Thursday, April 21, 2005

The Radical Catholic Reactionary Pet Term "Neo Catholic": Where Does it Come From? What Does it Mean?

In seeking to answer the questions in the title of this paper, I discovered a superb article, entitled, "Rhetoric, Manipulation, And Ferrawood’s 'Neo-Catholic'", by Omar F.A. Gutiérrez. It was published in The Wanderer: 10 May 2003. I shall cite it at length, in blue. Citations of Christopher Ferrara and Thomas Woods Jr. [the latter has since renounced this book] will be in red.

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"Catholics have nothing to fear from ideas." I was handed The Great Façade [The Remnant Press, Wyoming, Minn., 2002] by self-described traditionalist friends of mine some time ago with these words. They wished that I should attempt to answer the traditionalist argument found within its pages. This book was, for them, one of the finer arguments for the traditionalist position to date. As far as they were concerned, Christopher Ferrara and Thomas Woods Jr. had finally presented the traditionalist argument in clear and concise terminology.

[Dave: I was presented the book in person by Gerry Matatics (who exhibited similar opinions of it) ]

. . . In light of the overwhelming praise that it is given by the traditionalist gallery, I believe this book can only do more harm than good. The Ferrawood argument, as I have come to call it, is not clear or logical. It is manipulative and rhetorical. Such an argument cannot possibly shed a kind light on the traditionalist movement.

I do not deny that there is a crisis, and I believe traditionalists are too often dismissed without being given much thought. Nor do I wish to quell what I see as very useful and helpful voices coming out of some corners of the traditionalist movement. However, this book is an example of a work that can only do damage to this movement, for this book is filled with a verbal sorcery that is dazzling but equally deceptive. Perhaps the most egregious example of this sorcery is the invention, definition, and constant use of the term "neo-Catholic."

. . . Page 12 in The Great Façade begins by stating that the definition of terms is absolutely necessary for fruitful debate. So far this seems a reasonable approach. However, the terms in chapter one that appear key and pivotal for the Ferrawood argument are not central to the argument, nor do they draw out the "exact nature of the controversy" between conservatives and traditionalists. The terms most important to the authors are "traditionalist" and "neo-Catholic," or more precisely "neo-Catholic" in place of "conservative." Meanwhile, the authors completely ignore terms like "tradition," "novelty," "Magisterium," "authority," "doctrine," "dogma," etc. These are all terms with specific theological meanings, and all terms which have been lost on the authors.

When reading The Great Façade, one finds either a complete lack of definition or a complete misunderstanding of basic theological distinctions. Of course it is also telling that the central terms for the Ferrawood argument are labels not ecclesiastical terms. Labels, even if accurately defined, are imposed on persons, and the authors do not give us any reason to believe that they are qualified to label anyone accurately. The fact that none of the truly central terms in the debate are defined can only lead one to assume, from the very start of the book, that the Ferrawood argument can bear absolutely no fruit for this debate.

On page 5 the authors make clear that those who would refer to themselves as "conservatives" are not worthy — at least in action — of such an honorable title . . .

[Footnote 4: "Since [conservatives] have not in fact conserved anything . . . we believe that the term ‘conservative’ invites confusion among casual readers, for whom it carries a positive connotation, while attaching a venerable designation to people whose actions — or inaction, as the case may be — merit no such honor."]
. . . Let us look at the definition of "neo-Catholic." Remember please that for the authors this is one of the central terms of the debate and the proper understanding of this term is the prerequisite to any fruitful outcome for the debate between traditionalists and conservatives.
We read on page 15:
What, then, do we mean by the term "neo-Catholic"? Before answering, we must first anticipate the banal objection that we are "generalizing" about neo-Catholics and neo-Catholicism. Of course we are. The focus of this book is the idea of neo-Catholicism as a system of novel practices and attitudes that first emerged in the Church during the 1960s. While the neo-Catholic idea can be illustrated with the objective statements and actions of particular individuals who are part of this new constituency of the Church . . . it is not for us to make any judgment about the Catholic fidelity and personal piety of these people — even though . . . the leading lights of neo-Catholicism are all too ready to denounce their traditionalist brethren as "schismatics" and cast them into outer darkness, without benefit of any canonical declaration by competent Church authorities.


