Is the Pope Catholic?
My online admirer Darryl Hart has argued that, when discussing American Presbyterianism, the labels “liberal” and”conservative” are misnomers. The reason for this is that such a taxonomy misses the gist of why certain Presbyterian ministers were against the evangelical revivals of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. In short, when one is operating from a strict liberal/conservative grid in which liberals were universally critical of evangelical zeal and enthusiasm, one is hard-pressed to know what to do with all the high-church and theologically orthodox ministers who considered George Whitefield a nutjob and Gilbert Tennant an a-hole. For this reason, Hart has argued, a confessionalist/pietist taxonomy is to be preferred to a liberal/conservative one.
I am curious to consider whether or not a similar nuance of nomenclature would be helpful for Catholics in the light of all the charges of quote-unquote liberalism being thrown at Pope Francis by cultural liberals and/or Protestants (you know, on account of his recent teachings about how heaven will largely be filled with lesbian witches dressed as Hitler).
To be more specific, here’s what I’m wondering: Should the labels of “liberal” and “conservative” be kept in the cultural and political realms? In other words, are there any circumstances under which a Catholic who sincerely affirms all that the Church teaches should be properly called a liberal? Now, if we are discussing earthly and political issues and he voices support for a non-interventionist foreign policy, universal healthcare, and the importance of labor unions, then sure, he’s a liberal. But if that same person attends an extraordinary form Latin Mass and visits the confessional on a weekly basis, wouldn’t labeling him liberal just cause confusion?
And what about the guy who listens to Rush and Hannity all day, and who thinks the Jesus-Is-My-Boyfriend ditties in the Breaking Bread hymnal, while perhaps a bit intellectually challenging, are for the most part just hunky dory? Is he a conservative? From where I sit, I’d say that he may be one Monday through Saturday, but after that I’m not so sure.
So what do you think? Should we jettison secular labels when we’re discussing sacred matters? If so, what labels should we use to describe those who adhere to what the Church teaches versus those who do not? Can a Catholic (or even the pope) adopt a liberal posture on cultural matters while maintaining a robust theological orthodoxy?