George Weigel, never one to shy away from controversy, argues persuasively that Cardinal Ottaviani might have been right all along.
At one level I must admit a secret love for such columns; the ones that champion something unfashionable, especially if it involves the pre-Vatican II Catholic right. It can't just be simple misty-eyed, mawkish sentimentalism, but vibrant, up-to-date, positive assessments of Monsignor Joseph Fenton, Pascendi, Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange OP (the 'sacred monster of Thomism'), Cardinal Manning, Raphael Merry del Val, Rochester NY's Bishop McQuaid, and, yes, Cardinal Ottaviani....YES PLEASE.
Why? Well, balance--too much of postconciliar American Catholic history, for far too long, simply accepted the bit and pulled the cart along: things are better now, we're evolving and more attuned to American culture, our liturgies make sense now, our music is culturally informed, etc. SSSooo, let's not recount stories about the unpleasant figures of the past, shall we?
Landing a shot beneath the waterline of this sort of thinking, though, was this view's own soft spot for figures of the Catholic left who bucked this very trend: Dorothy Day, of course, and yes, even Daniel Berrigan, SJ, but for that matter a chunk of the entire liberation theology movement. Those folks also desired a counter-cultural encounter with American life. They didn't want to accept everything modern America handed them. Ah, but this form of countercultural embrace is okay, but we simply cannot have any of that right-wing countercultural stuff.
Admission: I write this on G. K. Chesterton's birthday. As Max Lindemann posted on Facebook, you simply can't escape Chesterton on the Catholic internet. If a day goes by when you do miss a Chesterton reference, everybody else must be retreat. That's certainly true, and to that list I'd add Newman, Merton, and Day. Notice that they're all converts. Anyway, the point is that Chesterton was neither "left" nor "right" as the American ideological spectrum sees those terms. (Most of the Catholic left today, though, still seems to ignore him.)
Weigel deftly indicates that maybe these lefties-who-really-constitute-the-mainstream might have more in common with Ottaviani than they (or even he!) might first admit. Ban modern war? Gads, that's Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin!!!!
Another reason for such writings: diversity. It's one of the Church's great open secrets, and why can't this diversity extend beyond ethnicity and geography to historiography? We all benefit when the history's complete, which means including the Fentons and Merry del Vals. Besides, do you really think a comparative study of Monsignor Fenton and Boston's Cardinal Law would conclude favorably for the latter? No--sometimes we might learn that the residents of American Catholic history's dustbin might provide some strength for answering today's problems, too.
Finally, back to Weigel's argument for Ottaviani. Is the world/culture/nation undergoing something of a religious nap (the opposite of an 'awakening') or an awakening of utterly decentralized spiritual wandering? Popes John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and now Francis I all seem to recognize this and sought/seek to call us back to the good and the Gospel. Here my students would chime in--completely in sync with the zeitgeist: it's all up to the individual when all opinions are ultimately free. So the Church once again wants to assert a fundamental truth while simultaneously accepting that everybody ultimately enjoys religious freedom to say, do, and worship as they see fit.
Besides all the indescribable rewards and enjoyments, I've also wondered if Heaven also includes--sort of like the concluding vision of Flannery O'Connor's "Revelation" (Flannery's another permatrend on the Catholic internet)--a divine correction of our deeply held sense of self-justification. So with that in mind, I suppose Cardinal Ottaviani and Monsignor Fenton have, since their deaths, experienced some of that divine instruction. On the other hand, I also think Weigel has a point--Ottaviani might look down on our current predicament and be allowed to think "I told you so."