The other day, on Facebook, I saw a Catholic cheer that a Catholic candidate for President was given the highest rating in the field concerning the position of immigration according to a website. Going to the website, I saw that the issue in question was immigration, and that the views that the site saw as “good” was actually against the Catholic views on the subject. In other words, while the highest grade being held by a Catholic candidate was a sign of his being a conservative, it was not a mark of his Catholicity. So, what we were seeing here was a rejoicing that a Catholic candidate Catholic agreed with his or her position, and not a rejoicing that the Catholic position was the most widely embraced.
I was struck by the irony of people thinking this way and, at the same time, being shocked—shocked that 62% of the Irish voted to reject the teaching of the Church, when they were in fact guilty of thinking the same way.
(“I’m shocked—shocked to find widespread disobedience in the Church!”)
Now I’m not going to accuse that person of malice or willful hypocrisy. I don’t even know the person, let alone the state of his or her conscience. However, the trend today that troubles me is I see Catholics quarreling over the Church, the Pope and what teachings they have to follow. The fact is that many seem perfectly complacent with their own standing before God and His Church, even though they put themselves first and obedience to the Church is contingent on whether or not they approve of the teaching in question. If they do not approve of it, they find excuses to justify disobedience. In the meantime the rebellion of others is promptly pointed out and denounced. If anyone dares to point out that their own views are incompatible with the teaching of the Church, the response is to...
- Deny that their actions are sinful.
- Claim that the actions of others is worse and the Church should go after them instead.
Thus, we see a Church that is hated by both extremes and accused of sympathizing with the worst of the other side. For example, because the Church stands up in defense of sexual morality, she is accused of being “right wing” by liberals. Because she stands in defense of the poor, she is accused of being “leftist” by conservatives. Under such a view, the Church is seen as being in error—and therefore not to be obeyed—in every area where people dislike the teaching of the Church.
In other words, a goodly number of Catholics—including those who profess to be faithful Catholics—are deceiving themselves into thinking the Church is in error and they are not. This isn’t a new trend of course. Our Lord gave us the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector and used the image of a splinter in another’s eye and a plank in our own. The situation is not exclusive to this time, or to to a specific political faction. We’ve had this attitude all throughout the history of the Church.
I think what makes this attitude dangerous in this particular time is the fact that communications can be widespread and instantaneous. An opinion over Church teaching can be easily published by anybody over the internet, and can reach a far wider audience than in the past. For example, according to different sources, this blog has been visited by over 11,000 different individuals and total visits to the site is many times that—and my blog is fairly obscure. Other blogs or websites out there have a much wider reach than mine. But there is no oversight over what I or others publish, and a person in error or deliberately intending to teach falsehood (May God deliver me from being in either category) may come across giving the illusion of being authoritative can get away with it—especially with a person confident with their own inerrancy who is convinced by a spurious argument.
This being the case, we are seeing false arguments justifying disobedience to the Church spread like wildfire. A false argument shows up on a social network or website and soon it is widely repeated in comments or blogs. It takes on a life of its own and soon people believe this is official Church teaching and begin using it to justify their own disobedience. Thus we see the SSPX and the modernists using the same arguments to justify why they can ignore the Pope or the bishop, slightly modified to justify their position.
What we have to realize is, no blog, website, Facebook “expert" or forum has the authority to set up a counter-magisterium to the Pope and bishops in communion with him. A blog written by a Catholic can only legitimately point to the authority of the Church and try to explain it. Such a site can only be trustworthy to the extent that it accurately does this. In fact, if it does not do this, it is not at all trustworthy. Moreover, if the source claims that the official magisterium can be disobeyed, it is not trustworthy.
Because it is easy to find people to reinforce one’s rebellion without having to organize dissent, rebellion is running rampant in these times. In addition, organized dissent can use these people, encouraging them to dissent in their favor and giving the illusion that the whole Church is against the faithful Catholic who challenges them. When a number of people are making rebellious comments against the Church, it becomes harder for the truly faithful Catholic to express the truth—because forums tend to believe in numbers.
Yes, what happened in Ireland was shameful. It shows that the nation needs to be re-evangelized—as does the entire West. But it’s not surprising. So long as the average Catholic puts his or her own preferences above the moral obligation to follow the teaching the Church, it’s inevitable. Every one of us has the obligation to spread the Gospel to all nations, bearing witness. But obedience to the Church is part of that witness—if we are unwilling to give it ourselves, the result is our witness is that this is not important.