I read a smart comment yesterday: “Conservatives want to convert people by arguing with them. Liberals want to convert people by agreeing with them.”

It’s pithy

I can see the distinction, but I’m not sure it is merely a “conservative-Liberal” clash.

Underlying the tensions within the Catholic Church –which blew up at the recent synod was not so much a conservative-liberal clash as it was an underlying clash in the way one understands the Catholic Church’s relationship to the surrounding culture.

Where the culture is, or for centuries, has been Catholic, or at least predominantly Christian, churchmen tend to see themselves as the father in the prodigal son story–simply there to give everyone a warm welcome back into the warm embrace of home.

Where Catholicism is predominant the Church is part of the establishment, those who do not go to Mass are viewed simply as sheep wandering from the fold, family members who don’t bother to come to family dinner or visit their mother. The Catholic attitude in societies where the church has been part of the establishment is that of the benevolent and merciful reconciler. In this model everyone in the population is either Catholic or they at least understand and by default, accept the general moral and doctrinal teachings of the Catholic Church. Basic evangelization is not necessary because they’ve been baptized. They just need to come home. They need a little encouragement. They’re good kids. They’ll come back eventually.

When they do come back, all they need to do is go to confession, get a little penance and then they’re home. If they are in an irregular relationship, well what is that among family? We know they’re good kids. We know they really love God deep down even though they’ve strayed, made some mistakes and if they’re in a mess over that, we don’t want to beat them with the legalistic stick. We welcome to the table. Are they in a homosexual relationship?  They know that’s wrong because they’re part of a Catholic culture. We welcome them in, knowing that with a warm embrace and welcome they’ll soon see the error of their ways and want to be closer to Jesus.

I can see that this method works well enough in a culture that is basically Catholic.

This is the mindset of the Europeans we call “liberal”. It’s the mindset of a lot of the cradle Catholic bishops in the USA too. If they were brought up in a largely Catholic city and culture like Boston, Chicago or Philadelphia, then they too breathe a Catholic air and the people they minister to are all Catholics or they assume they know the basic Catholic teachings.

The problem with this model is that the cultural situation for most Catholics around the world nowadays is not one in which the whole culture is Catholic or Christian.

In Africa and Asia, where the church is growing fastest, the culture is not predominantly Catholic and historically speaking, it is only recently that it is even tipping over to be predominantly Christian. In many countries it is not there yet.

Furthermore, in case anyone hasn’t noticed, the developed countries of Europe, Britain and North America are certainly not predominantly Catholic and are increasingly not even Christian.

The Catholic Church is therefore in a state of transition around the world, and we need to wake up to the fact

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