Friday, 24 September 2010

On Taliban Catholics

An interesting discussion has begun over on Fr Ray Blake's blog. People of all stripes have waded into the conversation about why and whether 'Taliban' is an appropriate appellation for a fellow Catholic.

The most interesting intervention, however, comes from Austen Ivereigh whose remarks to John Allen started the discussion in the first place.

Austen Ivereigh said...

Fr Ray, The term was used by Allen himself a few months ago, and is worth reading how he understands it -- here: I think he's onto something. In the interview I said we excluded those whom "you" (that is, Allen) would call "Taliban Catholics". 23/9/10 5:38 PM

Okay, I thought. That's interesting. Have I misjudged Ivereigh here? Is 'Taliban Catholic' acceptable neologistic nomenclature, rather than a mere 'boo word'? Let's go and check out Allen's use of the term.

Allen's discussion is long and interesting, and, with his customary fair-mindedness, he even provides evidence of reaction to his use of the term Taliban Catholicism. But there was this interesting nuance that I think is worth quoting:

When I talk about "Taliban Catholicism," I know I'm playing with fire -- but the point is to invite an examination of conscience across the board, myself very much included, not to slur one side or the other in Catholic debates.

Not a slur on one side of the other, eh? Now that is very interesting indeed. For when I go back to Ivereigh's interview with Allen, it is most definitely one side of the Church that Ivereigh intends to slur:

They’re very critical of the bishops for compromising too much with modernity and not promoting Catholic truth as they see it.

Still, have we fully understood Ivereigh? He took pains after all to explain his intention on Fr Ray's blog. He was merely referencing Allen's usage...

But when we go back to Allen's original article on the matter, it all becomes even more clear - with what my late grandfather used to call the inevitability of gradualness - that by 'Taliban Catholic' Allen is referring not just to wild critics from the right-wing of the Church but also to authoritarian liberals on the left. Here are Allen's words:

Similarly, there's a Taliban instinct on the Catholic left that can be just as noxious as its right-wing version. It generally includes paranoia about almost any exercise of authority in the church, coupled with derision of any attempt to defend traditional Catholic thought, speech or practice -- a liberal "hermeneutic of suspicion" that can easily shade off into rage. Try telling a certain kind of Catholic liberal that Benedict XVI isn't actually "rolling back the clock" on Vatican II, for example, and you'll want to duck and cover before the shooting starts.

Ah, now that IS a problem. Because Ivereigh very specifically applies 'Taliban Catholic' to the right. In fact, in his own interview with Allen, right after he defines what 'Taliban Catholics' do, he then adds:

We ALSO [my emphasis] had applications from people in favor of the ordination of women, and who in general believe that the reforms of Vatican II have been insufficiently implemented, and who are angry at the bishops for the opposite reasons.We had one application from a woman called Pat Brown, who made it to an interview because we didn’t quite understand where she was coming from. In the interview she said, I believe in the ordination of women and I want to use this, when the pope is here, as a vehicle for talking about that. We said that’s not really right for us, and we explained. She got very upset, which led to the formation of what’s called “Catholic Voices for Reform.” It’s slightly annoying they took our name!

Well, now, I admit that I'm troubled. Surely, what was slightly annoying about Brown was that, probably according to Allen's usage, she was a 'Taliban Catholic'; after all, how should we interpret her extraordinary annexation of the name 'Catholic Voices'?

Have I misunderstood Allen? Or has Ivereigh misunderstood Allen? Or,did he not read up to the end of the article he referenced as justification for his own usage?

Hmm, look, we're all adults here, so let's say it as it is. Dear Austen Ivereigh, surely you meant one thing alone by 'Taliban Catholic'. And, in that light, quoting John Allen as your justification appears very odd indeed.

Pax et bonum.

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