On page 19 the authors write, "A neo-Catholic, then, is someone who more or less lives according to the neo-Catholic idea." And what is the "neo-Catholic idea"? The authors tell us that the "focus of this book is the idea of neo-Catholicism." This "neo-Catholic idea can be illustrated with the objective statements and actions of particular individuals who are part of this new constituency of the Church."

This is what we are given thus far: to have a fruitful debate the authors must define "neo-Catholic"; a neo-Catholic is one who adheres to the neo-Catholic idea; the neo-Catholic idea is demonstrated through the actions, attitudes, and statements of neo-Catholics. Therefore, a neo-Catholic is one who adheres to the neo-Catholic idea, which is discernible in the action of a neo-Catholic. Right?

Wrong. This is a tautology, it is a circular argument, or definition in this case. The Ferrawood argument begins by stating that in order to understand A (neo-Catholic) we must know B (the neo-Catholic idea), and in order to know B we look to A. The authors claim they are focusing on the "idea of neo-Catholicism" but their definition of this idea is based on the actions of those they have already determined to be neo-Catholic. They simply point to the actions of those they label as neo-Catholic and say, "Ah ha, a neo-Catholic!" But what is the neo-Catholic idea? How is it to be understood? The authors go to great lengths in the book to tell us what a neo-Catholic does, but they never define what the "idea of neo-Catholicism" is apart from the actions of those they’ve already labeled.

We read on page 16, "So, based on the objective words and deeds of some of the more prominent neo-Catholics, we can safely generalize about the neo-Catholic idea." Oh really! The tautological nature of this sentence and thus the Ferrawood argument shines through clearly. One must ask the authors how they can be sure that the "objective words and deeds" they witness are those of neo-Catholics if they do not already have a means by which they can objectively determine who is a neo-Catholic and who is not? They might answer with the following "definition" of the neo-Catholic idea:

Particular applications aside, it is the idea that with the advent of the Second Vatican Council a new sort of orthodoxy suddenly arose in the Church, an orthodoxy stripped of any link to the ecclesiastical traditions once considered an untouchable sacred trust. It is the idea that by virtue of Vatican II the Church has, in some manner never clearly explained, progressed beyond what she was before the Council to a new mode of existence, and that this progression requires an assent on the part of the faithful that is somehow different from the assent required to the constant teaching of all the previous councils and Popes.

The fact that "orthodoxy," "ecclesiastical traditions," and "assent" are never defined aside, this is the idea of neo-Catholicism, and the authors demonstrate the legitimizing proof for their definition by pointing to the words and deeds of leading neo-Catholics. But it is only natural that the words and deeds of those the authors tell us are neo-Catholics would fit this definition of the idea, because this definition was manufactured from the words and deeds of those the authors had already determined were neo-Catholic. This is a circular definition. This is a term manufactured to guarantee rhetorical victory. On top of this, if one were to actually know some of the neo-Catholics the authors label one cannot really match the above idea to them. I know some of those the authors label as neo-Catholic and they do not cling to or foster the above idea.

On page 17 we read the following explanation about this neo-Catholic idea, "What this means is that the neo-Catholic idea is nothing less than a form of progressive or liberal Catholicism — whether a given neo-Catholic knows it or not, is, subjectively speaking, a liberal by intention." Apparently anyone labeled a neo-Catholic could not even argue about the justice of the term, because, as the authors are so good to tell us, they are liberals whether they know it or not. By the authors’ own standards for fruitful debate, they have already failed. For this definition is no definition, and this tautology is the central term for the entire work!

