Up on the Tight Wire: Taking Catholicism Seriously

I’m up on the tight wire
One side’s ice and one is fire
It’s a circus game with you and me
I’m up on the tight rope
One side’s hate and one is hope . . .
And the wire seems to be
The only place for me
~ Leon Russell, “Up on a Tightrope”

Being Catholic, being liberal. More and more, the question seems to be whether it’s possible to be both, if either one is done seriously. For this particular Catholic, this particular liberal, life in America at the moment is very much like walking Leon Russell’s tight wire. Ice. Fire. Hate. Hope. The wire seems to be the only place for me, as I keep saying to people who ask.

I’ve found it much easier, strangely, to explain to liberal friends who aren’t Catholic why I am standing with the bishops and against the administration on the issue of mandating free health coverage for contraceptive services as part of “preventive” care. Even when they think the bishops’ position is wrongheaded at best and viciously misogynist at worst, most liberals I know will grudgingly accept that I am coming from a sincere position of belief. They think I’m nuts on this, but they tolerate my madness. Sometimes they’ll even let me get a word, or a Facebook comment, in edgewise.

It’s the liberal Catholics–the ones I know, and the ones all over the news–that keep surprising me. To hear some people talk, to read the published opinions and hear the sound bites, you’d think that being a liberal Catholic is easy: All you have to do is ignore all that Catholic stuff. Nobody believes those medieval doctrines anyway, they say. The bishops are just a bunch of homophobic hypocrites, protecting child molesters while depriving women and gay people of their rights. If the Church wants to appeal to young people, they better get with the program. And the ones who don’t flat out deny the relevance of Catholic teaching seem to be completely unaware of it–even when they are “professional” Catholics. The bishops aren’t the Church, they say. Catholics are using contraception at the same rates as everyone else, so how can doing so be against Catholic teaching? Jesus never said anything about the Pill!

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve been saying those things, too, for most of my life, while I was still calling myself Catholic and after I wandered away. But here I am, back. And just as I have had to find ways to explain why my decision to live where I live is a conscious one (“You left Los Angeles for Dayton–on purpose?”), I am now having to be very conscious and careful about my choice to live in Catholicland. That means, for me, doing the opposite of ignoring all that Catholic stuff. So, here, by way of explaining to myself what it is I’m being called to take so seriously, is a kind of Sister Mary Jojo Explains It All for You, for the Catholics out there who don’t know any better, or don’t want to.

Yes, people still believe all this stuff. It is perfectly possible, though only by the grace of faith, to be a 21st century American and believe what Catholics believe. My assent to the articles of the Creed–to the mystery of the Trinity, to God’s creative love at work in all we see and can’t see, to the Virgin birth and saving death and transforming resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, to the Holy Spirit alive in the Church through the sacraments, especially the Eucharist–is not in any way limited by my intelligence or by the whole body of human knowledge. In spite of what many non-Catholics (and way too many Catholics) think, Catholics do not hate science. We recognize it as another language, one of many for describing the indescribable. We do not want to take the world back to the Dark Ages. In fact, we got the world through the Dark Ages, with knowledge intact.

Scriptura is not sola for us. If the body of faith were limited to what is between the covers of the Bible (even the Catholic Bible, which contains a few more books than most Protestant versions), the Church would indeed have little to say to the 21st century. But Catholic teaching is a seamless garment of God’s revelation through natural law (what’s observable in creation), the Word of God in Scripture (especially as it reveals God’s greatest revelation, Jesus Christ), and sacred Tradition (the Church’s inspired reflection on and application of revelation). So pointing out that Jesus never said anything about contraception is, besides being flippant and silly, irrelevant. Jesus preached the radical dependence of human life on God’s providence alone, which is what lies behind the Gospel of Life. (We’re not biblical literalists, either, by the way. It’s not the Church that’s pushing for creationism to replace natural selection in science classes. Surprise!)

