Attention AP Stylebook committee

hn bobby jindalFrom time to time, I have been known to use a strange adjective in my posts about conflicts inside the wide, wide world of Roman Catholicism.

The term in question is “pro-Vatican Catholics.”

Some GetReligion readers have challenged me on this, asking, in effect: What other kind of Catholics are there? (Cue: rim shot and cymbal splash) No, seriously. People ask that.

What I mean, of course, is that these are Catholics who accept the teaching authority of the Roman Catholic Church and the doctrines it proclaims. I am referring to people who, when push come to shove, back the pope and the hierarchy. That’s pretty logical, isn’t it, in light of the fact that there are many people who oppose these doctrines?

Now, it appears that the principalities and powers at the New York Times are searching for a similar word to suggest that there are kind-of Catholics and then there are people who are, well, uber-Catholics. Here is the crucial reference — in context — in a story that ran with the headline: “In Louisiana, Inklings of a New (True) Champion of the Right.”

BATON ROUGE, La. – Religion and fiscal stringency have a friendly home at the state Capitol here, with a conservative, Bobby Jindal, in the governor’s office, a host of straight-arrow novice legislators eager to please him and an honored spot for the Louisiana Family Forum in the old marble halls.

The newly conservative tone of state government is seeping through a host of successful bills — on school vouchers, creationism, stem-cell restrictions and tax and spending cuts — and it is adding to the speculative frenzy here surrounding Mr. Jindal as a potential vice-presidential choice for Senator John McCain.

Politicians here say they are certain that Mr. Jindal would balance a McCain ticket, and not just because he is an Indian-American. The Christian right has a new champion in Mr. Jindal, a serious Catholic who has said that “in my faith, you give 100 percent of yourself to God.”

So what, precisely, is a “serious Catholic?” Is this the opposite of a “non-serious Catholic” or even a “fingers-crossed Catholic”? Would the Times care to name some other names on both sides of this divide?

And what about that reference that this serious Catholic is backing “creationism”? What is that all about? Here’s a follow-up reference:

Hot-button terms and issues are avoided. Cloning will not get state financing but also will not be criminalized, and Mr. Jindal is nowhere to be seen on the Louisiana Science Education Act, which promotes “open and objective discussion” in the schools of “evolution, the origins of life, global warming and human cloning.”

You have to watch out for those open discussions. They are dangerous, especially when linked to that vague and hostile term “creationism.” But, wait, that term isn’t mentioned in the bill. It sounds like the bill calls for more talk about evolution, not less.

Perhaps this serious Catholic simply backs the message sent by the late Pope John Paul II, who was hailed as backing evolution, when in reality he said:

“Rather than the theory of evolution, we should speak of several theories of evolution. On the one hand, this plurality has to do with the different explanations advanced for the mechanism of evolution, and on the other, with the various philosophies on which it is based. Hence the existence of materialist, reductionist and spiritualist interpretations. …

“Theories of evolution which, because of the philosophies which inspire them, regard the spirit either as emerging from the forces of living matter, or as a simple epiphenomenon of that matter, are incompatible with the truth about man. They are therefore unable to serve as the basis for the dignity of the human person.”

In other words, maybe the serious Catholic is, on this and other issues, simply pro-Vatican?

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Jay

    If the faith says “believe what we believe and act as commanded or you’re no longer a member,” then is there any other sort of Catholic than a pro-Vatican Catholic?

    What’s the matter with “serious” other than perhaps it suggests a scowl? Most of the stats seem to suggest that the more often someone attends, the more likely they are to adhere to the beliefs of the church they’re attending. Would you be any happier with “devout Catholic”?

    Your “pro-Vatican” nomenclature seems a bit troubling, particularly in a denomination where you can be expelled (excommunicated) for deviating on key doctrines. Would you call someone who disagrees with Rome on woman priests as a “Catholic”? If the Church is allowed to choose its own members, then they would say he or she is not.

    I thought I’d once heard the term “cultural Catholic”. By analogy, certainly there’s “non-observant Jew”.