The authors’ rhetoric does not advance an argument but rather trains the casual reader’s mind to associate disapproval with the label neo-Catholic. And this is precisely what neo-Catholic is: a label meant to habituate the reader’s mind into dismissing those who have the misfortune of falling under it. This is tactical writing reminiscent of political mudslinging and the ravings of modern liberals, but it is not argument. The practice of assigning labels that one side has invented to opposing positions in order to stack the argumentative cards in one’s own favor and thus avoid contending with the opposing argument is a liberal and precisely modern method of argumentation. Assigning these invented labels aids in dismissing the opponent because the authors of the label can create an opponent ready made for defeat.

This is the epitome of a rhetorical abuse. The authors define what a neo-Catholic is in a manner favorable to their own argument, thus assuring their victory in debate.

. . . Furthermore, there is a logical answer to why this defense for their linguistic invention fails. "Schismatic" and "integrist" are two terms that are often laid upon traditionalists. However, both these terms have definitions that originated outside of the imagined war rooms of neo-Catholic think tanks. One can find St. Thomas Aquinas defining schism. One can turn to Henri Daniel-Rops or Pope Benedict XV for an understanding of integrism. The authors can at least argue about the justice of the label being applied to them by appealing to these objective definitions. The same cannot be done by neo-Catholics, for this term came forth from the authors’ traditionalist imagination. To what objective standard can supposed neo-Catholics appeal to? The only standard is the aforementioned imagination. This is no fair standard, and this is no reasonable argument.

Later in chapter one, page 24, the authors, speaking about neo-Catholics and the neo-Catholic Church, write:
The general result has been a de facto detachment of the greater part of Catholics from the Church’s own precisely crafted dogmatic framework, leaving them to drift in a kind of quasi-Catholicism that may not contain any explicit heresy, but that the preconciliar Popes simply would not regard as authentically and integrally Catholic.

Now, the authors do maintain that the piety of the neo-Catholic can rival that of the traditionalist. Also, the authors do not state that neo-Catholics are adrift but that "the greater part of Catholics" are adrift. However, I cannot accept that the authors do not mean to refer to neo-Catholics in any way when they write "the greater part of Catholics." It seems rather clear from this statement that the authors are judging at least the objective fidelity of the neo-Catholic. What else could this term mean but to suggest that the neo-Catholic practices a new faith, a new Catholicism? This new faith is clearly not authentic or integrally Catholic. Yet the authors still mean to say that accusing neo-Catholics of taking part in a "quasi-Catholicism," which at any other time in history would have been seen as inauthentic, is not judging the "Catholic fidelity" of neo-Catholics?


How is it not calling into question the orthodoxy of the neo-Catholic by saying explicitly that previous Popes, if given the chance, would reject their faith as inauthentic? . . .

. . . Perhaps the authors do not mean to call into question the fidelity of the neo-Catholic when they write on page 250 that a "neo-Catholic is nothing more or less than a kind of liberal, even if he conforms to the moral teaching of the Church and espouses no formal heresy as such" . . . 

On the same page and after suggesting that neo-Catholics are guilty of the modernist heresy [Footonote 9: "In many respects, the neo-Catholic fits Pius X’s description in Pascendi of ‘the modernist as reformer’."], the authors attempt to remind the reader that the fidelity of the neo-Catholic is not being called into question. This time, however, they qualify the parameters of their judgment. They write that they are "speaking here only in the objective realm of ideas, without presuming to judge the subjective faith of any individual." They do not judge the subjective fidelity of the individual, but they are judging the object of their faith. Dr. Janet Smith, H.W. Crocker III, Mother Angelica, and so many others labeled as neo-Catholic maintain a faith that is objectively inauthentic and not integral to the Catholic faith. These persons espouse no formal heresy, but certainly some form of material heresy. This is the necessary and logical implication of the authors’ statements.

The authors incessantly use "neo-Catholic" when they introduce a work, organization, or person they wish the reader to be aware of as being untrustworthy. It is difficult to see it as anything but a malignant effort to score rhetorical points. Who can doubt the manipulative nature of this term when the last paragraph of Ferrara’s article to Michael Davies [see citation below] reads, "He who controls the terminology controls the debate. It is long past time for traditionalists to take control of the terminology in this debate. Does the term neo-Catholic anger our adversaries, who have been calling us names for decades? Too bad — the shoe fits. Now let them wear it."

