"Evangelical Catholicism"?

John Allen says it’s on abundant display in Madrid:

“Evangelical Catholicism” is a term being used to capture the Catholic version of a 21st century politics of identity, reflecting the long-term historical transition in the West from Christianity as a culture-shaping majority to Christianity as a subculture, albeit a large and influential one. I define Evangelical Catholicism in terms of three pillars:

  • A strong defense of traditional Catholic identity, meaning attachment to classic markers of Catholic thought (doctrinal orthodoxy) and Catholic practice (liturgical tradition, devotional life, and authority).
  • Robust public proclamation of Catholic teaching, with the accent on Catholicism’s mission ad extra, transforming the culture in light of the Gospel, rather than ad intra, on internal church reform.
  • Faith seen as a matter of personal choice rather than cultural inheritance, which among other things implies that in a highly secular culture, Catholic identity can never be taken for granted. It always has to be proven, defended, and made manifest.

I consciously use the term “Evangelical” to capture all this rather than “conservative,” even though I recognize that many people experience what I’ve just sketched as a conservative impulse. Fundamentally, however, it’s about something else: the hunger for identity in a fragmented world.

Historically speaking, Evangelical Catholicism isn’t really “conservative,” because there’s precious little cultural Catholicism these days left to conserve. For the same reason, it’s not traditionalist, even though it places a premium upon tradition. If liberals want to dialogue with post-modernity, Evangelicals want to convert it – but neither seeks a return to a status quo ante. Many Evangelical Catholics actually welcome secularization, because it forces religion to be a conscious choice rather than a passive inheritance. As the late Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger of Paris, the dictionary definition of an Evangelical Catholic, once put it, “We’re really at the dawn of Christianity.”

Paradoxically, this eagerness to pitch orthodox Catholicism as the most satisfying entrée on the post-modern spiritual smorgasbord, using the tools and tactics of a media-saturated global village, makes Evangelical Catholicism both traditional and contemporary all at once.

“Evangelical Catholicism” has been the dominant force at the policy-setting level of the Catholic church since the election of Pope John Paul II in 1978. If you want to understand Catholic officialdom today — why decisions are being made the way they are in the Vatican, or in the U.S. bishops’ conference, or in an ever-increasing number of dioceses — this is easily the most important trend to wrap your mind around.

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25 responses to “"Evangelical Catholicism"?”

  1. Great analysis from John Allen. Can certainly identify with the young Catholic Evangelicals he describes. While coming late to the faith (in my 30’s) the seed planted by John Paul II formed me and brought me back. Mr. Allen is right in warning us not to confuse “conservatism” with the new Catholic Evangelicalism and he is also right in seeing this a great turning point and historical shift in the Catholic paradigm. My generation (even though a late boomer and not a typical one) is moving out of the picture and its 60’s radicalism has become the establishment and now we are the reactionaries. Funny how things work out and how the hand of God moves in “mysterious ways”.

  2. As I recall, the terms “ad intra” and “ad extra” were coined by Cardinal Suenens at the First Session of Vatican II. He was met with long applause by the council Fathers (according to Xavier Rynne).

    However, what Suenens meant by “ad intra,” is the nature of the Church, not reform of the Church, as John Allen says. Thus, “ad intra” is more related to dogma (ecclesiology). The “ad intra” document that evolved was Lumen Gentium.

    It is said that the insight of Suenens on “ad extra” gave rise to the document, Gaudium et Spes, the Church in the Modern World, which Cardinal Wojtyla had a hand in drafting.

    So, I am wondering if Evangelical Catholics have read Gaudium et Spes or if it has been part of their catechesis. It certainly was a large part of my religious education (along with, of course, the parts of Lumen Gentium that refer to the laity in the Church.)

  3. I doubt many young Catholics–even the more enthusiastic among them–have read Gaudium et spes, but I think they have gotten its message that the Church is not another of the world’s problems but rather the answer to its problems, the place where God’s kingdom can shine forth to meet our human longings.

