Friday, January 17, 2014

Why Do Liberals Like Pope Francis So Much?

I have been asking this question ever since liberal Catholics (and liberal non-Catholics) started going gaga over Francis.  This Pope holds to traditional Catholic doctrines on abortion, divorce, contraception, the priesthood, and gay marriage.  Yet liberals love him.  

Damon Linker, writing at The Week, tries to understand why this is the case.  After a progressive Catholic named Trish told him on a radio program that she and her fellow liberal Catholics don't really care what the Church teaches on matters of doctrine, Linker began to wonder why folks like Trish continue to affiliate with the Catholic Church.

Here is a taste:

For all I know, many or even most liberal Catholics hope and pray for doctrinal reform. But what if Trish is right? If so, the question I'd want to ask these liberals is: Why do you continue to attend church and think of yourself as a Catholic?
If you attend for the beauty of the liturgy, why not just become an Episcopalian? If it's the sense of community you crave, why not join the Unitarian church? Either way, you could certainly continue to be spiritually moved by the pope's public utterances, in the same way you might be stirred by an inspiring presidential speech.
But what's the point of staying put when you're utterly indifferent to so much of what the Catholic Church (and on contraception at least, pretty much only the Catholic Church) proclaims to be true?
The answer matters because of what it might portend about the future of the church. Maybe Trish, a cradle Catholic, has a sentimental attachment to the church. But what about her children, presumably raised to believe that Catholic doctrine is "useless"? Will they remain Catholics and choose to raise their children in the church? I'd be surprised, frankly, if they did.
Upholding church doctrine and affirming it as true, in the style of conservative Catholics, is one thing. Fighting to change church doctrine, as my perhaps imaginary liberal Catholic reformers would want to do, is another. But treating doctrine as completely beside the point is something else entirely.
If Trish is the future of American Catholicism, we appear to be left with a puzzle: When does a church without a doctrine cease to be a church at all?