Response to Sarah Moran by Mike McCallion

I would like to thank Sarah for her interest in our article on NE and Vatican II Catholics and for writing a thoughtful and respectful response to it.

First, I want to say something non-scientific or at least something that sounds non-academic (although Durkheim, Turner, Bellah, Rawls, Rosati and many others who appreciate the findings in the sociology of emotions and ritual practices might disagree that what I am about to write is non-academic) that the difference we outline between NE and Vatican II Catholics is basically affective or emotional for those involved.  Indeed, it was explicitly stated by one Vatican II professional we interviewed when he/she said simply, “I just get a different feeling from them” (that is NE professionals – see p. 298).  I say this because Sarah is partly right in saying NE professionals have a communal orientation and some Vatican II professionals have an individualistic orientation.  However, I think our data (admittedly it is qualitative and cannot be used to generalize to the church at large and, granted, we did not describe our methodology other than in footnote 2) supports the Vatican II professional’s response “I just get a different feeling from them.”  We admitted in our article that each type has similar characteristics as the other but when speaking, when teaching, when conversing with each other they are clearly different because you just get a different “feel” from each.  We said this to ourselves several times during the research process and wrote “there is a palpable difference” between them in the article.  There is something going on, “I can feel it.”

Turning to the particular critiques, Sarah questions our identification of “distinctly evangelical Catholic rhetoric” as “a rhetoric that contrasts sharply with what is ordinarily thought of as traditional or cultural Catholicism.” Instead, she suggests that “rhetoric emphasizing one’s ‘personal encounter with Christ’ should be understood as a retrieval of a longstanding ‘traditional’ emphasis on prayer and spirituality captured in Deus Caritas Est.” I would argue that, in the American context, “individualism” is something very different than in the early Church or medieval Church or Tridentine Church.  American individualism, a two-edged sword most would admit, colors the American experience of religion in a completely different way than what early church members would have experienced.  More specifically, in the American context, although NE types might say (and believe) that they are in continuity with the early Church’s spirituality it would be a hard sell I think.  American individualism, we are arguing, has colored their religiosity to an extent they are perhaps unaware of.  We are not arguing that this is bad or negative or detrimental, just that it is American.

Sarah makes the observation that NE types talk about the larger Church, even the universal Church, and are faithful to the magisterium. As Sarah states: “Yet just as often as I have detected personalistic rhetoric among NE professionals, I have heard them contextualize their ministry, the project of evangelization and their own faith commitments within “the Church.”  In my experience, NE Catholics’ reference to “the Church” is, in fact, probably even more ubiquitous than use of personalistic language.”  Thus, Sarah argues that they are not as inward and individualistic as we make them out to be.  Perhaps, but not likely, even though we did not extend our analysis this far if you will.  Specifically, as Sarah notes, the NE term “the Church” is NOT synonymous with the Vatican II phrase “the People of God.”  I think our quote from Archbishop Vigneron clarifies my point (in that we believe the Archbishop to be more a NE type than a Vatican II type, although he balances between them) when he felt that Vatican II folk emphasized the “people of God” too much to the detriment of Jesus.  And with respect to Sarah noting that NE types show “fidelity to the magisterium,” I think she is right on – Vatican II types are more questioning of the magisterium, although faithful in the end I think – so another difference that we did not address.  Again, I would say, that we admit these are ideal types and so there is overlap, but they do have different emphases and of course they would from a sociological perspective because the Vatican II types were socialized or ecclesialized by Vatican II and NE types by Pope John Paul II and the NE.  We do say on p 308, that “although both sides would suggest they are not denying the other’s values, both stress one side of the tension more than the other.”

Building on earlier points, Sarah says the following: “Ironically, in my experience, much of the tension between NE and Vatican II Catholics actually turns on precisely the reverse characterization of that described by McCallion et al.: Whereas NE Catholics prioritize community and conformity to “the Church’s” official teaching and norms of worship, Vatican II Catholics hold up individual “freedom of conscience,” Catholic social teaching’s emphasis on the dignity of the person, and parish variability in establishing norms of worship.  Some NE Catholics express concern that the Vatican II emphasis on the parish as “the People of God” and progressive interpretations of liturgical renewal after Vatican II loses sight of “traditional” and catholic dimensions of “the Church.”   Another example of the NE self-association with communalism, rather than individualism, is the NE Catholics critique that Vatican II Catholics’ alternative views on issues such as homosexuality and women priesthood place the primacy of individual opinion over the teachings of “the Church.”   I think Sarah has a point in saying the NE Catholics may be more faithful to the magisterium and that that fidelity expresses a communal orientation, but it still does not refute that the NE Catholics emphasize an individualistic orientation more so than Vatican II Catholics in their overall RHETORIC.  Again, our qualitative data relied on “rhetoric” and given the rhetoric data we collected and presented in our article a clear orientation toward individual or communal language exists.  So I disagree there is a reverse characterization – the NE connection to the CCR and their emphasis on evangelization and their embeddedness in American culture and the broader American religious culture of evangelism — clearly suggests our analysis that an individualistic orientation exists is on target – admitting this varies.  Moreover, I think the Rector’s response to the question “are you a Vatican II or a NE Catholic” with “YES,” is indicative of our whole article and says in a very succinct way that the distinction we discovered and tried to explain is real, it exists.

Sarah makes one final observation about our article.  She says: “Finally, McCallion et al. suggest that Vatican II Catholics’ rhetoric placed more emphasis on the sacraments and communal aspects of parish life than NE Catholics.  The authors note one Vatican II Catholic’s frustrated questioning, “What happened to the Mass?,” when listening to an NE presentation.  My experience of NE Catholics has been that “the Eucharist” and “the Mass” are seen as critical to promoting the abovementioned universality of “the Church.” Again, Sarah makes a good observation and I would admit that I heard NE Catholics talk about the Eucharist and the Church in various ways but nevertheless the NE professionals said “you have been sacramentalized, but you have not been evangelized.”  This is a shift to the individual.  Moreover, it implies that the individual who has received the sacraments is not a good enough Catholic.  But this has been a long standing Catholic theology, that we receive Christ in and through the sacraments.  This was one of the oddest phrases we heard in our research.  And we did not hear it just once but over and over.  There is a direct emphasis on the individual and, moreover, an individual who is alone and is somehow evangelized and receives the Lord and then perhaps goes to Church and the sacraments.  This is a decidedly individualistic understanding of sacramental theology and overall Catholic theology.  And I might add that Dr. Ralph Martin’s new book emphasizes “individual” salvation in his interpretation of Lumen Gentium 16. 

Thanks again Sarah for your comments and I hope my response provided some clarity.  Obviously, there is much more to discuss on this issue and many other distinctions and commonalities that we could analyze and which you have already begun to do.  So, thanks again.  Mike McCallion.

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