An Unhelpful Comparison

With a broad range of internet sources, I find the spectrum of Catholic responses on various issues to be … interesting, to say the least. I’d like to tease out a few recent news bits and offer up an unhelpful comparison. Why unhelpful? Mainly to underline the occasional lack of logic among some believers who are otherwise trying their best to align themselves with the Truth, as they understand it. I will note that some recent events, like the conviction of Bishop Robert Finn, tends to open up divides in what often seems to be a Catholic conservative internet monolith. It’s not the only case. And it won’t be the last. The internet gives hundreds of millions of people the opportunity to make a judgment on an issue before some Celebrity issues a decree on it.

One of the students I know follows lifesitenews, and in my Facebook feed I found this brief opinion piece a few days ago. It’s the one I blogged about on Tuesday.

(T)hose Catholics who cannot bring themselves to believe the formal teachings of the Church on life and family matters it would be more honest to leave the Church rather than betraying Her.

For (at least) two generations now, there has been a wide range of Catholic opinion and political acitivity on abortion, which is what this stance from HLI is all about. One can oppose abortion in all circumstances, something like the absolute pacifist approach to war. Killing is always, always, wrong. And a Christian just shouldn’t kill under any circumstances. Or there would be the individual personally opposed–which is likely most Catholics. But some Catholics would see the criminalization of abortion as an ineffective or impractical or unpopular solution, and therefore an optional stance for a believer.

Between the two positions there are all sort of concession spots. The GOP presidential ticket absolves the situation of rape. Presumably the mother’s danger-of-death clause, too. And then one would have more extreme positions: anti-abortion folks who endorse the assassination of providers, plus people who, despite medical evidence to the contrary, have no problem with ending a life with a heartbeat, brainwaves, and all the natural infant qualities.

But let’s get back to the clause, “it would be more honest to leave rather than betray.”

Certainly Bishop Finn has given grave scandal to the people of his diocese, for a single thread of mismanagement that permitted a person with an admitted addiction to child pornography to circulate among Catholic children. A good percentage of Kansas City Catholics are outraged. Would it be more honest for Bishop Finn to leave the Roman Catholic Church? Would it be more honest for him to just leave the diocese? To be sure: I’m certainly not arguing for the man to be ejected into the Anglican Communion. But this would be an “unhelpful” comparison to the HLI spin on the Pope Benedict talk. Can one make a case for Pope Benedict suggesting Bishop Finn leave Catholicism? If one is prepared to take the point of scandal seriously and follow the HLI reasoning to a logical conclusion.

Or perhaps we’re talking about the betrayal of the political pro-life movement instead of the Church. Then, naturally, the comparison doesn’t fit and isn’t very helpful.

The deeper issue is really people we don’t like with whom we’re stuck. A lame duck bishop for sixteen years. Catholics who vote in contrary ways to us. People who don’t even argue the same positions we do on the core moral issues of the day. Lots of Catholics earnestly say that “Life” is the number one issue. But it’s really not. For Christians, faith is the core issue. Christians routinely and historically set aside their lives for the witness of the faith. And I think the matter of a Catholic chased out of the Church possesses a similar gravity to the ending of a human life. And if you don’t think that way, then compare to what Christ said in the Gospels about losing one’s life. And maybe that’s unhelpful for some readers. Just like the people who won’t leave the Church, you’re still going to have to wrestle with the reality of faith. Your own. Other people’s too.

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About catholicsensibility

Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
This entry was posted in bishops, Church News, Politics, sex abuse, The Blogosphere. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to An Unhelpful Comparison

  1. John McGrath says:

    The official Catholic church – the pope, the bishops and their obedient followers – have a hierarchy of value that they have made clear. Roughly, it is:

    – 1. Doctrinal conformity (binding). This is what makes a Catholic a Catholic. disagreement makes one a heretic.

    Certain moral and disciplinary positions have been raised to the level of doctrine and are therefore closed: women priests, priestly celibacy are among the disciplinary items. Progressives do not accept the disciplinary items as doctrinal.

    Conservatives tend to want to protect the church from any “scandal (even when real) because scandal may lead the faithful to question doctrines and criticism is of the church is normally just prejudice against the church.

    – 2. Morally forbidden serious acts (binding), starting with murder, into which they fold all abortions at all stages.

    Some progressives use the brain wave criterion to determine when an abortion is allowable for any reason: brain waves appear roughly around the 24th to 26th week). After that early period many progressives will allow for abortion to save the mother’s life or to prevent serious harm to her. In effect this is the abortion law in the UK.

    Child sex abuse is morally forbidden and reprehensible but in the case of clergy this sin must be handled with discretion in order to protect the church, which is surrounded by intellectually hostile forces which will use anything to discredit the church and its pure doctrines.

    Performing forbidden morally serious acts makes a person a sinner, not a heretic.

    – 3. Morally recommended actions, including Catholic Social Teaching (recommended but not binding).

    – 4. Forbidden moral acts of a less serious nature such as overeating or careless lack of kindness (binding but not a serious problem).

    Progressives often argue moral equivalency for 1 and 3, making them of equal gravity.

    • John McGrath says:

      Forgot to mention :

      The official church has raised the moral issue of artificial birth control to a matter of absolute doctrine, forbidding it even under the rule of choosing the lesser of two evils. Progressive do not accept this stance as doctrinal.

  2. Todd says:

    As a progressive, I would hesitate to equate 1 and 3 as presented here. But there are some Catholics who might tend to that. More progressives would consider the potential effects, say, of a GOP platform on health care that would cause a significant uptick in procured abortions by enlarging the number of people in poverty. There is an equivalence, say, in permissive and non-criminal abortion legislation and economic policy that “encourages” abortions, given what we know about human behavior.

    I’ve also encountered a number of pro-life Catholics who have no problem with remote cooperation with, say, a nation like China where abortion is compulsory, rather unlike any mainstream political position taken here. At least since Mr Nixon.

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