Thursday, October 13, 2005

Theologically illiterate

It's deeply unfortunate and a bit embarassing when someone who thinks they know something about something doesn't know much about that something, but still takes up bully pulpits made available to them in order to (unintentionally) reveal their ignorance.

As with pretty much all somethings, this happens in matters theological and ecclesial, from all sorts of perspectives. Because of google news alert, today I found an example of this from a self-described progressive Catholic.

Writing in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, freelance writer Maureen Conners Badding explained why some "progressive Catholics" have spiritual fatigue.

It's all because of that oppressive and stuck-in-the-past hierarchy, you see. A hierarchy which (here comes the list of standard complaints):
  • refuses to ordain married men or women;
  • equates homosexuality with pedophilia;
  • refuses to allow the use of condoms to try to prevent the spread of AIDS;
  • prohibits birth control;
  • migrates away from Vatican II;
  • opposes yoga;
  • prohibits most forms of fertility treatment.
Ms. Conners Badding at one point (with regard to the final complaint) states, "Frankly, I have no idea if this is a new policy, because I've never heard it discussed at Sunday Mass."

That pretty much says it all. Ms. Conners Badding doesn't appear to have spent much time investigating the Church's rationale for its teachings, apart from what she hears in Sunday morning homilies. And frankly, that's pretty evident from her complaints. In some cases, she makes straightforward mistakes (e.g. positing that the Church equates homosexuality and pedophilia). In others, she is more basically unaware of the respective theological argumentation and discussion. For instance, she makes the oft-repeated call for the ordination of married men and women, ostensibly to solve a clergy shortage. Now, those in the know know that the shortage is not universal, even in our country; there are many dioceses here (and in other nations) that are doing quite well in vocations. Furthermore, one need only have some basic awareness of the state of ministry in other communities to know that opening up the ministry in the manner Ms. Conners Badding would prefer has done nothing to alleviate their clergy shortage.

She also claims that the Church has moved away from Vatican II. Based on her editorial, I seriously doubt that she has ever read the conciliar texts, nor that she has much more than a rudimentary understanding of the Council. If she did, she would know that Pope Benedict was an important theologian at the Council, and that he (like his predecessor) have often called for a full and complete implementation of the Council's vision. To state that the Church is moving away from the Council simply betrays her ignorance of that momentous event.

Much more could be said about the specific errors in this article, but there are two broad comments I'd like to conclude with.

First, Ms. Conners Badding's article indicates that rather than form her conscience and faith according to the teachings of the Church in order to serve and evangelize our society (as Vatican II intended [cf. The Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity for starters]), she has formed her faith and conscience according to secular standards and has (attempted to) judge her church on that basis. That is, she's got it backwards. I've seen this far too often: people use their own standards of right and wrong (thinking that those standards are self-evident, when in fact that are profoundly problematic) to judge the Church. Such an attitude is many things, but Catholic it is not.

Second, Ms. Conners Badding evidently does not believe what the Church believes about its identity. The Catholic Church claims that it was founded by Jesus Himself, and that He has sent the Holy Spirit to protect the Church from teaching error. In other words, the Church's self-understanding is that her teachings are true, not because of the genius of the hiearchy, but because of the grace and mercy of God.

Ms. Conners Badding obviously does not believe this about the Church. My question to her would be simple: then why be Catholic? Why bother belonging to a religious community if its teachings are not God's teachings? Struggling with particular teachings is one thing; a Catholic failing to believe that the her own Church's teachings come from Jesus is something else entirely.

My prayer and request is that anyone who struggles with a particular church teaching do two things: first, remember and rejoice in the fact that the Church is protected by the Spirit from error; and two, spend some time in prayer and study to better understand whatever teaching bothers them.

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