I'm not sure why I was so surprised. I've not identified with the label "liberal Catholic" for years now. But maybe it was just another of those reminders of just how far I've come from the days of my early twenties. I've been thinking a lot on those lines, and in fact, a large part of a conversation with a friend in Rome last week was about how both of us have "moved to the right" (or to more traditional understandings of things) in so many respects, especially with respect to liturgy.
For years too I've been telling myself that I need to sift through all of this and write it down. I'm guessing it'll happen this summer when I have some time to think.
Anyhoo, this was the letter from an Australian reader:
Thank you for your illuminating editorial on Pope Benedict XVI's Deus caritas est ... No one expects any major doctrinal shift from this new pontificate, but with his first encyclical Benedict has signaled a change of tone. Apparently we are not going to see a continuation of the rancor and division of the past twenty-six years -- which was driven in very large part by the American Catholic Right as it defamed and demoralized the rest of us. From now on, if this encyclical is to be believed, we can look forward to a whole lot more love and a whole lot less talk.Wow. The new encyclical as tossing out Humanae Vitae. Apparatchiks? Polish swamp? Do-nothing papacy? Not that there are some good points about demonizing and rancor (definitely not the sole province of the "Catholic Right") or about the "palpable uneasiness" (to use Fr. Neuhaus' words) in some corners at, well, Benedict not turning out, immediately, to be a Grand Inquisitor. Besides "tossing out Humanae Vitae is not a major doctrinal shift? As I said. The chasm is wide, it seems.
Before Benedict's encyclical was released, I told myself that it would either be full of references to Humanae Vitae and Pope John Paul II's theology of the body, with endless footnotes quoting his twentieth-century papal predecessors, in which case Benedict's own pontificate was sunk; or there would be no references at all to procreation or Humanae Vitae or the theology of the body, in which case they would be sunk. Well folks, that soft splash you just heard was the theology of the body being tossed overboard. It is to be hoped that Humanae Vitae will eventually follow, going the same was as the Syllabus of Errors -- no announcements of any policy reversal, just never mentioned again. What will all the apparatchiks at the John Paul Institute and the Pontifical Academy of Life have to talk about now? Here in Australia, the John Paul Institute in Melbourn is already reported to be on its last legs.
After twenty-six years wandering around in a Polish swamp, the church has finally staggered back onto dry land. If this is turning into the most intelligent "do nothing" papacy in history, Benedict, is at least taking the advince of Prince Taleyrand and doing nothing well. Of course, Richard John Neuhaus and George Weigel will want to get back to rambling about gays in the seminary as soon as possible. But the People of God have already moved on.
Related to all this, at Commonweal's new blog, J. Peter Nixon asks some very salient questions: Do "Commonweal Catholics" have a future? A great conversation going on there. I'll have some thoughts. When I have some time.