This post could easily become a Directory of sound Catholic Blogs, and their recent postings on recent attempts by certain people who allege that they are Catholics to drive the Church away from the Faith, and into line with their own opinions . . . but I’m not going to make it one, if only because (a) there are already several others who have done that extremely well, and (b) because posts over 250,000 words long become inconvenient !
So : I shall confine myself to directing your attention to three recent posts on this subject, by Mac, His Hermeneuticalness, and Fr Ray of Brighton – all of which I feel are (as is always the case with their posts) excellent and informative reading, and themselves have plenty of links to other posts - and a brilliant one on Sunday by Mary O'Regan which I had missed until Mac drew my attention to it on facebook.
What I want to add to the debate is simply an observation on the problem as seen by someone who has chosen to become a Catholic.
I became a Catholic a little while ago now : and the excellent priest and theologian who prepared me pointedly observed that my problem was not primarily in needing to learn about the Catholic Faith . . . it was about needing to learn about acceptance of the Catholic Faith. In other words, I didn’t need to believe the Faith because I was satisfied that it was right, but to believe it because I accepted it unquestioningly to be the revealed truth of God . . . and after suitable investigation, he was satisfied that that was what I did, which was why I was received into the Church : a grace for which I shall ever continue to give thanks.
What worries me, though, is that I have now discovered that the Catholic Church seems to be full of people who want to make up their own minds about the Faith : are they satisfied with the Magisterium; do they unquestioningly accept the Church’s right to state the Faith as the truth of God and beyond question; or do they hold – as so many of them seem to – what is (as far as I can see) ultimately a Protestant belief that they have to be personally satisfied of the truth of a truth before they have to believe it ? *
I found myself recognizing that my own understanding of the Catholic Faith was that I had an innate belief in it; but that doing this inherently excluded any consideration of whether or not I happened to agree on rational grounds with any particular point . . . if I did not, the question was only whether or not I was prepared to submit to Petrine Authority and remain Catholic, or whether I wanted to hold up my own decision-making process as superior to that of the Pope . . . and remain outside the Church.
For me, it was easy : I wanted – craved, if you like – authority, and was very much more than happy to recognize the authority of the Holy See . . . and to accept that if I disagree with it on any point, well then that is somewhere where I am wrong, and that I must accept that – actually, if not necessarily gladly.
As regular readers may have realized before, I do happen to believe that it might very well be both judicious and expedient for the Holy See to clarify the reasoning behind certain pronouncements, if only to avoid contention with, or misrepresentation by, an increasingly antipathetic world . . . but that’s a suggestion I make, diffidently, with the interests of the Church at heart. I make absolutely no suggestion that there is any obligation on the Holy Father, or the Church generally, to do so.
On the question of how my position affects me, let me – without going into details – give a fairly generalized example.
There is a case where I happen, on the basis of my own historical thinking, to be uncomfortable with the precise teaching of the Church on a point of moral theology . . . a discomfort which I know is shared by a number of entirely reputable – indeed distinguished – Catholic moralists. By my reasoning, I am satisfied that the matter in question is not (at least certainly) morally wrong, and thus inherently sinful; and, as I say, I know that I could advance a very good case for that being a probabilist, if not a probabiliorist case on good authority.
However, I also know that it is a point on which the Church’s traditional teaching at least appears to suggest that there is no scope for discussion.
Accordingly, I invariably and scrupulously confess any occasion on which I breach that teaching : because I would rather set forth my fault, in obedience to Holy Mother Church, than avoid doing so on the basis of what amounts to recourse to my own judgement . . . because it was precisely because I wanted to avoid that – as being in my own opinion a very dangerous way of trying to live my faith – that I became a Catholic in the first place.
As Ann Widdecombe observed, we converts have had – as a condition of joining the Church – to stand up and profess our belief in exactly what it believes, without reservation : which includes our belief in the Holy See’s absolute (and sole) right, and ability, to define and clarify the ‘Deposit of Faith’.
I suspect she’d agree with me that it might be no bad thing to require any and every person in the Catholic Church to profess that belief publicly at some point : and to point out that losing that belief implied that you were no longer a genuine Catholic.
Painful for them, perhaps; but there it is.
* Let me make it clear that I do not reprehend all other forms of Christianity, nor wish to appear to do so. The only point at issue here is whether these people can legitimately claim to be Catholics : not whether or not they may, even with their heterodox opinions, nonetheless still be perfectly good and sincere Christians. That is a wholly different question, and one which this post is not in any way about.