Monday, June 15, 2009

Fast-Food Catholicism

I thought about writing about this at Crunchy Con, but then I thought better of it. This is one of those topics that I think would just unravel into the usual "gay marriage fight" over there--but the real point is about Catholicism, what it means to be a Catholic, and why rejecting the Church's moral teachings while simultaneously claiming to be a Catholic in good standing isn't really coherent.

It starts with this op-ed column in the New York Times, written by Tom Suozzi:

When I ran in the Democratic primary for governor against Eliot Spitzer in 2006, I vocally supported civil unions for same-sex couples but did not endorse equal marriage. I understood the need to provide equal rights for gays and lesbians, but as a practicing Catholic, I also felt that the state should not infringe on religious institutions’ right to view marriage in accordance with their own traditions. I thought civil unions for same-sex couples would address my concerns regarding both equality and religious liberty.

I was wrong.

I have listened to many well-reasoned and well-intentioned arguments both for and against same-sex marriage. And as I talked to gays and lesbians and heard their stories of pain, discrimination and love, my platitudes about civil unions began to ring hollow. I have struggled to find the solution that best serves the common good.

I now support same-sex marriage. This is a subject of great debate before the New York State Legislature (although the legislators there are a little distracted right now), and I hope that same-sex civil marriage will be approved within the month.
Read the whole thing if you have the time and if you don't have a twitchy gag reflex.

Suozzi is clearly not even remotely aware of Church teaching on the subject of gay marriage or gay civil unions; the Church opposes both, and has special words for the Catholic politician:

If it is true that all Catholics are obliged to oppose the legal recognition of homosexual unions, Catholic politicians are obliged to do so in a particular way, in keeping with their responsibility as politicians. Faced with legislative proposals in favour of homosexual unions, Catholic politicians are to take account of the following ethical indications.

When legislation in favour of the recognition of homosexual unions is proposed for the first time in a legislative assembly, the Catholic law-maker has a moral duty to express his opposition clearly and publicly and to vote against it. To vote in favour of a law so harmful to the common good is gravely immoral.

When legislation in favour of the recognition of homosexual unions is already in force, the Catholic politician must oppose it in the ways that are possible for him and make his opposition known; it is his duty to witness to the truth. If it is not possible to repeal such a law completely, the Catholic politician, recalling the indications contained in the Encyclical Letter Evangelium vitae, “could licitly support proposals aimed at limiting the harm done by such a law and at lessening its negative consequences at the level of general opinion and public morality”, on condition that his “absolute personal opposition” to such laws was clear and well known and that the danger of scandal was avoided.(18) This does not mean that a more restrictive law in this area could be considered just or even acceptable; rather, it is a question of the legitimate and dutiful attempt to obtain at least the partial repeal of an unjust law when its total abrogation is not possible at the moment.

Previous generations have talked a lot about "cafeteria Catholicism," the tendency of Catholics to pick and choose which Church teachings they'll obey, and which they'll dissent from or ignore.

Reading Suozzi's execrable op-ed, or hearing all the "Catholic" abortion apologists and their twisted arguments in favor of abortion, or any one of a number of similar recent examples, I can't help but feel that we've sunk even lower than the cafeteria.

We've become a generation of fast-food Catholics.

There is an unfortunate and growing tendency among Catholics today to treat Church teaching, and in particular Catholic moral teaching, as options which they can select or reject from some glitteringly trivial neon menu. Morality is a matter of personal preference, and the individual self is the only magisterium that matters. You can almost hear the dialog:

Hi, welcome to Heaven 'r Hell, home of the Apostaburger. Can I take your order?

Yes, I'd like a large fornication/birth control combo, heavy on the rationalizing, and with some hypocrisy on top.

Would you like a side of lies with that?

Sure, and I'd like a tall iced avarice to drink.

Okay. Oh, and with the combo we offer a special "pro-death penalty" shake for only...

What? I'm a practicing Catholic! Don't insult me like that!

Sorry, sir! Your total comes to...well, one immortal soul, same as always.

Put it on my tab.

The truth is that when someone like Suozzi writes an editorial like his, and claims to be a "practicing Catholic," one can only suspect, in charity, that the religion he is practicing has done a horrifically lax job of educating him as to the slightest bit of its teachings. We are not our own magisteriums; we're not entitled to reject Church moral teaching out of hand, and we're especially not entitled to go around boasting of our Catholicism when we do so.


Claire said...

I think it is important to acknowledge here that it is very difficult to live up to all the teachings of the church. Yes, it is a goal to strive for, but ultimately impossible to be Christ; we can only work on being as Christ-like as possible. More difficult still is being in a position of power and having to take into account what is best for the people and how best to represent the faith. I think it is unfair to deem this cafeteria Catholocism as this politician clearly struggled with the decision over this important issue and ultimately chose to support people and not condemn them, which is what I feel Jesus would have done in his place. It is important to understand the complexity of this issue without attacking him.

Sarah - Kala said...

Most of the time, on issues like this, when we live as Christ, we will offend others - the Truth stinks to those who chose to ignore it or trivialize morality. Christ said he was hated and we should be no different when we stand on the Truth. I don't want to be loved because I feel for people's lot in life . . . I still love people even if I do not agree with their choices that the Church clearly points out as wrong. Love the sinner hate the sin; we can lovingly tell folks they are wrong, but if they reject the Truth well, we must dust our feet off. I do not go out of my way to start arguing with people who chose that lifestyle (or if they are born that way - whatever), but I also must defend the Faith. I can also point out biologically the gay lifestyle is a plague. People don't want to hear it 'cos they think it's offensive and they think we don't love them. That is so far from the truth. But, to be hated by others because I am Catholic . . . well, it's the Cross I must carry. This politician is in the wrong.

Magister Christianus said...

Erin, you write, "one can only suspect, in charity, that the religion he is practicing has done a horrifically lax job of educating him as to the slightest bit of its teachings." As a Protestant who is reading voraciously these days and praying mightily about move into the Catholic church, I worry about just this sort of thing. The historic Church I read about has all the gleaming beauty that she should as the bride of Christ. I worry about entering a particular parish where falsehood is promoted through such lax teachings.

eulogos said...


The Church officially teaches the truth.
But there are a lot of Catholics.
All of them are sinners, and some are not well educated.
Furthermore, it was really that way in the past also.
The Church has the beauty of the Bride of Christ, even while being made up of sinful humans who fail to be, do, and teach, all that they ought.

As for the parish, well, it can be rough. It also depends where you are. Usually if you are willing to drive a bit, you can find a good one. Even in a less good one, you can receive Our Lord in communion and be forgiven in the sacrament of penance...and you will be in Christ's church.

If the Catholic Church is what she says she is, you have no choice but to join her. If she isn't, you cannot join her. Do you think her imperfections invalidate her claim? If so, where will you find The Church?

Susan Peterson

Deirdre Mundy said...

C.S. Lewis has a good point about staying away from church because the Parish isbn't up to snuff, or your co-religionists are too lax--he says it's the result of demonic temptation (see the screwtape letters... can't remember which chapter, lent out my copy--anyone know offhand where it is?)

Sherry said...

Nw apostaburger, trasubstance free upon request.

Rebecca said...


Where's the beef?