“Habemus Papam!” The smoke billowing from the Sistine Chapel was white. On March 13, Pope Francis greeted 100,000 joyful Catholics who thronged St. Peter’s Square.
It was a perfect time for the talking heads in the “24-hour news cycle” to begin their incessant – and wrong — speculations. Columnists, politicians, and anyone who can get close to a microphone were telling the faithful what the church has to do to become more relevant.
In the days since the accession of Pope Francis to the Throne of St. Peter, the din has only gotten louder. I have a request to all of above: Put a sock in it. There is nothing as unattractive as a person with great knowledge or experience on more mundane matters discussing things about which he or she knows absolutely nothing. In the days leading up to the election and since, the punditry class has continued to ferret out dissenting opinions seeming to determine the best way for the Church to “get with it” is to harangue it.
CBS had to find two gals in the square of the estimated 250,000 that demanded ‘wymynpriests.’ Other networks did the same, and more. From divorced couples in their second marriages to homosexual activity to a plethora of other gripes, the news media was out in force not trying to understand the orthodox position, but rail against it. So let’s go through the list: women priests? Ain’t gonna happen. Same-sex marriage? Ditto. Birth control? See one and two. Pope Francis is a staunch defender of traditional Catholic doctrine (a key word, remember it).
Unlike many of the people spouting off in the media, this writer has spent much of his life reading, learning and understanding the doctrines of the church. Not only do I know the doctrines of the church, I understand their bases, and where they originate. I also know the difference between doctrine (women priests and same-sex marriage) versus discipline (clerical celibacy). Many in the punditry class not only get the two mixed up, they never attempt to understand them in the first place. That’s where I get angry, and I’m not the only one. Many Catholics are tired of having a caricature of our beliefs paraded around by people who don’t want to know any better.
When it comes to women in the clergy, this question was decided by John Paul II more than 17 years ago, and is considered part of the magisterium of the church (that means teaching authority, pundits), but it is also considered part of the infallible deposit of faith. To simplify, JPII’s statement simply said women can’t be priests because it is outside the realm of the church to change something that has been handed down to it. This isn’t politics, it is doctrine.
As far as same-sex marriage goes, we believe that man and women have different natures. We don’t buy into the current fashion that men and women are interchangeable except for the (to quote Monty Python) “naughty bits,” and that any differences are sociological or bred into the person. We believe the nature of a man and a woman is essentially different. They are complementary and that allows for the procreation of children as a real and necessary part of marriage. In fact, in our religion it is a sacrament, one of seven.
You, Mr. or Ms. Pundit, see marriage as a strictly social construct. We see it as a physical and metaphysical union. Your limited outlook sees marriage as a matter of politics; we go far beyond that. Would it hurt to find out why Mother Church teaches on the matter? Google it if you don’t want to sift through the Catechism of the Catholic Church, or use Wikipedia. You can have your questions answered in seconds.
And while we’re on the subject of doctrine, I realize that many denominations have synods or conventions or confabulations of some sort wherein they determine what their doctrine is or isn’t. That means some ecclesial communities have women clergy or now bless same-sex unions. Let them, and more power to them. If people want to go that route, they can join those communions. We don’t and can’t put doctrines to a vote. Then they’d cease to be “doctrines” –by definition.
It’s the same with contraception. Does it interest you to know that this issue was discussed in some of the earliest documents the church has? It was proscribed then, and is proscribed now for the reasons that, among other things, frustrating the sexual act objectifies the people involved. Isn’t that something you are against? Would it interest you to know that up until 1930, every Protestant denomination taught the same as the Catholics? Yup, it wasn’t until the Lambeth Conference in that year that the Anglican Church broke with almost 2,000 years and other denominations quickly followed suit.
And bringing on such old dissident war horses like Matthew Fox or Sr. Mary Pantsuit of the Sisters of Charity, who ceased living the rule a long time ago, makes no difference. These people bring to life a famous quote by the Anglican convert Ronald Knox. He said the basic difference between Catholics and Protestants is that with Protestants they lose their faith and then their morals, with Catholics it’s the other way round. These people lost their moral bearings, but still want to call themselves Catholics, when in fact they ceased to be Catholic a long time ago.
Many of our modern-day politicians are in the same boat. My own congresswoman from the Connecticut Third Congressional District likes to trot out her First Communion photo, but when it comes to abortion, birth control and same-sex marriage, she talks more like a Democrat than a Catholic. But, she still likes to call herself a Catholic. I can call myself an elephant, but that doesn’t make me one. The point is we’re not going to change our stance on moral teachings or any other doctrine just to “get with” the times. These are considered immutable truths. I know thinking of things as true and false is not something you’re used to in your world of ‘relativity,’ but some of us do think that way.
Ronald Knox said the basic difference between Catholics and Protestants is that Protestants lose their faith and then their morals, whereas with Catholics it’s the other way around. These old dissident war horses lost their moral bearings, but still want to call themselves Catholics.
And just so we’re clear: We don’t meddle in politics except when politics meddles with our beliefs. Abortion and same-sex marriage are two issues that encroach on our beliefs. We have a right and a responsibility to speak out against something that we believe is morally wrong. Does that mean we’re perfect and without sin? Nope. That’s why our churches have confessionals – and guess what, confession is coming back in style. It’s a lot cheaper than hiring a shrink and the priest can say three little words that a shrink can’t, “Ego te absolvo.”
And we know we’ve had problems with scandals, but if you look at it, we’re not better or worse than other segments of society – just more visible. We’re working on those difficulties and the hurt our people caused. It means we’ve got work to do, but we’ve faced issues just as painful. But if you want a real good side-bar to the abuse story, find out why so many above-mentioned psychiatrists and psychologists put offenders back into circulation. Many of our bishops were only doing what the professionals were telling them, you know, the experts. That’s the part of the story yet to be told.
The point is, if you’re going to opine about us, at least have the intellectual honesty and journalistic integrity to find out what we believe and why. If you’re not going to do that, please gasbag about something else, and leave those of us who take these things seriously alone. What you have is not an opinion, but a prejudice because, in the final analysis, you want it that way.
Bill Riccio, Jr. is editor and publisher of the West Haven (CT) Voice, a weekly periodical. He is an assistant organist at St. Mary’s Church, Norwalk (CT) and an instituted acolyte in the Diocese of Bridgeport. He may be contacted by email. Bill Riccio photo be Stuart Chessman.
Featured photo attributed to Vdp (edição), This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported, 2.5 Generic, 2.0 Generic and 1.0 Generic license.