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Who Are the True Progressives?

By Deacon Keith Fournier
© Third Millennium, LLC
Catholic Online


The American Presidential campaign is in fourth gear. The “labels” abound; “liberal”, “conservative”, “neo-conservative” and…the one being bandied about more often lately, both in a disparaging way and as a sort of badge of pride, “progressive”. The term, at its root, implies progress toward something better.

Like most terms used in an effort to divide groups and set them against each other, these political terms have made their way into our common discourse. They have also crossed into the parlance of theological conviction. Let me give an example.

Shortly after the elevation of Benedict XVI to the Chair of Peter, Joan Vennochi, of the Boston Globe, wrote an editorial entitled "Orphaned by the Church".It was based upon a premise that is being repeated in many places these days. In an age where the mere repetition of a mistaken idea can be confused with accuracy. Ms. Vennochi was unhappy with the selection of Pope Benedict XVI. She simply did not like that he stood for the unchanging faith handed down from the Apostles; the faith which actually paved the way to true progress.

She tried to claim the moniker “progressive” to describe her dissent from the teaching of the Church and set up her claim that she was a "progressive" Catholic" and that all "progressive" Catholics would be unhappy with the leadership of Pope Benedict XVI. She began her article by making a statement and asking a question:

"With news of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger's selection as the new pope, the phrase ''progressive Catholic" sounds more and more like an oxymoron. Can you be one during the reign of Benedict XVI?"

I wrote a responsive article and disagreed with the statement. I insisted that the phrase "progressive" Catholic is not an oxymoron. Then, I answered her question with an enthusiastic "Yes". I argued that one could be a truly "progressive" Catholic under the dynamic and forward facing leadership of Pope Benedict XVI.

I feel even more firmly about this claim today.


Let’s begin by simply examining the word “progressive” with reference to the dictionary. It defines "progressive" as an adjective, meaning "Moving forward; advancing." That is precisely what happened to the Church under the wonderful dynamic leadership of Pope John Paul II and continues under the faithful service of his successor, Pope Benedict XVI.

Of course, in making this claim, I totally rejected Ms. Vennocchi’s definition of the phrase "progressive" Catholic. That is because I disagreed with her over a more fundamental question, the nature of true progress. Let’s consider the artful and strategic misuse of words, then the historic evidence of true progress brought about by the influence of the Christian Church. Both lead to the same conclusion, Faithful Catholics, and other Christians, are the true “progressives” of our age.

Word Games

We have lived through the use of word games too many times in the last few decades. For example, I, as a faithful Catholic Christian, have been very actively involved in promoting legal recognition of the inalienable right to life at every age and stage for decades. I have sought to inform my political and social participation by the values derived from my faith. I simply try to live a unity of life. I am pro-life, pro-family, pro-freedom and pro-poor.

I oppose the killing of innocent children in the womb, which is always and everywhere wrong because it is the taking of innocent life. I oppose euthanasia, period, no matter how it is disguised. It is never compassionate to kill someone. These strong positions have often led to efforts to label me "conservative", and, in some instances, to marginalize me further by connecting me with the "religious right."

However, I also oppose Capital Punishment. I always have. It is no longer justifiable because bloodless means are available to punish the malefactor, to defend society and to serve the common good. Therefore mercy should trump justice. That is not, to some, a "conservative" position. I opposed the initial foray into Iraq as morally wrong, unable to be justified under any effort at applying the "Just War" Theory. Now, I am deeply concerned for what could occur in the aftermath of a precipitous withdrawal and am evaluating the best prudential path toward peace.

I have long been deeply concerned about - and written extensively concerning - our obligations in solidarity to the poor, calling for economic reform including a family wage. I believe that the market economy must always first be at the service of the person, the family and the common good.

In these matters, even some who agreed with my unqualifiedly pro-life bona fides, began to insist that I sounded ...

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