In his book The Courage to be Catholic: Crisis, Reform, and the Future of the Church, George Weigel famously came up with the term "Catholic Lite" while saying:
The answer to the current crisis will not be found in Catholic Lite... It will only be found in a classic Catholicism — a Catholicism with the courage to be countercultural, a Catholicism that has reclaimed the wisdom of the past in order to face the corruption of the present and create a renewed future, a Catholicism that risks the high adventure of fidelity... There is little in Catholic Lite theology that poses a serious countercultural challenge to the spirit of the age. Catholic Lite is a soft Catholicism, understanding and sympathetic. Being understanding and sympathetic are, of course, virtues. But as G. K. Chesterton pointed out long ago, the world is filled with old Christian virtues ‘gone mad.’ When a religious tradition is profoundly challenged, as Christianity is by modernity, more than vices are set loose in the world, Chesterton wrote: ‘The virtues are let loose also; and the virtues wander more wildly, and the virtues do more damage.’ That is precisely what has happened in the culture of dissent.John Allen, writing recently in the National Catholic Reporter, had a thought-provoking take on this. In his column A 'Dallas experiment' in Orthodoxy and Openness he mentioned his coining of the term "Taliban Catholicism" and the criticism he has taken for it. That criticism continued after that column. I share the feeling of many conservatives that the term is hyperbolic, insulting, and not very useful, but what I found particularly interesting was his observation on how he sees the problem of "Catholic Lite" on the right and "Taliban Catholicism" on the left:
In fact, there's a right-wing form of Catholicism Lite that's just as watered-down and sold out to secularism as its kissing cousin on the left. In the States, it can take the form of a country club Republican Catholicism -- untroubled by the inequities of global free-market capitalism, quite at home with anti-immigrant rhetoric, the death penalty, and the use of armed force.I see where Allen is coming from, but I wonder about that last part. I get what is behind his critique of liberals and I understand the rationale that lies behind the claims for a "hermeneutic of continuity" and a reform of the reform" but there are plenty of centrists and conservatives who think that Benedict is "turning back the clock" too. In fact, many conservatives openly celebrate it.
At least in my mind, the defining feature of "Catholicism Lite" is not a liberal or conservative outlook, but rather taking one's cues from secular culture rather than the faith. No ideological camp has a monopoly on that.
Similarly, there's a Taliban instinct on the Catholic left that can be just as noxious as its right-wing version. It generally includes paranoia about almost any exercise of authority in the church, coupled with derision of any attempt to defend traditional Catholic thought, speech or practice -- a liberal "hermeneutic of suspicion" that can easily shade off into rage. Try telling a certain kind of Catholic liberal that Benedict XVI isn't actually "rolling back the clock" on Vatican II, for example, and you'll want to duck and cover.