Who’s Afraid of “Liquid” Roman Catholicism?, Evangelical Focus

Since sociologist Zygmunt Bauman coined the phrase Liquid Modernity (2000), the adjective “liquid” has been applied to almost all phenomena, e.g. liquid society, liquid family, liquid love, etc.

In our world, liquidity seems to describe the wavering, uncertain, fluid and volatile nature of contemporary life. Everything is mobile, plastic and soft; nothing can be put into solid, stable and durable castings.

To the already wide range of associations, liquidity has been added as a descriptor of a specific religious traditionthat is, liquid Roman Catholicism.

George Weigela conservative American intellectual, speaks of it in a worried tone in his article Liquid Catholicism and the German Synodal Path (First Things, February 16, 2022).

For a time Weigel and other exponents of American Catholic traditionalism expressed their frustration (at least) to the massive injection of cash into Roman Catholicism by Pope Francis.

The uncertain teaching on doctrinal and moral matters of primary importance; a kind of intolerance towards the pre-conciliar liturgy; the constant pickaxe of the Roman Catholic institution with repeated criticisms of clericalism; ways in which the pope acts outside the box that destabilize morals; the message of welcome and mercy to the detriment of the doctrinal and moral requirements of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, etc.

All this does Francis a “liquid” pope who liquefies an institution that has made its rocky and immutable structure a distinctive feature of its identity.

Besides Francis, Weigel sees other troubling sources of liquidity in the Roman Catholic Church. The article says Weigel’s alarm at the demands emerging from the “synodal path” of the German Catholic Churchincluding a series of Catholic Church conferences in Germany to discuss a range of contemporary theological and organizational issues.

Supported by the majority of the German bishops, these demands include celibacy as optional for clergy (married life being the other option), open ministries to women (the diaconate first, then one day the priesthood perhaps), acknowledgement (with ecclesiastical blessing) homosexual unions…these are just some of the proposals that are about to reach the Vatican and have the power to detonate a bombshell in the Roman Catholic Church.

There are growing concerns all over the Catholic world about the German “synodal way”. In this regard, Francis’ liquidity is just a pale version of the turbo-liquidity that comes from Catholic Germany.

Weigel and the circles of American Catholic traditionalism are horrified by these processes of liquefaction. For them, Roman Catholicism is a canonically compact, sacramentally coherent, institutionally stable, doctrinally integrated religion.

They have in mind a Roman Catholicism which is more “Roman” than “Catholic”anchored to its immutable dogmas, linked to its consolidated tradition, characterized by the fidelity and obedience of the faithful, and centered on its ecclesiastical hierarchies.

Liquid Roman Catholicism, for them, is a pathology of Catholicity that runs the risk of protestantizing Rome and dispersing its uniqueness in the disconcerting contemporary era.

It is interesting to observe these conflicting dynamics internal to Roman Catholicism from the outside. Often in the past, Roman Catholic apologetics contrasted evangelical fragmentation with Roman Catholic solidity, denigrating the former and exalting the latter.

It wasn’t a credible argument in the past, but it’s even less so today.. Roman Catholicism is as internally divided as any other worldwide religious movement. Moreover, traditional Roman Catholic apologetics contrasted the stability of Rome with the volatility of the Reformation.

This argument too was superficial and one-sided and it is even more so today. Roman Catholicism is going through important processes of transformation. The fact that Rome is considered to be “semper eadem” (always the same) must be seen in the light of its continuous updating and development.

The key elements to grasp in this issue are twofold. First, one must consider the dual nature of Roman Catholicism which is both “Catholic” (liquid) and “Roman” (solid). His genius has always been to combine the two faces in order to make them coexist and reinforce each other.

Today, its liquidity seems to prevail, but its solidity will not fail because Roman Catholicism is both.

The second key element is the interpretation of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) that fostered change, as a recent article by Shaun Blanchard reminds us (CommonwealMarch 14, 2022).

Vatican II gave Roman Catholicism such an injection of cash that today it impacts the solid structures of Rome like never before.. Will the long-term results of Vatican II be able to liquefy them completely? Unlikely.

Rome will remain liquid and solid, perhaps in a different arrangement from their current combination, but still “Catholic” and, at the same time, “Roman.”

Weigel and other Romans Catholic traditionalists dream of a return to a more “Roman” Catholicism: but haven’t they yet understood that their religion is also more and more “catholic” at the same time?

Leonardo De Chirico is an evangelical pastor in Rome (Italy). He is a theologian and expert in Roman Catholicism. He blogs at VaticanFiles.com.

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