They are too the boss of us–the bishops, that is. I have to say I am still trying to winch my jaw off the floor after Leslie Tentler, a professor of history at The Catholic University of America, was quoted in The New York Times as saying, “I think most Catholics would take exception to the bishops’ argument that only bishops get to say what is Catholic morality in very difficult situations.” Take all the exception you wish; they are the only ones who do get to say. The bishops, in union with the pope, are the magisterium, the definers of Catholic teaching on faith and morality. In very difficult or any other situations. That we are a hierarchical Church with an authoritative body of teaching (and teachers) is a fact of Catholic life for which, most days, I am grudgingly grateful. Other days, it ticks me off no end. But it’s what it is. When I left the Church, people who had a hard time accepting this were called cafeteria Catholics, for picking and choosing only the tasty bits of the faith to follow. I find I’ve come back to a Church full of single-serving Catholics, who munch on 100-calorie easy-to-digest portions self-assembled according to individual whim.

It’s not a democracy. This is the biggest sticking point for American non-Catholics and many liberal Catholics alike. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who identifies herself as a Catholic, used the rate of Catholic women’s use of contraception (originally and inaccurately given as 98%) as an argument that the teaching wasn’t central enough to faith to require a conscience exemption from the HHS mandate. Others cite polls saying most Catholics support the administration–or, on another issue, believe women should be ordained. But statistics and polls are beside the point. Catholics don’t vote for Church leaders or hold referendums on Church teaching. (See They are too the boss of us, above.) Every Catholic in the world could use contraception, and it wouldn’t change the Church’s teaching that doing so violates the principle that God alone determines when life begins and ends–just as 100% of the world’s Jews eating bacon for breakfast this morning would not change the laws of kosher.

Conscience is more than a singing cricket. Catholics who choose to ignore or act counter to Church teaching often claim what Nancy Pelosi called “that conscience thing”–the notion that individual conscience trumps law when the two come into conflict. But there’s a big difference between being guided by an informed conscience (the operative word being informed) and simply doing what I want or what feels good. The Catechism of the Catholic Church cautions:

Conscience must be informed and moral judgment enlightened. . . . The education of conscience is indispensable for human beings who are subjected to negative influences and tempted by sin to prefer their own judgment and to reject authoritative teachings. (1783)

In the current debate over contraception, I can believe that a Catholic hospital with a long commitment to serving the poorest of the poor might, in conscience, choose to cooperate with the HHS mandate in order not to compromise the provision of other critical services, but I think it should still make its position and motives very clear. I have a harder time with a Catholic college saying it must comply because its students have a right to be sexually active without worrying about costs or consequences. Say what? The thing about conscience–even in the form of a singing cricket–is that it can and should pinch us like a too-small shoe when we’re headed in the wrong direction. If the shoe fits, it may not be conscience but self-justification.

The clergy sex abuse crisis was horrific, and horrifically managed, but it is not the Church. Any more than the Crusades, which were horrific in their own way, were the Church. Any more than the sinful anti-Semitism that has marked too much of European Catholicism for its whole history is the Church. Any more than the sin of any institution, or country, or individual is the totality of that institution, or country, or individual. To believe otherwise is to deny that conversion and salvation are possible. And conversion and salvation are the Church. Preaching the right thing after having done the wrong thing does not make the bishops hypocrites. It makes them human.

I’m not just shouting these things from my tightrope, please note. I’m struggling with them myself, and with lots of other challenges that come from taking Catholicism seriously, every day. That’s OK. I have a feeling that if the high wire is where I’ll be spending my time, I might as well take the Phil Dunphy approach. Modern Family‘s perennially goofy Phil, attempting to fulfill a lifelong dream of tightrope walking, kept falling from the practice rope he’d strung 6 inches off the ground. With his son Luke’s help, Phil realized that both the rope and his expectations were set too low. Raising the rope to tree height, and his expectations even higher, Phil did the impossible.

Let’s give it a try.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14873681229902155435 Brother

    My goal is to be no more or less liberal, no more or less conservative, no more or less Catholic than the Pope.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16021781602272064901 Allison

    Thanks for this post! My progressive secular friend don't understand how I can be Catholic; my Catholic friends wonder why I am not a Republican.