    Allen’s brilliant (as always) analysis surely explains why so many of the Catholics clamoring for institutional change seem like throwbacks to a past time:

    For today’s younger Catholics, it’s more a matter of generational experience. They didn’t grow up in a stuffy, all-controlling church, so they’re not rebelling against it. Instead, they’re rebelling against a rootless secular world, making them eager to embrace clear markers of identity and sources of meaning.

    Like Allen, I firmly hope that those future Catholic leaders who offer the world an “affirmative orthodoxy” will prevail over those who aim only at intensifying the culture war.

  4. When I read Gaudium Spes and Lumen Gentium about 15 years ago they sounded to me rather too optimist, with a buoyant 1960’s John Kennedy “newness” type of language that describes things in such a way that made everything sound so wonderfully dandy. They are great documents and surely the Church Fathers knew their theology, but the overall feeling is one of dated idealistic thought.

    That was before priests left the Church in droves, religious orders were decimated, abortion and divorce became rampant, Europe became almost completely secularized, the sexual revolution destroyed sexual morality, mass attendance dropped precipitously, marriage rates in the Church drooped to about half of those living together, etc., etc. Were all of these things (and more) the result of Vatican II or simply culture overtook the Church? Why is it that if the Church was poised to “take on” the world and engage it then, instead it was routed by the secular world?

    Perhaps I need to re-read them and see how they sound today close to fifty years after Vatican II.

  5. Were all of these things (and more) the result of Vatican II or simply culture overtook the Church?

    Those aren’t the only 2 choices… Another choice would be that Paul VI dynamited the Church’s moral credibility with Humanae Vitae.

    (Ok, to be fair, that could be your choice #2 — after Paul VI destroyed the Church’s credibility, the culture was able to overtake the Church.)

  6. When I first saw this headline, I wasn’t sure what to make of it. You see, among Roman Catholic Campus Ministers, the term “Evangelical Catholic” belongs to a very successful Roman Catholic Campus Ministry at University of Wisconsin/ Madison.

    Here’s some information I received from my friends at the Catholic Campus Ministry Assn: “Yes, we know The Evangelical Catholic very well. The current executive director is Jason Simon, and the organization is still housed at UW-M. Here is their website for your information: http://evangelicalcatholic.com/

    Madrid may have been the first REALLY BIG publicity event which promoted this style of Roman Catholic apologetics and worship, but it certainly was not the first.

    Unlike other bloggers, I am not at all interested in calling these evangelical Roman Catholic youth in Madrid “traditional” or even “conservative.” I call them “orthodox” in the best sense of what that term means. They have captured the “right-teaching” of what Roman Catholicism is all about and are not going to let go.

  7. Cathy I hate to disagree with you. It was the dissident American bishops and theologians that lit the fuse of rebellion and made the dynamite go off.

    As for Paul VI, well, Humane Vitae was too late in the process; had it been published 10 years before, even five years before it would have been different. But after the floodgates opened after VII, its publication only caused the resentment of those who wanted contraception. But let’s think that it is precisely the contraception mentality and philosophy that has brought abortion, sexual promiscuity and the legitimization of homosexual behavior.

    On the contrary, I think Paul VI acted as a prophet in releasing Humanae Vitae, but by then it was too late, rather like the Prophets warning of the fall of Jerusalem before the Babylonians. No one wanted to hear.

  8. kathyf #6 ” Another choice would be that Paul VI dynamited the Church’s moral credibility with Humanae Vitae”

    Wow! That’s pretty blunt. To my knowledge, there has never been a comprehensive and objective history of that whole scene — how the Encyclical “Humanae Vitae” was actually developed — ever written. What is known is this:

    –Pope Paul VI convened a commission to give him advice on this topic before he actually wrote “HV.”

    –Originally the commission was fairly small (maybe about a dozen) and one married couple were members. As their deliberations were developing, Paul VI was given the word (by one of his priest friends who he appointed to the commission) that things were not going his way at all and if there was a vote at that point, the pontiff’s position would fail.

    –Rather than dissolve the commission, he increased it’s membership thinking that by “stacking to members” he might get a better chance at consensus for his position. That didn’t work either.

