Thursday, February 19, 2004

Who's got the key?
(A followup to Bishop Burke's Wake Up Call [Jan 23])

How do some Catholics justify supporting a pro-abortion candidate? What is the thought process that allows people to call themselves Catholic, yet live in defiance of Catholic teaching on such issues as contraception? The difference between a cafeteria Catholic who chooses which teachings he will follow and the Protestant who self-interprets Scripture to suit his own beliefs is that the Protestant is not a hypocrite.

Whether the topic is Marian dogmas, infant Baptism, Real Presence, purgatory or whatever, nearly every apologetic discussion between Catholics and Protestants eventually turns to a question of Church authority. Does the Magesterium of the Catholic Church have the authority to speak for God? Protestants say no. But Catholics who ignore Catholic doctrine are also saying no. Expressing disagreement with Church teaching implies the belief that the Church is wrong about some things.

While we would expect Protestants to deny the authority of the Catholic Church, Catholics who defy Church authority are also protesting. They are pretending to be something they really aren't. They make a Profession of Faith on Sundays expressing belief in one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church. Their actions, however, express doubt in the authority of that Church to speak truth. They may call themselves Catholic, but they are in reality behaving as Protestants.

It is important to understand where the Church gets its authority to speak for God. And it is equally important to understand the implication of denying the inerrancy of Church-defined dogma. If one accepts the Bible as the inspired Word of God, then he can know that Jesus Christ was God, and that he established a Church. (Matthew 16: 16-19) Jesus tells us the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against his Church, and He gives Peter the 'keys to the kingdom of heaven.' He tells Peter, "Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." (NAB)

One sufficiently catechized in his faith, will understand the significance of giving the keys, a symbol of authority, to Peter. A parallel passage in Isaiah 22: 15-25 tells the story of Shebna who held the office of 'Master of the Palace'. The 'Master of the Palace' was a prime minister who ran the day-to-day operation of the kingdom. Shebna disgraced his master's house and his authority was transferred to Eliakim. Verse 22 says, "I will place the key of the House of David on his shoulder; when he opens, no one shall shut, and when he shuts, no one shall open." (NAB)

Jesus is clearly transferring authority to Peter making him prime minister, not of an earthly kingdom as Eliakim, but rather of the heavenly Kingdom. Even marginal Catholics must accept the fact that Pope John Paul II is the 264th successor to the chair of Peter and thereby possesses the authority of the keys. To bolster that authority, Jesus promised He would send the Holy Spirit to guide His Church to all truth (John 16: 12-13). The Bible also refers to the Church as the pillar and foundation of truth. (1 Tim 3:15) How presumptuous of anyone to look at two thousand years of God-granted authority and say, "I disagree."

And yet, that is precisely what many Catholics do today when they say, "The pope doesn't understand; there is nothing wrong with birth control" or, "I don't like abortion, but I support a woman's right to choose" or, "we should allow women to be priests", or "I don't need to confess these things to a priest; that's between me and God." Even if one finds a way to skew his conscience into thinking the Church is wrong, the Lord's statement about binding and loosing should dispel any feeling of safety. If further confirmation is needed, Jesus told his apostles and their successors, "Whoever listens to you, listens to me. Whoever rejects you, rejects me. And whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me." (Luke 10: 16)

Like Protestants, cafeteria Catholics should also think about the implications of considering some Church doctrine to be in error. To reject the authority of the Church is to reject the authority of Scripture. It was bishops of the Catholic Church who determined which of the early Christian writings were inspired by God. Many claimed to be inspired, but only those accepted by the Church became the New Testament. Jesus promised to deliver truth through His Church. If the Church is capable of error in matters of faith, then erroneous writings could have also been included in Scripture. If we question the validity of the New Testament, all of Christianity begins to unravel.

We don't need to do that. Rest assured, the Bible is the inspired Word of God, but realize we are dependent on an infallible Church to know it. Like Protestantism, cafeteria Catholicism is not a viable option. It is untenable. Either we believe all Catholic doctrine or there is no reason to believe any. The Catholic Church has been given the authority to set the rules in matters of faith and moral responsibility. How sad that some Catholics become so incredulous when a priest or bishop rebukes them for acting in opposition to Church teaching. There is no room for compromise here.