An Open Letter to Young "Orthodox" Catholics

Since the Second Vatican Council, Catholic life in general, and Catholic theology in a special way, has suffered from the polarization between the progressives and the conservatives. This polarization has its roots in events that stretch from the controversies surrounding what was called the nouvelle théologie after World War II, and go back as far as the crisis of modernism at the turn of the 20th century. One of the worst effects of this struggle has been what I have called a reaction theology in which some progressive theologians, reacting to the narrowly conceived philosophy and theology of the past, and the authoritarian way in which it was imposed, have ended up saying things that appear difficult to reconcile with Catholic faith. I have given examples of these kinds of theologies in Christianity in the Crucible of East-West Dialogue, and by examining the modern theology of original sin in The Christian Mysteries.

But there is another side to this coin. A kind of reaction to the reaction is taking place, creating a new "orthodoxy" among some young people. The world of these fervent young Catholics has been described by people like Colleen Carroll, in her book, The New Faithful: Why Young Adults are Embracing Christian Orthodoxy, and in Thomas Rausch’s Reconciling Faith and Reason: Apologists, Evangelists, and Theologians in a Divided Church. Young people, sometimes complaining of their wishy-washy substanceless catechetical training in the post-Vatican II Church, connect deeply with the faith, as well as the beauty of the Latin Mass and Gregorian chant, adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, and the rosary. They discover Thomas Aquinas and long to live out their faith both in the public arena and by joining strictly, more "orthodox" religious orders, which orders, therefore, have vocations, while the more liberal orders go begging.

This inner discovery of faith by personal conversion is one of the great and beautiful dramas of any Christian generation. In this context, connecting with traditional devotional practices discovered in their freshness is both understandable and commendable. Doctrinal orthodoxy, understood as an adherence by faith to what God has revealed and expressed through the Church, is an essential dimension of Catholic life. But when these young Catholics begin to join hands with older conservative Catholics over the heads, as it were, of the progressive post-Vatican II Catholics, things become more problematical. Not only does this perpetuate the debilitating polarization we still suffer from, but it raises a serious question about the future.

One way of framing this question is by asking just what caused the upheaval in the Church at the time of the Second Vatican Council. To answer it in terms of an outbreak of disloyalty and disobedience, compounded by a sudden addiction to worldliness, is short-sighted, and hardly an answer for why some 100,000 American women left religious life. The outburst of energy in the wake of the Second Vatican Council was born of past repressions. The Church was suffering from any number of institutional faults that effected religious life, the teaching of neo-scholastic philosophy and theology, and so forth. These problems were quite real, and the fact that by way of reaction some of the remedies applied to them were excessive does not make them any less real. Another way to express this matter is in terms of a certain materialization of the spiritual which had taken place in Church institutions and had corrupted the notion of obedience so that it sometimes took on a cult-like aura. (See Diabolical Possession and Catholic Cults? The Lack of Psychological Awareness and the Materialization of Belief in the Catholic Church)

The Church certainly does need a new generation of fervent and orthodox Catholics, but they should not be blind to a whole psychological side of the expression of the faith, and thus confuse the accidental with the essential, and they certainly don’t need to wrap their genuine faith in an atmosphere of triumphalism, elitism, intolerance and political conservativism which have nothing to do with the faith, itself.

Clearly, to ask that the young "orthodox" Catholics have this kind of insight is to ask for something that their elders have not been able to achieve. But what is needed is true doctrinal orthodoxy not burdened by narrow-mindedness which joins hands with a keen awareness of the institutional faults of the Church and the need to act to correct them.

Is this characterization of young "orthodox" Catholics correct?

Now it is your turn to contribute to this discussion. Send us your questions and comments:



I am one of those young Catholics who this letter is addressed to. I am only 18, but I love the traditional Latin Mass, Gregorian chant, the Rosary, and all of the many treasures handed down to me from the Church immemorial. In my response I hope to be both extremely clear while also remaining charitable and I apologize in advance if what I say offends.

Your letter claims that what occurred after the Second Vatican Council was not a result of disobedience, but I firmly believe that there was an infestation of modernism in the Church that occurred after the Council. Men and women took the Council's documents out of the context of the Church's traditional teachings and used them as an opportunity to introduce a revolution into the Church that was not intended. The splendor of the ancient Liturgy was replaced by what Cardinal Ratzinger now Pope Benedict XVI called "a fabrication, a banal on-the-spot product". Not only this, but everything now tended towards compromise. Efforts of ecumenism became flavored with the evil of religious indifferentism which treats all religions as equal.

In my mind, progressive and traditional attitudes can be characterized in this way: for the progressive, the Church is right insofar as it agrees with me, but the traditionalist puts the Church and her traditions before his own intellect out of obedience. Once one comes to the conclusion that the Church is indefectible and infallible, then one is compelled by reason to submit to her in all matters. This is why I firmly believe that Catholicism is an all or nothing proposition. Now, this view may seem repugnant to the modern man who in his pride loves individualism and humanism, but it is the traditional Catholic view.

Also, what caused so many women to leave religious life was that they no longer had a firm purpose. Take away the habit and the rigor of religious life and nuns become nothing more than religiously themed social workers. They were convinced by wrong psychologists that their lifestyle was somehow unhealthy. They were infected with the idea that modern man loves so much that anything I desire must be good and that if this is not gratified immediately something must be wrong. The Spiritual Combat, a devotional classic, however teaches us that we must always distrust ourselves and trust in God alone for our disordered and fallen natures often prompt us do what is wrong.

Similarly, we have a priest shortage because the role has been stripped of all its appeal. Once again, priests seem to be like social workers rather than men who have been called by God to offer the Sacrifice of the Mass and to save souls.

What have been the fruits of the revolution that occurred after the Council? Liberation theology, poor catechesis, religious indifferentism, dying religious orders, a whole generation that has not grown up with the fullness of the Church's tradition, etc. Many Catholics do not know that the Mass is a Sacrifice or even know what transubstantiation is. Most priests no longer understand Latin and many change the words of the Mass and ignore the rubrics.

Also, your website also treats contraception as an open debate, when it simply is not. The Church has spoken very clearly on these matters and no philosopher however great or educated has the authority to question what she has said. Your Brother in Christ, Kenneth DeWeese,


Response of the Editor

There is a whole psychological dimension to this debate between the progressives and the conservatives. We have explored it in detail in our book The Church, The Council and the Unconscious which is online at  It is only by taking into account this hidden psychological dimension that we can make headway in resolving this issue.