Writing in Catholic Herald, Dan Hitchens says this:
Orthodox Catholics are facing “persecution” – and not from secularists, but from their fellow believers. That’s the startling claim made last week by Professor Josef Seifert, the philosopher and friend of St John Paul II. His remarks echoed some recent comments from Cardinal Gerhard Müller, who told the National Catholic Register that Vatican officials and university teachers were “living in great fear.” And Seifert and Cardinal Müller are only saying publicly what many will say in private.
This is rapidly become a meme, the supposed oppression of orthodox Catholics under Pope Francis. It’s time somebody gave some critical scrutiny to the claims.
First of all, I’m highly uncomfortable with identification of one group of Catholics within the church as “orthodox.” The unsaid but strong implication is that other Catholics are not orthodox – a claim which is hardly supported. Find another word, please.
It’d be good to fact-check the claim of Hitchens and Seifert and Müller about their lot being persecuted. It’d be good to compare this with the silencing of theologians on the progressive side of things. It’d be good to get accurate data across the entire church about banned and disinvited theologians and clergy.
But despite the title of my post, such fact-checking is not possible. And for this simple reason: by nature the whole thing takes place in secret. Priests and theologians and speakers very much avoid broadcasting the fact that they have been silenced, for understandable reasons. The exceptions are few.
If more of this thing were above ground, most people would be very shocked. The ongoing widespread silencing of mainline theologians would surely make the front page of the New York Times. If, as I say, it were possible to write that story.
I know many, many theologians whom I would characterize as ‘mainstream,’ some of them perhaps ‘progressive’ or ‘left-leaning’ but certainly never credibly accused of heresy, who have been and are being banned from speaking at Catholic events and on Catholic grounds.
It has become standard practice – a change from a generation or two ago – that conferences have to submit all proposed speakers to the bishop during the planning stage. Speakers are regularly crossed off the list, not because they are heretical or in manifest error, but because the bishop (or his men) don’t like their approach to things.
I know of a right-leaning deacon who had difficulty getting preaching faculties because the bishop didn’t like (and didn’t understand, I’m pretty sure) his development of a traditional, Catholic understanding of his area of specialty.
I know of at least one priest in good standing whose compositions were banned from diocesan liturgies – not because of the quality of the music, but because the bishop just didn’t want this kind of guy to get coverage.
Because of my views on translation, I was once forbidden to speak on any topic of liturgical ministry in one diocese, and given permission to speak only on Latin chant interpretation – and this after I pledged to say nothing against the authority of the Church.
I know of one theologian after another – if I were to give their names you would be horrified – who have been banned from speaking in this or that diocese.
It would be very interesting to take, say, 10 or 15 mainline Catholic universities in the U.S. and do a confidential poll of all the Catholics in the theology department, to see how many have been banned at some point in the last 25 years. Would it be one-tenth of them? one-fourth? a third? I don’t know. I’m sure it would be more than a handful.
Cardinal Müller claims that many Vatican officials are living in great fear. Let us be precise: these are people who work for the pope. The claim, then, is that people who disagree with their boss are fearful. It makes sense that they are – in any organization, anyone who is at odds with management probably has at least some reason to be fearful. Put in that light, Cardinal Müller claims lose some of their shock value.
As I say, fact-checking all this is not possible. Is the proportion of ‘progressives’ banned, compared to ‘conservatives,’ 10 to 1? Or 25 to 1? We don’t know.
But if anyone tells you that conservatives have a corner on the market of suffering persecution, be very skeptical.