  • Anonymous

    In an effort to make things easier for you perhaps you can think twice about your liberalism: The main point being economic liberalism hurts poor people. There is evidence for this, and having grown up with limited means I can never was helped by any liberal political proposal. But try looking at a bit of data. If one looks at the poverty rate in the United States it was dropping prior to 1965 pretty rapidly (Just look at HHS numbers) then the liberal great society programs were implemented. At that point the rate of decline in poverty in the United States stopped and has been pretty flatline ever since at around 14%. So it appears if you are objective that the great society prograns at best did not help, and may have even hurt hthe poor ( because the rate of decline in poverty was obliterated post great society) If one really digs deep into this and looks not at the intent, but the results most liberal policies acutally are harmful to the poor. I would consider being a liberal but bowing to the evidence I can not because it would seem that polices liberals advocate do not work. They sound nice and may be well intentioned, but empirical data matter. I would invite you to look at it yourself. I would also note, by your fruits you shall know them. If someone says to me I care about the poor, but I think its ok to have unlimited abortion and do not object to a society in which 80- 90% of Downs syndrome children are killed in utero because it is thought they are better off dead, well I tend to dount their basic sympathy for anyone let alone the poor. IT might very well be that they use "concern for the poor" as a tool to manipulate well meaning people into supporting things that centralize government power but do not trsnslate into a rsising poor people up. Think about it.

  • Dan Krischke

    It is not a matter of being Democrat or Republican. Both political groups are pretty in the trash heap anyway. It is a matter of moral and spiritual Truth that the Magisterium teaches and we, as Catholics, not progressive or conservative, are bound to obey. We cannot pick and choose our beliefs. You are either Catholic, full and believing, or you are not. Period. Peace and God bless.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14729612779930162079 Dymphna

    Thank you for writing this post! It is difficult to be (politically) either conservative or liberal and Catholic because the Church's teachings encompass some of both philosophies. Every election cycle, especially, I struggle and struggle on the same tight rope that you are on. For a while I "tried on" the "We get to make our own decisions" brand of Catholicism, but this HHS mandate and its resultant ant-Catholic fall-out (some of which comes from fellow Catholics) has put me right back on the tight rope of Catholicism. We're there with you.

  • Anonymous

    With all due repect I don't understand the mindset of you liberal Catholics, it should be self evident which way to vote base on 2000yrs of catholic teaching, the life issue should be first and foremost, 50+ million americans killed in the womb, how many of these would be in the workforce and paying into the tax base to sustain the corrupt welfare system we currently have; not to mention supporting the social security system for the next generation of recipients, do you believe that I as an conservative do not give to charities to help the poor? I'm all for a welfare system that helps people get back into the workforce but not one that sustains their livelihood for their lifetimes, if democrats care so much for the poor why do they not allow education vouchers so kids have a better chance to get a good education and go to college, but no…they would rather pass out free condoms to our kids….gay marrige, contraception, abortion..these are the antithesis of a capitalist system, unless of course you want a socialist system, which we know from history how that worked out, it's ironic that the russian government is paying couples to have babies, they finally realized the demographic nightmare in their future, same with china and europeMatthew 23:23Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites; because you tithe mint, and anise, and cummin, and have left the weightier things of the law; judgment, and mercy, and faith. These things you ought to have done, and not to leave those undone.

  • Anonymous

    Ecclesiastes 7:18 says it the best on this matter, I think. Thank you for this post. I'd hate to think, though, that people will interpret this as you saying you are a hard line Democrat (though maybe I'm the one who has misread, and you are). In times when I've described myself as "more conservative" I am assumed, happily or with dismay, to be a Republican. It just isn't true! Sometimes I wonder if there is a place for liberals and conservatives amongst all the Ds and Rs anymore…

  • Anonymous

    Here is the bottom line, I think. No where do Republicans or conservatives come out and say that they don't care about the poor. Most believe, and with history and statistics to back up their beliefs, that their views help the poor more than Democratic and liberal policies. The idea that conservatives don't care for the poor is a campaign slogan of the left. However, Democrats and liberals come right out and say that abortion and gay marriage are not a problem, and that they should be made legal and socially acceptable. Do all Democrats and liberals agree with this? No. Most do, however. And even for those that don't, they aren't even allowed to speak out from within their party. Pro-life Democrats are forbidden from speaking their peace at their conventions. So, to those who aren't sure which party you should be part of, be a conservative who speaks out on behalf of what is truly best for the poor and needy, based on what works and what actually helps them. Don't be part of a party that is expressly against what the Church teaches on abortion and marriage, just because campaigners will have you believe that only liberals care about the poor.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08459544262379455570 totustuusmaria

