Last Tuesday Paul Baumann posted “An unbroken tradition?”—an analysis of an article by Ross Douthat in The Atlantic. Paul’s post drew almost a hundred comments. Some expressed indignation that anyone claiming intellectual credibility might say anything positive about Mr. Douthat. Others advanced to a lengthy and very substantial discussion of Catholic teaching on marriage. All too belatedly I reintroduced one of the main points of Paul’s original post. By that time, of course, virtually everyone had moved on. Allow me to try again:
Having admitted that Garry Wills is an “outlier” among progressive Catholics, Douthat nonetheless stated that what most progressives share with Wills is a belief “that Catholicism will always somehow remain Catholicism no matter how many once-essential-seeming things are altered or abandoned.”
Paul indicated that he shared some of Douthat’s worries “about how far the sort of church reform called for by some “progressive” Catholics can go before it damages something essential in Catholicism’s DNA."
“The problem,” he immediately added, “is determining what is essential and what isn’t.”
Now I, too, sometimes share these worries about the loss of essentials and the challenge of defining them. But by and large I find—and I'd guess Paul does as well—that Douthat’s generalization about progressive Catholics’ almost nonchalant readiness to alter or abandon “many once-essential-seeming things” hugely exaggerated.
Am I wrong? And if there is not solid evidence for such a generalization, where does it come from?