Writing in Commonweal, Massimo Faggioli complains that the Catholic Church in America is dominated by converts—including me. Faggioli is a liberal Catholic, and he appears to be distressed that, as a rule, vocal converts are not. We are loud, he complains, and we retain the gross manners of our previous communions.
He particularly regrets that some converts have expressed displeasure with actions of the Pope. He goes as far as to say that I am guilty of “accusing the current pope of not being Catholic.” Or rather, he once did so. This statement has since been corrected by the editors of Commonweal, who are not generally sympathetic to my work, but who are honest enough to acknowledge that I have not done this.
Faggioli speaks as though it were after-hours at the Catholic Church, and anyone trying to enter should be subjected to questioning. There is an ecclesial nativism in his rhetoric, as if we become one with Christ through birth and not baptism. Converts perhaps need to be checked for lice or put in quarantine. “They have not faced the same kind of scrutiny or lengthy test and evaluation” as, say, new religious orders do. They are “finding an easier welcome into a Church that they then go and criticize.”
Austen Ivereigh echoes Faggioli in Crux. He writes that “Schmitz never actually said the pope wasn’t Catholic, but his narrative … adds up to something rather like it.” To support this assertion, Ivereigh quotes Ross Douthat saying something pungent about Pope Francis—though not, strangely, claiming that the pope is not Catholic. Let me see if I have this right: I did not actually say that the pope is not Catholic, but I as good as did, because Ross Douthat (and here I admit I lose the thread) also did not say that the pope is not Catholic. It is a game of thimblerig.
Ivereigh has some kind words for converts. He says that the Church “exists to spread the Gospel, and some of those it touches will want to become Catholic, and that’s wonderful.” These people “are special, and bring great gifts.” In sum, “We love converts.” This love would seem to require a great act of charity, however. Ivereigh diagnoses these special people with “convert neurosis.” They exhibit a “pathological or extreme reaction to something that simply doesn’t correspond to reality.” They are fresh off the boat, and “their baggage has distorted their hermeneutic.”
Both Faggioli and Ivereigh are keen to downplay the doctrinal disagreements that currently split the Church. Faggioli applies a more sociological lens, Ivereigh a more psychological one, to explain away disagreement as stemming from something other than a difference in principle. These tactics are typical of the current pontificate, in which formal doctrinal condemnations and definitions have been set aside in favor of psychologizing the opposition. The cardinals who submitted the dubia have not been answered; they have been accused of some defect of mind or character. If the Church is a field hospital, it would seem to have a large and active psychiatric ward.
Full story by Matthew Schmitz at First Things.