Ross Douthat thinks not. For him, the RCC looks much like Mainline Protestantism.
But as someone who came of age long, long after the battles of Vatican II, I simply don’t recognize the Catholic culture that many liberal Catholics seem to believe they’re warring against or seeking to undo or overthrow. The “traditionalist” church, the church of lace and legalisms if you will, that the current pontiff is particularly quick to critique, is simply not part of most American Catholics’ everyday experience. It may exist in some parishes and precincts, or among certain bishops or cardinals. But the dominant experience of Catholic life, Catholic liturgy, Catholic preaching, has nothing in common with the stereotype of a Pharisee lecturing people about their (mostly sexual) sins.
What it has more in common with, and I speak from experience, is certain forms of Mainline Protestantism and megachurch evangelicalism: Notwithstanding what still emanates from the Vatican, we’ve become a church of long communion and short confession lines (and you’re more likely to find me in the first than the second), of Jesus-affirms-you sermons and songs, of marriage preparation retreats (like mine) where most of the couples are cohabitating and nobody particularly cares, and of widespread popular attitudes toward the divine and toward church teaching that mostly resemble H. Richard Niebuhr’s vision of a God without wrath, men without sin, and a Kingdom without judgment.
These words come out of an exchange between Ross Douthat and James Martin at America: The National Catholic Review. This article is a warning to those Evangelicals who think “crossing the Tiber” will solve all those problems that hound us – a lack of a solid source of authority, a faddish church incapable of withstanding cultural pressures, etc. I wonder if Evangelicals who are fed up with the vicissitudes of our movement have a true grasp of what is really going on in the RCC. Take the time to read the entire exchange. It will be worth it.