In these times, the most problematic issues involve the open advocating of disobedience to the magisterium. That needs to be opposed of course because it can lead Catholics into denying the authority of the Church and lose faith in the promises of Our Lord. So it is natural for Catholic bloggers to focus on this, standing up to say “This behavior is not ‘good’ Catholicism. It is schismatic."
But that being said, it is possible for a Catholic to do harm in other ways, even if they practice the faith without dissenting. In other words, how one presents the message can actually alienate people away from seeking the truth. For example, the Church makes clear that we have moral obligations to aid the poor and the refugees. A Catholic who chooses to reject the teaching does wrong. However, when Catholics disagree on the ways and means of carrying out Church teaching, it is certainly wrong to accuse them of being bad Catholics for thinking another strategy is better than the popular one.
In other words, two faithful Catholics can have different ideas on how to implement social justice but, provided that they accept the authority of the Church and strive to obey her teachings, can have different ideas on how to carry out that teaching. So when a blogger should happen to label people as being indifferent to suffering or racist because they have a different idea on how to deal with illegal immigration, that accusation is unjust if the other person agrees with the Church teaching and is trying to follow it. Likewise, when it comes to an issue like gun violence, there can be legitimate differences of opinions on how to solve it. But to label the person who disagrees with banning all guns as lying or being indifferent to suffering, that does not help spread the Catholic faith—it merely causes scandal by leading someone who agrees with the Church position to think he or she has no place in the Church.
So we have to discern. If two people support the Church teaching on X, but disagree on how to best follow teaching X, neither person is a heretic. But on the other hand, if one person supports the Church teaching on X while a second rejects that teaching on X, the second person cannot pretend to be a good Catholic so long as they reject the Church teaching.
This problem is compounded when abusive language is added to the mix. When we defend Pope Francis and his method of teaching, we certainly would be wise in emulating his example. When people are running afoul of Church teaching, the Pope reaches out with mercy and compassion. We should go and do likewise. That doesn’t mean tolerate bad actions as if they were good. That means we show the sinner how to change their ways without acting like a jerk over it. But if the person agrees with the Church teaching but has a different take on what approach to use, to be abusive is to behave shamefully. There can be many different ministries with the same end.
So in addition to defending the faith, we must defend it rightly and charitably. If blogger A presents the Church teaching rightly, but acts like a jerk about how he does so, then he causes harm, alienating our fellow believers and driving them away from their own mission. That’s damaging and more likely to drive the believers from the Church than to serve Our Lord’s will.
But on the other hand, we cannot confuse our political beliefs with our faith. Do our politics reflect our faith? Or do our politics shape our belief? If we choose option #2, we are choosing wrong, making an idol out of our politics.
But let’s be reasonable. Seeking a just and merciful solution to illegal immigration does not mean supporting a blanket amnesty. Opposing gun violence does not mean that only supporting a ban on all firearms is compatible with the Catholic faith. Standing up for the Church teaching on the death penalty or just war does not mean there will be perfect agreement on whether a particular instance of the death penalty is just or a particular war is just.
So let’s stop with the sarcastic remarks about “the thing that used to be conservatism” or accusing people who question the value of welfare as it is currently being implemented as being “not truly pro-life.” There is a difference between The Church Teaching and what I think needs to be done to carry it out. The former is not up for debate. The latter sometimes is.
If we make this mistake, we will have to answer for corrupting the message of the Church and for those we alienate for no good reason. Let us remember the words of the Church on Rash Judgment:
2477 Respect for the reputation of persons forbids every attitude and word likely to cause them unjust injury. He becomes guilty:
— of rash judgment who, even tacitly, assumes as true, without sufficient foundation, the moral fault of a neighbor;
— of detraction who, without objectively valid reason, discloses another’s faults and failings to persons who did not know them;
— of calumny who, by remarks contrary to the truth, harms the reputation of others and gives occasion for false judgments concerning them.
2478 To avoid rash judgment, everyone should be careful to interpret insofar as possible his neighbor’s thoughts, words, and deeds in a favorable way:
Every good Christian ought to be more ready to give a favorable interpretation to another’s statement than to condemn it. But if he cannot do so, let him ask how the other understands it. And if the latter understands it badly, let the former correct him with love. If that does not suffice, let the Christian try all suitable ways to bring the other to a correct interpretation so that he may be saved.
Catholic Church, Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd Ed. (Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference, 2000), 594.