The term has only recently penetrated my consciousness (and will soon be slipping away from it again, now that I realize it is a catchall term of quantum indeterminacy that means “Eww! Them!” However, I think it worth noting that it’s been around for roughly a decade apparently and was, irony of ironies, coined by some lay guy named Chris Ferrara for the purpose of saying “Ewww! Them!” in a couple of books devoted to complaining about how everybody, including Pope John Paul, wasn’t as Catholic as he and his small circle of friends are. Dave Armstrong has a rather lengthy piece here in which Omar F.A. Gutiérrez puzzles through the mystery of what, exactly the term means.
What cracks me up about the whole thing is this passage from a review of one of the sacred texts of Rad Tradism, The Great Facade by Ferrara and Thomas Woods:
The authors’ rhetoric does not advance an argument but rather trains the casual reader’s mind to associate disapproval with the label neo-Catholic. And this is precisely what neo-Catholic is: a label meant to habituate the reader’s mind into dismissing those who have the misfortune of falling under it. This is tactical writing reminiscent of political mudslinging and the ravings of modern liberals, but it is not argument. The practice of assigning labels that one side has invented to opposing positions in order to stack the argumentative cards in one’s own favor and thus avoid contending with the opposing argument is a liberal and precisely modern method of argumentation. Assigning these invented labels aids in dismissing the opponent because the authors of the label can create an opponent ready made for defeat.
This is the epitome of a rhetorical abuse. The authors define what a neo-Catholic is in a manner favorable to their own argument, thus assuring their victory in debate.
. . . Furthermore, there is a logical answer to why this defense for their linguistic invention fails. “Schismatic” and “integrist” are two terms that are often laid upon traditionalists. However, both these terms have definitions that originated outside of the imagined war rooms of neo-Catholic think tanks. One can find St. Thomas Aquinas defining schism. One can turn to Henri Daniel-Rops or Pope Benedict XV for an understanding of integrism. The authors can at least argue about the justice of the label being applied to them by appealing to these objective definitions. The same cannot be done by neo-Catholics, for this term came forth from the authors’ traditionalist imagination. To what objective standard can supposed neo-Catholics appeal to? The only standard is the aforementioned imagination. This is no fair standard, and this is no reasonable argument.
Didja get that? There are two hilarious ironies here.
The first is that, as we are constantly informed by the Janice Krauses of the world, lay people (except Janice Krause) have no business going around talking about or teaching the faith. So Catholic Answers is anathema and there is “no office of apologist in the Church”. They’re only in it for the awesome power, prestige, money, and hot chicks that are all part of the perks for being a Catholic writer or speaker. Scott Hahn appears to me more or less the locus of evil in the universe for all this. What right has he to being teaching Scripture, just because he has a Ph.D in the subject. He’s *popular*, dammit! And a convert! And a layperson!
But when some guy named Chris Ferrara cooks up the novel term “neo-Catholic” to attach opprobrium to anybody he dislikes, with no clear description of what the term means that could possibly bind together all the victims of the label, the term is somehow granted canonical status and we are to treat it as seriously as terms which actually arise from the tradition and not from the hothouse of the uber-Trad subculture. I don’t care who you are, that’s funny.
Secondly, of course, is the aggression behind the term. The general difference between a so-called “neo-Catholic” and a Traditionalist who uses the term “neo-Catholic” is this: A “neo-Catholic” calls himself and the Traditionalist “Catholic” while the Traditionalist calls himself “Traditionalist” and his brother Catholic “Neo-Catholic”. It’s a term *designed* to marginalize and to suggest that the “neo-Catholic” is less faithful to the Church and the Tradition than he is. A “neo-Catholic” will, if the Traditionalist insists, refer to the Traditionalist as a Traditionalist. But that, again, is only due to the Traditionalist’s aggressive insistence that the Traditionalist is somehow a Truer Catholic and the so-called “neo-Catholics” desire to be accomodating. In short, so-called “neo-Catholics” are disposed to welcome Traditionalists as brother Catholics in good standing with the Church. A Traditionalist who insists on the label “neo-Catholic” does so in order to insinuate that *most* Catholics are not really up to snuff.
What exactly is not up to snuff about them is maddeningly vague. Is it that they are somehow Protestantized half-breeds with an alien culture or theology? Is it that they are sinister neocons whose Judaized Israeli-supporting politics are leading us to disaster? Is it their presumptuous tendency to think they should go around teaching others about the Faith and evangelizing them to their Protestantized hybrid religion? Is it their shallow cult of personality centered on JPII? Their money-grubbing hucksterism? The way they talk? Their sinister happiness with Vatican II?
Dunno. There’s just something about ’em. They are Other. They aren’t really and truly Catholic. And our authority for all that is… some guy named Chris Ferrara, some woman named Janice Kraus, and a few other lay Traditionalists who bandy the term about loosely and with no clear definition they can all agree upon other than “Ewww! Them!”
(Of course some of us “neo-Catholics”, when we are on the receiving end of this aggression, will use the term “Rad Trad” to describe the Aggressor. But we *only* mean that term to refer to those Traditionalists who attempt to reduce the Faith to their hothouse subculture and to exclude those outside it. We do *not* apply it to those who happen to have Traditionalist sensibilities, but who do not suggest, insinuate or say that other Catholics are “neo-Catholics” or somehow second-class Catholics.)
Oh, one other thing, Mike Liccione also has a fun piece up from a few years ago in which he deals with the term primarily as it was being slung about a couple of years ago by Fr. Joseph O’Leary, the astonishing verbose Jesuit and apologist for all enthusiasms gay. It was from him that I first heard the term–applied ironically, to Janice Kraus. For O’Leary, the swear word simply seems to mean “awful conservative Catholics who are disloyal to the Third Vatican Council and Pope Chelsea I”. It shares with Rad Trads their contempt for Pope John Paul II, but for the opposite reason: he failed to implement the Revolution of the Spirit of Vatican II that graying cleric like O’Leary pines for to give legitimacy to, among other things, their gay enthusiasms. So admirers of JPII get hated on, once again, for being acolytes in a shallow cult of personality that fails to appreciate the Depth of Tradition found in John Boswell’s Same Sex Union in Premodern Europe and other such fine magisterial documents.
Liccione, like me, scoffs at the whole notion of the Two Church theory that lies behind both the Reactionary and Progressive Dissent narrative. We both think the Church is indefectible.
So that’s about that. The Mystery of the Neo-Catholics boils down to saying “Catholics who are faithful to magisterial teaching after the Council are too bad in one way and also too bad in the opposite way.” Chesterton, writing well before the Council (albeit in the apostate language of English) remarks, “If you hear a thing being accused of being too tall and too short, too red and too green, too bad in one way and too bad also in the opposite way, then you may be sure that it is very good.”
I’ll take my chances with being loyal to the magisterial teaching of the Church in her councils and of holy Popes Benedict and John Paul. Bobody died and made Some Guy with a Keyboard the new Magisterium.