By Dave Armstrong (8-9-05)
Once again we have witnessed the spectacle of a liberal Catholic (this time, sadly, a priest: Fr. Joseph O'Leary) trashing the apologetics movement ("The Rise of the Neocaths"), complete with the obligatory use of the term fundamentalist ("They argue by proof texts, in complete contempt of biblical scholarship and hermeneutics. Their ingenuity in defending their fundamentalist stances is extreme"), mocking of established Catholic sexual morality ("They insist that masturbation is mortally sinful, and have an especial enthusiasm for the teaching that homosexuality is intrinsically disordered and that homosexual acts can never be countenanced"), and use of a semi-novel pejorative descriptive: Neocaths.
The term Neo-Catholic is (somewhat ironically) normally used by "traditionalists" (equally improperly, as I have written about). This disdain for orthodox Catholicism and the sort of condescending, patronizing attitude shown, is a disturbingly frequent occurrence. One paper of mine along these lines was "Apologia for Apologists and Apologetics." It was my meager addition to the response of several Catholic writers and apologists, including Mark Shea, Patrick Madrid, and Amy Welborn, to the article, "Do We Need a New(er) Apologetics?," by Richard A. Gaillardetz, Professor of Catholic Studies at the University of Toledo, Ohio. Note his similar charge of "fundamentalism":
The apologetical refutations of fundamentalist assaults on Catholicism often mirror the very methodology they condemn in their opponents. Many of the new apologists enter too willingly into “Bible wars,” in which Protestant biblical proof-texts are simply parried with a Catholic proof-text in support of a particular Catholic teaching or practice.But this overlooks crucial, fundamental distinctions (pun intended) between the Protestant methodology of sola Scriptura, and the Catholic apologetic and/or exegetical use of Scripture within the overall framework of Sacred Tradition and the Church's teaching. I explained how engaging a Protestant's proof texts and offering counter-textual evidence, is not merely or necessarily a descent into that which we oppose (sola Scriptura and Protestant hyper-proof-texting), in my paper: Dialogue on Whether Extensive Use of Biblical Arguments Reduces to a Quasi-Sola Scriptura Position?
In 1997, Karl Keating firmly dealt with similar criticisms from Fr. Thomas P. Rausch, S.J. (see his book, Reconciling Faith and Reason: Apologists, Evangelists, and Theologians in a Divided Church, and also his 2002 article, "Another Generation Gap") in his "No Apology From the New Apologists" (see also his related paper, "No Apology Necessary: Vatican II and the New Apologetics"). Fr. Rausch, to his credit, had softened a bit through the years:
I have come to be more sympathetic to some of the new apologists’ concerns. There is no question that they are addressing some real needs for a considerable number of contemporary Catholics, for example evangelization and religious illiteracy. I too have become increasingly interested in evangelization, partly as a result of my involvement over the last 15 years with Evangelical Protestants and partly because I have long had a sense that Catholics are not very evangelical as a church—in spite of the great efforts of Pope John Paul II since the beginning of his pontificate to call the church to a greater sense of its evangelical mission. And after almost 30 years of teaching in a Catholic university, I have become increasingly concerned about the enormous religious and theological illiteracy of so many young Catholics today, something many of us experience even in our own families . . . The great popularity of the new apologists among conservative Catholics is evidence that they are addressing some very real needs. Many people have come back to the church through their influence.
Related to this general outlook is the fashionable false antithesis between scholars and apologists, which I dealt with in my paper: "A Defense of Amateur Apologetics a la C. S. Lewis and G. K. Chesterton." So this mentality is alive and well, and shows up every now and then. It needs to be vigorously opposed.
My friend Pedro Vega has done that in his six-part series, in response to Fr. O'Leary: A Neocatholic Strikes Back (Parts two / three / four / five / six). Kudos, Pedro!
My friend Christopher Blosser also has provided a penetrating critique: "The Perplexing Sayings of Fr. O'Leary."
His father, Dr. Phillip Blosser (what a powerhouse father and son Internet team, huh?), has written several papers documenting and opposing Fr. O'Leary's theological liberalism and heterodoxy:
Fr. O'Leary's unorthodox "hot tub" Christology (Part I)
O'Leary in the dock ...
Fr. O'Leary on the Resurrection