"The Bishops speak for the Catholic and apostolic faith, and those who hold that faith gather around them. Others disperse." — Francis Cardinal George (Feb. 14, 2012)
It is no surprise that dissenting, protesting Catholics—those I've lately been calling "cave-in Catholics", in homage to Cardinal Dolan's retort to the weak-kneed editors of America magazine—thumb their noses at papal speeches, conciliar texts, and formal, Magisterial teaching. What is somewhat curious is how they try to justify their disdain for popes, bishops and the dread "Vatican" by simply saying, "After all, very few Catholics in the U.S. pay attention to Church teaching anymore. See this poll! Watch this interview! Check out these stats!"
What is far more curious is how these cave-in Catholics—having indeed caved-in to the dominant beliefs about contraception, abortion, cohabitation, homosexuality, and so forth—think this "argument" is both pure genius and completely unassailable. But such Catholics are not, when all is said and done, truthful with the facts, willing to face the truth, or interested in seeing how truth, facts, and the Catholic faith are not only compatible, but are competely and fully compatible.
Let's take a couple of examples, both courtesy of the Pompous Journal for Advanced and Agitated Bashing of Catholicism, more circumspectly known as The New York Times. Last month, a Notre Dame professor of philosophy, Gary Gutting, wrote an essay, "Birth Control, Bishops and Religious Authority" (Feb. 15, 2012). Gutting begins by saying that what interests him "as a philosopher — and a Catholic — is that virtually all parties to this often acrimonious debate have assumed that the bishops are right about this, that birth control is contrary to 'the teachings of the Catholic Church.' The only issue is how, if at all, the government should 'respect' this teaching."
He then takes a clever but misleading tact:
As critics repeatedly point out, 98 percent of sexually active American Catholic women practice birth control, and 78 percent of Catholics think a “good Catholic” can reject the bishops’ teaching on birth control. The response from the church, however, has been that, regardless of what the majority of Catholics do and think, the church’s teaching is that birth control is morally wrong. The church, in the inevitable phrase, “is not a democracy.” What the church teaches is what the bishops (and, ultimately, the pope, as head of the bishops) say it does.
But is this true? The answer requires some thought about the nature and basis of religious authority. Ultimately the claim is that this authority derives from God. But since we live in a human world in which God does not directly speak to us, we need to ask, Who decides that God has given, say, the Catholic bishops his authority?
This is, as I say, clever, and is so on a couple of counts. It begins by playing the "democracy" card (to be pushed further a bit later), which is always a sure way to get on the good side of most Americans. After all, what right do those people (the popes, bishops, etc.) have to tell you and me what to think, how to act, what to believe?
Gutting then insinuates that what the pope and bishops of today are teaching adds up to little more than personal opinions based in narrow-minded, self-serving subjectivity, as if the pope—without precedence, good reason, or theological justification—mindlessly drones, "Contraception bad. Abortion bad. Barney bad." This naturally leads to an appeal based in the "I'm not religious; I'm spiritual" school of arrested development so in vogue today. The pope is presented as an aloof and arrogant authority who claims that he alone is the mouthpiece for God. The reader, of course, is supposed to dutifully nod and say, "Golly, that's seems unfair. No one has dibs on God. Pass me the Cheetos."