. . . this demonstrates — better than I could — that the term neo-Catholic is tactical writing closer to the heart of liberalism than to the traditions of the Church. Taking control of the terminology of the debate by inventing terms that are designed for one side’s benefit is precisely how the radical liberal intelligentsia have won over the faculties of Western universities . . . the invention of "neo-Catholic" is one of the more egregious examples of dishonest debate. For those traditionalists who wish to shake the liberal label, they ought to abandon the Ferrawood argument altogether.

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Christopher A. Ferrara, Esq., further elaborates upon the meaning of neo-Catholic, in his article, The Justice of the term 'neo-Catholic', which appeared in the notorious "traditionalist" rag The Remnant, and was reprinted on the Daily Catholic web page:

. . . In our use of the term neo-Catholic, Tom and I are making an analogy to American politics. American political thinking did, after all, exert a great deal of influence on the Council, . . . In America, the term “neo-conservative” does not mean a revival of traditional political conservatism, American-style. It denotes, rather, a new and more liberalized version of what is now disparaged as the old “paleoconservativism” of people like Pat Buchanan.
 
. . . These people, without even realizing it, have developed a deep aversion to certain aspects of their own religion. They have come to detest these elements of the preconciliar teaching of the Church more than any heresy against the faith, and the defenders of these forgotten teachings more than any true enemy of the Church.
 
. . . And through it all, the neo-Catholic establishment continues to maintain the pretense that it occupies the moral high-ground simply and only because it is willing to indulge in a display of blind loyalty to the person who currently occupies the Chair of Peter. As the human element of the Church collapses everywhere in scandal and liturgical and doctrinal degradation, the neo-Catholics do nothing but complain bitterly about local abuses, while waving a banner containing the slogan that has overcome reason itself in the neo-Catholic mind: John Paul II, we love you. But this isn’t love we are seeing. It is a form of idolization that in fact does the Pope and the Church a terrible disservice.
 
. . . Tom and I have never claimed that those who could be called neo-Catholic in their misguided approach to the crisis are not “real” Catholics. Unlike our accusers, we do not feel ourselves entitled to write fellow Catholics out of the Church. Rather, as the quotation from Johnston illustrates perfectly, we are dealing with liberalized Catholics who have been induced to accept newly emergent attitudes and practices that undermine the very faith they think they are defending.
 
. . . As we can see, the term has definitely hit home. The neo-Catholic commentators who delight in deriding us as “ultra-traditionalists,” “extreme traditionalists,” “Pharisees” and so forth now have a label of their own to contend with. The term neo-Catholic incenses them because it captures their position and leaves it “formulated, sprawling on a pin,” to borrow a phrase from T.S. Eliot.

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What magisterial Church document provides radical Catholic Reactionaries (RadCathRs) with their definition of "Neo-Catholic"? What is the etymology of this term? Who first used it? Just curious . . ."

I am content to simply call "traditionalists" and also RadCathRs and myself "Catholic." If I must make distinctions due to liberal or far-right rot in the Church, then I use the qualifier "orthodox" as well, to indicate that I accept all the teachings of the Catholic Church.

If one accepts notions that go contrary to orthodox Catholicism, and uses the term, I must object, because "Tradition" is a good Catholic word which must not be trifled with (and those who reject some of it ought not to be allowed to co-opt the term to themselves as if they actually exemplify a particular devotion to "tradition" as they themselves define it). Even if a RadCathR is orthodox, but insists on using the term, then it must be because it is being used to distinguish the RadCathR from the likes of me, who has supposedly somehow become simultaneously "liberal" and "orthodox" (by the application of the silly term "neo-Catholic").

So it is still attempting to create division in the Church and separate Catholic believers into a superior-subordinate relationship, with the RadCathRs being the ones who "get it" and the "neo-Catholics" being dupes and fellow travelers of their liberal overlords in the lower hierarchies of the Church. Either way, it stinks to high heaven.


