Charting A Moral Stance


Some forty years after Vatican II, Catholic newspapers are still plagued by the question in letters to the editor as to whether there is salvation outside the Church. Usually it is laypeople who insist that only their own co-believers can reach salvation or can benefit from Christ’s redemption. This preoccupation with other people’s spiritual life is becoming almost compulsive in the Church. And it is reaching a heightened sensibility among the American bishops who have become virtual employees of the Republican party, actually encouraging if not demanding that “moral Catholics” had to vote against Obama. When a majority of Catholics supported the Democrats, the bishops were stunned. One said it was an example of self interest winning out over social morality that is people were more concerned about jobs and security than abortion, stem cell research and gay marriages. The bishops have turned against the president, even though the most liberal state abortion law in the country was signed by then Republican Governor Ronald Reagan in California. When Notre Dame University invited Reagan back, and made a big celebration marking the anniversary of the film about Notre Dame coach Knute Rockne, not a single bishop rebelled at the invitation. Now right wing Catholics have deluged that University for inviting Obama and giving him an honorary degree. The Church and other fundamentalist groups are creating all sorts of delays over the secretary designate of Health and Human Services because she is a Catholic and yet favors the right to choose. When Clinton nominated for the same post, Donna Shalala, a nominal Catholic who favored the right to choose, no opposition was forthcoming. The bishops just seem to have it in for Obama.

In order to make it up the Church’s career ladder, priests must toe the narrow line of the restoration popes—John Paul II and Benedict XVI. They wish to restore the Church as it was, before Vatican II. Actually Pius XII was more liberal than these devotees of the past. What is troubling the hierarchy, especially in the Curia, is the notion that the Western world is becoming increasingly secular. The reasons are rampant consumerism, atheism, and philosophical indifference. Even once orthodox Catholic countries like Ireland, Spain, and Poland are moving in those directions, it is alleged. But the real reason is the Church is less relevant. Because priests have to pass so many litmus tests to become bishops they are increasingly out of touch with their parishes and dioceses. The major Catholic television and radio network, EWTN, is to the right of Opus Dei which sees heresy in the least doctrinal deviation.

But the real threat is conscience, the right of people to make up their own minds—a right upheld by Vatican II and by St. Thomas Aquinas, the greatest theologian of the medieval Church. Now the Gallup foundation is showing that fewer Catholics in the United States believe in the Catholic hierarchy’s position on a number of moral issues than do non-Catholics! Even with regular church going Catholics, 24 percent of them find abortion morally acceptable, 53 percent find embryonic stem cell research acceptable, 53 percent approve of premarital sex, and 48 percent felt that having a baby out of wedlock is acceptable. The response of orthodox commentators is that there is obviously a “failure to catechize.” One must re-examine one’s conscience—that is re examine it until one reaches the same conclusion as the hierarchy.

Recently, convert Tony Blair in England noted that Catholics as a group do not have the anti-homosexual views of the Holy See, and he urged the pope to re-examine his position. One spokesman for the Vatican has said the pope is not anti-homosexual. It is just that homosexuals are inherently disordered. Gosh, why would they take umbrage at that characterization? The response of one commentator, George Weigel, is that Blair was improperly catechized before he was admitted to the Church. There it is, that word again. And he blames the bishop of Westminster in England for Blair’s ignorance.

A good friend of mine was pastor of a church that had a banner over its door—“Welcome to All.” I told him that he should add “Except gays, divorced, those engaged in contraception etc.” I preferred the banner over a Catholic church door in Washington DC—“Welcome all sinners.” In any case, I think the right to conscience is in good shape in America, and although we may be commercial and worldly, we are still spiritual and humanitarian. And that is pretty good.

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