Monday, July 20, 2009

What makes you a Catholic if you don't accept Catholic teachings?

The Talk to Action blog today discusses the Catholic Church's "art of constructive schism." Guest blogger Frank Cocozzelli writes about the ways in which ultra-conservative elements are driving out or punishing liberals and moderates in the Roman Catholic Church.

Standing at the far side of the Reformation, I have always found this issue totally confounding. Operating within the terms of the Catholic Church itself, how is it possible to be a "moderate" or a "liberal"? The Church says what it says, and that's that.

There appear to be places within Church doctrine where someone can sincerely disagree. But none of those places are concerned with infallibility. I went to Wikipedia to find the exact words to use for this, and find the distinctions so nicely drawn that it's worth a direct quote.

Catholic theology divides the functions of the teaching office of the Church into two categories: the infallible Sacred Magisterium and the fallible Ordinary Magisterium. The infallible Sacred Magisterium includes the extraordinary declarations of the Pope speaking ex cathedra and of ecumenical councils (traditionally expressed in conciliar creeds, canons, and decrees), as well as of the ordinary and universal Magisterium. Despite its name, the "ordinary and universal Magisterium" falls under the infallible Sacred Magisterium, and in fact is the usual manifestation of the infallibility of the Church, the decrees of popes and councils being "extraordinary".

Examples of infallible extraordinary papal definitions (and, hence, of teachings of the sacred magisterium) are Pope Pius IX's definition of the Immaculate Conception of Mary, and Pope Pius XII's definition of the Assumption of Mary. Examples of infallible extraordinary Conciliar decrees include the Council of Trent's decree on justification, and Vatican I's definition of papal infallibility. ... the ordinary and universal magisterium is the usual manifestation of infallibility, the decrees of popes and councils being the extraordinary expression.

In other words, and not wanting to be obstreperous, accepting infallibility of the pope and of the body of the church is part of the definition of being Catholic. If you do not accept that, by definition you are not a Catholic.

More to the point: why would you want to consider yourself a Catholic if you don't believe what the Church teaches? That's where I stumble. If you do not accept the teachings of the Catholic Church, by definition you're not a Catholic. Whatever benefits Catholics get from being Catholic are not for you. To protest that you are still a Catholic is to give jurisdiction over your life to an organization whose teachings you reject. Why the insistence?

It's obvious that many Catholics today are non-Catholics, or at least living in a state of sin, by their own definitions. Catholics get abortions and use birth control at rates slightly higher than the U.S. average. I guess the catch here is that the Church will not acknowledge that people who make these choices are not Catholics; rather it considers them as living in a condition of sin. So the Church doesn't throw these people out. If you're presidential candidate John Kerry, it may try to humiliate you by publicly denying you communion, but very few people actually get excommunicated.

Let's try these on for size:
"I'm a vegetarian but I eat meat."
"I'm a Jew but I refuse to have my son circumcised."
"I'm a Quaker but I'm a member of the NRA."
They don't work either -- and they all have more latitude within their definitions than Catholicism does. What am I missing?

1 comment:

Steve Kellmeyer said...

You aren't missing anything.
You are dead on correct.

I wish more "Catholics" understood simple logic.

The problem is, we want what we want. We want the cachet that comes from being a vegetarian BUT we don't want to give up our steak and A1 sauce. So, we just lie to ourselves and everyone else.

And when I order filet mignon at the restaurant and you question my vegetarian dedication, I will attack you for DARING to tell me how to live my chosen vegetarian lifestyle.

And of course a good Quaker can carry a gun, as long as he uses it for social justice. *I* define reality, not some musty old dead people, not you.

Just ask me.