 "Neo-Catholic" means a new kind of Catholic. But this is an oxymoron, according to the nature of Catholicism. There can be no "new Catholic." One is simply an orthodox Catholic, according to the Tradition of the ages, or not. Catholic (in its deepest sense) means "orthodox", so to say that one is a "new Catholic" is to say that one espouses a "new kind of orthodoxy," which, of course, is a self-contradiction. There is no such thing as a "new orthodoxy." That would be, rather, a novelty or heterodoxy or heresy. So the label basically reduces (but this is actually consistently applying logic) to calling someone heterodox or a heretic. Yet RadCathRs want to call us "orthodox" and "neo-Catholic" at the same time? Ferrara and Woods come right out and say that it means "liberalized Catholic."

But how can I be a liberal and orthodox at the same time? The whole thing is a big game and exercise in futile, circular logic. The term is simply meant to belittle and dismiss non-RadCathR Catholics, precisely as Omar Gutiérrez maintained. It doesn't matter where it came from. The goal is to ridicule and defame orthodox Catholics who try to get beyond the separation of Catholics into categories and the divisiveness that this tends to produce.

"Neo-Catholic" contains an explicit insult and implication of heterodoxy, any way that you look at it.
If "Neo-Catholic" doesn't come from the magisterium, why should I accept it? On what authority? It's an insult, meant to belittle and put in a box those who don't buy the RadCathR line.

*****

Ferrara (lest we miss it) makes his meaning even more clear in his article, Neo-Catholic Quislings (a title speaks a thousand words, doesn't it???):

Dr. Thomas E. Woods and I have written a book, The Great Façade, which analyzes a phenomenon that is rightly called neo-Catholicism. The New Catholics who practice this new strain of Catholicism are distinguished by their seemingly inexhaustible willingness to defend, in the name of "obedience," every destructive innovation of the past 40 years, merely because some level of ecclesiastical authority has approved it.

. . . The term "quisling" is derived from the name of Vidkun Quisling, the head of Norway’s government, who sided with the Nazis during the German occupation of Norway from 1940-1945 in the wrongheaded belief that this would be best for Norway’s common good. Today "quisling" connotes one who serves as the misguided puppet of an occupying force.

. . . And the legacy of the quislings who have collaborated with this occupying army of Church-wreckers will be the same as that of Vidkun Quisling himself: a legacy of shame.

Thank you very much, Chris! There is something to be said for forthright clarity and unambiguous statements of one's position! In an equally edifying, uplifting article, The Blindness of Neo-Catholicism, Ferrara states:

The people I call neo-Catholics refuse to admit that the Catholic Church is suffering the worst crisis in her history because of innovations and capitulations approved by the Vatican apparatus itself. For the neo-Catholic, the Vatican can do no wrong . . .
 
And in his article, Neo-Catholic Blindness: Another Case in Point (does anyone sense a theme, here?), we are blessed with this tidbit:

There will be no solution to the crisis in the Church until the Vatican bureaucracy is held to the same standard of Catholic decency, decorum and common sense as that adhered to by Archbishop Chaput. Either Sodano and his collaborators cease their hobnobbing with the forces of darkness and go back to preaching the Gospel, or God will have to clean house at the Vatican. Only then will the crisis end.

In his paper, The Blind Guides of EWTN, Ferrara (outdoing even himself) surprises us all by reaching previously untold heights of complimentarity towards his buddies, the . . . (you guessed it!):

EWTN’s mixture of certain aspects of traditional Roman Catholicism with absolutely appalling novelties invented during the past 40 years — novelties that would have reduced the pre-conciliar popes to a state of apoplexy — is the very essence of neo-Catholicism. 

. . . Our experience of the past 40 years shows us that the real problem in the Church today is not overt modernists, who are easy to identify and expose, but the vast neo-Catholic establishment, posing as the "mainstream" of Roman Catholicism, with its multiform corruption of the traditional faith in both practice and belief. The devil’s momentary triumph in the post-conciliar epoch — inevitably to become his final defeat — consists of a shift of the great body of Catholics toward latitudinarianism and indifferentism . . . 

