Who You Calling a Conservative (or a Liberal)?

by Ethan Mack


Could anyone else not stand watching the secular media’s attempt to cover the papal conclave? I honestly had to change the channel to Catholic TV after five minutes for fear of going insane. Usually, that would be the amount of time it would take for an anchor to speculate whether the new pope would be “doctrinally conservative”, like Pope Emeritus Benedict and Blessed John Paul II, or whether he would come from the Church’s so called “progressive wing”. They would talk ad nauseam about the concerns of “liberal Catholics” and how they demand change from the “traditionalist Catholic hierarchy”. These terms: conservative, liberal, traditional, and progressive, are by nature political and therefore, they have no application to describing the Catholic Church.

These political labels, as we use them, refer to conflicting ideologies that we neither affirm to be true or false. As a result, we claim that to adhere to one or the other is a matter of opinion, since they concern concepts that are beyond the realm of concrete knowledge (such as the material sciences, or mathematics). As doctrines of opinion, both the conservative and liberal dogmas are declared to be of equal worth and thus, we adopt a “agree to disagree” mentality when referring to them. Now such relativism may work within our society and our current political atmosphere, but it does not work for describing the dogma of the Catholic Church.


In fact, the concept of relativism is completely foreign to Catholicism. The Catholic Church strongly holds (as did most of Western Civilization until a few centuries ago) that truth is absolute and that within man is a natural desire to comprehend it. Through his faculty of reason, man can be brought to, at least partially, fulfill this desire. The Catholic tradition is the result of this search for truth across two millennia. Thus, for Catholics, Church teaching is not an opinion equal to all others, but rather, it is reflective of the Absolute Truth which stems from divine revelation and the natural law.


However, the labels “conservative” and “liberal” stems from abandoning our inert desire to discover the Truth. I think it’s apparent that labels like conservative and liberal stem from a predisposition towards relativism and therefore are unfit to describe precepts of a doctrine that is meant to reflect absolute Truth. They can only serve to cause division and strife.


Therefore, we need to stop calling those who reject the teaching on the environment “conservatives” and those who reject the teaching on sexual morality “liberals”. Thus, there is no "conservative" Church and there is no "liberal" Church; there is no traditional Church nor is there a progressive Church; and there isn’t a Pre-Vatican II or a Post-Vatican II Church; there is only the Church - One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic. Let’s stop trying to divide it.

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