From ................ National Catholic Reporter

August 9, 1996

page 13

NATION/WORLD

The burden of being Catholic and right

By CHERYL HECKLER-FELTZ Special to the National Catholic Reporter

DAYTON, Ohio When Mary Jo Weaver began researching her book Being Right: Conservative Catholics in America, she tried to meet with the heads of several conservative Catholic organizations.

Talking on the phone one day to the president of one right-wing Catholic group who refused to see her, Weaver asked, "What will it take for us to meet?"

"But if absolute truth exists," Weaver asked, "what do we have to talk about?"

The response she got was a jarring indication of attitudes the Indiana University professor of religious studies would face during her research: "If we don't agree on absolute truth, why talk at all?"

The book, published by Indiana University Press ($39.95, cloth) resulted from a project Weaver has conducted over the past several years studying right-wing Catholics, whose numbers may reach as high as 10 million. Coauthor is R. Scott Appleby, director of the Cushwa Center for the Study of American Catholicism at the University of Notre Dame.

In an interview before a presentation here, Weaver said right-wing Catholics can be defined by three dominant characteristics:

Weaver shared other findings during a July 17 speech at the University of Dayton, a Marianist college.

She said she first became interested in the topic when a student came to her office years ago saying he had something very serious to talk about. He then sat down and announced that altar cloths being used at a local church were not the right color.

A professor at Indiana University for 21 years, Weaver began the project, funded by the Lilly Endowment of Indianapolis, by gathering scholars and conservative activists for what she thought would be fruitful conversation that could lead to a better understanding of one another.

Through her research, Weaver concluded that right-wing Catholics are poorly equipped to contribute significantly to the future of the church a future that will require "innovative solutions to enormous pastoral and theological problems."

Through her work on the book, Weaver concluded there is a great deal wrong with being right. The right wing "avoids dialogue with outsiders in order to protect itself from contamination," she said. "It prefers the safe world of a shared outlook to the possibility of finding another point of view compelling. And it cannot afford to accept differences."

If she is correct, an individual can make the trip from one world to the other but only once.

She said the division became inevitable with Vatican II. "Being Catholic in the 1950s meant being right about God and belonging to a church whose leaders did not make mistakes," she said . "But after 1968, the divide was ominous: American Catholics were increasingly described in bipolar terms as liberal or conservative, hierarchical or communitarian, postconciliar or pre-Vatican II."

The split between the two groups "is probably inexorable because liberals thrive in a climate of dissent, whereas conservatives, who stress obedience, cannot allow it to be part of any legitimate expression of Catholicism."

Weaver, who has written five other books on Catholicism, said her next one will be titled What's Left: Liberal Catholics In America, and jokingly said she should eventually produce one titled Who Cares? that would describe America's middle-of-the-road Catholic population.

[in sidebox]- Weaver concluded that right-wing Catholics are poorly equipped to contribute significantly to the future of the church a future that will require 'innovative solutions to enormous pastoral and theological problems.'

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