Is the Catholic Church showing a sincere and admirable respect for the free will of individuals and encouraging personal responsibility or is she unnecessarily turning away her members who suffer a great degree of doubt about certain Church teachings?
Steve Shiffrin’s article at Mirror of Justice points to some of the many voices encouraging Catholics to leave if they don’t believe:
Placing particular emphasis on the gay marriage issue, John J. Myers, the Archbishop of Newark, New Jersey, maintained in a pastoral letter here that Catholics who cannot assent to the Church’s teachings on marriage and the family “must in all honesty and humility refrain from receiving Holy Communion until they can do so with integrity.” Many reacted to the letter as if it were unprecedented, but I do not believe it is.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in 2006 here insisted that “If a Catholic in his or her personal or professional life were knowingly and obstinately to reject the defined doctrines of the Church, or knowingly and obstinately to repudiate her definitive teaching on moral issues, however, he or she would seriously diminish his or her communion with the Church. Reception of Holy Communion in such a situation would not accord with the nature of the Eucharistic celebration, so that he or she should refrain.”
Pope Benedict XVI’s Angelus message this past Sunday seems to echo these sentiments:
Finally, Jesus knew that even among the twelve apostles there was one that did not believe: Judas. Judas could have left, as many of the disciples did; indeed, he would have left if he were honest. Instead he remained with Jesus. He did not remain because of faith, or because of love, but with the secret intention of taking vengeance on the Master. . . . The problem is that Judas did not go away, and his most serious fault was falsehood, which is the mark of the devil.
I pray that I will be always obedient to Church teaching, for it is as important as it can be difficult. As Leroy Huizenga said yesterday, ”Benedict praised her [Saint Hildegard of Bingen] for this in a catechetical talk, now published in a collection of his reflections titled Holy Women, saying that ‘the seal of an authentic experience of the Holy Spirit, the source of every charism’ such as St. Hildegard received shows above all ‘complete obedience to the ecclesial authority.’”
Yet, still, this encouragement to leave the Church is troubling to me.
While the pope denounced Judas for staying while not believing, he also made a distinction in his Angelus message between believing and understanding. Quoting St. Augustine, he said:
Do you see how Peter, by the grace of God, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, has understood? . . . He does not say we have understood and then we believed, but we believed and then we understood. We have believed in order to be able to understand; if, in fact, we wanted to understand before believing, we would not be able either to understand or to believe.
Many a Catholic—especially many converts, but cradle Catholics as well—who previously denied certain Church teachings, came to find out that the denial was based on a misunderstanding of what the Catholic Church actually teaches. But if it weren’t for the fact that these people stayed in the Church despite not understanding, let alone believing, it’s hard to see how they would ever have come in line with Church teaching.
How are those members of the Catholic Church who now reject Church teaching on contraception, same-sex relations, women ordination, etc. ever to come home again if we kick them to the curb?
God forbid they end up like Judas.