Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Reflections on Peter Manseau's New York Times essay: There are many kinds of Catholics, but only one Catholic Church

Peter Manseau published an essay in the New York Times yesterday in which he wrote sympathetically about various renegade religious groups that claim to be Catholic.  Manseau points out that there are "hundreds of independent Catholic churches already operating in the United States and more on the way," making it "increasingly difficult to know exactly what the word is meant to signify."

Manseau suggests that what it means to be Catholic is open to interpretation and that the views of a group operating outside communion with Rome are as valid as those of Orthodox Catholics.   Indeed, Manseau ended his essay by suggesting that Pope Francis's papacy, which has prompted many lapsed Catholics to re-examine their spiritual lives, has caused "a thousand Catholicisms [to] bloom."

Well, I disagree.  There is only one Catholic Church.

It is true there are many kinds of Catholics. There are daily communicants and those who struggle just to do their Easter duty. There are Catholics who try to abide by every jot and tittle of Church doctrine; and there are millions of Catholics who completely ignore Church teaching on contraceptives. There are faithful Catholics, lapsed Catholics, so-called "recovering" Catholics, and Catholics who joined the Church for the sole reason of pleasing a Catholic spouse.

Nevertheless, there is only one Catholic Church.

I acknowledge that there are a welter of church groups whose ties with Rome are murky, tenuous or at least unclear to the average Catholic layperson.  There is the Polish National Catholic Church, for example, which is in dialogue with Rome but not in full communion. There are Maronite Catholics who are in communion with Rome but whose worship practices differ from the standard Roman rite.  And I recall attending Mass at a Byzantine Catholic Church in Florida, where I received Communion through intinction. The priest used a utensil that looked very much like a long tea spoon to dip the host in consecrated wine, which he then placed on my tongue.

And most recently, the Church has recognized Anglican Use Catholic Churches, which are churches that were once Anglican but have reunited with Rome as a body.  A lovely web site called "Southern Fried Catholicism" describes the Anglican Use Catholic Church very nicely.

But these variations on Roman Catholicism, profound as they are, do not change the core reality that the Roman Catholic Church is one Church. And the curiously American practice of forming new religious denominations based on personal preferences does not change the fact that apostate groups that call themselves Catholic are nothing more than heretics.

Our Lady of Walsingham
Mr. Manseau's  essay is the latest in a long stream of New York Times op ed pieces written by people who challenge--explicitly or implicitly--some core tenet of the Catholic faith. All these people are free to leave the Mother Church and join various Protestant denominations or form new ones.  They may even choose to become secularists, which is the current term for atheists.

 But they are not free to redefine Catholicism to suit their personal preferences. And if they start some idiosyncratic offshoot organization and call it Catholic, they engage in heresy and will likely be excommunicated. Even I--a back-pew Catholic convert from fly-over country--know that.


Peter Mansseau. What It Means to Be Catholic Now. New York Times, March 10, 2014, p. A21.

SFC on the Road: Our Lady of Walsingham, Houston. Southern Fried Catholicism blog site. Available at: http://www.southernfriedcatholicism.com/2012/06/sfc-on-road-our-lady-of-walsingham.html

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