In short, the rise of neo-Catholicism is the post-conciliar crisis in the Church. It is a crisis as great as — if not greater than — the Arian crisis that also overcame the greater part of the Church in the 4th Century. To appreciate this we need only consider that EWTN is now considered an exemplar of Catholic orthodoxy, when, as we can see here, it is providing the very blind guides Our Lord warned us not to follow, lest we end up in a pit. 

Isn't this marvelous? So now we "neo-Catholics" don't simply sincerely misunderstand the nature and causes of the current crisis in the Church, but we are, in fact, the very crisis itself. We exemplify it, and are the forerunners and sustainers of it.

In "The Sands of Celebrity," [no longer online at this URL] Ferrara, undaunted and utterly unrestrained (not that we ever expect him to be restrained), trashes Scott Hahn, and then makes a vicious attack upon Pope John Paul II:

The neo-Catholic establishment is a house built on the shifting sands of celebrity, including the celebrity of a hugely popular Pope who will not rule his Church, but instead basks in the adulation of a profoundly disoriented laity whose plight he does not seem to understand. The Church cannot be sustained in her mission by celebrities who hunger after novelty, whether that novelty be carnal or theological. The Church does not need knights in shining armor from Washington, or books that make Hahn-verts instead of old fashioned converts, or even a Pope who is always celebrated but never feared. None of these celebrities can provide what the Church requires in the present crisis. Only the foundation stones of traditional Roman Catholicism, put firmly back in place by a militant hierarchy from the Pope on down, will be able to support the household of the Faith against the winds and floods that now assail it. How much more damage the Church will sustain in this crisis will be determined by how much more time it takes the hierarchy to restore the foundation.

In the same article (also reprinted on Robert Sungenis' website [no longer online at this URL]), Ferrara even has to intensify his own ridiculous term:

This kind of thinking represents an ultra neo-Catholicism that goes beyond the more conservative neo-Catholic’s comparatively passive defense of the post-conciliar novelties. In the manner of a true revolutionary, the ultra neo-Catholic openly despises the Church’s past and rejoices in its burial . . . this ultra neo-Catholicism is being amalgamated with the policies of the Republican Party, . . . 


Peter Miller, editor of the RadCathR rag,  Seattle Catholic, himself wrote an absolutely glowing tribute to Ferrara's and Woods' book, The Great Façade, in his newspaper (28 August 2002). Miller writes about this atrocious book:

. . . hundreds of sensible and reasoned observations which, in better times, would be laughably obvious. Unfortunately, one of the tragic results of this crisis has been the emergence of an attitude seemingly dedicated to obscuring common sense with elaborate explanations, selective citations and vicious attacks upon faithful Catholics. It is to this current of thought and its dedication to ecclesial novelties that Christopher Ferrara and Thomas Woods have applied the label "neo-Catholic" — a term perhaps more precise than "moderate liberal" and much more accurate than the constantly-fluctuating "conservative."

. . . yesterday's liberals (ironically enjoying the term "conservative" based solely on the emergence of liberals even more radical) . . .
 
. . . arguably the most comprehensive and exquisite defense of the uncorrupted Catholic Faith printed in decades — The Great Façade.
 
. . . While there are many aspects of this book that make it an invaluable addition to any faithful Catholic's library, one chapter stands above the rest and is as impressive as any single chapter or article written in years. Entitled "A Nest of Contradictions," Chapter 11 exposes the complete lack of consistency and credibility of the typical neo-Catholic claims.
 
. . . In a year where already several important Catholic books have been published, The Great Façade easily stands out as a monumental work. The exemplary prose makes reading the various chapters swift and enjoyable. At the same time, the attention to detail and extensive footnotes make this not only a great read but a valuable reference tool, ranking it among Michael Davies' Pope John's Council and Romano Amerio's Iota Unum as books belonging in every Catholic's library.
 
For balanced critiques of The Great Façade, see Brian O’Neel's review in This Rock. Also, see James Likoudis' review.

                          Revised, with new terminology incorporated, on 12 August 2013.

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