March 4, 2016


When Catholics disagree with Church teaching

The Catholic Church in this country has a serious problem: a sizeable percentage of Catholics disagree with its position when it comes to enforcing its teachings. This has been occurring more frequently as our society continues to grow more secular, and should not be surprising since high-profile Catholics in the U.S., including politicians and celebrities, have publicly done this for decades.

It is seen in some court cases that question attempts by Catholic schools or parishes to hold employees to stipulations of their employment contracts that require them to live by Catholic moral teachings. That means, for example, that teachers in Catholic schools may be terminated if they contract marriage with a same-sex partner, divorce and remarry without having previously received an annulment for the previous marriage, or cohabit with a partner outside of marriage.

When Catholic schools have tried to enforce those contacts agreed to by employees, they are often taken to court. The problem arises when Catholics and non-Catholic Church employees disagree with the Church’s moral teachings.

This whole matter might have reached its apex last year when more than 100 Catholics signed a full-page advertisement in the San Francisco Chronicle asking Pope Francis to replace San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone for characterizing sex outside of marriage and homosexual relations as “gravely evil.” This attitude, the ad said, fostered “an atmosphere of division and intolerance.”

A more recent case occurred in Washington, D.C. A pastor there fired a part-time paid cantor when he learned that the cantor was in a same-sex marriage. Again, there was an uproar against the pastor among parishioners.

It seems logical that a Church and its institutions should be able to expect its employees to live in accordance with its teachings. That doesn’t mean that employees should be fired for minor matters; after all, we are all sinners. But it does mean that employees must not flout the Church’s teachings.

We thought that Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl made a good distinction when he discussed the firing of that cantor in a same-sex marriage. He acknowledged that we are all sinners, but said that there’s a difference between someone who struggles to live in accordance with Church teaching, and someone who openly “insists that they are right and the Church is wrong.”

Cardinal Wuerl wrote on his blog, “In the face of such irreconcilable differences, it is not discrimination or punishment to say that continued ministerial service is not possible.”

It’s one thing to succumb to temptation or concupiscence. It’s quite another to insist that a lifestyle incompatible with Catholic teachings is acceptable and must be condoned.

There was a time—and it wasn’t that long ago—that it would have been amazing to see Catholics criticize an archbishop for declaring that sex outside of marriage and homosexual relations are gravely evil. That’s not just Archbishop Cordileone’s opinion; that’s what the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches, and what the Church has always taught.

But that clearly is no longer what a sizeable percentage of Catholics believe. Especially younger Catholics, who have been indoctrinated by our secular society into believing that all views must be tolerated, and that the only real sin is intolerance.

Yes, intolerance or discrimination toward another individual is a sin. But that doesn’t mean that we must tolerate all views. That’s relativism, the belief that there is no such thing as absolute truth.

Obviously, the Church isn’t getting its teachings across to all Catholics, let alone non-Catholics. Somehow, it must evangelize its own, explaining what the Church teaches and why it does so. Too many Catholics have never been catechized, and don’t understand the Church’s teaching on numerous divisive issues.

One of those divisive issues is the mandate that Catholic institutions must provide contraceptives, abortifacients and sterilization as part of health care coverage for its employees. There are Catholics who think this is a small matter, and don’t understand how serious the Church’s challenge is. The wrong decision by the U.S. Supreme Court could bankrupt groups like the Little Sisters of the Poor.

The Church clearly faces steep challenges in today’s growing secularized culture to get its message across in a convincing manner. Many Catholics also have a superficial view about what Pope Francis is teaching, at times thinking that he is changing Church teachings to make them more compatible with secular society. He is not.

The Church needs a strategy to combat this serious problem.

—John F. Fink

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