A friend of mine got involved in a conversational thread on Facebook in which several participants were supposedly citing a recent Angelus Message by Pope Benedict, claiming that the Holy Father was telling people who disagree with Church teaching that they should leave the Church. Looking at the sources cited in the thread, this was an interpretation given the Holy Father’s message by a Monsignor Ignacio Barriero, head of the Rome Bureau of Human Life International. A local priest got involved in the thread with his opinions about Catholics and their obligation to support laws prohibiting civil marriage to same-sex couples. A lot of people were speaking for the Church. But were they? Anyway, here is my letter back to my friend. I am no position, myself, to speak for the Church, of course and make no claims to. On the other hand, as I point out in the letter, I think that until and unless those who can speak for the Church demand that civil marriage be denied all those (including non-Catholics) entering into second marriages without annulments, there is an inconsistency in any Church policy that would demand Catholics oppose the legalization of same-sex unions. This inconsistency can be blamed only on political opportunism and/or social prejudice. But of course the bigger question is how free are we to disagree with Church policies and still be Catholic.
Monsignor Ignacio Barriero of Human Life
International's Rome Bureau.
I think fundamental problem is the forum in which these matters are being discussed. A Facebook thread or a chatroom or some such forum is not a profitable opportunity to discuss Church teaching as by their nature Facebook pages or selective chatrooms tend to draw like-minded people who have their opinions but who are not qualified to speak authoritatively for the Church. They may cite the Catechism or papal documents or other reliable sources, but invariably they cite them out of context. It cannot but be otherwise as the “context” of our Catholic doctrines are two millennia of History where there is a very rich and incredibly varied range of theological opinions on practically every issue with only a handful truly resolved by definitive proclamation. The presence in a thread of a priest such as “Father X” or any other priest—or individual bishop—for that matter is no guarantee that his contribution accurately reflects Church teaching. I think “Father’s X’s” failure to make a clear distinction between Divine Law (and what it says about same-sex unions) and Civil Law (and its very different role and obligations) is an indication of that. Father “X’s” position that Catholics must insist that the civil law proscribe same-sex marriage would demand also that we not only outlaw same-sex relations, but adultery, fornication, and masturbation. It would also demand that we outlaw heterosexual marriages that involve one or both parties having been previously married and not having had their marriages annulled by the Catholic Church regardless of the religion (or lack of religion) of the parties to the marriage. It is based on the presupposition that the civil law is not to provide order in society and protect citizens from conflicts impinging on their rights and clarifying demands on citizens for their duties to the common good, but to reinforce the Divine Law (according to the teaching of a particular religious tradition) and require individuals to conform their lives to a particular set of religious principles. There have been times and places (Ireland, Italy, Spain, Malta) in the past—and not the distant pass—where the pressure of the Catholic Church has indeed proscribed divorce and thus remarriage but the abolition of those laws with the tacit allowance of the Church—or only the most pro-forma objections—indicate that since the Conciliar Decree, Dignitatis Humanae, the Church sees that coercive power over the consciences of individuals is not in its Divine Mission. In other words a consensus has emerged in the Church that while the law must protect rights and property, it is not up to the Church to insist that the civil laws legislate morality.
But let’s look for a moment at the broader issue in this thread. It seems to me that the question is whether or not those Catholics who do not give full assent of their will and intellect to the entire body of magisterial teaching still have a place in the Church or whether they should leave. What is required of a Catholic to believe? Historically the essential matters of faith are the Doctrines of the Trinity and the hypostatic union of the divine and human natures in the one person, Jesus Christ as well as the profession of the three historic Creeds—the Apostles, the Nicene, and the Athanasian. To this is often (and reasonably) added those decrees of the Councils that bear an anathema for those who deny the particular doctrine defined in the decree. To avoid scandal, of course, we should publically conform, that is not dissent from—the ordinary and extraordinary magisterium but not even assent all these doctrines are required. It may surprise readers but there are some doctrines taught by the Western Church such as original sin or purgatory on which the Eastern Church (including those parts of the Eastern Church united to the Holy See) remains silent because they are not held in the Eastern Church. Because the Eastern Church does not hold the Augustinian doctrine of original sin, its understanding of the Sacrament of Baptism is quite different than that of the Western Church. Yet no one asserts that those Eastern Christians in union with Rome who do not hold to these doctrines should leave the Roman Communion. As important as the Church’s teaching on the moral deficiency of non-marital sex or on contraception is, is it more essential that our teaching on purgatory or on original sin?
Let’s look for a moment at the papal statement that is cited. You can find it at http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/angelus/2012/documents/hf_ben-xvi_ang_20120826_en.html Is the Holy Father telling people that if they don’t agree with the Church’s teaching in its entirety to leave the Church? While Benedict has spoken in the past about a “smaller but more faithful Church” claiming that people who do not accept the magisterium in its entirety should leave the Church is one interpretation, but you can’t find it in the text of his Angelus message. This is, in fact, the interpretation given the Papal statement by Monsignor Ignacio Barreiro, the Director of Human Life International’s center in Rome. http://www.lifesitenews.com/news/pope-suggests-its-best-to-be-honest-and-leave-the-church-if-you-dont-believ Monsignor Barreiro’s position in Rome is held from Human Life International and not from the Holy See so he is no way qualified to speak for the Church or the Holy Father. Why does Monsignor Barreiro (or “Father X”) want people who do not accept the magisterium in its entirety to leave the Church? That is the question. This idea of a “pure” Church consisting only of the “elect” is another symptom of the survival of Jansenism among Catholic neo-traditionalists. It certainly cannot be attributed to the Holy Father as it itself violates the magisterium. I certainly think people should be honest about their failures to accept the fullness of Church teaching and they should be open to exploring more fully the teaching of the Church to better understand it, but that is not going to happen by leaving the Church. At the same time, some of those who would claim to accept the magisterium in its fullness need to look more deeply and honestly at themselves. My experience is that those who are most anxious to expel others from the communion of the Church, themselves are very quick to dismiss certain teachings of the magisterium as “optional.” I think in particular of those who supported our entry into the Iraq war which Pope John Paul had clearly and explicitly identified as failing to meet the criterion of a “just war,” or those who support the death penalty as it is used in the State of Virginia which clearly fails to meet the criterion for such punishment as defined in Evangelium Vitae. I cannot but think that most of those who decry dissent from “Church teaching” mean dissent from their opinions. But in the end, let us remember that the only ones with the authority to tell someone that they are no longer in communion with the Church are the Holy Father or the local ordinary. The rest of us should just pray, keep our mouths shut, and our hearts open.