    –Finally, Pope Pail increased the commission’s membership to seventy — including three married couples. That didn’t help al all. The final vote of the total commission (70 members) which was in their report to Pope Paul was 67-3 in FAVOR of leaving the ultimate choice on birth control and what methodology to use (“natural” or “artificial”) to the married couple themselves.

    The rest is history. Pope Paul VI chose to ignore his own commission and he wrote “HV” probably the way he wanted to all along. But it also is history that there was a huge uproar against it. Many priests and even some bishops expressed their strong reservation, both in writing to the Pope himself as well as in the public media.

    Finally, it is also history that this “anti-HV” reaction was so severe and and angry and wide-spread and that it shocked the pope so much he never wrote another encyclical for the rest of his papacy.

    I’ll leave it to others — like “cathyf’ — to decide whether the church lost its moral credibility at that time or not.

  9. Cathyf…

    I think it can be argued that Paul VI would have “dynamited the Church’s moral credibility” if he had, instead, overturned hundreds of years of moral teaching and allowed the use of artificial contraception.

    Instead of changing with the shifting winds of the times, the encyclical — like it or not — reaffirmed what the Catholic Church had taught for centuries.

    Dcn. G.

  10. #5 Rudy:

    But where do you think the Church would be if it hadn’t been for Vatican II – better or worse?

  11. Rudy, as a matter of historical fact, the “northern hemisphere” (US/Europe/Canada) Church did not explode into dissent until directly after HV was promulgated. And when Cardinal O’Boyle in Washington suspended 40 priests, it was not for their positions on Gaudium et Spes or Lumen Gentium. You can argue that there was necessarily some time gap between Vatican II and its “bad fruit” and that HV was simply a coincidence, but such a conclusion is far from self-evident.

  12. Not long ago, I heard something intriguing about the so-called “Truce of 1968,” regarding Cardinal O’Boyle and the suspended priests.

    The gist of it is this: while most people assume that the suspended priests protested HV because it condemned artificial birth control, the reality is more nuanced. The priests, in fact, believed the issue of using contraception should be confession matter, between a couple and their confessor, and dealt with individually and privately. They were protesting having that prudential judgment and discretion removed.

    I have to wonder what would have happened had the pope simply let Church teaching on the subject stand without issuing an encyclical.

  13. HMS: I really don’t know. But look at the Orthodox Church, they never had anything like Vatican II (or any council after the seven initial ones), perhaps that is a place where to see what the Church would look without VII. Of course only God knows.

    I don’t reject everything VII produced. But some of the interpretations that came very soon in its wake were and are wrong headed.

    Kathy: I still have to disagree with you. Humanae Vitae was prophetic and in line with the Church’s teachings.

  14. “Pope Paul VI chose to ignore his own commission and he wrote “HV” probably the way he wanted to all along.”

    I suspect he ignored the commission and wrote HV because that is what the Holy Spirit lead him to believe was the right decision.

    To say he dynamited the Church’s moral standing is ludicrous. We are reaping the fruits of dissension vs HV to this day.

  15. re: cathyf #12

    Can I make a STRONG recommendation? Go out on the internet and find a copy of:

    Melissa J. Wilde. Vatican II: A Sociological Analysis of Religious Change. (Princeton; UP. 2007).

    Your idea that there were only two major “blocks” at work at Vatican II — the North American/Northern European block versus everyone else — is simply not true. There were, in fact, four! That is the main theme of Dr. Wilde’s study and I think she has proven her point very well.

  16. Cathy as for “the culture overtaking the church”, hardly. In additon to Dcn. Greg’s excellent point, what overtook the culture was/is darkness (getting darker by the day)

    Dcn. Greg that’s an interesting pondering as to what might the culture be sans Humane Vitae. My best guess, speaking from my 20 plus year of NOT being a fan of the Catholic Church is, not much would be different, save for a different excuse.

    When someone is in to their own “my way” lifestyle, it’s all about excuses. Before the sex abuse crisis, it was “mean nuns.” IMO, Humane Vitae just happend to be the “mother load” so to speak, with a big enough rocket booster to last for decades. I often say/write, no one who believes in the Real Presence ever leaves the Catholic Church, EVER, anymore than one would choose to leave heaven.

