Sunday, October 6, 2013

Accomodationist Catholicism: What Would Flannery O'Connor Say?

Paul Elie's book on four twentieth-century literary Catholics relates a story about Flannery O'Connor, who attended a dinner party hosted by Mary McCarthy and her husband Bowden Broadwater. O'Connor had little to say until late in the evening when Broadwater ventured that the Eucharist is merely a symbol of Christ's presence.

Finding her voice at last, O'Connor blurted out, "Well, if it's a symbol, to hell with it."

I thought of that story this morning while reading Ross Douhat's perceptive essay on Pope Francis. In recent communications, Francis has sought to soften the popular view that Catholicism is rigidly
"Well, if it's a symbol, to hell with it."
obsessed with a few narrow doctrinal issues in an effort to reach out to mainstream culture.

As Douthat correctly observed, Francis is trying to bridge the growing chasm between postmodern society and the Catholic faith, seeking to position himself "somewhere between the[Church's rigorists and the progressives who pine to Episcopalianize the faith."

This worries conservative Catholics, Douthat wrote, who fear any effort to accommodate Catholicism to postmodernity will  only lead the Church to ruin. "There is no middle ground," these Catholics believe, "no center that holds for long, and the attempt to find one quickly leads to accommodation, drift and dissolution."

Count me among the conservative Catholics who are deeply worried by the Pope's remarks.  As I said in a previous post, I was greatly imressed by Philip Lawler's book, The Faithful Departed, which chronicled the collapse of Catholic culture in Boston under the leadership of three accomodationist cardinals--Law, Cushing, and Mederios. Let the Boston experience be a warning to all good Catholics: if we attempt to placate what Pope John Paul called the "culture of death," we are lost.

As Cardinal Raymond Burke said in a recent interview for The Wanderer, Catholics will soon be driven out of the fields of education, counseling, and health care unless they adapt themselves to postmodern values, values that are being cemented into law by postmodern court decisions and legislation. We really have two choices: we can compromise with the present age and become crypto-Episcopalians, or we can say no to postmodernism just as Saint Thomas More said no to King Henry VIII and Edith Stein said no to the Nazis.

If we say no, I feel certain, faithful Catholics will be driven out of the mainstream of American society, perhaps ultimately back into the catacombs.  We should prepare for this.

As for me, I do not wish to become an Episcopalian.  I don't think this is what Pope Francis is asking us to do, but if he is, he should realize that the response of many good Catholics will be to echo the words of Flannery O'Connor.  If our Church is to become a collaborator with postmodernism,  many faithful Catholics are likely to say, "to hell with it."


Ross Douthat. The Promise and Peril of Pope Francis. New York Times, October 6, 2013, Review Section, p. 12.

Paul Elie. The Life You Save May Be Your Own. New York: Farrer, Straus & Giroux, 2003.

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