It seems that a lot of the problems within the Church today stem from Catholics, who have vastly different ideologies, thinking every Catholic thinks as they do. This simply isn’t true. Within the Church today there are at least three distinct ideologies in use. What are these ideologies? Well, I hope to explain that. Now, the names used are arbitrary. Just because you call yourself “traditionalist” doesn’t make you one. Furthermore, these distinctions have little to do with politics. Conservative Catholics may be quite liberal politically. And please, bear in mind, “liberal” is not synonymous with “heretic”. While the liberal position may constitute heresy, we can’t assume that right off the bat. The greater portion of “liberals”, for example, oppose abortion, and if they don’t it’s because nobody has explained abortion to them in their terms.
Oh, and most Catholics in the pews fit into none of these, they just go to Mass on Sunday.
The liberal camp forms the left wing of the Catholic Church. They often seem to deny indefectibility (that the Church will never cease to be, or have any defect in its nature, even if some of its members are deficient in virtue). This, however, is not entirely fair. Liberals do generally believe that the Catholic Church is given to the world by God. Whether they believe that it is the only means to salvation is shakier, but not clearly irreconcilable with the Church’s teaching on the matter. The basic premise of Liberal Catholicism is that subjective reality is primary in any consideration. They believe that the Church must drastically change its Liturgy and Theology, but to a liberal these things are not essential. The essence of the Church’s mission is to continue giving to the people of this day the experience on a personal level that it has to the people of the past. Thus, a liberal doesn’t think that essentials have changed in the Church, just that its externals. While the right wing (and all of tradition) say that Liturgy and Theology are essential, a liberal will simply say, “Of course that was important at one time, but not now”. It should, of course, be noted there’s nothing wrong with some subjectivism. Moral Theology has a lot of it (“mortal sin” is a subjective class, that is it exists only as regards a subject or actor; only “grave matter” exists objectively, that is in what is apart from the subject under consideration). The right wing places primacy on objective reality, but the fact that liberals don’t does not make them wrong per se. Whether subjective reality should play the role liberals would like it to is up for debate, but it can’t be assumed that subjectivism is to be disregarded.
In practice, traditionalists pick a time period, somewhat at random, and set that up as the ideal by which all changes are to be measured. A lot of the old guard (50+) set the ideal in the 1950’s. Younger traditionalists (are you surprised there are younger traditionalists?) are often more archaizing than their forebears. I myself probably put the mark somewhere in the 1200’s or 1300’s, after the Franciscans (oh fine, and the Dominicans) fixed things up, but before things went to pot again, necessitating the Council of Trent. Most traditionalists now either set the ideal with Pius X or sometimes Pius XII (pre-Pian reforms, e.g., Holy Week, new Latin Psalter, etc.). What is interesting to see is that Traditionalists are now analyzing why they choose one time period for an ideal. When traditionalists quit arguing that things should be like 1950, and start to realize what about 1950 appeals to them, and arguing that as the good to be sought, they’ll be a force to recon with. Because traditionalism is in flux right now, the ideology is hard to pin down, and only generalizations can be made. Traditionalists do not like theological change (most are dyed in the wool Thomists). Liturgical change is usually circumspect (a lot of traddies don’t like dialogue Masses). Discipline and public policy could change in theory, but few actual changes are well received. In fairness, most traditionalists today did not experience pre-conciliar Catholicism, and so they view their chosen time-period in contrast to the present situation, which can lead to false impressions. Nonetheless, traditionalists are true idealists. They believe that there is an ideal objective reality for the Church, and any deviation from that ideal is a step away from the Divine Perfections. Traditionalists (all?) support the Tridentine Mass. However, it is no longer the case that this is the defining characteristic of the group. Most traditionalists would not be happy with just dropping the Old Mass into a “New Mass mentality”. They want a return to traditional discipline, theology, piety, sociology, public policy, and, oh yeah, liturgy.
This camp is the hardest to define. and is best understood by reference to typical conservatives (e.g., John Paul II, Scott Hahn, Mother Angelica, etc.). Conservatives are also not exactly an ideological group, unlike traditionalists and liberals. They’re about practicality. In theory they agree almost completely with traditionalists; in practice they cooperate far better and more often with liberals. Conservatives believe in pragmatism. While most like traditional things, they opt for “what the people want” above all else. Unfortunately, conservatives take for granted that liberals are right about what the people want. Traditionalists, one the other hand, want to form the people’s likes and dislikes according to ideals. Actually, so do liberals. Of course, the liberal view of people has scant little do to with what liberals want done. Conservatives think that liberals go to far in changing things. To them people’s wants do not necessitate the changes liberals make. Now, many conservatives’ personal tastes are quite traditional. What differentiates conservatives and traditionalists is whether traditional things should be mandatory. For a conservative it’s a matter of taste, for a traditionalist a matter of objective reality. Because the traditionalists often have very strong opinions, which leave no room for the sort of softening that Conservatives prefer, these groups often don’t get along very well. In fact, if a traditionalist, a conservative, and a liberal are working together the conservative and traditionalist will be at each other’s throat long before either will run into a problem with the liberal. Sure, they have plenty to fight about with the liberal, but such arguments will rarely come up. Conservatives and traditionalists both put a high value on ideologies (even as conservatives are pragmatists), and their ideologies are quite different. It doesn’t matter that their positions on most issues are virtually identical.
Typical Class Members
Liberals: Roger Cardinal Mahoney (Los Angeles), Bishop Donald Trautman (Erie), Duquesne University
Conservatives: Pope John Paul II (probably the defining type of conservatism), Bishop Donald Wuerl (Pittsburgh), Francis Cardinal George (Chicago)
Traditionalists: Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz, kinda (Lincoln), Carnegie Mellon Newman Club