A conservative Catholic says the church should acknowledge the schism that divides it

One of the more interesting aspects of THIS PROVOCATIVE COLUMN by Mark Judge, a part-time teacher at Georgetown University, is the counteintuitive way in which he labels the left and right wings of the Catholic Church:

It’s time for the Catholic Church to restructure and rename itself. It’s the only way to acknowledge the schism that has taken place over the last 40 years and is now reaching a crisis point.

Taking a cue from Judaism, the Church should now be divided into Orthodox and Reform camps. The liberals would be known as Orthodox Catholics. Conservatives would be Reform Catholics.


Forty years after Vatican II, the liberal philosophy of 1960s Catholicism has become a hardened orthodoxy. Liberal Catholics are as doctrinaire and dogmatic as the most reactionary medieval pope…

Conservative Catholics, on the other hand, are the real reformers.


Georgetown University…like the Catholic Church in America, is divided. This does not mean that there is acrimony on campus; in fact, all I’ve seen is the opposite. It is a community where people like each other and the work they are doing, and where you can see a Reform (i.e. conservative) Catholic like Fr. James Schall next to Fr. Thomas Reese, an Orthodox (i.e. liberal) Jesuit who criticized Paul Ryan’s budget on CNN the day Ryan spoke at the university.

Simply calling the different philosophies by their right names would only increase understanding of what the problem is. It would leave us free to stop expecting the other side to change.



  1. expdoc

    I agree, provocative. This piece would be useful for all Catholics in the American Church. I also largely agree with the author, although doubt his concept will ever come to pass.

    I particularly liked this part:

    “A couple weeks ago I was at Georgetown to hear Representative Paul Ryan speak about his budget. The man stood there for more than an hour and presented fact after fact after fact about the economic catastrophe that is headed our way if the United States does not control its spending. The Catholic left, including both students and faculty at Georgetown, are protesting Ryan’s budget. I should note that I disagree with Ryan slowing the rate of growth (not cutting) programs that serve the poor. But he is spot on when it comes to the absolute necessity of reforming social security and medicare.

    The reaction on the Catholic left to Ryan’s speech was remarkably fact free. There was a lot of screaming about cutting off the poor, but no engagement with the entitlement spending bomb that could ultimately bring down the economy. There has been a similar dynamic in the reaction to the Vatican’s criticism of the orthodoxy, that is to say liberalism, of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious — i.e., the nuns in the Unites States.

    The Vatican is trying to reform the liberal orthodoxy of many women’s religious orders in the United States. In reading the coverage of the issue, I noticed (I was not surprised) that whereas liberals like Georgetown professor and columnist E.J. Dionne were basing their arguments entirely on feelings, the conservative, or Reform, Catholics like George Weigel were citing facts.”

  2. doc: As a lapsed Catholic, I don’t really have a dog in this fight. But I remain endlessly fascinated by the church’s struggles with schism.

    I am also an avid reader of church history, and as such, I am amazed at how little of that history is known by most supposedly devout Catholics. Your average Catholic, for example, knows almost nothing about the tug of war and political maneuvering that went on prior to the issuance of Paul IV’s encyclical on birth control, “Humanae Vitae.”

  3. Scott

    I teach religion to adults who want to enter the Catholic Church, as so many do each Easter. One of my favorite quiz questions goes like this:
    Jesus started His Church. After a time, some disagreed with how it was being run and left. What was the result?
    a. Two churches.
    b. One church, divided.
    c. One church, and some Christians outside of it.
    Look to the Creed we pray every Sunday for the answer: We believe in One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic Church. “One” means both unique (the only one) and unified (we are one).

  4. Truth About Energy: And who does speak for most Catholics? You?

    You’re right that Georgetown doesn’t speak for most Catholics. But then, Georgetown doesn’t speak with one voice, as the column to which I linked makes clear.

    Nor does the American Catholic laity speak with one voice. Many Catholics, for example, differ with the Vatican on such issues as birth control, priestly celibacy, the ordination of women, same-sex marriage, etc.

    The Vatican speaks for what the church calls the Magisterium. But the Catholic laity speaks in many voices, and in some cases most Catholics are at odds with the dictates of the Magisterium — whether you like it or not.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *