Liberal vs. conservative

Hi all. I am confused on a topic, and am looking for some clarification. The idea of “liberal v. conservative” in the church puzzles me. Often times you will see a bishop or archbishop coined as a liberal or conservative. For example, Bishop Untener. He was a rather liberal bishop. Then there is someone like Cardinal Burke, who is rather conservative. If the church has a solid set of moral and structural values, how can there be anything that strays away (progressivism) from the correct (typically labeled conservative) ideals?

The Church is generally against these terms when applied to religious matters as they are more political terms. Yet, sometimes it is the best we have when trying to identify the type of a religious figure. Ideally, all Catholics are called to be loyal and faithful. Both of those lose those senses in their extreme form.

Let me give you an example of how this can go wrong. We saw this recently even with Catholic commentators in the recent canonizations. Pope John XXIII was labelled a liberal while Pope John Paul II was labelled a conservative and how this was to appeal to both “sides” of the Church. Yet, John XXIII was a very outwardly loving and “open” Pope, but by today’s standards he would be a hardcore conservative. It is a mistake to label him a liberal just because he called on the Second Vatican Council. That would make someone like Pope Paul III a liberal for calling the Council of Trent. He was crowned when he became Pope, he brought back use of Clementine Latin in the Daily Offices, and even his reign over the Church proved smooth with regards to tradition being preserved during the Council. John Paul II, whom I love as a former Pope, was not necessarily a “conservative” champion. This is the Pope who kissed the Koran, who allowed female altar servers, who approved liberal bishops, etc. So… for when you see these terms used in the Church, they are likely not completely accurate. It is best to not use them at all in the Catholic Church.

Thank you for the explanation. But these little things like female altar servers, liberal bishops, washing of the feet of females…how are these permissible if according to tradition they are typically not?

They are permissible as long as the Pope says they are permissible. Although I would say the overuse of such things are the fault of the local bishops and pastors.

I have found the terms liberal and conservative have different meanings depending on which country you find yourself.

This is very true. A conservative Republican to a Monarchist is a flaming liberal. So yes, they are somewhat relative. Overall though they should be ditched in regards to Catholic vocabulary.


The Church is neither Liberal nor Conservative, but a little bit of both. The Church has certain doctrines and beliefs that might be considered Liberal, and then some that are considered Conservative.

I think the labeling of various Bishops/leaders may not be due to their actual political leaning, but may instead be the result of the media reporting the issues that those leaders are most outspoken about. So Bishop Untener may be considered Liberal because he was very outspoken and in agreement with some Liberal ideas, and the same could be said for Cardinal Burke on the Conservative side.

And further more, the media then only reports what they want to hear, resulting in very biased and slanted reports. I think Pope Francis’ comment of “who am I to judge” is the perfect example of this.

Yeshua was as a liberal and the high priests were conservatives.

These terms mean almost nothing today. You can be socially liberal or conservative while keeping to church teachings. But if you are so “conservative” that you cannot accept a Pope’s infallible declaration then you are against church teaching. And if you are so “liberal” that you don’t accept traditional infallible church teaching then you are against church teaching.

You can be “conservative” and prefer thing pre-Vatican II, but you can’t deny anything post-Vatican II an and be in accordance with church teaching. It would be to deny the church today. You can prefer things post-Vatican II, but denying everything pre-Vatican II would be to deny almost all of the church’s history and teachings!

These terms may be handy “shortcuts” to use, but oftentimes they are much more limiting and stereotypical than useful.

  1. No one knows what book Pope John Paul II kissed when it was presented to him as a gift. His kiss was in appreciation for the gift according to the local custom of the people who presented it to him. This was not a “liberal” action.

  2. Pope John Paul II gave the decision of female altar servers to the local bishops who made the decision for their diocese. He did not “allow” anything.

  3. Pope John Paul commissioned a study in the United States to evaluate the orthodoxy of the bishops. The results were disturbing. Because of his actions, we now have many good, orthodox bishops who are true shepherds of the Church in communion with the Holy See. He did not “approve” liberal bishops but put a plan into action that eventually saw them replaced with good men.

If Pope John Paul II was not a conservative pope, then I don’t know who was.

People might bandy about the terms of liberal and conservative but as far as church policy goes there really isn’t. There are Catholics, and then there are hetrodox (heretics). That’s all.

Though there may be some difference in the “fluff” (A “conservative” Catholic might only attend the Latin mass, shunning that in the vernacular) there can be no dissent on church teaching.

Officially the Church isn’t a pick and mix buffet, it’s all or nothing despite how the majority of Catholics might behave.

Liberals want decisive change. In that sense, John XXIII was a liberal when he instituted Vatican II. It was the changing of the liturgy that was most effective. But the doctrines of the Church were never changed, so in that sense Vatican II was conservative.

Liberal Catholics might want to change doctrines, such as the all male priesthood, abortion, same-sex marriage, etc. Conservative Catholics would oppose all these radical changes in the teachings of the Church.

