TIME magazine is indicating that the recent visit by Pope Benedict XVI has provided the final blow to the liberalist movement in the Catholic Church in the United States. Well, that may be an accurate understatement of the purpose of Benedict’s pastoral visit, but nonetheless it is a welcome observation. Ever since the reforms of the Second Vatican Council and their disastrous implementations in the 1970’s the American Catholic Church has had to deal with the allegations of sectarian groups regarding their conservative or liberal applications of Catholic theological and liturgical applications. It seems that the countercultural movement of the 1960’s has had a tremendous effect on the type of Catholicism that was taught and developed in the United States.

As a result, there were perhaps many appointments by Rome of Bishops that seemed progressive in their social and political views but deficient in the applications of traditional Catholicism within their own dioceses. At the same time, the foundational cause for the Church’s problems associated with progressive theology seeded perhaps the sex scandal, which has finally been acknowledged by Benedict XVI. Overall, the period of progressive liberalism in the American Catholic Church was short lived and thankfully now is gasping for its last breath.

Benedict’s pastoral visit clearly indicated to the American Catholic followers that the time to circumvent and avoid problems and issues of moral competence in the Church is over. This Pope is intent on bringing his flock out of the downward spiral of secularism and individualism that plagued the American Church in the late 20th century by replacing the downward movement with messages of theological hope and Catholic reconciliation. Part of the larger vision it seems is the ever growing and pervasive message that Benedict communicates about unconditional faith in Jesus Christ as well as the need for personal and institutional reconciliation on all levels of our Catholic faith. With the admission, a few weeks ago by Benedict of the institutional failures the Church has experienced in light of the clergy sex scandal, he calls all of the Church to forgiveness and reconciliation. For Benedict, the most expedient manner of getting back to “business as usual” is to finally dispense with the sentiments and attitudes of secular and theological modernism that have polarized the Church and restore universal harmony of Catholic principles.

The end of liberalism in our American Catholic Church clearly shows in the appointment by Rome of American bishops that reflect the orthodox and traditional views on Church teachings and governance. The post Vatican II spirit of democracy and collegial participation by clergy and laity equally is quite dead. While the Holy See understands the critical importance of the laity in its continued message of salvation, any misunderstandings that existed regarding women’s ordination, relaxation of priestly celibacy and collective participation by the laity are firmly no longer issues of discussion. Perhaps the generation of discontent that helped drive the unrest in the American Catholic Church is finally dead or retired and contemporary American Catholics no longer views these issues as theologically or culturally viable.

The struggle for liberal control of the American Catholic Church is over, simply because the perceived urgency of reform against an out of touch and obsolete hierarchical Church no longer exists. Modern American Catholics really do not have much concern about the countercultural battles their parents and grandparents fought in the 1960’s and 1970’s. They simply extract what they want and need from the institutional Church and live their lives outside of a theosophist lifestyle, which exemplified by Catholics in the post-Second World War era. The Catholic believer today is more concerned about global ecotheology, geopolitical developments and emerging consumer markets than fighting against a theological adversary in the person of the Pope. If indeed modern Catholics have learned anything in the past 40 years or so, they have learned to view the theological implementation of their faith on a more global and universal level. Parochial problems and concerns just do not have the same impact for the modern Catholic as much as global concerns.

The Catholic of the 21st century thankfully is not preoccupied with progressive ideals that involve radical institutional changes; they just want the religious expression of their Catholic faith to mean something to them. Perhaps the shift away from labels such as liberal and conservative is just the right development for a Catholic Church that is more focused on its theological and social applications of an appreciation of a global religion. Regardless of what happens during the unfolding papacy of Benedict XVI this much is clear…the old is new again and the Catholic Church is engaged in a radical transformation of its manner of expressing its global faith for all of humanity.

Hugh McNichol is a Catholic author and journalist that writes on Catholic topics and issues. He writes daily at http://verbumcarofactumest.blogspot.com & http://pewsitter.com “Nothing Left Unsaid!” is his daily column @ http://catholicnewsagency.com Comments are always welcome @ hugh.mcnichol@trinettc.com

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