Tuesday, October 20, 2020

If a Catholic is for a Faction, He is not Behaving Like a Catholic at All

For it has been reported to me about you, my brothers, by Chloe’s people, that there are rivalries among you. I mean that each of you is saying, “I belong to Paul,” or “I belong to Apollos,” or “I belong to Cephas,” or “I belong to Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? (1 Corinthians 1:11–13).

Between the elections and disputes over what the Church should be doing in the world, Catholics—especially in the United States—have become fragmented, arguing that the sides they pick in a dispute are in the right while Catholics who disagree or even say “I’m not convinced that this either-or argument is correct” are deemed to be heretical or misled.

While I say this in rebuke, I am not saying “values are relative, and it is a matter of indifference who you vote for or what the Church does.” I have my own personal views on which political party is a worse evil and which behaviors in the Church are more harmful. However, I believe my own political views and preferences on the governance of the Church must take backseat to the authority of the Church. When the Church teaches that we must do or not do something, we are behaving shamefully if we try to explain away our obligation or argue that those tasked with leading the Church are not authentically Catholic.

As I see it, in determining whether a position is in keeping with the Catholic Church, we must first look to those who are tasked with shepherding the Church. Why do I say this, instead of appealing to the Bible or to past teachings of the Church? Because I believe that Jesus Christ established the Catholic Church as the Church intended to teach the whole world. I believe that He promised to be with His Church always and to protect it from teaching error. I believe the visible head of this Church is the successor of St. Peter, and the bishops—when acting in communion with him, and never apart from him—are acting as the successors of the Apostles. When they teach, even if not teaching ex cathedra, their teaching requires religious submission of intellect and will. In this role, they determine whether certain interpretations of Scripture and past teachings of the Church by groups of Catholics, or their behaviors or claims are authentic or not. This authority exists despite the personal sins of those men who are tasked with being shepherds of the Church. Otherwise, we could not have any authority at all and our favorite teachings would have no more authority than the ones we dislike.

When we grasp that, one thing becomes clear: Any attempt to pit a political platform or the antics of an individual Churchman against that authority of the Church is to reject the authority of the Church, replacing it with an ersatz Catholicism that divinizes one’s preferences while denying that the Divine source of the Church’s authority applies in their circumstances. Essentially, it turns the Church teaching into “What’s mine is mine. What’s yours is up for grabs,” because as soon as the individual dislikes being at odds with a teaching, he or she can just deny the authority of the teaching. We have seen that in the liberal dissent during the pontificates of St. Paul VI, St. John Paul II, and Benedict XVI. We are seeing it now in the current conservative dissent against Pope Francis.

This means, instead of looking to God’s Church as receiving the authority to bind and loose from Christ (see Matthew 16:19, 18:18), we look to ourselves to bind and loose the Church. In doing so, we make ourselves no different from the non-Catholics who reject the authority of the Church because it goes against their conception of the truth. But, while the non-Catholic might be invincibly ignorant about the fact that the Catholic Church was established by Christ and teaches with His authority, we Catholics do not have any such excuse. In fact, by arguing that the Pope and bishops are acting against the Church teachings, we acknowledge that we know the Church has this power.

And then we are back to the initial problem the factional Catholic must face. To be a faithful Catholic, one must accept the teaching authority of the Church… today just as much as in the past. The moment we reject that, we open any teaching a faction of Catholics dislikes to being labeled as “error” or “opinion.”

Therefore, I say: If a Catholic is for a Faction, he or she is not behaving like a Catholic at all. It is only if we remember that God’s protection of His Church applies in every age that we can be faithful… not by clinging to some teachings that we like while pretending the rest don’t count.



(†) While I try to keep my opinions off my blog because it is about Catholic teaching and not my views, I suspect anyone looking at my Facebook feed can determine what views trouble me more.

(‡) From the Code of Canon Law:

CAN. 752† Although not an assent of faith, a religious submission of the intellect and will must be given to a doctrine which the Supreme Pontiff or the college of bishops declares concerning faith or morals when they exercise the authentic magisterium, even if they do not intend to proclaim it by definitive act; therefore, the Christian faithful are to take care to avoid those things which do not agree with it.

CAN. 753† Although the bishops who are in communion with the head and members of the college, whether individually or joined together in conferences of bishops or in particular councils, do not possess infallibility in teaching, they are authentic teachers and instructors of the faith for the Christian faithful entrusted to their care; the Christian faithful are bound to adhere with religious submission of mind to the authentic magisterium of their bishops.

CAN. 754† All the Christian faithful are obliged to observe the constitutions and decrees which the legitimate authority of the Church issues in order to propose doctrine and to proscribe erroneous opinions, particularly those which the Roman Pontiff or the college of bishops puts forth.

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