    Was just writing about how Catholics who identify more with modern day "American Liberals" have a prophetic mission. It's their job to remind the Church and the Nation of the demands of justice that we sometimes like to forget — to make basic goods universally accessible, to avoid war and other evils to the life and the common good, and to acknowledge the dignity of the lives of the poor, the alien, and the condemned. But there is a no less important prophetic mission to "liberal" Catholic has for the Democratic Party: you guys need to be a witness to the Democratic Party that there are values transcend of state-approved secular values, and that living the values that come from faith must always be protected within an healthy society. You must remind them that subsidiarity is part of justice. Democrats are better on the positive meaning of subsidiarity — that higher levels of society ought to help the lower to fulfill their duty, than the negative meaning — that a higher levels ought not unjustly to take away the duties and prerogatives of individuals and lower societies. You must also witness to them the value of nascent and dying human life, and help remind them that the future of society depends at all times on who man will be for woman and woman for man. This is a dark time for the Democratic Party. They need to light of Catholics living their faith to illumine upon the heart of God.Catholic leaning "American Conservative" also have a witness to give. To the Republican party, we have to witness especially to communicative justice, solidarity, the common good, and the universal destination of all goods, the value of condemned life, the value of the immigrant, and right of access to basic human goods. To the world, we witness the importance of life, marriage, religious freedom, and the negative meaning of subsidiarity, namely that we have duties, and it is our right to fulfill those duties without the government taking them away. We also witness to the freedoms that God has given mankind, and the consequences of abusing those freedoms.Everyone has a prophetic mission by our life as Catholics. We must leaven every lump of society. But in order to do this, we must be Catholics first, and political and social agents second. God comes before society. We are religious animals before we are social animals. That's how we have to live our lives.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08459544262379455570 totustuusmaria

    I didn't mention it in my previous comment, but I also take practical considerations into account. I support economic conservatism in spite of my deep desires for communicative justice because I think the common good requires us not to be bankrupt under too much debt, or suffering from excessive inflation (which especially hurts the poor, the middle class, and the old). Since I am extremely poor, I'm in a good place to understand both the benefits and dangers of social programs that can't be funded. I think that we have to get out of current economic situation before we can make much more progress in communicative justice. That's a practical judgment on my part. I agree with the Church's teaching, and I think it's important to remind the world that this is important. And it's neither here nor there regarding your excellent article. Just my own reasoning behind tending to vote Republican when Republicans don't acknowledge all the social values the Church proclaims.

  • Anonymous

    It's not so much about becoming a Republican as it is rejecting the Democratic Party which pushes the "Culture of Death". I used to be liberal also, until I came to realize that God asked each one of us to feed the poor, etc… Jesus never said give to the government so that someone else could take care of the poor. As countries become more socialistic, they become less religious. It makes sense because they are putting all of their trust in the state rather than God. Liberalism makes us feel like we are doing God's work, but in the end we are abdicating our responsibility.The fruit of socialism is secularism. If you don't believe me, look at the religiosity of the highly socialistic states such as Sweden. Joshua puts it best, "As for me and my family, we will follow the Lord."

  • Anonymous

    Though I am a sinner, I have never had any problem accepting the teaching authority of the Magisterium. It has always been hard to understand those who did. However I'm glad to know you are back and have the courage to speak out.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01133668737743486061 Jack

    Speaking as a conservative Christian (I hold the standard Creedal statements and definitions with a firmness that would make Billy Graham look like a Unitarian) and conservative culturally and politically, I know that the two are NOT the same.The Christian Right is falling for the same temptation that Jesus rejected in the wilderness: to use secular and political means to accomplish spiritual ends.As King David (no mean politician himself) said, "Put not your trust in princes [or prelates or politicians], in children of mortals, in whom is NO salvation."

