The following letter (italics) was recently submitted to a conservative Roman Catholic U.S. website in an honest effort to gain some insight on several distinct politically motivated issues. Whether or not you agree with the viewpoints in this letter is not the issue. Nor is a question of who is right and who is wrong about the various issues facing many Roman Catholics today. What is of concern is that so many adult Christians seem to submit to the opinion of others rather than searching their own hearts through the gifts of the Holy Spirit which they received following the Sacrament of Confirmation. Surely God’s gift of faith is unique to each individual and can only be celebrated when we learn to trust directly in our hearts rather than by simply abrogating this gift to others? To do so will only lead to a continued and destructive form of co-dependency. Remember God accepts us where we are - not where others would have us be.
I am a relatively new Catholic (2 years confirmed on May 1, so please be patient with me), and am running into some confusion over the correct balance between obedience to the Bishops and where prudential judgment comes into play when it comes to the matter of finding political solutions to problems. I tend to run into Catholics, either in person or online, who fall into one of two categories: (a) Everything the Bishop says or supports is 100% gospel truth and you are not Catholic if you don't automatically jump on the bandwagon of whatever the Bishop is promoting right now, and (b) Everything the Bishop says is just a suggestion and you can make your own judgment about these things. Position B is obviously wrong. No question in my mind on that one. But where I am confused is on Position A and to what degree we are to submit our own logic and reason to the opinion of the Bishop on political matters when you disagree with the manner of implementation of our moral principles. I was under the impression that the Church and the Bishops are to teach the moral principles that should undergird our solutions, but that the actual work of solving these problems falls to the laity and implementation itself is a matter of prudential judgment so long as we are working within the boundaries of those moral teachings. I've read quite a few things lately that suggest (or flat-out say) that this is wrong and that we are supposed to submit ourselves to whatever the Bishops think on matters of implementation.
Now, for me issues such as abortion and SSM are no- brainers. The Bishops teach that intentionally killing an unborn person is wrong. Therefore abortion must always be wrong because it is the intentional killing of an unborn person.That's a pretty direct correlation. Same thing for the issue of same-sex unions. But when it comes to other political matters I get very confused.
For example (and this is only one of many I could give), the current illegal immigration debate. The Bishops have lent their support to the current "comprehensive" bill. Now as far as the morals undergirding their position, I agree completely that all people have intrinsic value and should be treated with dignity and respect. So I can agree that we should not be kicking down doors and dragging kids out of their parents arms and I also agree that no entity should interfere with the Church's ability to minister to people, regardless of their status.
But when it comes to supporting this bill, I have issues. First, I don't think it's a good idea to do "comprehensive" anything. Look at Obama-care for the prime example of the kind of gigantic mess these types of bill cause. There are also, historically, lots of awful little surprises tucked into these type of bills that come back to bite us eventually and has we known that x was snuck in there we might not have supported it. In this particular bill it's just come out that there is a biometric database of all US citizens that would be implemented if the bill passes and is signed into law. Hello, Big Brother! Second, I would rather this be done in pieces and in the daylight- instead of in back rooms between "gangs" where who knows who is even writing these bills, and we all know no one reads them- so we can see what is actually passing, and make sure it is actually implemented.
So I guess my question is am I a bad Catholic because I would see this problem be solved in pieces instead of defaulting to the "comprehensive" position of the Bishops? I have these same views on a lot of other subjects as well. Economics and the reach and role of government are other areas in which I struggle with their conclusions. I agree with the moral premises that the Bishops teach us (keeping the well being of the poor front and center) but I disagree with the various methods of implementations that they endorse and I think that some of what they endorse does not help the poor in the long term and undermines our position and our charitable mission in communities and the lives of individuals. Is is OK for me to see the implementation part a different way or does that make me a bad Catholic or a cafeteria Catholic?
Sorry to write a book for you. But I truly want to be loyal to the teachings of Our Lord and His Church and in this area I am really struggling to see things clearly.
Thanks so much for your time!
Again, as a reminder, you may not agree with the writer’s position on some of the issues, but he/she has every right and duty under canon law, to express them without fear of condemnation. My sole purpose in bringing this matter to the fore is to ask ‘why, as adults, does your religious institution not teach us to rely on our unique gift of the Holy Spirit?’
“But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” John 14:26
Roman Catholic adults should be encouraged to trust in their hearts, the place where their treasure lies. See also 1 Corinthians 13:11. All Church teachings and other trusted teachers who understand this can be helpful, but until such time that we have come to rely on ‘the God within’ we probably have not learned to trust in God as well as our hearts.
For those who feel they must obey church teachings or have difficulty accepting them remember that Vatican II established for the first time in church’s history, that an informed conscience will always take primacy over any church teachings. As such Roman Catholics are asked to discover the depths of their own conscience. To obey one’s conscience is the very dignity of the human person; according to it the human person will be judged. See Pastoral Constitution of the Church in the Modern World n. 16 and the Declaration on Religious Freedom, nn. 2,3,14.
Great spiritual teachers, be they bishops, deacons, Popes, etc. will always tell you “except for our Creator we as adults cannot expect others to direct or be responsible for our spiritual growth and development.
Addendum August 26, 2013:
Addendum August 26, 2013:
Jesus’ notion of the Kingdom is a different understanding of freedom than that of most religious and secular leaders today. We think of freedom as not having to do what we don’t want to do, but divine freedom is the capacity to be fully who we already are, to develop our inherent and true nature, as much as possible—really wanting to do what we know we have to do. Only God can create that freedom inside of us. Love can only proceed from such inner freedom. A mustard seed, yeast, and light—that all develop from within—are some of Jesus’ central metaphors for this freedom-loving Reign of God. Paul just calls it “grace.” For him grace and freedom are almost the same thing (see Ephesians 2:7-10, Galatians 5:1). And I would add to that “heaven.” Freedom, grace, and heaven are the same thing.
Secular freedom only creates individualists and private freedom, but not a society. It never gets around to the common good, which is a central principle of the Gospel and Catholic social teaching, which instead demands from you and demands for others—while ironically giving you all that you really need. Then you become who you most deeply and truly are, a member of a family, a neighborhood, a society, and a planet. If you are trying to “go to heaven” alone or on your own merits, you are preparing for a place other than heaven. - Fr. Richard Rohr, OFM