The Church is fundamentally conservative and changes only at a glacial pace. Yet, if “liberalism” in another way may be described as generous and giving, the Church has given more of itself to the world than any other institution that has ever existed.

So, Pope John XXIII was a liberal because he called Vatican II, but Vatican II itself was conservative because it did not attempt to change doctrine even though called by a liberal; and the Church, being fundamentally conservative, can be described as liberal because of her giving? :whacky:

More evidence that the terms *liberal *and conservative are meaningless when used to describe the Church.

We are all liberal and conservative.

Not at all difficult to grasp. In some ways liberal, in other ways conservative. :rolleyes:

True. I know of at least one infamous liberal theologian at Notre Dame who prayed for an early end to his papacy.

Liberalism is actually a heresy, so the Church forbids anyone to embrace Liberalism.

On the other hand, Conservatism is also a heresy, so the Church, likewise, forbids anyone to be Conservative.

The Magisterium has taught this consistently, especially when the heresy of Liberalism broke out about 200 years ago. Pope Leo was most helpful in showing us the problem, such as in this major Encyclical “On Human Liberty”:
[F]ollowers of liberalism deny the existence of any divine authority to which obedience is due, and proclaim that every man is the law to himself; from which arises that ethical system which they style independent morality, and which, under the guise of liberty, exonerates man from any obedience to the commands of God, and substitutes a boundless license.

The end of all this it is not difficult to foresee, especially when society is in question. For, when once man is firmly persuaded that he is subject to no one, it follows that the efficient cause of the unity of civil society is not to be sought in any principle external to man, or superior to him, but simply in the free will of individuals; that the authority in the State comes from the people only
So the heresy of Liberalism teaches that man is “liberated” (freed) from any Law/Authority outside himself. They say man is not bound to follow Natural Law (e.g. our conscience telling us that murder is wrong), nor Divine Law (e.g. the Bible’s commands). Instead, everyone makes up their own morality as they see fit.

So what about Conservatives? Pope Leo goes on to explain their heresy:
There are others, somewhat more moderate though not more consistent, who affirm that the morality of individuals is to be guided by the divine law, but not the morality of the State, for that in public affairs the commands of God may be passed over, and may be entirely disregarded in the framing of laws. Hence follows the fatal theory of the need of separation between Church and State. But the absurdity of such a position is manifest. Nature herself proclaims the necessity of the State providing means and opportunities whereby the community may be enabled to live properly, that is to say, according to the laws of God. For, since God is the source of all goodness and justice, it is absolutely ridiculous that the State should pay no attention to these laws or render them abortive by contrary enact menu. Besides, those who are in authority owe it to the commonwealth not only to provide for its external well-being and the conveniences of life, but still more to consult the welfare of men’s souls in the wisdom of their legislation
So being Conservative is actually just a “more moderate” form of the heresy of Liberalism. The heresy of Conservatives teaches that each person as an individual should follow God’s Laws (e.g. like the Bible), but that when it comes to making laws and voting on them, we must remain ‘neutral’ and not base our laws upon Divine Teaching, such as found in the Bible. This is why you have Conservative politicians who say things like “I’m personally opposed to [insert sin], but I wont impose my personal religious views when I’m voting on this law allowing [insert sin].” The problem with their thinking is that God gave us Religion (Catholicism) to guide our public lives as well as our private lives. When a government (State) says “We don’t need to consult the Bible when we make our laws,” that’s a monstrous error, because God gave us the Bible precisely to help us make such important decisions. Imagine the hypocrisy of a group of Christians getting together on Sunday to worship God but when they go to work they ignore God.

So Catholicism is neither Conservative nor Liberal.

Thanks for that, Catholic Dude.

Yes, true. But Catholics will be liberal or conservative as the spirit moves them.

To give of one’s own fortune or labors to the poor is considered a generous liberalism.

To save the poor from poverty by teaching them a trade rather than begging for a living is conservative.

To one another perhaps judging from the standard as to what constitutes liberalism in Catholicism but in secular eyes? Nay, the Catholic Church is the paragon of conservative values. Even the most liberal of Catholic who adheres to Church teaching would be dubbed by the outside world as conservative.

It doesn’t change very often, and the few shifts in policy or practice occur at a glacial pace. Change is resisted more often than not on principle, and it can take many centuries for if not to accept something, than to at least acknowledge it’s existence as factual or truthful.

How it defines itself is irrelevant when it comes to politics, It is how it’s surroundings view it and universally in Europe (and what I can see about America) the Church doesn’t just fit in with Conservative values, it’s teachings are in political eyes avowedly right wing and Conservative.

Even right wing parties like the UK’s UKIP party promote some “liberal” or “left wing” ideas like support for a free national health care system. But on a ratio, the CC is firmly and historically since it became the state religion of the Roman Empire has always without exception been on the right wing when it comes to matters such as money, morality, capital punishment, mode of goverment and so on.

How so?

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