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07876398851511031150 Janet

    I really appreciate a rational discussion of this issue. I am currently 59 years old and voted as a Democrat from the '70s until 1996. Straight ticket Democrat. My Mom used to say that the Democrats were the party of the 'little guy' and Republicans were 'rich people'. I was a typical Catholic school kid growing up in the 1960s and was taught by an order of sisters whose charism was and still is social justice.But something happened to me in the early 90s that I never forgot. I was watching 60 Minutes one Sunday evening and saw a young, black single mother being interviewed. She took the reporter to the Operation Head Start location where her daughter ate breakfast every morning. She proudly told the reporter that this was the same place where she used to get breakfast when she was her daughter's age. That stopped me in my tracks. I immediately thought about how this was not supposed to happen. These Great Society programs were supposed to change the course of lives, not continue them.Unfortunately, we cannot seem to be able to speak about these issues without name calling. I realize that I am considered a racist because I think that the Great Society programs of the LBJ era were conceived in utter goodwill by people who truly thought they were doing good but history has proved them wrong. Forget about the part that I don't think race has anything to do with this – it's true for all of the caucasians whose families' have a legacy of government assistance. To many liberals I am a racist for expressing these views and that's the end of the discussion. The truth is that the Great Society approach has not even begun to solve the problems that it tried to address and has only made them worse. Daniel Patrick Moynihan was right when he warned about the breakdown of the black family and he was a Democrat. But he was branded a racist too.Having taken positions on both teams now, I think that I can see the major objections liberals have about conservatives and vice versa. Conservatives CAN be too black and white in their thinking. But Liberals also turn a blind eye to the facts when they don't support their views. I know that I did for many years.Janet

  • Anonymous

    While discussing the HHS mandate at work, the statistic of 98% of Catholics already using contraception was offered by a coworker as a reason to accept the mandate since we While discussing the HHS mandate at work, the statistic of 98% of Catholics already using contraception was offered by a coworker as a reason to accept the mandate since we Catholics already use it anyway. As I responded that can’t be true, I got the idea to perform a simple survey of the staff in our office wing. It was very reveling, all the Catholics in the office, a majority, had two or more children, two Protestants coworkers had children, and one Jewish coworker had one child. The remaining Protestants and non church goes, about a third of the office, had no children. It was very reveling for all of us!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06767838116702355734 Joanne K. McPortland

    I appreciate all the comments. It was not my intention to use the word liberal in a strictly political way. I am really addressing the division within the Church among those who consider themselves liberal or progressive or Vatican II Catholics and those who consider themselves traditional or orthodox or conservative Catholics. Unfortunately, the discussion quickly degenerates into political name-calling. If I were to rewrite this post to address the conservative Catholic viewpoint, switching the contraception issue for, say, opposition to capital punishment (another teaching of the magisterium) I think as many people would have trouble agreeing with the bishops.

  • Raymond Anthony

    Notwithstanding what is posted by ET, the brainwashing is still evident in the modern liberal Catholic way of thinking on moral issues. It is simply this: liberal Catholics have a way of treating all issues as morally equivalent in substance and effect, and devoid of a spiritual context. For example, a liberal Catholic may think that is it OK to accept Obama’s HHS mandate in a Catholic hospital because the hospital takes care of sick people. Thus, honoring God by adhering to the Catholic faith is far worse than taking care of the human condition. The logical extension of this notion is that a violation of faith cannot possibly be a sin since the good that is done to fellow humans is far greater than the violation of faith. The effect is simple: a violation of Christ’s greatest commandment—to love God above all things (yes, even greater than loving your fellow man).I have two questions for liberal Catholics who read this blog and I would appreciate reasoned responses:First, how can a liberal Catholic truly believe in Jesus Christ? My argument:If Christ is God, are not His words the absolute word of God? Would Christ ever “lie” to us if He is the absolute Word? If He cannot lie, why would a person accept some of what Christ says (the “good” parts) and reject His other words (the “bad” or “hard” parts)?If a person cannot accept the whole of Christ’s message, how can he or she claim to be a follower of Christ?Second, will a liberal Catholic please explain to me the THEOLOGICAL basis for abortion? I have yet to see it in print, at least in ways that I can understand coherently.My argument:There is clear evidence culturally and theologically-speaking that the Church has been opposed to abortion since day one—not as the ill-informed Pelosi would like gullible Catholics to believe. If anyone doubts this argument, read the writings of the early Church teachers up through Nicaea (about the fourth century); and then through the later ages. All of which are on the internet. (I started with the Catechism and researched the references.) If Christ’s second greatest commandment is to love your neighbor as yourself, why would any Catholic deny life to another human being when they enjoy their own life so much and want to live? Thank you for taking the time to read my post. Hope you respond in a courteous way.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01971648520880707990 James Trynosky