  17. I am watching the Way of Cross at the WYD as I did in 1983 with my 80 year old father (who died 4 months later).

    He said to me: “Look! The person who is carrying the cross is a woman.” (My father had 5 daughters.) I said: “No Daddy, it’s a man with long hair.” As I looked closer, I saw that he was right.

    Then, he said: “Now, isn’t that interesting.”

    He represents for me the pre-Vatican II Church who could adapt to the times.

  18. If it is true that the Commission was 70-3 in favor of artificial contraception, it means that the problem predates HV.

    Another story from those days is that while Paul VI was considering the matter, Karol Woytila urged him very strongly to maintain the Church’s teaching on contraception. JPII’s Theology of the Body fleshes out the rationale for HV much more deeply than Paul VI was able to in the limited space of the encyclical itself.

  19. Deacongreg #13

    That insight you have here about the position of the confessors in this argument is new to me — first time I have ever heard it — but it fits the wider issue very well.

    There is another story told about those times. It seems as if one of the original biomedical researchers involved in developing the very first “pill” was — at that time — a devout Roman Catholic who sincerely believed (maybe even with some advice and encouragement of his own pastor/bishop) that his product would meet all the Church’s requirements for a “natural” method of birth control. When that first product was released, and Humanae Vitae condemned it as “artificial,” he was devastated and apparently became very bitter about the way he was betrayed.

  20. The Jews, Gods chosen people, waited in Egypt 400 years for salvation from slavery. Generation after generation waited as they toiled away believing God would not abandon them. When God called Moses, it seemed to be only a short time to freedom for those blessed to be living at that time. God works in His own time and in His own way.

    I thought about this as I read through the comments talking about a period of about 40 years or about half my lifetime. The reason it popped up was because I was just at a retreat where the topic was God’s time and this was used as an example of how we pray for God’s help and may live our entire life without hearing an answer or not hearing the answer we want. Each of us have a weakness, a thorn in our heal. Most like me seem to have fallen into a massive thorn bush. God refused to remove the thorn from Paul’s heal because it was a necessary part of his salvation. Thus it seems funny now to read, especially Americans, evaluate any issue when they seem so impatient and unwilling to see any pain or major sacrifice or to wait for anything. One thing I have learned in my life is to allow things to settle, to ferment, to bring forth new life that was never expected. I learned to seperate what I desired the outcome to be from evaluation of what was really going on in the process. As a CEO, I learned that leaving something that was supposedly hot and immediate in the inbox a few days often changed the entire perspective.

    Thus with Vatican II and encyclicals, it takes a great deal of time not only to understand them, but to see how they are interpreted and how they are abused by many who have decided the outcome they want and mold the wording to match their purpose. The same is true of our Constitution and often those who are cafeteria Catholics (most of us in some way) could also be cafeteria Americans with regard to the actual text of the Constitution. We want birth control to be OK with God so Humane Vitae has to be attacked and diminished even if everything predicted with wide use of BC has indeed happened. Some want abortion for when BC does not work as planned or was not used and so the Constitution has to be abused by adding words not there for new rights. The gay behavior choice is desired to be made equal to marriage between one man and one woman and so we use anything necessary to make that happen. We want to live together as man and wife without the pain of marriage vows and sacraments and so we ignore God’s laws and that of His Church. We want to cheat or lie, we find anger with government or our employer or our spouse or something else as justification. What I see with most of us is justification for what we want to do which is to eat of the fruit of what is forbidden or the wide easy path rather than the required narrow gate. We want God in our lives, but only when we need Him.

