August 16, 2019


When we disagree with the Church

Is it OK for Catholics to disagree with what the Catholic Church teaches? How much of what the Church teaches must we accept?

It’s quite clear that Catholics are affected by the values of our secular society. Most of those values are good, but often they are misguided.

Ruben Navarette is a columnist whose columns are syndicated in secular newspapers, including The Indianapolis Star. In his column that appeared in the July 21 issue of the Star, he lamented the results of a Pew Research Center poll that showed that more of the “religiously unaffiliated” said that our nation has a duty to welcome strangers than do Christians.

And, he said, “As a Catholic, the response from my tribe is heartbreaking” because only 50 percent of Catholics polled recognized a responsibility to accept refugees and 45 percent did not.

Yes, 45 percent of the Catholics polled somehow think that it’s OK not to welcome the stranger. How can that be?

We cannot understand how any followers of Christ can possibly think it’s OK to turn away refugees. Welcoming and caring for the stranger and alien is one of the most preached commandments in the Bible. It’s one of the things we are going to be judged on, along with feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked, and visiting the sick and those in prison. Jesus said very clearly that those who do not do that “will go off to eternal punishment” (Mt 25:46).

Navarette was right when he wrote, “The Bible is clear about how we ought to treat the stranger. There is no spin, hedging, mincing of words. This isn’t some nonbinding resolution that is open to interpretation. For people of faith, this is the word of God.” He quoted four Bible passages, but he could have quoted more than 100 others.

Christ’s message was really very simple. He said that it was summed up as love of God and love of neighbor, and everyone is our neighbor. There is no “Yes, but …” in any Catholic teaching about this.

But it’s not only what the Church teaches about welcoming the stranger and the alien with which many Catholics disagree. Another Pew Research Center poll showed that 61 percent of those who identified themselves as Catholics support civil marriage between people of the same sex.” The Church, and all Scripture, teach that any true marriage was designed by God as between one man and one woman.

God created man and woman as complementary and ordered them to be fruitful and multiply. Marriage, therefore, “is ordered toward the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1601).

We don’t need polls for us to know that many Catholics disagree with other teachings of the Church, including the use of contraceptives, sexual activities outside of marriage, cohabitation before or instead of marriage, in vitro fertilization, and various other things that the Catholic Church condemns but our society accepts.

So what about Catholics who disagree with the Church?

There is a hierarchy of dogmas in the Church. Catholics must believe the doctrines in the Nicene Creed and those that have been declared infallibly, such as the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption. Then they must accept other teachings of the Church that are contained in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

When Catholics are so affected by our secular culture that they don’t accept what the Church teaches, we believe that they at least have an obligation to learn why the Church teaches what it does. This is similar to what the Church teaches about following one’s conscience. While we must always obey our conscience, we’re also obliged to have a well-formed conscience.

Unfortunately, today many Catholics have grown up without receiving a good religious education. Many simply don’t know what the Church teaches and why it teaches it. Therefore, we suggest that those who disagree with the Church’s teachings check the Catechism of the Catholic Church or the United States Catholic Catechism for Adults to learn why the Church teaches what it does.

Of course, every Catholic family should also have a Catholic Bible to learn what Jesus taught. We must conform our minds to his.

—John F. Fink

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