Cross-post: the lonely struggle of the conformist

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So now we hear that

Pope Francis’ courage is causing disquiet among those with “a very conformist and closed Catholicism” the Archbishop of Dublin has warned.

In a speech given in Melbourne, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin referred to a young curate who recently told his parish priest he was not at all happy with some things the Pope had said.

The young priest felt they “were not in line with what he had learned in the seminary” and he suggested that they were “making the faithful insecure and even encouraging those who do not hold the orthodox Catholic beliefs to challenge traditional teaching.”

The archbishop warned conservative and progressive Catholics against becoming “closed in” within our own ideas. He also acknowledged that Irish Catholicism had a strong tradition of strict teaching.

Responding to the comments, Fr Seamus Ahearne of the Association of Catholic Priests said the Archbishop’s words were “apt” and that the Church in Ireland needs to hear more comments like this.

He said the archbishop’s concern about the “young curate” was a familiar one as many were concerned that the few young priests there are in the Irish Church appear to embrace a very traditionalist view of Church.

They are “so locked into a past model of priesthood” he commented and said this manifested itself in “the way that they dress up, the way they celebrate Mass, and in their views.”

I’m reminded of Conquest’s Third Law:

The simplest way to explain the behavior of any bureaucratic organization is to assume that it is controlled by a cabal of its enemies.

One would be forgiven for thinking that the sole function of the post-VII Catholic hierarchy is to monitor the Church for signs of a resurgence of Catholicism and to stomp them out.

I’m also reminded of the old Twilight Zone episode Eye of the Beholder–the 60s Twilight Zone is my favorite TV show of all time– about a society of ugly humanoids ruled by a dictator they call “The Leader”.  At one point, The Leader gives a speech in praise of conformity, celebrating “not only that we have norms, but that we conform to those norms!”  The audience, of course, is suppose to instantly recognize this as horrible and perverse, but let’s ask what’s actually bad about it.  Does Rod Serling object to communities having norms–but a community could hardly even be said to exist without that–or is it the conforming, the lack of hypocrisy, that bothers him?  We should all feel lucky, I suppose, to be living in a different world where nonconformism is the established creed, and conformism is the preserve of only a few isolated dissidents.  Actually, that sounds more like a Twilight Zone episode than the actual Twilight Zone episode, and yet it is the world in which we live.  And now these little pockets of recalcitrant conformists have dared to criticize The Leader!

I would like to say a few words in favor of the conformist, or at least in sympathy with him.  You will have guessed that I am arguing on my own behalf, and it is true that I am a conformist, but only a timid little closet one, not one of those brave Irish priests who endure the rebuke of the nonconformist multitude and the nonconformist hierarchy.  We believe that individuals and collectives should conform to norms imposed on them “from above”.  Most especially does this apply to the Church that Christ founded and on which He imprinted His form.  We value truth rather than self-expression, piety rather than novelty, unity rather than diversity, obedience rather than freedom.  You will say that this is all because I have a childish need for certainty, that I am unable or unwilling to think for myself.  Surely if I were willing to think for myself, I would come to think the way everyone else does; I would start questioning Catholicism and stop questioning liberalism.  Perhaps I would, but that hardly recommends the practice to me.

That’s just the “having norms” part of conformism, which is struggle enough in these days.  These priests have also taken on “conforming to those norms”, which is the greatest challenge.  Each of us must adhere to the truth as he sees it, but let us at least appreciate the burdens of those priests who follow the conformist path.  They put up with the insults of their superiors and the press; they shut themselves off from the warm sense of agreement with the mass of their fellows and from the felt certainty of common opinion.  For validation, they must turn to the dead and their traditions, to the first nineteen-and-a-half centuries of Catholicism.

It is so much easier to pander to one’s parishioners, to flatter one’s superiors (say, for their “courage” in pandering to the multitude), and to climb the career ladder.  That’s how one gets to be an archbishop.

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