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Theological Gerrymandering

by Christopher A. Ferrara
September 30, 2015

Father Dwight Longenecker, former Evangelical, former Anglican priest, and now a Catholic priest, is one of the more popular neo-Catholic bloggers at the patheos.com website. The neo-Catholic, like his neo-conservative counterpart in the political realm, is a conservative with liberal tendencies at war with his own conservatism. The neo-Catholic will thus uphold Church teaching on faith and morals at the same time he attempts to accommodate the liberalizing tendencies of the past fifty years, which the Vatican has either encouraged or tolerated. The trick cannot be accomplished, and the result is a high degree of incoherence in neo-Catholic thought.

Thus we find Fr. Longenecker twisting himself into a pretzel in attempting to define orthodox Catholicism in a way that allows him to declare that the traditionalist Society of Saint Pius X, founded by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, is in “schism” while Vatican-coddled loony modernist priests and nuns, with their blatantly pro-abortion, pro-gay agenda, are in “full communion” with the Church. Fr. Longenecker attempts this bit of sleight of hand in an article at the website of the neo-Catholic flagship National Catholic Register.  He agrees with the flaming Modernist theologian Daniel Maguire that

there are three perspectives within the Catholic Church. I could even put names and faces to his three groups of Orthodox, Conservative and Reform Catholics. The Orthodox are the traditionalists who love the Extraordinary Form of the Mass. The Conservatives are the Novus Ordo ‘Evangelical Catholics.’ The Reform are the Nuns on the Bus, Spirit of Vatican II, ‘I’ll do it My Way’ Catholics.

According to Fr. Longenecker, “[W]e all know that these three groups exist within the Catholic Church, and that there is conflict among them. However, despite the conflict we still assert a core unity around the magisterium and authority of the Pope.” But, he goes on to say, “the Lefebvrists [SSPX] are in schism…”

Not so fast, Fr. Longenecker. Don’t think we don’t notice the weasel words “core unity” by which you attempt to smuggle the Nuns on the Bus and all the other “I’ll do it My Way” Catholics into the Church while casting out the wholly orthodox SSPX. In truth, the SSPX exhibits not only “core unity” but full unity “around the magisterium and authority of the Pope” in matters of faith and morals (putting aside their canonical situation), whereas the Nuns on the Bus, whose thinly veiled pro-abortion, pro-gray agenda has been exposed repeatedly by Father Zuhlsdorf and others, attack the very core of faith and morals and thus papal authority. So do all the rest of the “I’ll do it My Way” constituency, which would include the “pro-choice Catholic” politicians lauded by the Nuns on the Bus, whom Fr. Longenecker apparently also views as belonging to his “three perspectives within the Catholic Church.” Perspectives.  That’s an odd way of expressing the concept of Catholic orthodoxy, isn’t it?  It’s another weasel word that allows for the expediently flexible notion of Catholicism that Fr. Longenecker requires for his polemical purposes.

But such is the neo-Catholic dilemma: how to defend officially approved or tolerated deviations from Tradition no Pope before Vatican II would have countenanced for a moment, while casting out of the Church the few Catholics who stand with all the Popes before Vatican II in rejecting those same deviations. Hence Fr. Longenecker’s lame attempt at theological gerrymandering: exclude from the Church the very Catholics who most clearly expose by their example his own neo-Catholic compromises with Modernism, but draw a conveniently crooked line that keeps in the Church the very Modernists with whom he has compromised.  Nice try, but it doesn’t pass the smell test.

Fr. Longenecker doesn’t like the term “neo-Catholic.” He doesn’t like it because the truth hurts. Thus he has penned a crude parody of the term, which he presents in the form of a guest posting on his blog by the fictional Duane Mandible, who publishes a fictional journal called, appropriately enough, The Truth Hurts. The parody reveals more about Fr. Longenecker than he seems to realize. And it reveals as well another aspect of the crisis in the Church predicted nearly a century ago by Our Lady of Fatima and repeated in 1973 by Our Lady of Akita, who warned:  “the Church will be full of those who accept compromises…”