Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Foolable or Foolish Catholic?

Mirror of Justice offers "More from Robert George"

The gist:
Michael Perry is puzzled that I would propose a joint statement by Catholic scholars across the political spectrum affirming and defending the Church’s teaching on torture, the death penalty, abortion, and sexual morality. I’m puzzled that he’s puzzled. His perplexity arises from my inclusion of Catholic teaching on sexual morality. This teaching, he says, “lacks credibility” for most American Catholics. “Robby knows that very many of us cannot in conscience affirm that teaching.” Indeed, I do know (and regret) that. But I also know (and regret) that a great many American Catholics cannot in conscience affirm the Church’s teaching on the death penalty. They, too, observe that the teaching they reject lacks credibility for most Catholics in the United States. I also know (and regret) that there are many American Catholics who in conscience oppose the Church’s teachings on abortion, regarding it as a woman’s right. And I know (and regret) that there are many Catholics who in conscience oppose the Church’s teaching on torture, regarding torture as licit and possibly even required where resort to it is the only way to obtain urgent life-saving information from terrorists. Catholics who dissent from the Church’s teachings in any of these areas could say what Michael said: “Robby knows that very many of us cannot in conscience affirm the Church’s teaching on [fill in the blank], so why would he propose to include that teaching in a joint statement?”

There are Catholics—conservatives and Republicans as well as liberals and Democrats—who hold that it is permissible for them to dissent even from what the magisterium of the Church proposes as authoritative Catholic teachings. Michael is one. For him, the Church’s teachings on sexual morality are merely “official,” not authoritative. William F. Buckley, Jr. is another. For him, the Church’s developed teaching on the death penalty, for example, is “prudential” but not authoritative. He dissents. Despite the wide ideological gulf separating Michael and Bill, they are in the same camp in denying that Catholics are responsible to form their consciences in line with norms of morality proposed by the magisterium as binding (whether infallibly proposed or not). (This is not to suggest that the Church’s teachings on the death penalty are on the same plane of authority as her teachings on marriage and sexual morality. The latter teachings have been clear, firm, and constant over the centuries. Germain Grisez and others have argued that many of them are infallibly proposed by the universal ordinary magisterium pursuant to the criteria set forth in Lumen Gentium of the Second Vatican Council. This is plainly not true of the developed teaching on the death penalty.) But there are Catholics—liberals and Democrats as well as conservatives and Republicans—who take a different view. We understand the norms of Catholic faith as demanding from us assent of intellect and will to teachings proposed by the magisterium as binding. For most who share this understanding, assent is intellectually unproblematic, however much it may detract from our popularity in the social environment we inhabit or the “political circles” in which we travel. We are open to the teachings and find their point and justification intelligible and persuasive. We are not surprised to find them rationally defensible, since these are matters that the Church herself teaches can be understood by the light of natural reason, and we believe that the Holy Spirit guides the Church in ways that enable her to teach reliably on such matters.

Now there is no point here in rehearsing the argument between people in these two camps. That argument is interesting and important, to be sure, but it is beside the point of this discussion. (Anyone wishing to examine what has been said by leading theologians on the competing sides would do well to look at writings by Francis Sullivan and Germain Grisez. For those who prefer reading the works of law professors, John Noonan and John Finnis have written on the subject from opposing vantage points. In the course of analysis, they offer competing understandings of the development of the Church’s teaching on slavery, usury, religious freedom, etc.) The important thing here is simply to note the fact that there are two camps, but they do not divide along partisan or ideological lines. There are liberals and conservatives in both camps.

I don’t think it would add much value to our national politics for a group of Catholics including those who regard themselves as free to pick and choose among the authoritative (as I said, Michael would reject this term in favor of the term “official”) teachings of the Church on issues dividing secular liberals and conservatives to issue a joint statement. I do think, however, that Catholics who understand and affirm what I referred to as the “seamless garment” of Catholic moral teaching—that is, those who believe, as I believe, that the teachings across the spectrum of issues from those that vex most secular liberals to those that trouble many secular conservatives derive from the Church’s profound understanding of the dignity of the human person—can add something important to the national debate by laying aside partisan and ideological differences to affirm what we regard as the moral wisdom of the Church, regardless of whose partisan or ideological ox is being gored.
(emphasis in original)

The money quote:
Many secular liberals would, to be sure, be scandalized by what they would regard as the “intolerance” of Catholic liberals who joined our act of witness. Many secular conservatives would, no doubt, be annoyed by what they would view as the “soft-headedness” of Catholic conservatives in our group.

We Catholic liberals and conservatives could all be “fools for Christ” together.
Are we Foolable or Foolish Catholics? Do we place Christ at the center of our lives? Or do we push him aside for our own understanding of his role in our lives?

That's what Professor George is driving at. If we dissent from the authoritative teaching of the ordinary Magisterium of the Church, we're enthroning our own erroneous worldview instead of Christ. Let's accept it and stand together as the Fools Christ calls us to be. We'll all laugh together as Christ skewers our favorite political issue. The roast will be delicious.

To whom shall we go? Our savior awaits our answer.