  • Julia

    The Vatican is a big place. Sometimes people who work there are just talking and giving their opinion. So – “pro-Vatican” is not a very precise term. On the other hand, “anti-Vatican” would have to include the Pope’s definitive statements and the Church’s authoritative canonical rules.

    I would say that a “serious” Catholic is one who knows well and agrees intellectually with the teachings of the church. Many of these people are not particularly into devotions, but do attempt to follow all the church rules and the commandments.

    I know “devout” CAtholics who don’t know much about the intellectual side of Catholicism, but they are big on the rosary and novenas, and don’t miss Mass if they can help it.

    “Cultural” Catholics may not be devout or intellectually knowledgable about the church, but they like their Christmas and Easter and ashes at the beginning of Lent.

    Someone who disagrees with Rome on women priests is still a “Catholic” unless they participate in “ordaining” a woman. The Church doesn’t control its members minds. Likewise, somebody who thinks abortion should be illegal is still a “Catholic” unless they do something about promoting it – such as legislating or actually voting for somebody because of their pro-choice political stand – and that is mostly considered a sin and doesn’t call for automatic excommunication. Unless such a person is excommunicated, they are still Catholics, but not very good ones.

    There are a lot of consciencious objectors in the Catholic Church. Fr. Reese, who is quoted everywhere, is a prominent example. It actually takes a lot to be formally kicked out.

  • Julia

    somebody who thinks abortion should be illegal is still a “Catholic”

    I should have said “somebody who thinks abortion should be legal” is still a “Catholic”.

  • http://chaseafterwind.com Amy

    I grinned when you used the term “uber-Catholic” because that is exactly the term that I use (as a former pro-Vatican/serious/uber-Catholic turned Protestant).

  • A Monette

    In Europe, which has much more experience with Catholic-minded politicians, the term used for pro-Rome Catholics is ”Ultramontanism”. But I seriously doubt that Jindal is one of those.

    I don’t really see the use of religious labeling in a political context. Religion is just not the same as ideology, except in places like Northern Ireland and Israel.

    It should’t suprise anyone that America has a Christian president, any more than Algeria has a Muslim one, except maybe the far-left media.

  • FW Ken

    “Cultural Catholic” is fine, but I still prefer the slightly snarky “tribal Catholic”. :->

    Fr. Neuhaus has some relevant comments over on the First Things website.

  • Jerry

    So what, precisely, is a “serious Catholic?” Is this the opposite of a “non-serious Catholic” or even a “fingers-crossed Catholic”?

    I’m a bit surprised you questioned the word serious in this context. If I’m a serious about the flute, for example, what does this imply? It implies that I spend time practicing the flute; that I seek to master it; that I’m committed to learning as much as I can about it. If I’m a serious student, I study hard. Then why is the word serious such a mystery in a religious context?

  • Stoo

    “. It sounds like the bill calls for more talk about evolution, not less.”

    I don’t know the details, but my fear would be the nature of the talking. Ie, pretending there’s a debate about it being the established scientific theory (there isn’t) or that valid scientific alternatives exist (they don’t). When I hear talk of “open discussion” it kind of sets my spider-sense tingling – as on some things there’s really not to discuss, and it’s often a weaselly way of trying to crowbar god into science class.

  • Joe

    pretending there’s a debate about it being the established scientific theory (there isn’t)

    This comment illustrates the misunderstanding that the realm of science extends beyond the material. Terry M. gave us the except from John Paul II. Read very slowly and catch what is said and not said.

    “Rather than the theory of evolution, we should speak of several theories of evolution. On the one hand, this plurality has to do with the different explanations advanced for the mechanism of evolution, and on the other, with the various philosophies on which it is based. Hence the existence of materialist, reductionist and spiritualist interpretations. . . .

    “Theories of evolution which, because of the philosophies which inspire them, regard the spirit either as emerging from the forces of living matter, or as a simple epiphenomenon of that matter, are incompatible with the truth about man. They are therefore unable to serve as the basis for the dignity of the human person.”

