Monday, February 16, 2009

Church in the Cross Hairs

From subtle digs to downright vicious attacks, the secular media often fires pot shots at the Catholic Church these days. Certainly some of the past criticism of Church officials has been deserved, but I am talking about attacks on the fundamental teachings of the Catholic Church regarding faith and morals. Publicity on the Church’s stance against abortion, same-sex marriage, embryonic stem cell research, and euthanasia have placed the Church in the cross hairs of liberal self-centered thinkers.

Especially disconcerting is the lack of support for Church teaching from Catholics themselves. We all know about the Kennedys, Pelosis, and Bidens who proclaim their Catholicism and somehow try to justify their anti-Catholic positions. The damage they do goes way beyond what they generate through legislation. Their public voice lends legitimacy for other misguided Catholics to share their views.

On February 3, 2009, the South Bend Tribune published an opinion piece submitted by an unfortunately typical contemporary Catholic. The writer’s name is Joseph Zavisca. This was more than a succinct letter to the editor. It was nearly a quarter page in length and published as a "Viewpoint". Whether the content expresses the views of the editorial board of the newspaper is unknown, but I would be surprised if it did not.

The piece was titled Catholic leaders out of touch with beliefs of the flock. That heading alone says much about the problem we face. How did we reach this point where some Catholics believe that Church teaching should be determined by the “beliefs of the flock”? The real problem is that the flock is out of touch with the Church.

I am going to refrain from further use of the writer’s name so as not to give his opinion any more credibility than it deserves. His only qualification listed was that he is a resident of South Bend. He began by quoting Father Jay Scott Newman, the South Carolina priest who told his parishioners they “should refrain from receiving Holy Communion if they voted for Barack Obama because the Democratic president-elect supports abortion.” The writer goes on to say, “This is only a recent example of the ongoing attempts of the official church to insist that its followers subscribe to moral dictates more and more at odds with reality.”

That is quite a statement. The abortion reality is sinful intrinsic evil. How dare the Church insist that we be at odds with evil? I wonder if this writer ever stops to think about what he is saying. Does he believe that if enough people succumb to a sin, then the Church should reverse its teaching and make it okay? Granted, I do not know whether Father Newman went too far in saying Catholics who voted for Obama should not receive Holy Communion. Their culpability would seem to depend on individual factors not generally known. I am sure the good priest was trying to make a strong impression that being an accomplice to evil is a serious sin.

The writer goes on to rail against the Church teaching on artificial birth control saying it is “the same official church that still prohibits divorces, while providing annulments to anyone who wants one.” Statements like this exude ignorance. Annulments are not provided to anyone who wants one. Canon law regarding what constitutes a valid marriage is quite clear, and a marriage determined to be valid cannot be annulled. Of course, circumstances surrounding individual situations may fall into gray areas where tribunals must make judgment calls, but the oft-repeated tale of anyone with sufficient money being able to get an annulment is a lie. And regarding artificial birth control, all Christian denominations forbid it prior to 1930. Again, the writer believes that because many have fallen into sin, it should now be acceptable, and apparently the majority of Protestant denominations would agree. Only the Catholic Church holds firm in her teaching and all Christians should heed that fact.

From the writer’s point of view, Church “rulings” are inconsistent. He says, “Divorce is prohibited but annulment is okay; they’ll still let you in the door and take your donations, but will not let you take communion if you vote for Obama (but only in certain places, not everywhere.) Trying to follow the logic or the sense of it all is difficult.” In reality, Church teaching is quite clear, but the human element makes the application uneven at times. Making sense of it all is not difficult if one sets aside his skepticism and accepts the fact that Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit to guide His Church to all truth, and what the Church binds here on earth will be bound in heaven.

Submitting to the Church should be a source of great comfort, not dismay. Understanding the reasonableness of Church teaching requires some effort on the part of each Catholic. Learning the history, reading the Church Fathers, studying the Scriptures, and growing in the Faith will eventually lead to the realization that the Catholic Church is divinely instituted and we have not been left as orphans to fend for ourselves.

Since the election where Catholics apparently voted in the majority for Obama, I have been trying to understand how contemporary Catholics, many of them seemingly good respectable Christians, justify their positions. The writer of this opinion piece provides some insight. He says he was raised Catholic and is “comforted by its rituals.” He says he worships as a Catholic and prays as a Catholic, “but the various moral dictates that the church ‘requires’ of those who call themselves Catholics hold no moral sway over me.”

Again, this is quite a statement. I am an American, but the laws of the land do not apply to me. I don’t have to pay taxes or obey the speed limit because the government holds no sway over me. Guess what? If you choose to ignore the dictates of the civil law, there will be consequences. Similarly, if you choose to ignore the dictates of the moral law as taught by the Church, you will also suffer consequences. One thing of which we can be certain in this world is the Catholic Church teaching on Faith and Morals. It is infallibly defined. Without that certainty, everything falls apart. We cannot even have confidence in the Scriptures without an infallible Church. Choosing to stand in opposition to that Church is spiritual suicide.

In his conclusion, the writer says the Church should be more concerned with the corporal works of mercy than abortion, birth control and divorce. In his mind, feeding the hungry, caring for the sick, and visiting the imprisoned is more important than protecting babies in the womb. To support his point, he ironically quotes Matthew’s Gospel where Jesus says, “What you did for the least of my people, you did for me.” He really needs to give that some more thought.