    When i read this, I was thinking the same thing. As a libertarian leaning conservative, I feel the same way. Often times there are positions taken by some fellow travelers, or my political party which seem to be at odds with the Church. It is indeed a tight rope walk at times. Thanks so much for posting.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06767838116702355734 Joanne K. McPortland

    Raymond Anthony, I've published your comment because I am appreciative of anyone who takes the time to read and comment on my thoughts. But I am not going to let this comment thread become a place for you to engage others in debate about your thoughts and beliefs–that would be your own blog. Thanks!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17521457156173782835 Tom T

    Joanne, Sadly the two are intertwined and always have been since the time of Christ, that is, poltics and religion. The Church as a result of misinterpretations of Post Conciliar Documents of VatII has been divided along conservative and liberal views that were actually debated during, before and after discussions of Vat II Documents between Italian hard liners and progressive liberals and all were warned in no uncertain terms that all this would happen by none other than Pope St. Pius the X who labeled these things as progressivism and modernism and declared it a heresy in the encyclical called "Pascendi Domeninici Gregis." It has, as he predicted taken possession of Western civilization. From a religious point of view, due to politics, in my view, the liberal mind set of the USCCB and the practice of political silence and quiet nods to indicate it may all right, after all, to vote for a pro-choice Democrate to further causes of the poor, the homeless, illegal immigrants actually grew from a meeting in the sixties called by the Kennedy clan to their compound in Mass. They assembled there a number of Catholic college professors and theologians together to figure out how they could get Catholics to vote for pro-choice Democrates without violating their conscious. They came up with the idea to to promote social justice issues and low and behold abortion and right to life suddenly became a back seat issue compared to other human causes. Brilliant. Now of course all this has come back to sting them and may have pushed them to finally stand up and defend their faith.Now I could give a million examples of what I am talking about here, but all one needs to do is look at the state of New York where the newly elected Cardinal Dolan who is friends with Gov. Cuomo, pro-choice, divorced Catholic with a live in girl friend and recently pushed through same sex marriage law and recieves Holy Communion, to the delight of the liberal media, in the Cathedral in Albany and no one says a word. Another glaring example is the news article sent out by the USCCB to diocesean newspapers across the country last year in Sept. praising H.Solus the Secretary of Labor as a model Catholic while ignoring her 100% pro-abortion voting record in Calif. when she was a congresswoman and where she even voted against partial birth abortion restrictions. Sadly, as I sad earlier politics and religion are so intimately tied together not only here, but around the world, it is impossible to seperate the two. There is as I write this, a struggle going on in the Vatican between liberal Cardinals and conservative heads of various Pontifical Congregations and it even extends into the office of the Secretary of the Vatican Cardinal Bertone`s office as evidenced from letters of the newly appointed American Consultor. I realized I have only scratched the surface of the problem that has existed in the Church for some time, but then, the Church has had problems since the second century and always seemed to pulled back by various saints who being sent by God challenged heresies and other untrue beliefs that tore the Church apart, not only in the beginning, but all through it`s history. Pax

  • Anonymous

    I think that the label liberal catholic or conservative catholic muddies the water. I would imagine that all Catholics believe the Creed and the teaching about the Sacrifice of the Mass. It seems that one move away from those issues that politics gets involved. To me either what the Church teaches is correct as a whole or it is flawed. The labels to my way of thinking only summarize what parts people think are flawed. I think that the name calling is a symptom not of faith but of a lack of faith. If indeed we do agree about the Creed and teachings about the Mass among many – how can we be all that different. The politics of hate and anger that has swept our political discourse has poisoned our religious beliefs, much to the pain of the church.