    Although some folks in the science community will tell you that science can answer all questions, “serious” scientists will tell you their craft is limited to the physical/material world. Non-physical things, such as human dignity, the soul, spirit, etc. are outside the realm of science. Journalists could improve their coverage of religion by better understanding of science.

  • astorian

    I think journalists now need a new qualifying adjective like “serious” because they’ve used the old one- “devout”- so often that it’s lost its original meaning.

    That is, reporters at the New York Times and the Boston Globe have long been in the habit of describing liberal politicians like Mario Cuomos and John Kerry as “devout Catholics” that such a label seems either inaccurate or woefully insufficient for a man like Bobby Jindal.

  • Michael

    Before the AP decides to add this to the stylebook, we need to have a little more definition. As is, it sounds like we’re talking about a Pro-Focus on the Family Catholic since there seems to be a complete absence of Catholic Social Teaching beyond the narrow confines of James Dobson’s political agenda. Does a Pro-Vatican Catholic support the death penalty? How about just war theory? Economic inequality? Workers’ rights? Immigration policy? The environment?

    From the article, it appears that Jindal is the current social conservative flavor of the month precisely because he doesn’t make the Dobson wing of the movement uncomfortable with pro-Vatican social teaching. He’s fine while talking about creation and abortion, but what happens if he bothered talking about Catholic social teaching, economic injustice, immigration? I bet he’d no longer be the new darling if he was REALLY pro-Vatican.

  • Dave

    Oddly enough, I agree with both Stoo (#7) on creationist entry-wedge tactics and Joe (#8) on the limits of science. I’m a “serious” scientist.

  • Stoo

    You’ve quoted me then gone off on some tangent. Where did I say science extends beyond the material?

    I just said there is one accepted scientific theory explaining development and diversity of life, and it’s Evolution. You might think there’s more to life than that (human dignity or whatever), fine. Science as you say isn’t interested in such things, therefore they’re irrelevant to the question of what is the established theory.

  • Stoo

    D’oh! 9 and 10 got in there while I was still typing my reply to Joe.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    Michael:

    I agree, of course, although you are again comparing the advocacy of Catholic teachings that the hierarchy has placed on different levels of certainty. The church’s opposition to the death penalty, which I share, is NOT the same thing doctrinally as its opposition to abortion. You keep blurring that line.

    Meanwhile, the issue is how the press does accurate coverage of people on both sides of all of these issues, even the science issues.

    Stoo: How does one prove, in a lab, that the Universe is all that is, and was and ever shall be? Oh, what was that quote from the PBS liturgy?

    The issue is whether a process of creation is random and without purpose. That’s what the pope was saying. That’s where the modern debates are taking place, not about something called “creationism.”

  • Michael

    You keep blurring that line.

    I understand the difference. And I also realize the “pro-Vatican” teaching on evolution–which was the main thrust of your post–has an even lower priority to the Vatican than Catholic Social Teaching.

    Meanwhile, the issue is how the press does accurate coverage of people on both sides of all of these issues, even the science issues.

    Would you agree that the Vatican’s approach to “science” is not on par with its teaching on just war and economic inequality and that Catholic Social Teaching is probably a better indicator of commitment to the faith than ones position on Evolution and Creationism?

  • Stoo

    tmatt:

    “Stoo: How does one prove, in a lab, that the Universe is all that is, and was and ever shall be? ”

    One doesn’t. How does that relate to what I’ve been saying? Science just isn’t interested in stuff outside the universe. And I’m talking about what belongs in science class.

    “The issue is whether a process of creation is random and without purpose.”

    Well the start of life is actually a different field to evolution (ie what happened since), I think. But anyway mutations are random, the “purpose” is to simply survive and make more of yourself. I don’t think there’s much scientific debate about that.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    Michael:

    I think you would be hard pressed to find a doctrine with more clout in Roman Catholic doctrine than the belief that God’s creation contains evidence of His existence, work and grace. It is very, very hard to get to “random and without purpose” from Augustine and Aquinas.

