NYTIMES: Ross Douthat - Pope Francis Faces Another German Reformation

More liberal Catholics, in Germany and elsewhere, take a lower view of the pope’s authority and power, so in theory you might expect them to be more willing to make a decisive break with Rome. But liberal Catholicism without the Catholicism part would instantly lose much of its interest, energy and flavor. The confidence that conservative Catholics place in the church’s consistent teaching is matched among more progressive Catholics by a confidence that the Holy Spirit will eventually lead the Vatican to see the world their way and that they are the key players in this epochal religious drama. To leave outright, to cede the universal church to conservatives, would cut the heart out of this vision.

Those are still crucial forces holding Francis-era Catholicism together, against the ones pulling it apart. And their mutually reinforcing power, plus the understandable desire not to preside over a schism, creates the incentives that seem to be controlling the latter part of the Francis era, in which the process of debate is extended endlessly into the future (And now, the 14th commission on whether women can be ordained deacons will deliver its second provisional report …) and anything can be tolerated in local churches as long as nobody tries to make it too official. Here it’s telling that the next major Vatican gathering, scheduled for 2022, is a synod on synodality, a faintly self-parodic exercise in gathering bishops to argue about how much power a gathering of bishops should have.

Still, the church doesn’t exist in a vacuum. The current trends on the Catholic left and right — the former’s eager ambitions and the latter’s defensive paranoia — are intimately connected to the triumph of secular progressivism in Western culture and the emergence of right-wing populism as the major source of resistance to its rule.
If you’re a conservative Catholic trying to keep a critical but levelheaded view of Francis (my aspiration, if not my achievement), the gravitational pull of populism, its encouragement of ever-angrier and more-baroque critiques of all things liberal, can be felt as a powerful external force encouraging an un-Catholic repudiation of this undeniably liberal-leaning pope.
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