  • Anonymous

    I wonder if it is possible to simply read and enjoy such a write (as I did) and let it go at that without so much pointless parsing.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14488939389859451887 Chatto

    Hi Joanne,first time on your blog! Interesting post. Funny, isn't it, how the term 'liberal' can only be understood in a party-political context these days? I knew you meant it in a broader sense.Have you read Bl. Newman's great work on conscience, "Letter to the Duke of Norfolk"? I highly recommend it – a witty and timely defense of conscience and Magisterium from someone who was considered dangerously 'liberal' in his own day! Here's a snippet:"Did the Pope speak against Conscience in the true sense of the word, he would commit a suicidal act. He would be cutting the ground from under his feet…The fact of his mission is the answer to the complaints of those who feel the insufficiency of the natural light [i.e. conscience]; and the insufficiency of that light is the justification of his mission…the Church, the Pope, the Hierarchy are, in the Divine purpose, the supply of an urgent demand." Bear in mind he wrote this over 135 years ago. The link to the rest is here:http://www.newmanreader.org/works/anglicans/volume2/gladstone/index.htmlEnjoy!Chatto

  • Anonymous

    We must be careful about what organizations we join. My Democrat Catholic friends and relations would never join a club that discriminates against minorities, for example. Yet they allow themselves to be part of an organization that has this plank in its platform: "The Democratic Party strongly and unequivocally supports Roe v. Wade and a woman's right to choose a safe and legal abortion, regardless of ability to pay, and we oppose any and all efforts to weaken or undermine that right." If a Catholic is in the Democrat party and has integrity, I hope he or she is fighting every day to have that plank removed. Otherwise, he or she should consider becoming an Independent.

  • Raymond Anthony

    Actually, I like to think I am trying my best to take my Catholic Faith very seriously, by practicing it each day within the faith and moral teachings of the Church. No one said it was easy.Your blog theme raises very serious and fundamental questions about what it means to be a Catholic, hence my response in the form of questions. I would still like answers from you or others who have a liberal bent in the matter. I would not consider it a debate, I just want to know the theological reasoning. It is a very reasonable question to ask how can a Catholic claim to take the Faith seriously, if they make statements in public that are clearly contrary to Church teaching and act upon them. Are they Catholic in the heart or are they not? If they are not, why be deceptive about it? Just have the courage to move on.

  • Anonymous

    Newman's comments on conscience mean conscience formed correctly. That is by the teachings of the Church. Obviously a personal conviction does not deserve any particular respect just because your "conscience" tells you something. This would lead to the absurd conclusion that a devoted islamic terrorist was doing a moral thing if he kills a few hundred children as occurred with the Belsan Massacre, as long as his conscience told him Allah insisted on it. So spare me the nonsense about conscience! An erroneous conscience can be culpably wrong, this only deepens the sin. Pope Benedict wrote a small book about this ( entitled appropriately "On Conscience".) And speaking of nonsense, the idea that we morally need to avoid war is also wrong, sometimes we have a moral duty to go to war The Catechism says "Legitimate defense can be not only a right but a grave duty for one who is responsible for the lives of others." So obviously if you have a grave duty you may be morally wrong not to go to war. Liberalism in the modern political sense is not consistent with Catholicism or justice and if exposed to any intellectual scrutiny can not be sustained.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06767838116702355734 Joanne K. McPortland

    I believe I made the point about the necessity for proper formation of conscience in my post, so I'm not sure whose nonsense you wish to be spared. And as this post does not discuss the conditions for just war, you are dismissing arguments I'm not making. I welcome comments that address the post, but this isn't a forum for general condemnation of liberalism. There are ;pys of those around. :)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06767838116702355734 Joanne K. McPortland

    It is precisely that reasonable question that I am asking myself and others in this post. Please don't assume that someone still wrestling with the question, as I am, or even those who reach a different answer than yours, is not taking faith seriously or is being deceptive.

