A high ranking Catholic Church official was recently interviewed by a cable news anchor about the controversy over the Federal Healthcare mandate. The news anchor pointed out that many, if not most, “Catholics” practice contraception. Of course, she was suggesting that these “Catholics” have the right to have access to contraception as employees of the Catholic Church. Then she asked the Church official if people who practice contraception ought to be counted as a Catholic. He answered in the affirmative saying that Catholics who practice contraception are still “Catholic.”
Herein lies the problem…no, it is more than a problem. As compassionate and outward reaching as it sounds, this pastoral line of reasoning is hurting the Catholic Church in ways we are only beginning to see. Just as important, it is a departure from the pastoral practices of Apostolic tradition. It wasn’t until the 1960’s that we started to see a departure from this pastoral tradition.
If a person refuses to accept the divine authority of the Church by insisting that he or she use contraception with impunity- and if bishops and pastors of the Church accept this as a matter of course –then the message that is broadcast to the world is as follows:
1. Mortal sin is compatible with the life of Christ. Indeed, we can be counted as followers of Christ, thus being called a Catholic, even though we grievously wound that relationship with mortal sin.
2. It sends the signal that we can pick and choose among Christ’s teachings. For instance, if we believe and therefore practice 75 percent of Christ’s commands, will we then still be counted as a Catholic? Evidently, yes. But there is a problem with that. In the Letter to James it emphatically states the following (mind you, this truth informed the pastoral tradition of the Church for centuries): “For whoever keeps the whole law, but falls short in one particular, has become guilty in respect to all of it.” (James 2:10) Contraception is no small matter. To be guilty of using contraception is to be guilty, according to St. James, to all of God's law. Moreover, the widespread use of birth control is literally killing Europe. Italy’s birthrate, for instance, is at an appalling low: 1.2%. Demographers tell us that it is impossible to reverse a birthrate decline once it stoops below 1.6%. Silence on this matter has yielded consequences of epoch proportions.
3. It also sends a signal that repentance is optional. In the book of Acts, the people asked St. Peter what they must do to be saved. St. Peter answered: Repent and then be baptized! He could have just as easily said- repent then receive the Eucharist, repent and then get Confirmed, repent and then have your marriage blessed by the Church. We have given the Sacraments to people without requiring repentance and it has hurt us as a Church tremendously! Christ warned that if we give holy things to dogs and pearls to swine that we would be “torn to pieces.” He, of course, wasn’t suggesting that people who receive the Sacraments unworthily will literally dismember us. But what he was warning us about is that the tolerance of sin and error will divide us!
In short, this tolerance of sin, indirectly but publicly sanctioned by many Church leaders, has led to moral confusion. It has also led to the intolerance of the right to life, free speech and religious liberty. When we, as Catholics, tolerate sin and error in the House of God, then the moral boundaries will fade, not only for believers but also for unbelievers. As such, politicians inspired by secularism will hardly observe those moral and political boundaries once we allow them to fade. Since the Church failed to dispense with evil, the State will be all the stronger in dispensing with the Church!
Therefore, is it any wonder that on January of 2012, the tenth anniversary of the priestly scandals, the Church is being bullied by the State with the Federal Healthcare mandate? When we learned in 2002 that we, as Catholics, were not protecting children from predators as we ought, we should have also learned that this was but a symptom of an even worse problem. And what might be that problem? For at least four decades prior to 2002, we have failed, as Catholics, to protect souls from sin, vice, error and even the wolves (i.e. obstinate, unrepentant sinners). As for the latter, we allowed them to peacefully co-exist with the sheep in the House of the Lord. With this, the flock is much smaller than it used to be and it is, without a doubt, more divided.
"For it is time for the judgment to begin with the household of God; if it begins with us, how will it end for those who fail to obey the gospel of God?" (I Peter 4:17)
Christopher Dawson, Religion and the Modern State 1935
"Now this society [the Church] is the only Kingdom of God on earth that we have any right to look for, and it is only in our membership of this society that we shall find an answer to the claims of the Totalitarian State. For if the State has become too totalitarian, that is because the average Christian has not been totalitarian enough.
He has acquiesced in the secularization of life; he has allowed his own aims to be divided and his religion to become a sectarian affair, cut off from his real interests and his real life.
The attempt on the part of the new States to unify life and to tolerate no division of allegiance ought to lead Catholics to unify life in the power of the Spirit and to tolerate no division in their allegiance to Christ the King. No doubt this will involve conflict, but conflict is not a bad thing: it is the condition of life."