Confrontational Catholicism

I’ve been publicly talking about the Catholic Faith for more than two decades. I’ve done this informally on a one-on-one basis as well as formally at parish and diocesan events. For the longest time I followed the primary rule established among public Catholics:

Above all, be nice.

Of course, the Nice Rule is not presented that way. It’s presented as being “charitable” and respecting each person’s “dignity.” Don’t get me wrong, we absolutely are called to charity, and each person does have dignity. But those were just code words for the actual underlying rule, to be nice. We don’t want anyone thinking Catholics are meanies, after all. We are obsessed, in fact, in how people perceive us, desperate for human respect from our opponents.

This attitude is based on the fundamental shift that occurred in the Church in the 1960’s, when Catholic leaders no longer felt we should proclaim the truth, but instead we should dialogue with error. If we all sit down at the table and hash things out, surely our enemies will come to their senses. But this can only happen if we are nice and polite.

The Nice Rule might have made some sense in the past. Although the culture was already deteriorating, basic Catholic beliefs were still considered socially acceptable and a legitimate option in the marketplace of ideas. Further, in the public mind there were still associations of Catholicism with the Inquisition and burning heretics (the historical veracity of which was irrelevant to the public imagination), so presenting a smiling front was seen as a way to disarm non-Catholics and advance the promulgation of the Faith.

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