Monday, November 19, 2018

Thoughts on the Dangers of Turning Preference into “Doctrine”

One major problem in the Church today underlies all the confusion in the Church. That problem is our tendency to elevate our preferences on how the Church should be run into dogma. When the magisterium takes an approach that runs contrary to our presence, our response is to suspect—or outright accuse—the Pope and bishops of “promoting error.” We create “heroes” and “villains” out of those clergy we agree or disagree with.

In this situation, the Catholic is tempted to think that their own view is the doctrine and the orthodoxy of everyone else who goes against their view—including the Pope and bishops—are “heretics” who disregard “Church teaching.” Because they deem this difference as “heresy,” they argue that what the Pope and bishops say are non-binding and, since they are not ex cathedra, they can be in error.

This view is not compatible with Church teaching. Pope Pius IX condemned the following view in his Syllabus of Errors:

22. The obligation by which Catholic teachers and authors are strictly bound is confined to those things only which are proposed to universal belief as dogmas of faith by the infallible judgment of the Church. 
— Letter to the Archbishop of Munich, “Tuas libenter,” Dec. 21, 1863.

These dissenters forget that the ex cathedra teaching is rare, normally used to define something as a last resort. Most Church teaching is done through the ordinary magisterium which requires the religious submission of intellect and will. Canon law tells us:

It points out that when Pope, bishop in communion with him, or Church document makes a teaching, the proper response is obedience, not scrambling for excuses not to obey. For example, take Laudato Si. Critics claim this is a mere opinion that they can ignore. But the Pope explicitly pointed out (#15, emphasis added) that the document was Church teaching:

It is my hope that this Encyclical Letter, which is now added to the body of the Church’s social teaching, can help us to acknowledge the appeal, immensity and urgency of the challenge we face.

Curiously, critics argue that Amoris Laetitia should not be binding because it is “only” an Apostolic Exhortation that “contradicts” Familiaris Consortio. (A claim I reject [§])But Familiaris Consortio itself is an Apostolic Exhortation. If it binds, so does Amoris Laetitia. If it doesn’t bind, then they have no cause to complain of a change.

When the Church teaches something, and the individual has trouble reconciling it with their interpretation, they should remember the words of St. Ignatius of Loyola in his Spiritual Exercises:

His statement doesn’t mean that we “obey the Church when she errs.” It means that when we fear the Church is wrong, we trust that Our Lord protects her and conclude that the error lies with us.

I think our problem is we allow our politics to judge our Catholic Faith when it should be the other way around. This isn’t new. History shows there’s always been dispute between Church and State, and there’s always been Catholics who side with the State. The problem we have now is these Catholics claim to be faithful to the Church when they’re siding with the state. Liberal Catholics side with the state over the Church on issues like abortion and sexual morality. Conservative Catholics side with the state over the Church on issues like refugees and social justice. 

But, if the Church receives her authority from Jesus Christ, we obey Christ by obeying the Church (cf. Luke 10:16). Siding with other institutions against the Church is not virtuous. It’s rebellion.

That doesn’t mean every action from every churchman is morally right. The authority to bind and loose is independent from the moral character of the individual in the Church. So we do have predators, laxity, greed, corruption from individuals. But the immoral behavior of some doesn’t release us from the religious submission of intellect and will when the Church teaches.

In fact, Our Lord made this clear, contrasting the authority to teach with the behavior of the teachers. In Matthew 23, he said:

Matthew 23:1–3 (NABRE): Then Jesus spoke to the crowds and to his disciples, saying, “The scribes and the Pharisees have taken their seat on the chair of Moses. Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example.

We’re not bound to follow their scandalous behavior, but we don’t get a dispensation from obeying Church teaching. We work for reform (respectfully) but remain faithful. If that seems difficult, then perhaps we forgot that the Church is not a human organization, but the Body of Christ.

So it’s time to stop turning our preferences into “dogma.” When the Pope and bishops teach contrary to our expectations, it’s time to ask how we went wrong. Our Lord is not going to let His Church teach something we will be damned for obeying, so we have no justification for rejecting those tasked with leading the Church.


[§] The two don’t contradict. Rather the former points out the obligations of the divorced and remarried in general. The latter instructs bishops and confessors to investigate culpability in individual cases.

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