A Catholic Monthly Magazine

Fundamentalism in the Catholic Church

(This article first appeared in CathNews, a service of Church Resources. Reprinted with kind permission of the author and the original publisher.)

Fr Gerald Arbuckle

by Fr Gerald Arbuckle sm

Fundamentalism is not confined to Islamic religions. In fact fundamentalist movements are to be found in all societies and religions, including Catholic Christianity.

Fundamentalism is a form of organised anger in reaction to the unsettling consequences of rapid social and religious change.

Fundamentalists find rapid change emotionally extremely disturbing and dangerous. Cultural, religious and personal certitudes are shaken. Consequently, fundamentalists simplistically yearn to return to a utopian past or golden age, purified of dangerous ideas and practices.

They aggressively band together in order to put things right again – according to what they decide are orthodox principles. Sometimes they turn to all kinds of bullying – emotional, political, even physical violence at times – to get things back to “normal”. History must be reversed.

Because fundamentalism is at depth an emotional reaction to the disorienting experience of change, fundamentalists are not open to rational discussion. Here in Australia, for example, there is a political fundamentalist movement to preserve the “pure, orthodox Australian culture” from the “endangering ways of foreigners”.

It matters little to adherents that such a culture has never existed. Anthropologically every culture is the result of constant contact and mixing with other cultures over years.

Fundamentalists have become especially powerful and vociferous within the Catholic communities in recent decades. Their fundamentalist reactions are the result of the impact of two massive cultural upheavals colliding.

First, there is the cultural revolution of the 1960s. The credibility of every value and institution, including the churches, was questioned. This had profound social, economic and political consequences that continue to this day.

Second, there is impact from the immense cultural changes generated by the much-needed reforms of Vatican II.

Archbishop Lefevbre rebelled against the reforms of Vatican II

Catholic fundamentalism is an often aggressive reaction to the anxiety-creating turmoil of these two cultural and religious upheavals. It is an ill-defined but powerful movement in the Church to restore uncritically pre-Vatican II structures and attitudes. Here are some signs of this fundamentalism among Catholics:

  • Nostalgia for a pre-Vatican II Golden Age, when it is assumed that Church never changed, was then a powerful force in the world, undivided by misguided devotees of the Council’s values. The fact is that the Church and its teachings have often changed. Some statements have been shown to be wrong and were either repealed or allowed to lapse.
  • A highly selective approach to what fundamentalists think pertains to the Church’s teaching: Statements on incidental issues are obsessively affirmed, but papal or episcopal pronouncements on social justice are ignored or considered matters for debate only.
  • Concern for accidentals, not for the substance of issues, e.g., the Lefebvre group stresses Latin for the Mass, failing to see that this does not pertain to authentic tradition.
  • The vehemence and intolerance with which they attack co-religionists who are striving to relate the Gospel to the world around them according to Vatican II.
  • Attempts to infiltrate governmental structures of the Church in order to obtain legitimacy for their views and to impose them on the whole Church.
  • An elitist assumption that fundamentalists have a kind of supernatural authority and right to pursue and condemn those who disagree with them, including bishops and theologians.
  • A spirituality in which Jesus Christ is portrayed as an unforgiving and punishing God; the overwhelming compassion and mercy of Christ is overlooked.

In relating to fundamentalist Catholics we need to avoid hostile or heated arguments. Membership of fundamentalist groups is not a question of logic, but generally of a sincere, but misguided, search for meaning and belonging. Expressions of anger and vigorous disagreement will only affirm people in the rightness of their belief.

Our best witness to the truths of our Catholic beliefs will be our inner peace built on faith, charity and concern for justice, especially among the most marginalised.

Father Gerald Arbuckle SM is co-director of the Refounding and Pastoral Development Unit at Hunters Hill in Sydney, and author of eleven books including Culture, Inculturation, and Theologians: A Postmodern Critique.

Tagged as: , ,

2 Responses »

  1. I think that Fr Gerald before he is able to comment on fellow Catholics, should be obedient to the magisterium and wear his clericals instead of a suit and tie, but then he would probably consider that as "concern for accidentals". And not only is he out-of-step with the Church on the issue of clerical dress, but he is out-of-date as to the norms as regards the Latin Mass in the Extraordinary Form. If he updates himself on the latest instruction regarding Mass in the Extraordinary Form, Universae Ecclesiae, he would read the following:

    "6. The Roman Missal promulgated by Pope Paul VI and the last edition prepared under Pope John XXIII, are two forms of the Roman Liturgy, defined respectively as ordinaria and extraordinaria: they are two usages of the one Roman Rite, one alongside the other. Both are the expression of the same lex orandi of the Church. On account of its venerable and ancient use, the forma extraordinaria is to be maintained with appropriate honor.

    7. The Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum was accompanied by a letter from the Holy Father to Bishops, with the same date as the Motu Proprio (7 July 2007). This letter gave further explanations regarding the appropriateness and the need for the Motu Proprio; it was a matter of overcoming a lacuna by providing new norms for the use of the Roman Liturgy of 1962. Such norms were needed particularly on account of the fact that, when the new Missal had been introduced under Pope Paul VI, it had not seemed necessary to issue guidelines regulating the use of the 1962 Liturgy. By reason of the increase in the number of those asking to be able to use the forma extraordinaria, it has become necessary to provide certain norms in this area.

    Among the statements of the Holy Father was the following: "There is no contradiction between the two editions of the Roman Missal. In the history of the Liturgy growth and progress are found, but not a rupture. What was sacred for prior generations, remains sacred and great for us as well, and cannot be suddenly prohibited altogether or even judged harmful."2".

    Hence he is wrong and is divisive in his comments re the Latin Mass and other things here.


    • Hi Jan,

      Thanks for your comment. But to be fair. Fr Arbuckle barely references the Tridentine Mass. He does refer to Arch. Lefebvre who defied Papal authority and refused to accept the validity of the Second Vatican Council. You may not approve of Fr Arbucle's dress, but he has been more faithful to the magisterium than those of the Lefevbre persuasion.