However, before I go…

A reader writes:

I’m writing to vent, so feel free to stop reading here. I’ve made a few posts on the war discussion referencing the Catechism. It appeared to me that some specific provisions of the Catechism were, as we lawyers like to say, “directly on point.” The responses and other posts gave me the impression that the Catechism was not even consulted by many of the posters for some basic answers.

This really amazes me. Now, I’m probably more “liberal” than most who post, and I’d cringe if anybody called me othodox. I do try to be consistent, though. I believe that the Pope knows what he’s doing. He’s far more holy than I am and spends far more time praying than I do. He’s much more highly educated in Theology and Philosophy than I am. I believe he’s in charge of the church, its teachings and the bishops and Cardinals that he or his predecessors have appointed are guided by the Holy Spirit and are doing the Church’s work. Some of them are doing a terrible job, incompetent, sinful and criminal. I agree with both you and Rod on that issue. The Pope has chosen an intentional course of action regarding bishops and cardinals…and it doesn’t make sense to me why he has chosen it. But Einstein wouldn’t make much sense explaining the details of relativity to me, either. The Pope is so far above my level of understanding that I’m best off relying on his expertise, holiness and wisdom. On the other hand, I’m pretty sure I could baffle both the Pope and Einstein on the fine points of the Rule Against Perpetuities.

What the Pope has done, however, is publish a Catechism, which contains detailed discussions on most moral and ethical issues of our day. It’s very plain, and, if read with an open heart, provides Church teaching in a very practical way. I may not be able to comprehend the Pope, but I can do a pretty good job comprehending the Catechism. In any religious discussion, I’ll go to the source. I’ll read whatever biblical passage someone else relies upon. A bible is on this desk as I write. As you know better than most of us, Catholics have more than the Bible to consult–we have our Tradition. I can’t think of a more concise exposition of Tradition than the Catechism. I have a paperback Catechism at work, which I review whenever there’s any non-routine ethical or moral question that comes up. And, as a lawyer, I have numerous opportunities to address ethical and moral issues. Between the Bible and the Catechism, I haven’t been stumped yet. Why don’t people check it out more often?

I recognize that the “plain meaning” interpretation of the Catechism (or Bible, or any other document) may be erroneous. That’s what we have priests, bishops, theologians, teachers, apologists, commentators, and, yes, blog comment boxes for. I find that when people, including protestant apologists, “liberal Catholics,” orthodox Catholics or SSPX types, tell me what the “official Catholic teaching is, they either haven’t consulted the Catechism or they misstate it. For example, to pick on a liberal position that I am sympathetic with for a moment, the catechism has a discussion on homosexuality, which has specific Biblical passages to support it. Now, I think it would be a good idea to recognize a homosexual permanent union, and in the Church of Me, there would be such a thing. But, I’ve read the biblical provisions, the Catechism, the Church’s understanding of sexuality, and it’s a solid well thought out position. It can’t be dismissed very casually. I’ve read Spong and Dignity literature, and as much as I’d like to be convinced by their arguments, I’m not. I may not fully understand the Pope’s logic on this, but the part I do understand makes sense and has scriptural support. Most likely I don’t understand the rest due to comparative lack of study, intelligence and expertise in the subject matter.

On the other hand, the catechism is surprisingly open to many so called “liberal” positions. There is substantial support in the Catechism, for example, for VOTF’s basic position that the laity have a increased voice in the governance of the Church. I understand Deal Hudson’s argument that VOTF has a hidden agenda, and you point out that increased lay participation may actually be a bad idea, but the claims that VOTF’s published goals are completely unorthodox are inaccurate.

The point I’m making is that the Catechism should be consulted frequently, especially when we are about to make a claim regarding the Church’s teachings. I was frankly surprised at the catechism sections on Just War, and it is very difficult to argue that any war would qualify as a just war under Church teaching. Not too surprisingly, now that I think about it, the emphasis is on Peace.

Well, I’m “preaching to the choir,” I’m sure, or just venting, but I really wish more people would read the Catechism before making any comments about Church teachings or about “chuckleheaded opinions from the Vatican or any particular church official.

Thanks for listening and best personal regards.

First off, I have some bad news: you’re orthodox. :) The fact that you have personal opinions at variance with the Church means you are human, not unorthodox. As long as you are docile to the judgement of the Church (as, for instance, in the matter of gay marriage), you are doing what Church asks. Recall the story of the son who said “No” to his Father and then went and worked in the Vineyard anyway.

Second, I agree that Catholic faith has all sorts of aspects which Americans identify as “liberal” and lay involvement in governance is actually one of them. It’s one of the gifts of the Tradition which the Church has barely begun to unwrap. So I agree that the concept of lay involvement is not inherently counter to the Tradition. I think VOTF is the wrong way to go about it mostly because the people involved do not have a clue what the Tradition is and are thoroughly informed in their thinking, not by Thomas Aquinas, but by Thomas Jefferson. But there *are* people out there who are trying to create the basis for serious lay collaboration in ministry. Chief among these is the fabulous and wonderful St. Catherine of Siena Institute. I *strongly* urge Catholics who are interested in finding out what *healthy* lay collaboration with the ordained office looks like to check out their work. Here’s a sample of their work: “Collaboration with the Laity” by Fr. Michael Sweeney, OP.

Okay. Now I’m really outta here.