Sed Contra: Who Are We?

A few days ago I witnessed an event that made me even more grateful for a magazine named Crisis.   “We Are Church” is a coalition of twenty dissident Catholic organizations that want a married clergy, a female clergy, homosexual rights, birth control, abortion, and, get this, the popular election of all bishops.

Those who spoke on behalf of the coalition at the press conference all seemed like nice people. But that’s not the point—and we must speak plainly here: In the name of “seeking dialogue,” they want to destroy the Church we love.

They say, of course, that they want to change the Church because they “love her so much.” They will not leave the Church because they “are committed to her until the very end.”

Well, I thought it was hate that destroys, but then again we are living in an age when words are commonly appropriated for purposes of communal self-denial.

“Dialogue,” for example, doesn’t mean conversation, it means doing what they say. If you disagree, you aren’t willing to “dialogue.”

Real discussion with this crowd is problematic anyway, since they are so skilled at presenting a version of Church history and Vatican II that belongs in a comic book.

Their method of argument consists in finding whatever practice they espouse somewhere in the history of the Church in order to proclaim their “restoration of true Catholicism.” Using this logic, one could advocate the burning of heretics again.

It makes no difference to them when the practice they want to “restore” was done, who did it, whether it was ever condemned or corrected, or whether it was deliberately changed. They blithely ignore the fact that doctrine develops in the crucible of genuine authority.

I am not alone in my worry that many Catholics are extremely vulnerable to this specious form of argument based upon a highly selective reading of Church history. Bishop Pilla, President of the National Council of Catholic Bishops, in his strong warning against the referendum, voiced his concern about the “confusion that may be created by a technique so inadequate and inappropriate to deal with these matters.” At the press conference, however, we were told that several well-known cardinals in Europe were “very open to what we are doing.” (Crisis is in the process of verifying this claim.)

We Are Church is confident that based upon polls, such as Gallup and others culled by various news agencies, Catholics in this country are entirely on their side when it comes to the priesthood and birth control. Thus, the real bottom line for We Are Church is the election of bishops by the laity. This way, if your bishop doesn’t buckle under to the majority opinion in his diocese on matters of faith and morals, then you just elect another one. I presume We Are Church would insist upon a recall mechanism to ensure popular control over elected representatives.

It will be harder, as they admit, for We Are Church to collect a million signatures in the United States than it was in Europe, where they have collected 2.7 million. In Europe they profited from starting their referendum on the heels of several very public scandals involving priests and young boys.

I cannot understand why such a moral failing should translate into support for married or women priests. Homosexual priests are not likely to marry, leaving the problem as is. Unless, of course, we are blessed with same-sex marriage. Women priests and married priests will bring their moral failings to the priestly role. In the meantime, the referendum’s logic fails to note the positive implications of celibacy’s discipline both as a witness to the supernatural and as an inspiration to fallen human nature.

Nothing substantive will be learned from this referendum. It is being staged as a press event, not as a scientific sampling of the nation’s Catholics. When asked how they would determine whether each signature represented a Catholic, their spokesman answered they would be “self-identifying”—meaning whoever says he is a Catholic is a Catholic, at least according to this referendum.

Being Catholic isn’t quite so nebulous. As Bishop Pilla states, “to be Catholic, by definition, means sharing a common religious heritage and moral vision. It is not something purely subjective, radically private and self-constructed. It is a system of religious teachings and moral imperatives which are to be freely embraced and faithfully handed on to the next generation.” Let’s pray this is the message heard from pulpits around the world.

  • Deal W. Hudson

    Deal W. Hudson is ​publisher and editor of The Christian Review and the host of "Church and Culture," a weekly two-hour radio show on the Ave Maria Radio Network.​ He is the former publisher and editor of Crisis Magazine.

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