    What the young people are sensing is the emptiness of a life lived in this way and are seeking something with more meaning and truth. This is a radical change from the youth of the 60’s that looked at all meaning and how to tear it down and throw it out. You can call it evangelical, conservative, traditional, orthodox, or whatever else you want but that is what these people are seeking in what JPII called the Springtime of the Church. They are the future and those of us in the Church need to get on board no matter our age. They are also calling for truth in our government which means not finding words in the Constitution not written by the founders or in new amendments. It is not just WYD, but go to the pro life rally in January in Washington DC to see them on the march to end the holocaust of abortion. It is what makes it very dangerous for the left to hang on to abortion and special rights for gays with this crowd. Like JPII, they do not see the separation of their belief from the way they want to see government run. However, unlike the secular conservative, they are not doing it for power or political wins, but for doing the right thing for God. I am blessed to work with the youth of our parish which is very active and very involved. Its membership is exploding with more each year. this year, the youth will send 7 busloads fromour parish to the pro life rally and this is no party event but a rugged bus trip, full day of marching and prayer, and a long bus ride back with very little sleep. If your parish does not have a very strong and active youth group and leadership, you are missing the future for these will be the leaders in the USCCB and throughout the church of the future.

  21. It’s hard to believe that there was once a time in this country (pre 1930), when birth control was not only illegal but a felony in some states just for the mention of it!

    Until the Anglican Church caved to the culture, EVERY Protestant Demonination deem artificial birth control a great moral evil.

    As a member of the medical profession, I will share with you the “big secret”, few will admit to, and most will deny. The reality is, birth control pills greatly increase the risk for breast cancer. In addition to the scientific data, one need only to look at the dramatic increase in number of breast cancer cases since the pill until the present. It’s also a big part of the reason young girls are maturing so much earlier; synthetic estrogen is the by product in our water supply, also killing the fish.

    Try to even imagine if the MSM, or even Drudge, carried such a headline.

    If there is one thing most Americans will not compromise, it’s “Sex without consequences.” God forbid, the “sacred pill” ever be discredited.

  22. Re: Klaire #22. In an earlier life — many years ago — I was a certified CPR Instructor-Trainer for several agencies and often was called upon to teach medical personnel. (This was back in the days before CPR credentials were required for even application for Nursing School as they are now).

    I remember one incident, at a Roman Catholic institution, where I was giving the required lecture on Risk Factors of Heart Attacks and I mentioned to my class — all of whom were women — that if they smoked AND were on the “pill,” they voided whatever sexual advantage they had over me as far as risk of heart attack or coronary heart disease. One nurse, with a state of panic look on her face, asked me to repeat it — I did.

    Statistics show that being male is a risk factor for heart disease that one cannot control. Women do have an advantage here — unless they smoke — where the risk certainly increases. If the both smoke and are on the “pill” they have completely lost that sexual advantage and they have the same risk factor that I do.

  23. You are absolutely correct Dcn Norb. The pill has many side effects. I only singled out breast cancer since it seems to be the cancer which gets the most attention, despite not being the biggest killer of women, which BTW just so happens to be heart disease (more if pill related). The biggest cancer killer of women is actually lung cancer.

    There is no question that the INCREASE of breast cancers in women is substantial, and I’m all for awareness, just not “disproportional awareness.” I have my own theory on that, using Susan B Koleman as a perfect example. Much of the SBK money goes to Planned Parenthood to fund abortions (abortions BTW, are another factor that increases breast cancer). On the other hand, it would be a stretch to use lung cancer monies to fund abortions.

    So, my reasonable theory points to this:

    At the expense of hiding from women the health risks of breast cancer, stroke, and heart disease, to name a few, the “SACRED PILL”, lives on, never permitted to stymie the entitlement of “sex without consequences.”

    Some day it will all come to surface, and the paradox will once again be, “Who knew better for us than the Big Bad Catholic Church?”

    If there is anything I have learned along my spiritual journey, trust in the age old teachings and wisdom of the Catholic Church, regardless of how “out of touch” they may appear. Just like the 10 commandments, they were given to us out of love, the real kind of love by God our Father, to save us from ourselves of “knowing better.”

  24. The other fact about the pill is that it is shoved out to women as if to not use it places you in the strange catagory. My daughter took my 14 year old grandaughter to a dermotologist about her skin and he advised putting her on the pill as a remedy. What the medical profession does to women is a crime with hormone therepy and everythhing else. Women are simply another form of revenue to be milked. Another lie is the impact that abortion has on women that is kept secret. Work with project rachael for a short time and you will hear horror stories about medical issues on top of phycologocial ones.

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