Previously, I have written about the even more offensive and inaccurate term Neo-Catholic. More thoughtful so-called Catholic "traditionalists" have, however, eschewed this term for the more moderate Neo-conservative. In the end, in any event, there is not a whole lot of difference. Both terms (to different degrees) are intended to convey the thought that the Catholic so described is compromised with dissident modernists in some way, shape, or form. It's wrongheaded and inapplicable for those (like myself) who are truly orthodox and accept all that the Church teaches. One "traditionalist" (who wishes to remain anonymous) draws the distinction between the two "neo" terms:
There is however one word that I do have for this block of Catholicism from the desk of Karl Keating to EWTN to Mr. Armstrong: Neo-conservative. Not Neo-Catholic mind you, I hate that word. It would do a good job of describing a crack pot liberal, or someone who maintains they are a good Catholic while supporting abortion. Neo-Catholic would suggest that the subject is not the same as what came before but substantially different.Elsewhere, we see this person apply the category to various individuals and strains of thought:
. . . I've always felt that Dave Armstrong's works in defense of the Catholic faith are excellent, and I would still recommend them. . . . Nevertheless, neo-conservative is an appropriate term to employ. It is a term which in terms of its effect does not call into question the person's orthodoxy in terms of doctrine.
Now those who are in the "neo-conservative" category, those George Wiegle [sic], Karl Keating type conservatives who lament the problems in the Church but dare not say there was anything wrong with Vatican II, will often say "the problem was not with the council, the council documents are beautiful, but it was in the interpretation." This begs the question, if there were so many false interpretations of Vatican II in such a widespread manner, could it not be that the problem is with the documents themselves and that they are not beautiful but horrible? I would say almost certainly. Yet on the other hand, I would maintain in unity with the above mentioned that Vatican II at the same time does not contain heresy.We see, then, that for this "traditionalist," a "neo-conservative" is basically an orthodox Catholic who is not a "traditionalist" (as that scattershot, chaotic movement defines itself in broad terms). Writing on The Rad Trad Review blog, he makes several similar statements:
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. . . neo-conservatives like James Hitchcock . . .
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Maybe some of the neo-conservative apologists who are confusing more and more Catholics every day like Karl Keating? Likoudis? The challenge is open to all. Explain how John Paul's ecumania at Assisi is inline with Scripture and Tradition.
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People on EWTN, Catholic answers, CUFF, and all the neo-conservative bastions . . .
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Sorry to all those neo-conservative Catholics who can't wait for the Traditional Mass to disappear and all its adherents.
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And at last, a neo-conservative Catholic has come out and admitted that the Church is dying. Michael Brown, . . .
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. . . neo-conservative Catholics, . . . the Karl Keatings, the Patrick Madrids, the Dave Armstrongs, the Jimmy Akins and the Mark Sheas of the world . . .
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Recently I have devoted time towards answering arguments that liberals and Neo-conservative Catholics use against Tradition, Traditional Catholic life or the Traditional Latin Mass.
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Therefore, what else could we conclude other than that the claim that the SSPX is in schism is a charge trumped up by media and various Neo-Conservative Catholics who have a vested interest in defending the legacy of John Paul II and Vatican II . . .
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. . . the neo-Conservative media, such as EWTN, Crisis, Envoy, the Wanderer, etc. . . .
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Ever since the beginnings of the Traditionalist movement post-Vatican II, there have been a legion of good, conservative but disillusioned Catholics who feel that they must defend every action of the Pope and the reforms following Vatican II in order to be a good Catholic. . . .Radtrad Thomas E. Woods, Jr. and his comrade Chris Ferrara conflate the two "neo" terms:
The authors then continue a relentless and well thought out critique of Vatican positions and non-actions since the close of Vatican II, and help show how Neo-conservatives are doing more to undermine Catholicism by feeling as though the Pope must have the benefit of the doubt when he is doing things that are scandalous. This is because such actions tell other bishops their actions are okay because the Pope does them too, and the numerous scandals of JPII suggest that all religions are the same, such as the interfaith gatherings at Assisi, . . .
Ferrara and Woods also deliver a strong critique of the best Neo-Conservative books and arguments defending the Novus Ordo and the status quo concerning Vatican II . . .
Neo-conservatives like Paul Likoudis, George Weigal [sic], Karl Keating etc. Contribute to the regime of novelty and the dissolution of the church's traditional teaching by attacking Traditionalists and defending the Pope when he is wrong. . . .
