The concept of liberal Catholicism, it seems, is crumbling before our eyes. Of course, it was always flawed. Liberal Catholics want a Church that: moves with the times and is “progressive”; allows for the use of contraception and abortion in some instances; is more lenient towards homosexuality; allows for the laicisation of the Catholic world and freedom to experiment with liturgy. The Catholic Church, on the other hand, hasn’t budged. It is unchanging in its stance towards the sanctity of human life and remains quite clear where it stands on homosexuality. It wants the laity to remain active, but in their rightful place. In other words, if liberal Catholics want a Church that moves with the times, they’re in the wrong place. (Will Heaven, Telegraph.co.uk)
Well, we always knew that, didn’t we? No, we didn’t, writes Will Heaven in his op-ed piece about recent well-deserved criticism of the “The Tablet” by both an auxiliary bishop of Westminster and the US Archbishop of Denver (see here and here – NB. Bishop Hopes’ criticism came in the form of a Letter to the Editor which The Tablet “had to print” according to this report in CNA, but which you can only read online if you are a subscriber to the Tablet) – it’s something we are just beginning to realise.
So what has changed in the Catholic Church to finally wake us up to the fact that the “liberal Catholic agenda” is doomed? The new pope (well, he’s not that new anymore)? No. Heaven points to an entirely different phenomenon in order to explain the failure of the Liberal Catholic push: The Internet.
The internet – and how Catholics are using it to communicate with each other – has played a huge part as well. Ten years ago, you would not often have a US archbishop criticising a wayward editorial in a British Catholic magazine. Nor would the laity have access to Vatican documents which they can print out to show to their local parish priest. The internet has changed all of this. Sure, the Catholic Church has always been about universals. But now Catholics have formed an online community they’re becoming a more coherent force, and they won’t be sidelined or misrepresented.
In this, he is certainly correct. The Internet has connected the Catholic world to the See of Rome in ways that the 19th Century Ultramontanes could hardly have imagined. The early 20th Century publisher W.G. Ward may have delcared a desire for ‘a new Papal Bull every morning with my Times at breakfast”, but only the 21st Century has been able to make this a real possibility (thanks to sites like Zenit.org). Thanks to the Internet, the Holy Father is truly able to act as a Universal Teacher – anyone anywhere with a computer and modem can hook right into the heart of the Catholic Church’s magisterium. And of course, what goes for the Pope goes for the Curia.
Much has been written about the important role that technology (in particular, the invention of the printing press) had to play in the success of the Reformation five hundred years ago. With the coming of the Internet, it is now Ultramontane Dream which has finally been achieved. In fact, perhaps it was not so much that the Liberal Catholic agenda was “always going to lose”, but that Ultramontanism was always, eventually, going to win. It just took 150 years or so for the right technology to be developed.