Dissent's Demise

The Catholic Internet world was abuzz the week of Sept. 8-12 about what was quickly dubbed the Big Meeting. That's the meeting where 40 Catholics met with Washington Cardinal Theodore McCarrick and Bishop Wilton Gregory of Bellville, Ill., who happens to be the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The Register participated in the Big Meeting in the person of Tom Hoopes, executive editor.

Veteran Catholic journalists and pundits Deal Hudson and Russell Shaw requested the get-together as an answer to an earlier meeting bishops had with Catholics known for their dissenting views.

The dissenters' July meeting was called “The Church in America: The Way Forward in the 21st Century.” It was held in the John Paul II Cultural Center near the National Shrine of the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, next to the campus of the Catholic University of America and across the street from the offices of the bishops' conference.

In other words, the dissenters' meeting took place in the center of the American Catholic structure and had the feel of a strategy session. But the non-dissenters meeting was a question-and-answer “Meeting in Support of the Church” at a secular club on Washington's Embassy Row and had the feeling of being on the periphery of the Catholic world.

It would have made more sense the other way around. It also would have been truer: The dissenters who met may be in positions of influence in the Church right now, but they are not the Church's future.

After the non-dissenters' meeting, a group of young participants went to a Washington, D.C., restaurant for an unofficial “secret” meeting of their own about the future of the Church. Too bad none of the bishops were there.

The young participants had all left the Church to one degree or another after taking doctrine-free CCD classes as children. They returned after discovering the beauty and truth of the faith on their own.

The dissenters' meeting, for them, represents the Catholicism that they rejected. It's a Catholicism that shrugs off doctrines of the faith then expects you to accept the mental calisthenics that are put in their place. It's the Catholicism of universities that creates rationalistic secular leaders, not Catholic ones. It's the Catholicism of empty theology departments and empty campus chapels.

That form of Catholicism has no future because hypocrisy and dishonesty are the sins the new generation of Catholics most disdain. The younger generation will either leave the faith definitively or embrace it robustly—they won't attempt to do both. With very few exceptions, these young Catholics simply won't accept the strange religion that clings to the Church while rejecting it.

This is a group of Catholics who won't take the bishops' conference seriously at all while partial-birth abortion supporter Leon Panetta sits on the U.S. bishops' National Review Board. Whether they should take them seriously or not is another question. The fact remains that they won't.

The younger generation of Catholics looks at the Church and sees, on the one hand, a group of professional Catholics in parishes, universities and dioceses who dissent from one Church teaching or another and have no youth following. On the other hand, they see the largest crowds in the history of the human race gathering to hear Pope John Paul II reaffirm Catholic teachings from contraception to the virgin birth.

These young participants noted that the Pope has given clear direction for the future of the Church (spelled out point-by-point in Novo Millennio Ineunte and Ecclesia in America)—and that his agenda wasn't on the agenda of either meeting with the bishops.

They easily choose the Holy Father's side, and if Catholic leaders want to reach them, they would be wise to do the same.