dress and chastity in behavior are connected in any way.

They will sometimes be opposed to drinking, smoking and card-playing, one of the little ways in which their underlying protestantism peeks out. This can make it easy to quickly distinguish the Neos and the Trads at a party. The former will be standing around in a little clutch cradling a warm, three-hour-old beer, earnestly discussing the pope's latest encyclical or some political thing. The latter will be off in the corner with the recently assimilated Anglicans, balancing martini glasses on their noses while reciting Greek poetry.

Very often they know nothing at all about the 19th century popes' writings against the principles of liberal democracies, and will react with shock when you recite from them. (This, by the way, is often the best way to convert them, when their neo-Catholicism is based on ignorance, and is not tied up with their livelihood as professional Catholics).

If they have heard of the Oath Against Modernism they hate it and will frequently tell you that Pope (St) Pius X, while he might have had his heart in the right place, was too heavy-handed about the Modernists and accomplished nothing but to drive them underground. (That is if they will concede that Modernists ever existed at all and were not merely the product of the paranoid fantasies of popes given to overreaction, cf: Freemasons, leprechauns and Soviet infiltrators.)

They did a lot of good work in the 70s, 80s and 90s, particularly with founding universities and colleges that more or less teach Catholicism as if it were true. Christendom and TAC are the best examples, with Franciscan U at Steubie bringing up the academic rear. They are often very articulate about the evils of contraception and abortion, but frequently fall into the various intellectual traps designed for them because of their determination that Catholicism and democracy are inherently compatible.

In brief then, neo-Catholics, or neo-conservative Catholics are people who like to think of themselves as conservatives both politically and religiously, who are terrified by the idea of looking like a fanatic, who like to talk a great deal about how the Church has "a place in the public debate". Though they object to being called "moderate", they secretly love the term to be applied to them, and feel like they are at last being taken seriously by The Big Kids at the New York Times, the BBC and CNN when they are invited to comment on debate programmes. In general they are mostly an American phenomenon, with a bit of spillage over the Canadian border. Interestingly, they are almost unknown in Britain, where the divisions are much less ambiguously between Trads and the insane heretics running the show.

Prominent examples in the US are the late Richard Neuhaus and William F. Buckley, and George Weigel. Jimmy Akin, Mark Shea and Elizabeth Scalia take the lead in the blogging world.

Despite the objections of the Neo-Cats themselves, the phenomenon has become so recognizable that it has its very own whole Wikipedia page which, as we know, is the sine qua non of objective affirmation.

It ain't really real unless it's on Wiki.

  HOME    |    PRINT SUBSCRIBE    |    E-EDITION    |    ADVERTISE    |    NEWS    |    ARTICLES   |    RESOURCES    |    ABOUT    |    CONTACT
Web Format and Content   ©  1996-2010 Remnant Press