Fr. Rausch gains some sympathy for Lay Evangelical Catholics

Another Generation Gap

By Thomas P. Rausch

Are the concerns of Catholic theologians changing? It seems so. The concerns of younger Catholics in the academy today are different, perhaps considerably different, from those of my own generation of theologians. First of all, some younger theologians seem uncomfortable with the enormous polarization in the church today, and with the anger that so often seems to accompany it. Also evident are the “new apologists,” a group of conservative Catholics—Karl Keating, Peter Kreeft, Thomas Howard, Scott Hahn, Patrick Madrid and Mark Shea, to name some of the most prominent—who are enormously popular with many more conservative Catholics.

I’ve been critical of the way the new apologists do theology and their sense of what Catholicism needs today, and I remain so. For example, Robert Sungenis’s Catholic Apologetics International Web site (www.catholicintl.com) takes Pope John Paul II to task for his meeting at Assisi on Jan. 24, 2002, at which representatives of the world religions prayed for peace alongside one another. To Sungenis, this suggested that God accepts the worship of “pagans” and hears their prayers.

But at the same time, I have come to be more sympathetic to some of the new apologists’ concerns.

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Fr. Rausch took a rather high-handed approach to the “new apologists” several years ago, eliciting a sound rebuttal from Karl Keating called “No Apologies from the New Apologists“. Essentially, Rausch came out sounding like a high priest offended that the hoi polloi were infringing on his turf. Here, he seems to be slowly arriving at the acknowledgement that the voracious response of huge numbers of people to the actual proclamation of the Faith might indicate that the American ecclesial establishment has not been entirely tuned in to the needs of the flock.

He still has the bad habit of lumping all Catholic evangelists together (note that his poster boy is not Peter Kreeft, Scott Hahn or Karl Keating (typical mainstream figures) but extremist and flat-footed Rad Trad Bob Sungenis) and casting them as “simplistic” people who are just looking for one dimensional “answers”. In my experience, most of the people I know involved in Catholic evangelization and apologetics struggle *against* the demand of a certain percentage of the audience to have simple answers for everything (see, for instance, my essay Catholic “Officialdom” and Theological Ambiguity). That’s the normal life of folks at Catholic Answers, not the endless dispensation of pat answers. And that goes in spades for Scott, who is one of the most nuanced and intelligent readers of Scripture and of the Tradition that I know.

Yes, the new apologists write for a popular audience. Jesus preached for popular audiences. It’s where the gospel is supposed to go. And yes, they do think the Church has definite things to say and definite things to deny in plain English without a lot of throat clearing. But no, they are not people longing for the question and answer formulae of the Baltimore Catechism as a model for existence. The sooner the ecclesial establishment that nurtured Fr. Rausch’s worldview sees this, the sooner they can take more seriously the gaping pastoral needs that lay Catholic evangelists are trying to address.

My own story may be helpful here. My experience of RCIA was horrible–twice. You can read about it here. It’s this sort of wholesale distortion of the Faith, or utter failure to address attacks on it, that motivates new Catholics to help those after them, so they don’t have to endure what we endured.

I am glad Fr. Rausch is finally beginning to see what we’ve been seeing for quite a number of years now–and to affirm rather than attack our efforts to address the problem.


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