  • Anonymous

    Thank you for the descriptive post about your tight rope walk and the current crisis revolving the HHS mandate. I'm still not 100% sure what you mean by "liberal" since that is a relative word, and so I don't blame other commenters for assuming you meant "liberal" in a contemporary American political, cultural context. You did later mention that you meant it more in terms of "progressive" versus "orthodox" Catholics. I guess your tight rope walk then is more a matter of allegiance to the Church and dissatisfaction with it. In some way or another you want the Church to be more liberal. I think in all honestly, few people will be 100% satisfied with the Church's teachings and governance. There's always some teaching that will be a challenge, or some practice that could be made more to the individual's liking. The Church has been at it for some 2000 plus years now, and every distinct individual cannot recreate the Church to match his opinions, preferences or inclinations. Of course changes do occur, but if we are faithful to Revelation we also accept somethings as constants. Consider too that changes within the Church that might make your tightrope walk easier, could potentially make other Catholics' tightropes harder to walk.

  • Anonymous

    Joanne, thank you for this. You hit on something that has been bothering me too. Just as some background, I identify as a "conservative". But it has bothered me for a while now, as I come from a very "liberal" leaning family, this lack of charity towards the "other". I can identify with you and your tight rope walk. I find the black and white view of my kind totally at odds with mercy and redemption. Everyone struggles with sin differently and just because you’re struggling with one that another doesn't, doesn't mean they're "less Catholic" and should move on or be denied communion. But I can't identify with a more "liberal" view either, as I find the push to eradicate any and all suffering at any cost at odds with the way of the cross. I've actually been told by someone that they hated me for being a Republican when they learned I identified as a conservative because I didn't support endless welfare services(she works for social services, in particular child welfare and custody cases), and she refused to believe that I don't identify with the Republican party either. I should probably identify only as a Catholic from now on, but that's not totally true. I do have a political bent towards conservatism. Look, I just see that we all have different purposes in this life and will/ should thus identify either way. I also think we need to be more charitable towards one another and not assume evil intentions of the "other" so that we can have real conversations with one another as your blog has opened us to. All we've been doing in this country is screaming at each other and we can't hear each other when we do that. This domestic dispute is dividing us. We as Catholics can and should be showing the rest of the nation how to turn suffering into sacrifice through Love, by loving one another enough to respect the dignity and purpose of the other and by not impugning evil intent on the part of the other. I'm not great at making a point in few words, so I hope that this makes sense. I'm just tired of the infighting. It's like being in a bad marriage where the only goal is to win at any cost and the two can't seem to get it through their thick heads that there are no winners only losers in that scenario. We lose because when we are fighting like that we can't open up and make ourselves vulnerable to the other so that we can become closer and more unified. I appreciate your willingness to be vulnerable for the sake of unity. I've been and will keep trying to do the same.Jennifer Olson

  • Anonymous

    I'm not clear what your survey revealed to you. You can't use family size to determine whether or not the parents are using contraception.

  • Raymond Anthony

    We have until the harvest time (our entire life) to do the things that will determine whether we will judged among the wheat or the weeds. That is, judged by God, not by men. Jesus gave his mercy and forgiveness to a thief dying upon the cross, even after a lifetime of thieving. So, I think that God gives us the time to wrestle with what it means to believe in Him and to change our ways, but not an eternity. My argument is not with persons who wrestle with what it means to be Catholic. It is understandable that they would have confusion and doubt. Especially if they strongly believe in humanism and moral relativism. They would naturally have a difficult time with a God-centered faith and theological absolutes. It is not easy being a Roman Catholic.The problem I have is with Catholics who speak with clarity, since with clarity there is no misunderstanding. These Catholics say things that are materially anti-Roman Catholic. And they do it often and in public. I do not believe these are persons wrestling with the meaning of Roman Catholicism, nor do they need my empathy. By their actions they have chosen. They are wolves in sheep’s clothing and they mislead the unwary and ignorant Catholic.Of this type of Catholic who reaches a different answer than me–they are not differing with me, they are differing with the Roman Catholic Church. If they differ in material aspects of faith and morals as taught by the Church, then they clearly do not take the Faith seriously and should move on to another Faith. If they say one thing then do the other, then they are deceptive. I think this is just common sense, not assuming at all.


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