When we discuss the liberal Catholic, we have to discuss (at least) two different creatures. One is the liberal who is incidentally Catholic. The other is the Catholic who is also liberal. The former is, in my view, a much less objectionable creature. He (or she) doesn't really think about religion all that much, but is unwilling to sever ties with it.
In this post, I'm thinking about the Catholic who does think about his religion a lot, who has read widely on Catholicism and who practices his faith. He thinks of himself as entirely orthodox. Indeed, more often that not, he is entirely orthodox. At least, he can make a pretty good case for his orthodoxy.
I have to admit that my main model for the liberal Catholic is the blogger Mark Shea. But it's not just him. When I was on Facebook, I encountered quite a lot of Catholics who conformed to this type.
The distinguishing factor of the liberal Catholic is his strong desire to be considered a Nice Guy. He is determined that his faith will not make him a sourpuss, a fuddy-duddy, a philistine, or a Holy Joe. He is proud of his ability to mix with non-Catholics, not to stand out, to be hip. He wants to share in their jokes, their enthusiasms, their fads, their rites of passage. His dearest wish is that they would say: "Mr X is a Catholic, but he's cool. He shows that you can be a really cool guy and a Catholic."
He claims that he is neither conservative nor liberal, that he transcends these categories. This is untrue. His basic attitude is liberal.
The liberal Catholic is very often obsessed with pop culture (Dr. Who and Buffy the Vampire Slayer especially.). He quotes pop culture, uses terminology derived from pop culture, and often uses linguistic forms derived from pop culture (such as putting a full stop after every word in a phrase, for emphasis.) This leads him to political correctness, as political correctness is the fundamental message of pop culture.
He is pro-life, but he constantly tries to fudge the pro-life issue with references to a "consistent life ethic" or "seamless garment" approach, so that (for instance) socialized medicine is seen as a pro-life issue. (As a matter of fact, I'm quite left-wing on the subject of health care myself, but I'm adamantly opposed to the "seamless garment" appproach-- we are talking about separate issues here). It is as though he has to make up for his dissent on the issue of abortion (and euthanasia) by showing that it's an incidental implication of a broader policy, a broader policy that his PC buddies can appreciate..
The political correctness of the liberal Catholic means that, although he opposes gender ideology in theory, you'd never be able to tell this from the vast majority of his (or her) comments. He will rave over Lady Gaga or Stephen Fry as enthusiastically as anyone else. You will never hear a disapproving word about a Gay Pride march fall from his lips. If he talks about the subject, he will talk about "discrimination" and "how badly gays have been treated in the past". He'll either favour gender quotas or keep his lips zipped about them. He will never criticize feminism, if he can help it.
Back when I was on Facebook, there was a controversy regarding the bathroom policy of the American chain store Target. Target announced that "transgendered" people had the right to use whatever bathroom they wished. My conservative Catholic friends quite rightly ridiculed this, and saw it as an assault on gender roles. My liberal Catholic friends either kept very quiet, complained about how trivial the issue was, or criticized the rhetoric that conservatives used in addressing the matter.
The liberal Catholic professes to dislike culture wars, and claims to be neutral, or above them. As a matter of fact, this claim of neutrality is bogus. He is more than happy to lend his firepower to the liberal side of a culture war. This is particularly notable when he makes fun of conservatives for "politicizing" something which is clearly political already. A good recent example is the new female Doctor in Doctor Who. Now, I've never really watched Doctor Who. I watched a few episodes on DVD about a year ago and found it unbearably PC. Even accepting that the Doctor is an alien, it's blatantly obvious that this development is, in fact, entirely intended as a salvo in the culture war. (I've watched videos by conservative Doctor Who fans, or conservative former Doctor Who fans, who confirm that the show has been pushing an anti-man agenda for some time.)
A more long-running example of this is the War on Christmas, and the ridicule heaped on the concept of the War on Christmas. Before he descended into blatant leftism, this was one of the motifs of Mark Shea's commentary that should have alerted me to his leanings. However, I'm a morbidly fair-minded person, and at first I actually agreed with the argument as he put it; that Christmas should be a time for joy, and we shouldn't make it a time for acrimony and hostility. I realize what mendacious poppycock this is now, but I was taken in by it at the time. (I doubt liberal Catholics would have the same easygoing attitude towards opponents of, say, Martin Luther King Day, as they have towards opponents of Christmas.)
Liberal Catholics are not counter-cultural. They will claim that their supposed virtues of moderation, open-mindedness etc. are counter-cultural, but this is obviously vague nonsense.
Liberal Catholics have a very contradictory attitude towards tolerance. They are more than willing to tolerate opponents of Catholicism, but they are far from tolerant towards their co-religionists, when those co-religionists are on the religious right. In fact, the liberal Catholic hates (hates hates hates) the religious right more than anything in the entire world. He doesn't even try to conceal his contempt when he speaks about them. He will speak graciously about Marxists, feminists, Muslims, secularists, gay rights advocates, and so forth. But right-wing Catholics, and the religious right in general, put him in a fury. Your average liberal Catholic likes Christopher Hitchens and hates Jerry Falwell.
I said liberal Catholics are eager to tolerate their opponents. But let's be honest. Muslims, secularists, feminists, liberals...they don't actually see these as their opponents. They see the religious right as their opponents, and they show no love or tolerance towards them whatsoever.
So why does all this even matter?
Well, first of all, let me say that I'm not judging anybody's soul. And I'm glad liberal Catholics are Catholics. I would not want to alienate them from the Church entirely.
But I think they are a dead weight,or worse, when it comes to the defence and propagation of the Faith. Nobody is drawn towards tepidity, or towards a belief system whose adherents are constantly apologizing for it. Liberal Catholics are so determined to blend in, to be accepted, that they can never present the Faith as something radical or challenging. It's just one "lifestyle choice" amongst a hundred others.
Also, liberal Catholics do not stand up against political correctness, arguing that it is simply a matter of "respectful terminology for minorities" or some such thing. They cannot see that political correctness is the imposition of a particular view of the world, one which brooks no dissent. Perhaps they agree with eighty per cent of the PC agenda, and hope that they will be allowed to "opt out" when it comes to abortion, gay marriage, male-only ordination, and so forth. But they won't be allowed to do this. Political correctness is inherently totalitarian. In aiding and abetting it, liberal Catholics are strengthening a totalitarianism which is crushing Catholicism-- both inside and outside the Church. So yes, we really should be wary of liberal Catholics.