What’s really at stake over the reforms at Development and Peace

Perhaps the most pressing issue being discussed at the Plenary Assembly of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops is the ongoing Development and Peace (D&P) saga, which has been festering for almost three years. A proper resolution to this problem must consider its root cause, which in turn can only be identified by listening to the voices at the heart of the problem and that still seek to perpetuate it: the staff and members of D&P itself.

In the last year, a blog maintained by some D&P supporters that are opposed to any pro-life reforms has published some internal documents written by D&P staff and has also revealed the thoughts of many vocal donors. Other websites that support the status quo at D&P have also spoken out vigorously.

So what have they been saying? It’s clear that the issue for them goes way beyond just D&P or even social justice generally. For them, the stakes are much higher: the nature of Catholicism itself.

They describe post-Vatican II Catholicism as a radical departure from the past, freed from the burdens of doctrine, the moral teaching of the Church and the authority of bishops. They express beliefs contrary to Church teaching on the hot issues, like homosexuality, contraception, abortion and the ordination of women. If they do not openly question the Real Presence in the Eucharist, their liturgical “innovations” certainly raise questions as to what they really believe is happening at Mass. All this is justified, in their estimation, by the reforms introduced by Vatican II, to which they refer regularly.

But they go further, resenting the notion that they should adhere to the fullness of the Truth. They don’t want Catholics to be “conformed copies” of one another (their words), like clones. Moreover, any Catholics that emphasize the importance of complete assent are derided as right-wing fundamentalists or integrists. Even Pope Benedict has been accused of hijacking the Church towards a conservative agenda.

On the other hand, they assent to teachings where there is a lot of common ground with secular humanism, such as “liberty”, “equality”, “fraternity” and “justice”  – all of the avante guard and  trendy euphemisms of today’s Left. They give generously of their time to these causes while feeling great compassion for their fellow man. In fact, they see social justice as the essence of the Gospel. They do not emphasize the sacraments or prayer. Even sanctification is typically linked to the fulfilment of social justice acts.

They perceive the efforts to implement pro-life reforms at D&P as a huge step backwards, a repulsive harkening to the “dark ages” (again, their words) where Catholics were expected to hold similar beliefs.

This is where we get to the heart of the matter. For them, D&P is a symbol or public manifestation of the “gains” they have made during the last 40 years in “emancipating” themselves from the need to accept Church teaching and the authority of the Magisterium. D&P’s rebellious stance is the archetype or visible incarnation of the redefinition of Catholicism that they espouse. So the idea of D&P being reformed and forced to adhere to Church teaching is seen as a huge defeat for their movement of “reform” within the Church. It means that their brand of Catholicism is being publicly repudiated as illegitimate and misguided.

If D&P is eventually reformed, it will be a very difficult time for many of these Catholics. They are experiencing a sort of identity crisis. Although they feel a strong attachment to the Catholic Church and do not hesitate to call themselves Catholic, many of them would not remain in a Church where they would be required to believe and act in accordance with Magisterial teaching. Their whole way of life would be threatened and turned upside down. Many of them are on a collision course with an alternate reality where the famous words of St. Augustine will become acutely relevant:

If you believe what you like in the Gospel, and reject what you don’t like, it is not the Gospel you believe, but yourself. (h/t The Catholic Breadbox)

That’s where they’re coming from. That’s why they will fight tooth and nail on this issue. But that’s also why the bishops need to be unequivocal in settling the matter. This is a tremendous teachable moment. This is a historical opportunity for the Canadian bishops to clearly explain what it means to be Catholic and, conversely, what is not acceptable to believe as a Catholic.

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