  • Michael

    Terry,

    I also think you’d be hard pressed to find doctrine with more clout in Roman Catholic doctrine and the Scriptures than teaching on economic injustice. While the Vatican’s position on evolution and “intelligent design” may be somewhat muddled–as the quote from Pope JPII illustrates–there is no such muddle when it comes to economic injustice.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    Michael:

    Yes, and — as John Paul II constantly stressed — the HOW of fighting for economic justice is not a matter of doctrine. He was as critical of the left there as the right.

    So Jindal is not being tested on the details of legislation on economics, but by his sincere commitment to fight on behalf of the poor and needy. The role that government plays in that is very much up to debate.

    There is no muddle in Catholic and Orthodox teaching on whether the process of creation is random and without purpose. No muddle there at all.

  • Brian Walden

    The Vatican is a City State. Jindal may or may not be pro-Vatican but I don’t think the writer meant to say that he supports the country and it’s politics. A more precise term would be pro-Magisterium Catholic, but many readers may not know what Magisterium means. Other adjectives that may apply might be Papist Catholic or even Ultramontanist Catholic, but both of those historically have very negative connotations (although I have noticed some Catholics referring to themselves as Papists lately to separate themselves from those who don’t adhere strictly to the Magisterium).

    I don’t have a problem with the term serious Catholic. In the context that it was used it’s easy enough to see what’s meant by it. But I’m sure there are many not pro-Magisterium Catholics who still consider themselves serious Catholics and may not like the term being used that way. I guess the problem arises when you use a non-theological term to describe a person’s theological views. The problem a reporter runs into in this situation is that if he uses theological terms a large portion of his audience may not know what they mean.

  • Dan

    I fail to see what is “muddled” about the JPII quote. I would characterize it as “accurate.”

    The Church’s social justice doctrine, although quite popular today, dates back only to the late 19th century. It is in a sense a reactionary teaching, in that it was a response of the Church to what was happening in the world and, although innovative in some respects (it for example heavily influenced E.F. Schumacher), was not the leading edge of efforts to deal with economic injustice.

    In the hierarchy of ideas, evolution is above social justice. When the Church comments on evolution it does so in the context of addressing higher level issues of whether God and meaning exist. Social justice, by contrast, is an issue that is reached only after the ultimate issues of the meaning of our existence are resolved. It is only in light of the Church’s position on the latter issues that one can understand the Church’s position on social justice as that position derives from the Church’s teaching on the meaning of life.

  • Thomas

    “Serious Catholics” routinely use the phrase “Cafeteria Catholics” or “Catholic Lite” to describe their brethren who don’t buy into the Church’s teachings on transubstantiation, Papal authority, abortion, gay people and the like, yet still like the liturgy, profession of faith and charity work the Church does.

    Frankly, the “serious Catholics” shouldn’t be offended by being described as such. They may want to stop calling their brethren names, though.

  • Brian Walden

    Thomas, which “serious Catholics” took exception to the term being used in the article? The closest I saw to offense, is questioning what the reporter meant by it. Tmatt, who brought up the question, isn’t even Catholic.

    While I questioned whether the term pro-Vatican should be used in print when referring to Church teachings, I have no problem with it being used colloquially as most people know what it means. Similarly while a term like cafeteria Catholic also shouldn’t be used in print, what do you propose as a colloquial way of saying “brethren who don’t buy into the Church’s teachings on transubstantiation, Papal authority, abortion, gay people and the like, yet still like the liturgy, profession of faith and charity work the Church does?” Anti-Vatican Catholics?

    The Catholic Church is not like other churches which may allow for a difference on official teachings. A Catholic who doesn’t accept the Magisterium is objectively not in full communion with the Church. It’s not a judgement. Maybe the Catholic Church isn’t who She says She is, and is wrong about all those controversial issues. But that still doesn’t change the the fact that a person who disagrees with the Church is not fully Catholic even though in this hypothetical situation he would be right. The problem that the article runs into is that it uses a subjective word – serious – to describe an objective condition. A person can be objectively not in full communion with the Church and subjectively still very serious about being Catholic.

