Sunday, January 13, 2019

Rendering Unto Caesar That Which Belongs to God

Reading the comments made in response to news about Catholic teaching can be disheartening. Some of the most vocal responses come from Catholics who spew the slogans of their party as if they were dogma and the teaching of the Church as mere opinions that can be “set aside” for a greater good.

Two of the most common examples involve abortion and immigration. Catholics who hold positions at odds with Church teaching (whether by actively rejecting Church teaching or thinking it’s “less important” than other teachings) argue that the authority of the Church doesn’t really forbid their actions—because they are being faithful to a “higher” teaching of the Church. 

So, one one side, a Catholic who either supports abortion or thinks it’s “less important” than a combination of other issues, misuses the Seamless Garment idea of the late Cardinal Bernadin to say that their vote is not undermining Church teaching because it “also” or “really” defends life, ignoring the words of St. John Paul II:

The inviolability of the person which is a reflection of the absolute inviolability of God, fínds its primary and fundamental expression in the inviolability of human life. Above all, the common outcry, which is justly made on behalf of human rights—for example, the right to health, to home, to work, to family, to culture—is false and illusory if the right to life, the most basic and fundamental right and the condition for all other personal rights, is not defended with maximum determination.

Christifideles Laici, 38

In other words, you can’t invoke those things as a counterbalance to the obligation of ending abortion because they depend on defending the right to life in the first place.

On the other side, we see Catholics arguing that the defense of borders (they usually cite part of CCC 2241) outweighs the teaching of charity. Our Lord, in Matthew 25:31-45, warns us that the final judgment will involve how we treated “one of these least ones.” That obligation will not be negated by what side of the border the “least one” should be on. Whatever the legitimate defense of the borders might be in a specific case, they cannot allow us to ignore the suffering of those we think are on the wrong side of it. Yet, when the Church speaks out on this, some Catholics respond with hostility, effectively saying “am I my brother’s keeper?” (Genesis 4:9b).

There are many other issues, where Catholics disagree with or downplay Church teaching and side with a political party instead. When the Church contradicts them, they either try to explain away the Church teaching as “non-binding,” or attack the leaders of the Church that they dislike. For example, with the current sex abuse scandal, there’s a tendency to focus on the bishops they identify with a disliked faction and claim that this faction is the cause of the scandal. For these Catholics, the “liberal/conservative” nature of the Church is to blame for the spread of homosexuality or the concealment of abuse.

This example shows the problem that must be corrected. By treating Church teaching as a political view or opinion that can be ignored while treating disagreement with a political view as a sign of “heresy,” people are making political orthodoxy the criteria for judging the theological orthodoxy of a member of the Church. Since we believe that the Church was established by Christ with the authority to teach in His name, those that reject what the Church teaches in the name of their ideology are placing political loyalty over fidelity. 

That’s effectively rendering unto Caesar what is God’s. 

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