Talking Points

The 4 groups of writers shaping the Catholic Church of tomorrow

Everyone loves a good taxonomy.

A new essay by New York Times columnist Ross Douthat in First Things on the intellectual battles roiling the Roman Catholic Church in the United States identifies four groups of writers and thinkers trying to push beyond the center-left "Commonweal Catholicism" and center-right "First Things Catholicism" that prevailed through the decades following the close of the Second Vatican Council. Both of those factions were, according to Douthat, "fully reconciled to liberal democracy." The same can't be said of those now fighting for influence within the church. 

Populists mostly support the policy changes that Donald Trump brought about in the Republican Party — in favor of a more aggressive stance in the culture war, immigration restrictionism, a corporatist turn in economics, and antitrust actions against tech companies.

Integralists agree with the populists about some of these policy priorities, but they also incorporate Pope Francis' ecological criticisms of capitalism and ultimately favor a much more direct and aggressive role for the Catholic Church in wielding political power. (The name "integralism" refers to a political order in which church and state are thoroughly integrated.)

Benedictines sympathize with the first two groups but tend to be more pessimistic about the prospects for national political or top-down solutions while the culture continues to secularize. Hence their somewhat monastic sensibility. 

Tradinistas are the only group that firmly leans to the left, though only on economics, where they advocate a more sweeping critique of capitalism than is typically found among those within the other three groups.

The taxonomy is fun. But the real intellectual work takes place in the remainder of Douthat's essay, which thinks through how the small number of writers who make up these groups might respond to what is likely to be the continued decline over the coming decades of the broader church in the United States. It's a fruitful discussion and well worth pondering for Catholics and non-Catholics alike.