    So this leads us to the flip side of the “serious” Catholic question. What’s the proper way for journalists to describe a Catholic who’s beliefs are not in full communion with the Church but is still serious about their faith? Fill in this sentence: The Christian left has a new champion in Ms. Pelosi, a ____________________ Catholic…

  • Thomas

    @Brian: Hmm. How about ‘recovering’?

    Kidding! I kid!

    Seeing how the vast majority of Catholics may disagree with Church teaching on one complex issue or another, one has to wonder how many can be described as “serious”. For the other side, “questioning” or “analytical” might be a better word.

  • Julia

    Ultramontanism

    St Therese, the Little Flower, in France at the end of the 1800s, described herself as “ultra-montane”, but she was flippantly co-opting a slur to defang the word.

    The following is from the 1911 on-line Catholic encyclopedia:

    Among the Catholic governments and peoples there gradually developed an analogous tendency to regard the papacy as a foreign power; Gallicanism and all forms of French and German regalism affected to look upon the Holy See as an alien power because it was beyond the Alpine boundaries of both the French kingdom and the German empire. This name of Ultramontane the Gallicans applied to the supporters of the Roman doctrines–whether that of the monarchical character of the pope in the government of the Church or of the infallible pontifical magisterium–inasmuch as the latter were supposed to renounce “Gallican liberties” in favour of the head of the Church who resided ultra montes. This use of the word was not altogether novel; as early as the time of Gregory VII the opponents of Henry IV in Germany had been called Ultramontanes (ultramontani). In both cases the term was intended to be opprobrious, or at least to convey the imputation of a failing in attachment to the Ultramontane’s own prince, or his country, or his national Church.

    Much of this had to do with the loss of the Papal states to the new country of Italy and the declaration of “infallibility of the pope” at Vatican I – both in the 1800s. It was also a reaction to the Kulturkampf that essentially declared war on Catholicism in Germany in the 1800s. The whole issue has more to do with governance and politics and would be inappropriate to apply to a Louisiana governor, I hope. “Ultramontane” is a term that might be applied by the Chinese rulers to the Catholics in their country.

    the Vatican’s approach to “science”

    What is meant by this? What the Pope says? What the catechism says? What the Vatican II documents say? What the Jesuit head of the Vatican Observatory says? What the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith says?

    There are lots of other comments in this thread that are lumping everything said or printed at the “Vatican” in the same basket and equating them with doctrine. What do you mean when you attribute some position to the “Vatican”? Lots of people work there and lots of them give interviews and write papers. They aren’t all perfectly in tune with each other or the Pope or the catechism or encyclicals or Council documents and decrees.

    Journalists are better off just reporting that a politician says he/she is Catholic and leave it at that – unless they are writing a long article focussed on that very thing.

  • Brian Walden

    With all due respect, “questioning” and “analytical” suffer the same problems as “serious” does. A person can be a questioning an analytical Catholic and not believe all that the Church teaches, but a person can also believe everything that the Church teaches and still be very questioning and analytical when it comes to their faith.

    Maybe the best adjectives to use are orthodox (with a lowercase o) and heterodox. I think the article was trying to portray that Jindal is not only Catholic, but an orthodox Catholic. Orthodox and heterodox describe a person’s beliefs relative to the established doctrines of a religion. In this sense, they can be used without passing judgment on how serious, questioning, analytical, liberal, conservative, modern, traditional or any other of the other adjectives that are commonly put before the word Catholic. The only downsides are I’m not sure how much the general public understands the two terms (they may confuse them with the Orthodox Churches or maybe even the Eastern Catholic Churches), and some people may find them (particularly heterodox) offensive.

  • Dan

    As to names for the main three catergories of Catholics, I would recommend the following (in order of level of commitment):

    1. “Committed Catholic” is the best term for the Catholics who are most fully in communion with the Church, i.e., those who seek to “think with the Church.” “Serious Catholic” does not do because heretics and dissents can be “serious.” “Practicing Catholic” also does not work because it is too broad — it can include those in category 2 below (“Cafeteria Catholics”).

