United States: liberal reform of Catholic Church spawning new religious movements


Richard Cimino – Religion Watch
28 Sep 2012

The effort to reform the Catholic Church along liberal lines may result less in changing the church than in generating new movements and churches completely outside of official Catholicism. That is one of the conclusions of the new book Underground Church (Brill), by sociologist Kathleen Kautzer of Regis College in Massachusetts.

The book provides a rare and comprehensive examination of liberal and radical Catholic groups and movements in the U.S. The book is based on extensive fieldwork among such reformist groups as Corpus (consisting of former priests), Dignity (gay Catholics), Women’s Ordination Conference (WOC), and Voice of the Faithful (a group that formed over the priest sex abuse crisis in the American church), as well as more radical groups that have made a complete break with the church (such as schismatic parishes and some feminist groups).

In tracing the histories of these groups, Kautzer notes how they have gradually evolved from optimistic efforts of reform of the church based on a liberal interpretation and appropriation of Vatican II to a far more contentious and eventually pessimistic stance regarding the possibility of significant change in the church. Of course, the level of demands for liberal reform vary with each group. The author shows that the Voice of the Faithful (VOTF), the most moderate of the groups she studied, was able to exert pressure on dioceses and other church structures to make some policy changes, at least on the pressing issue of clergy sex abuse.

The abuse issue had given the reform movement a “second wind,” but groups such VOTF were “dealt a fatal blow,” when Pope Benedict XVI became more active in addressing issues related to the crisis and meeting with victims. In other words, the issue that had galvanized reform groups (and given them a good deal of publicity) was co-opted by the mainstream church, making their activism less necessary.

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