The question I want to address, pretending for a moment that it’s a question worth taking seriously, is this: Is the Church conservative or liberal?
I find such a question misguided because the Church (magisterially speaking) doesn’t think in these terms, much to its credit. To answer this question with one of the two options given would be to distort Catholic thinking by forcing it into a political dichotomy that is flawed from the outset. And so the answer is neither, or both, depending on how the terms are understood.
In current popular parlance, one might reasonably say that the Church is “conservative” on sexual ethics and “liberal” on social ethics. I suppose that’s partly why a Catholic mindset feels so well-suited to me. It’s also why I get annoyed by the one-sided claim that the magisterium and/or bishops are exclusively focused on sexual issues – as well as the equally one-sided claim, trotted out when the pope says something about economic justice, that he and/or his predecessors are “to the left of [any/almost every] politician in America.”
On the other hand, as a few of my fellow contributors like to point out, liberalism in the more classical sense has become the platform of the American left and right, in different forms (sexual and economic, respectively). This clashes with Church teaching in either case, and should thus remind Catholics that we are aliens and sojourners, pilgrims without a political homeland. If we’re not feeling politically lonely, we’re missing something.