    2. “Cafeteria Catholic” is the best term for those who attend Mass but disagree with the Church’s teachings on major issues, such as the life issues. Do Cafeteria Catholics object to this term? I don’t know.

    3. For those who have received the sacrament of confirmation but no longer attend Mass, the tried and true “lapsed Catholic” works well enough.

  • Michael

    Do Cafeteria Catholics object to this term? I don’t know.

    They do, especially since it is tossed around as an insult to their faith and commitment.

  • Dan

    Brian, I have no problem with “orthodox Catholic” when it is used in contrast to “heterodox Catholic” but I am against the use of the term “orthodox Catholic” alone. The reason is that those who you would call “orthodox Catholics” are merely Catholics, pure and simple, and segmenting them off as “orthodox” falsely suggests that there are others who are fully Catholic but not “orthodox.”

  • Dan

    Michael, why?

  • Dan

    Or actually, the questions are, is “cafeteria Catholic” inaccurate? if it is, how? and it is not, why is it an insult?

  • Brian Walden

    Dan, I agree. The problem is that there are multiple meanings of the word Catholic. Anyone who is baptized is Catholic, however imperfect the communion. Anyone who is a member of a parish in a Catholic Diocese is Catholic. Even lapsed Catholics, unless they have formally renounced their faith, are Catholic. If Catholic is being used to describe a person’s beliefs, then as you said it’s redundant to say orthodox Catholic. But if Catholic is being used to describe which Church a person goes to on Sunday, that (sadly) doesn’t specify how he lives his faith. That’s why the adjective “serious” was stuck in that sentence from the article first place.

  • Dave2

    Tmatt, why do you have such a lab-centered picture of science?

    How does one prove, in a lab, that the Universe is all that is, and was and ever shall be?

    And from a post a couple of years ago:

    How would someone in a lab prove that changes are random? How could someone in a lab prove — absolutely — that they were guided and by whom?

    I mean, there’s lots of good science that has little to do with lab work.

    In any case, “more talk about evolution” really is dangerous, just on the face of it, when there’s a very conspicuous track record of Americans trying to teach kids falsehoods concerning evolutionary biology—inter alia, that there’s any real scientific controversy over its basic tenets.

    But maybe appearances are misleading, and this bill really is about giving kids a really sophisticated understanding of biology. Maybe the reporter deserves to be sneered at for bringing in “that vague and hostile term ‘creationism.’” But no, the reporter is right, the guy who introduced the bill (Ben Nevers, at the behest of the Louisiana Family Forum) explicitly says of the bill’s purpose, “scientific data related to creationism should be discussed when dealing with Darwin’s theory.”

    Admittedly, it’s wrong to say that Jindal “is backing ‘creationism’”—apparently he hasn’t said whether he supports the bill. But luckily, the reporter never even wrote that Jindal backed creationism. The reporter mentioned creationism in sketching the “newly conservative tone of state government” in Louisiana.

    So it’s not that the reporter stated that Jindal supports creationism when in fact Jindal merely supports the Vatican. It’s that the reporter stated that there’s a creationist bill in Louisiana indicative of the the rightward turn of state politics there, and as far as I can tell, the reporter is right.

  • Gregory

    One of the categories I toy with is “observant” Catholic. This can be established by going through a list of questions, such as the six precepts of the Church. Does he attend Mass on all Sundays and other holy days of obligation? Does he support the work of the Church? Does he observe the Church’s laws on marriage? Has he made his annual confession and communion? (There should be two more here, but they don’t jump to mind.)

    I don’t like “serious” Catholic in that it points to intent or motive. It ranks up there with “sincere.” “Observant” has the advantage that it can be used to point to observable behaviors.

    Other than this, my own categories are generally orthodox Catholic and and “other.” Again, for a reporter, this presents problems, as we may be delving into beliefs rather than observable behavior.


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