Recently, I've been developing a new conviction about liberal Catholicism. For a long time, I believed the liberal Catholic was simply naive and wrong-headed. I thought that he, or she, truly believed that a greater liberalization of the Catholic faith would reverse the fortunes of the Church in the West-- that new converts would flood into the Church, and that lapsed Catholics would return, the less emphasis there was on "thou shalt not" prescriptions and the more emphasis there was on the warm fuzzies.
What I wondered was: how? How could they think this? How could they think this, when the post-Vatican II era had witnessed such a spectacular exodus from the priesthood and religious orders, and such a dramatic decline in congregations? How could they think this, when the Church of England, which had implemented most of the reforms they wished for, has all but disappeared? Was it simply delusion, wilful blindness?
Increasingly, I've come to believe that many (most?) liberal Catholics do not expect that liberalizing the Church will reverse its decline. They don't particularly care about reversing the Church's decline. Perhaps they are even happy to see it decline.
A liberal Catholic is not a Catholic who is liberal, but a liberal who is Catholic, or who identifies with the Catholic "faith tradition". Their allegiance is not primarily to the Faith, but to liberalism. They are interested in using the resources and the moral weight of Catholicism to further the various liberal measures they support. What happens to Catholicism itself is of subsidiary importance.
This surely explains the attitude of so many religious orders, who seem blithely unconcerned with their imminent demise and their inability to attract new members. They are so intent upon their left-wing activism that it's simply not a priority for them. Their work will go on-- whether it is conducted by missionaries or NGOs is not important.
Behind all this I identify the "death of God" theology which sees the renunciation of Christianity itself as the ultimate act of Christian sacrifice. How far can Christians imitate the self-giving of Christ-- even beyond the sacrifice of their lives? Well, to sacrifice their very claim to be right, to sacrifice their claim to a revelation. Liberal Christianity is Christianity turned against itself, humble and contrite where it should be most proud and unapologetic. It agrees with Nietzsche: "To take upon oneself, not all punishment, but all guilt-- only that would be godlike."