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At Vox Nova, Kelly Wilson has published an extended examination of the dilemma posed to those who find themselves struggling with Church teaching, whether because they authentically lack conviction or understanding or deal doubt from a more cynical place, as in the case of ideologically-driven op-ed columnists.

Importantly, Wilson begins by pointing out that “the Church is teacher even in those matters which do not demand the absolute assent of faith” (emphasis added). Even those things which lie, as readily admitted in many  a papal social encyclical, beyond the Magisterium’s strict sphere of competence are still of importance in the shaping of that much-vaunted individual conscience. What he’s getting at here is that Church teaching is more than a list of “do”s and “don’t”s, whether you ascribe to it or not; it’s more complicated (and more challenging).

With this in mind, Wilson responds more concretely to a recent editorial in which a prominent newspaper editor called upon his fellow Catholics to “just leave” the Church if they find themselves in disagreement with its teachings. Such a model, of course, recalls a consumeristic mindset (“unhappy with your insurance provider? Switch to us and we’ll lower your rate!”) and not the proper disposition toward membership in a religious body. But it’s wrong in the technicalities, too:

That those who “disagree with the Church’s teachings should leave the Church [and that] if they won’t go voluntarily, they should be expelled” is not what the Church asks for such persons. My question to Bruce Burgess (and it can extend to those who agree with him) surrounds why he has subordinated the teaching authority of the Church — why he has subordinated representatives of the Church’s teaching authority like the Canadian or German Bishops — to Bill Keller, a former editor of the New York Times.

[. . .] this is complicated territory. Several decades ago, the CDF revised the Profession of Faith to be taken by those identified in Canon Law. Unchanged was the first and longest paragraph, but after this, three further paragraphs were added. The first deals with teachings divinely revealed, and the second, with teachings proposed definitively (those inseparably connected with such divine revelation). The third paragraph deals with teachings neither divinely revealed, nor inseparably connected with revelation, but which nonetheless emerge from the authoritative exercise of the teaching office of the Roman Pontiff or College of Bishops. Ecclesiologists tend to use these added paragraphs as their framework for articulating gradations within Church teaching, or, to put differently, the weight with which a certain teaching is proposed.

What’s that? The Catholic Church assigns different weights to different teachings? And it distinguishes between assent of the intellect and assent of the will? That’s the kind of nuance you won’t find, unfortunately, in some of America’s “leading” publications.

Wilson concludes with a note of charity and a more serious summons than his interlocutors, who urge doubters to simply abjure their faith. He finishes:

Individual Catholics, instead of leaving the Church should, I think, use the occasions of their disagreements to reflect on the Church as the bride of Christ. [Commentators like Keller and Burgess] would have Catholic persons distance [themselves] from the Eucharist when the Church does not ask such a person for this. [They] have, I presume, unintentionally misrepresented Catholic teaching, but I will not make [their] mistake and suggest you leave.

Read the rest of his essay here.

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