Political tendencies, theological tendencies and ecclesiastical position often seem to go together. Here are some very sketchy — and not particularly spiritual — thoughts:
- Liberal Catholics are usually political liberals as well. They include many Church functionaries — academics, theologians, religious educators and other members of the “New Class” (described briefly here). That’s not surprising, since liberalism breaks down traditional arrangements and so necessarily puts power in the hands of bureaucrats and experts. (As in the case of other tendencies, there are also more principled reasons for accepting this one. I’m not giving a complete analysis, just pointing out some connections.)
- The hierarchy is socially conservative and economically quite liberal. It usually emphasizes the latter tendency more. By doing so they can stay on relatively good terms both with Rome (which demands social conservatism but is OK on state paternalism) and with American secular elites and their own functionaries, who don’t like social conservatism but are willing to put up with some of it if it’s ineffectual and goes along with emphatic economic liberalism. Another advantage of the combination view is that it enables the bishops to claim nonpartisanship and an independent perspective.
- Political neoconservatism, a tendency that emphasizes both American nationhood and universal principles of freedom and equality, is strong among Catholics who stress their loyalty to both the Pope and to the fundamental changes brought in by Vatican II. It’s a common tendency in “St Blog’s Parish”, perhaps because it seems to combine orthodoxy, rationality, modernity and forcefulness. Members of the New Class who think contemporary liberalism goes too far are also attracted to it. Part of the appeal may be that the emphasis on centralism and articulate universal principles ensures intellectuals and publicists an influential position.
- Out-of-the-mainstream right-wing Catholics — Latin Mass fans, unapproved Mary apparitionists and so on — are often out-of-the-mainstream political right-wingers as well. They’re mostly concerned citizens with no close relation to centers of power. As such they take a dim view of elite attempts to streamline traditional ways, eliminate inherited practices and particularities, and bring everything in line with viewpoints and purposes determined by anonymous functionaries.
So what are the rights and wrongs of all this? How would Jesus vote? On the latter question I have no idea — he worked exclusively outside conventional institutions, so maybe he wouldn’t have voted at all. Who knows? In America we’re voters, though, and there’s a crisis of authority and doctrine in the Church, so we have to take sides.
For my own part I tend toward the final position. The big reason is that it’s the tendency that best recognizes that earth and heaven are different and God is transcendent, but he has made himself available to us through particular things and acts. It’s the most sacramental of the tendencies. It’s also the tendency that best recognizes the importance of distinctiveness and particularity. The other tendencies tend to turn religion to adminstrative structures and universal principles, and so into things “we” — that is, governing elites — can fully possess and control. In that respect they seem to me less Catholic and less true than the right-wing Catholic traditionalist view.