Woods and Ferrara coin a term that is somewhat misleading to define Neo-conservatives who defend the regime of novelty but try and be conservative too: Neo Catholic. The term itself suggest they are worshiping in a different Church, and believe a different set of doctrines than what Catholics have believed. This is not true with many of them, and in my opinion unfair. Perhaps however it is born out of frustration over the consistent demonization of Traditionalists by Neo-Conservatives. . . .
Apart from these two points, this book is accurate, and a well placed challenge that I am yet to see any one in the Neo-Conservative camp refute.
Yet neoconservative Catholics have been notoriously pro-war. In a previous column for LRC, I described the phenomenon of neoconservative Catholicism, or what Chris Ferrara and I call neo-Catholicism:Fr. Chad Ripperger, F.S.S.P., gives a rather sophisticated definition in The Latin Mass Magazine, Spring 2001 (an article of mine was published in the Fall 1999 edition):
Since Vatican II, so-called "conservative" Catholics, while technically orthodox, have made it their task to prevent any constructive criticism of the unprecedented and revolutionary program of innovation unleashed by the Council. We call them neo-Catholics because they have in fact conserved nothing except the post-conciliar novelties – an ecumenism that runs counter to all of Catholic practice before 1965, a posture of "dialogue" with anyone and anything that has so far gotten nowhere and produced nothing of value, and a new liturgy that could politely be described as an act of vandalism. These contingent, time-bound pastoral programs are defended by neo-Catholics, regardless of how catastrophic they have been in practice, as if they were solemnly defined dogma. Just as the neoconservatives serve a useful purpose to liberals in the secular world by attacking true conservatives and thereby undermining genuine conservatism, neo-Catholic attacks on traditionalists ensure that the only permissible alternative to aggressive innovation in every area of the Church’s life is slightly less aggressive innovation in every area of the Church’s life. Arch-liberal Richard McBrien appreciates this function of the neo-Catholics, since he finds that "criticism of the extreme right by moderate conservatives is far more effective than by moderate progressives."
The term “neoconservative,” . . . refers to those who are considered the more conservative members of the Church. More often than not they hold orthodox positions, but they would not assert that it is strictly necessary to reconnect with ecclesiastical tradition. The prefix “neo” is used because they are not the same as those conservatives in authority in the Church immediately before, during and after the Second Vatican Council. The current conservatives, that is, the neoconservatives, are different insofar as the conservatives of the earlier period sought to maintain the current ecclesiastical traditions that were eventually lost.Peter W. Miller, writing in the notoriously radtrad Seattle Catholic (12-21-01), reiterates similar themes, while using the description "conservative Catholic" (dropping the "neo-"). Note how a "conservative" as he uses the term, is actually a liberal, whereas the "traditionalist" is, of course, simply orthodox and the real conservative:
. . . Neoconservatives have fallen into this way of thinking. The only standard by which they judge orthodoxy is whether or not one follows the current Magisterium. As a general rule, traditionalists tend to be orthodox in the sense that they are obedient to the current Magisterium, even though they disagree about matters of discipline and have some reservations about certain aspects of current magisterial teachings that seem to contradict the previous Magisterium (e.g., the role of the ecumenical movement). Traditionalists tend to take not just the current Magisterium as their norm but also Scripture, intrinsic tradition, extrinsic tradition and the current Magisterium as the principles of judgment of correct Catholic thinking. This is what distinguishes traditionalists and neoconservatives
Inevitably, this magisterialism has led to a form of positivism. Since there are no principles of judgment other than the current Magisterium, whatever the current Magisterium says is always what is “orthodox.” In other words, psychologically the neoconservatives have been left in a position in which the extrinsic and intrinsic tradition are no longer included in the norms of judging whether something is orthodox or not. As a result, whatever comes out of the Vatican, regardless of its authoritative weight, is to be held, even if it contradicts what was taught with comparable authority in the past. Since non-infallible ordinary acts of the Magisterium can be erroneous, this leaves one in a precarious situation if one takes as true only what the current Magisterium says. . . .
All of the aforesaid has resulted in neoconservative rejection of the extrinsic tradition as the norm. This is why, even in “good” seminaries, the spiritual patrimony of the saints is virtually never taught. Moreover, this accounts for why the neoconservatives appear confused about the real meaning of tradition. Since it is not a principle of judgment for them, they are unable to discuss it in depth. In fact, they ignore extrinsic tradition almost as much as do the “liberals.” Even when neoconservatives express a desire to recover and follow the extrinsic tradition, they rarely do so when it comes to making concrete decisions.
