Catholicism will soon go the way of Judaism, dividing itself into reform, conservative, and orthodox communities.
It’s a prediction I’ve certainly not heard before, and one that Catholic scholars might deem impossible. Yet the widely published and well-known Marquette University theology and religious ethics professor, Daniel Maguire, offered just that forecast in a letter to the editor of The New York Times last week.
Responding to an article about the Vatican’s easing annulment rules, he wrote:
Pope Francis’ changes in the annulment rules for Catholics are important for some Catholics but not for all.
Catholicism is going the way of its parent, Judaism (remember, Jesus was a Jew).
In Judaism there are Reform as well as Conservative and Orthodox communities. This arrangement is not yet formalized in Catholicism, but the outlines of a similar broadening are in place.
While conservative and orthodox Catholics welcome “this annulment concession by the Vatican,” Maguire wrote, “reform Catholics don’t need it. Their consciences are their Vatican. Reform Catholics, whose numbers are swelling, are still bonded to the church but not to the Roman curia.”
Maguire, a former diocesan priest and author of numerous books supporting gay marriage, contraception, and even abortion rights, is routinely described as “a radical” and a “heretic” by the conservatives and orthodox Catholics he speaks about above. In 2006, Maguire published a pamphlet, “A Catholic Defense of Same Sex Marriage.” In it he declared, “We have no moral right to declare marriage off limits to persons whom God has made gay.” He sent the pamphlet to 270 bishops. It was promptly denounced.
Yet just last year, The Society of Christian Ethics awarded Maguire its lifetime achievement award. And that group includes 950 faculty members from colleges including Fordham, Boston College, and Georgetown. Each is run by Jesuits, like Marquette, where Maguire continues to provoke or inspire, depending on one’s perspective. This much is sure: as a Catholic academic, Maguire has consistently gone where few others have dared to go.