Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Are Catholics catholic?

People ask if I'm conservative or liberal (in terms of my views and opinions). I reply that I am Catholic. Each person assumes something oddly different from that statement, and pretty much all are wrong. Some equate that with "conservative". Others think it means "republican". One friend was astonished to find that I was not a creationist. "But you said you're Catholic!" he said. Very few people, however, care to ask anything deeper.

First of all, note that I'm saying "Catholic", not "catholic". The word "catholic" has sort of fallen out of use these days, although I would claim that to be "Catholic" implies that you are "catholic", but not necessarily the other way around. The dictionary entry for "catholic" says:

1. Universal or general; as, the catholic faith.

2. Not narrow-minded, partial, or bigoted; liberal; as, catholic tastes.

3. Of or pertaining to, or affecting the Roman Catholics; as, the Catholic emancipation act.

So what does it mean to say you are Catholic? Nancy Pelosi and Joe Biden would tell you they're Catholic, but what they call Catholic isn't in keeping with the Magisterium (AKA teachings of the Catholic Church). Fr. Richard Rohr wold tell you he is Catholic and in union with the Magisterium, but even a cursory look at his writings/sermons convinces me that he is not (in union with the Magisterium).

Would I call these people Catholic? They are baptized into the Church and so they are themselves Catholic, but I wouldn't call their views Catholic. What I mean by a Catholic point of view is that one's views are in alignment with the Magisterium.

Does that mean that people with "Catholic" views are little robots, programmed by the Pope? Quite the contrary! As I stated above, such people are also "catholic" (in the sense of the first two definitions). First off, the views of the Church are not arbitrary, but are based on reasoning from principles. Someone who wishes to know the teaching on euthanasia, for instance, can access Catechism of the Catholic Church and under Respect for Human Life we find:


2276 Those whose lives are diminished or weakened deserve special respect. Sick or handicapped persons should be helped to lead lives as normal as possible.

2277 Whatever its motives and means, direct euthanasia consists in putting an end to the lives of handicapped, sick, or dying persons. It is morally unacceptable.

Thus an act or omission which, of itself or by intention, causes death in order to eliminate suffering constitutes a murder gravely contrary to the dignity of the human person and to the respect due to the living God, his Creator. The error of judgment into which one can fall in good faith does not change the nature of this murderous act, which must always be forbidden and excluded.

2278 Discontinuing medical procedures that are burdensome, dangerous, extraordinary, or disproportionate to the expected outcome can be legitimate; it is the refusal of "over-zealous" treatment. Here one does not will to cause death; one's inability to impede it is merely accepted. The decisions should be made by the patient if he is competent and able or, if not, by those legally entitled to act for the patient, whose reasonable will and legitimate interests must always be respected.

2279 Even if death is thought imminent, the ordinary care owed to a sick person cannot be legitimately interrupted. The use of painkillers to alleviate the sufferings of the dying, even at the risk of shortening their days, can be morally in conformity with human dignity if death is not willed as either an end or a means, but only foreseen and tolerated as inevitable Palliative care is a special form of disinterested charity. As such it should be encouraged.

Here we see not just "yes" or "no" but what kinds of acts are considered morally acceptable and unacceptable and by what principles the decision is based. So the Catholic should understand and think about this position. In order to disagree, one must either reject the principle (all human life deserves respect) or the logic (directly killing a person because he is handicapped is unjust because it denies his intrinsic right to life). Note that the position is "catholic", taking into account the responsibility to respect life but also the burden of caring for the dying and the appropriate use of medicine to balance these principles. You have to use your brain to be Catholic.

Secondly, it is possible to accept these teachings and be extremely "liberal" or "conservative" on many issues that are not so cut-and-dried. Gun control, for example, or health care reform or the environment. I was involved in a lively debate today about the disposition of the Guantanamo Bay prisoners. I would consider the participants all to be "Catholic" in their views, yet there are legitimate differences in our positions based on principles of public safety vs. individual rights, responsibilities of government to the governed, etc.

So, far from being "conservative" or "liberal", or being "programmed" or "mindless", or "anti-science", I think Catholics are the most "catholic" people around.


Once again I have nothing to argue with.

I do wish many people who are Catholic by way of identity and baptism, would make an effort to be Catholic by way of living and learning and understanding what a Catholic ought to know.

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