. . . the fundamental difference between neoconservatives and traditionalists is that the neoconservative looks at the past through the eyes of the present while the traditionalist looks at the present through the eyes of the past.
. . . Liturgically, traditionalists judge the Novus Ordo in light of the Mass of Pius V and the neoconservatives judge the Tridentine Mass, as it is called, in light of the Novus Ordo. This comes from Hegelianism, which holds that the past is always understood in light of the present; the thesis and antithesis are understood in light of their synthesis. This outlook leads to a mentality that newer is always better, because the synthesis is better than either the thesis or the antithesis taken alone. Being affected by this, the neoconservatives are often incapable of imagining that the current discipline of the Church may not be as good as the prior discipline. There is a mentality today that holds that “because it is present [Hegelianism], because it comes from us [immanentism], it is necessarily better.”
Furthermore, neoconservatives’ very love for the Church and strong emotional attachment to the Magisterium cause them to find it unimaginable that the Church could ever falter, even with regard to matters of discipline. Like the father who loves his daughter and therefore has a hard time imagining her doing anything wrong, neoconservatives have a hard time conceiving that the Holy Ghost does not guarantee infallibility in matters of discipline or non-infallible ordinary magisterial teaching.
. . . the classic battle between liberals and conservatives has undergone a deceptive change in terminology.Finally, Chris Ferrara often uses conservative (always in quotes) as a descriptor of non-"traditionalist" orthodox Catholics, in an article (7-19-07) in everyone's favorite "traditionalist" rag, The Remnant.
As the heretics of yesterday have become the liberals of today, the liberals of yesterday now lay claim to the title "conservative". Consequentially the conservatives came to be known as "traditionalists". Unfortunately, these terms are no longer completely accurate descriptions. So for the purposes of this essay, I will use the following general definitions to delineate the differences between traditionalists and "conservatives":
TRADITIONALIST: One who challenges the novel practices and teachings of Catholics (including bishops and priests) which appear to contradict the prior teaching of the Church. A traditionalist questions the prudence of new pastoral approaches and holds the belief that those things generally deemed objectively good or evil several decades ago remain so today.Both traditionalists and "conservatives" acknowledge the existence of problems in the Church but disagree as to their nature, extent, causes and remedies.
"CONSERVATIVE": One who upholds and defends the current policies and positions of the Church hierarchy regardless of their novelty. A "conservative" extends the definitions of "infallibility" and "Magisterium" to include most every action and speech of the Pope and those Cardinals around him, but may exclude those Cardinals and bishops outside of Rome. A "conservative's" opinion is also subject to change depending on the current actions of the Holy Father. "Conservative" will be used it in quotation marks to avoid the misleading connotation of being diametrically opposed to liberalism or on the far right of the spectrum. Also since there only exists a desire to "conserve" only those traditions and practices of the past deemed appropriate at any given time by the present Pope. The quotation marks will also ensure a proper dissociation between the actual conservatives active prior to and during Vatican II (Ottaviani, Lefebvre, Fenton, etc.).
"Conservatives" see it as an "illness" — an incidental problem like a gangrene limb. In the English-speaking world, this problem may be limited to the actions of certain American bishops. "Conservatives" see the novelties of Vatican II and the New Mass as natural and acceptable developments in the course of the Church, but take issue with those seeking to expand upon those novelties, or take them to their next logical progression. They see the crisis in the Church as a societal issue that would have happened regardless of what actions the Church leadership had taken. Their solution is to return to Vatican II and embark on another attempt to "renew" the Church.
Traditionalists see the illness as a widespread cancer affecting the whole body put most particularly and critically the heart. They question the prudence of making significant changes in the Mass and the Church's pastoral orientation. They attribute the destruction to liberal and Modernist ideals given a certain degree of acceptability once the Church decided to stop fighting them with extreme vigilance. They see the Church leadership as sharing in the responsibility for the crisis due to its governance (or lack thereof). Their solution is not another attempt at a reform that may be "more in line with the 'spirit' of Vatican II" (shudder), but a return to the practices and beliefs of the Church that sustained it for hundreds of years prior.
. . . The traditionalists of today were the conservatives of fifty years ago. Their positions have not changed — the Church around them has, and the results are there for everyone to see. "Conservatives" claim a greater degree of "trust" in their leaders whose opinions and actions have received stark criticism from the prophetic words of former Popes.