A troubling trend that shows political ideology leading to dissent from Church teaching is not limited to one faction is the contempt directed against the Pope and bishops over their reaffirmation of the Catholic moral obligation to help the immigrant and the refugee. Instead of listening to those entrusted with binding and loosing, we’re seeing some Catholics respond as if they were patronizingly speaking to a grossly uneducated person giving an unwelcome opinion. The bishops get lectures on what St. Thomas Aquinas wrote and what the Catechism says about the right of governments to make decisions on these matters. But the bishops are not offering their personal opinions here. They are citing Church teaching to say that the disputed policy does not fulfill our obligation to help those in need. Since they are teaching, then we are bound to listen…
can. 753† Although the bishops who are in communion with the head and members of the college, whether individually or joined together in conferences of bishops or in particular councils, do not possess infallibility in teaching, they are authentic teachers and instructors of the faith for the Christian faithful entrusted to their care; the Christian faithful are bound to adhere with religious submission of mind to the authentic magisterium of their bishops.
Code of Canon Law: New English Translation (Washington, DC: Canon Law Society of America, 1998), 247.
What we are seeing is a continuation of the old American Catholic antics where factions within the Church treat Church teaching as a biased and uninformed opinion “proving” the bishops must be “liberal.” Ironically, this faction spent the last 8 years denouncing another faction within the Church which accused the bishops as being “the Republican Party at Prayer” because they reaffirmed the Catholic teaching on life and sexual morality.
It leads me to ponder this point—what kind of witness to we leave when we condemn others for not following Church teaching while refusing to follow it ourselves when it goes against our political beliefs? It is one thing to (charitably) disagree among ourselves on the best way to follow Church teaching when the Church teaches, “We must do X; we must not do Y.” But when the bishops reaffirm that a political policy goes against the prohibition on doing Y, supporting Y is not a difference of opinion but a rejection of the authority of the Church—and Our Lord is quite clear that this rejection is a rejection of Him (Luke 10:16, Matthew 18:17-18).
If we follow Church teaching only when it matches what we want to do anyway, rejecting it when it doesn’t, we are not obeying the Church and following God. Instead, we’re proclaiming to the world that Church teaching is a matter of convenience—obey when it was what you were going to do anyway, and ignore it without consequences when it is not. When we do this, we’re behaving like any other “personally oppose but…” Catholic out there, forgetting that John 14:15 and Matthew 7:21-23 are directed at us, not just “other people.”
This is not a call for us to be mindless sheep, doing whatever we are told regardless of whether it is right or wrong. This is about recognizing who has the final say in determining how Church teaching applies to the situations of our times. It’s about recognizing that we’re not just called to be Christians when it is convenient and leaving it behind when it is not. The magisterium has the authority to determine when a behavior or a belief is compatible with what God calls us to be. The Church doesn’t demand we support a certain political party, or agree with a certain program. But she does tell us that when a state, a party, a program, or a person does evil or supports it, we cannot give our consent to it while claiming it is compatible with our faith.
When we say, “The Church is wrong on X,” we are refusing to obey the One who gave the Church her authority. If we happen to agree with the Church 99% of the time but still insist on choosing when we will or will not obey, we are giving the same non serviam (“I will not serve”) the devil gave to God. This is true regardless of whether our dissent is based on politics or on religious preference.
We need to remember that when we profess to be Christians, but refuse to follow the Church Our Lord established, we are in danger of hearing at the Final Judgment: ”I never knew you. Depart from me, you evildoers.” (Matthew 7:23b)