A la carte Catholics

Re-reading the comments on Going along with the Crowd I thought it might be useful to make some summary, personal points. Of course I write on my own authority, and anyone is free to disagree or to amplify. My concern stems from my strong belief that the unity of the Church is a matter of supreme importance. Not only is this an essential characteristic (we claim to be One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic) but we have seen how the Reformation denominations have suffered from its lack.

Unity can of course be enforced with a big stick, as it has sometimes been in the past. But this is no longer possible, if it was ever desirable. However, maintaining a proper diversity within this unity is proving tricky. I have no time for <!–[if supportFields]> SEQ CHAPTER \h \r 1<![endif]–><!–[if supportFields]><![endif]–>à la carte Catholics; indeed I find the idea to be almost a contradiction in terms. Yet they grow apace, not only in this country but, even more aggressively in the USA.

However desirable democracy may be in political life, we have to start from our basic belief that the Church was founded by Christ, and given authority by him. He clearly invested the apostles (now the bishops) with authority. Among them he singled out Peter for a special leadership role. Of course it took time for the concept of the papacy to become clear.

His bishops have, first of all, to preserve the truths of Revelation and to oversee the Church’s developing understanding of those truths. This does not mean that they have necessarily been expressed in their most perfect form or that there will be no deeper and fuller expression of them over time. But it does mean that these core truths, once declared to be settled, are protected from error. No one who denies any of these is entitled to call themselves a member of the Catholic communion.

But the Church’s Christ-given authority stretches well beyond these to questions of faith and morals which are not infallible as such. The best summary we have of these is the Catechism of the Catholic Church. No one who wishes to call themselves Catholic is entitled to disregard this teaching. However it is possible to disagree in some issues, but a great personal responsibility so to do. The first responsibility is to understand the meaning and the reasons for the teaching, and to make a sincere effort to conform. It is by no means a question of picking and choosing. The proper formation of conscience is difficult but essential.

And there are of course the disciplines of the community which the Magisterium may lay down, just as any community must have its rules to ensure good order.

The basic structure I have described can of course be exercised in different ways – just as in secular areas leadership and management approaches can differ. I have never made a secret of my belief that the exercise of the Magisterium’s authority is often bureaucratic and oppressive in practice. It was developed in a world where the clerical authorities were the educated <!–[if supportFields]> SEQ CHAPTER \h \r 1<![endif]–><!–[if supportFields]><![endif]–>élite, and the laity seen as compliant peasants. That world no longer exists. If the Church wishes to flourish and grow, it needs fundamental reforms of structure and attitude. I have already indicated in these columns what I believe some of these should be. In summary, I look to the Church developing from a hierarchy into a true community, centred around Peter. By coincidence I was re-reading an article in the “The Month” (Jesuit periodical) which I wrote on this subject in June 1966. I am not inclined to change a word. We need to continue to argue the case, but it is clear that patience will be required.

St Augustine’s dictum still holds: In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all thing, charity.

OOO

It will only take you a second to follow this link. I think you will find it entertaining and informative. (Thanks to the Editor of the CH for passing it to me.)

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About Quentin

Science Editor, Catholic Herald. Portrait © Jacqueline Alma
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6 Responses to A la carte Catholics

  1. Daisy says:

    One things saddens me. I have noticed that more and more Catholics seem to be seeing Sunday Mass as optional. I believe that taking part in the Mass on a regular basis (unless there is a real excuse on particular occasions) is a necessary part of Catholic life. I don’t think that the old sanction of mortal sin for missing Mass was ever a good idea (is it still on the books?). But it shouldn’t be necessary because the breaking of the bread is a direct request from Jesus.

  2. Brighton says:

    Loved the link at the bottom, I hope everyone has tried it.
    On Quentin’s points – I certainly agree with him. But if he has been writing about this since 1966 it does seem a rather long term project.
    I don’t see any sign of Pope Benedict easing up. He has accepted the Society of Pius Xth and given an invitation to a group of Anglicans known for their conservative ways.
    Meanwhile we have had to undergo the shame of paedophile priests, I mean the much deeper shame of the determination of various bishops to keep everything under wraps.
    I understand that the latest drafts from the Curia of the translation of the liturgy are in poor English, use ‘complicated’ holy-sounding words when plain ones would do.
    It seems to me that the whole thing is going backwards.

  3. Horace says:

    Daisy, I learnt my Catechism in the ’30s and, although I have long lost the little red book, I believe that it went like this:-
    232. Do Catholics have to attend Mass on Sundays and Holy days of Obligation?
    Catholics must attend Mass on Sundays and Holy days of Obligation unless prevented by sickness or important duties.
    – but I cannot recollect that anywhere it was stated that missing Mass was a ‘mortal sin’.
    Now the current version of the Catechism of the Catholic Church reads:-
    2180 The precept of the Church specifies the law of the Lord more precisely: “On Sundays and other holy days of obligation the faithful are bound to participate in the Mass.”
    2181 . . . . Those who deliberately fail in this obligation commit a grave sin
    Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

    Brighton, “keep everything under wraps”. The best quote that I have read on this subject (sorry I can’t remember where it comes from, America obviously) goes:-
    “The trouble with the Catholic Church is that it treats [abuse] as a sin to be forgiven rather than as a crime to be punished.”
    – and on the latest translation of the liturgy:-
    Some years ago one of my students – a young lady doctor from Moscow – proudly said to me:- “I learnt English at school, my friend here learnt American”!

  4. Superview says:

    I don’t believe I am an ‘a la carte’ Catholic, but I am less than satisfied with the fixed price menu. And the reputation of the restaurant has suffered as a result of infestation in the kitchen that went unheeded by the management.
    As usual Quentin is clear and persuasive (although he may come to regret his metaphor). No one can be under any illusions that the Church has requirements for membership and it is perfectly reasonable that those who claim membership should abide by the rules, especially if the source of those rules is Divine Revelation.
    But as Quentin’s fourth and fifth paragraphs acknowledge, many things are still to be better understood; indeed, on matters of faith and morals the concept of development is accepted, even if it means different things to different people. Can we say, therefore, without causing great harm, that some of the reasons behind the rules are weaker than others, or maybe that some are out of date even?
    This must be so, unless it is asserted that nothing can ever change. Yet recent history shows that suggesting such a thing seems to bring out the strongest authoritarian reactions. In part it seems to be conditioned by deep history, going back to Augustine and earlier, and an over-riding priority to keep the flock unified. Within our reach is an appreciation of the drama of the Reformation raging outside the gate, for example, with the rejection of Roman Catholicism resulting in accelerated fragmentation of Christianity. More recently, to change is seen to be succumbing to the threat of Modernism. Cumulatively, it has led to a culture of authoritarianism of which a Roman Emperor would be envious.
    There is more to this, I know. But, as a Catholic living in the modern world, whose grown-up children are out there dealing with the momentous pace of social, scientific and technological changes, even I, as socially conservative as I believe myself to be, can see that there is something unconvincing about an authoritarian, self-perpetuating, all-male hierarchy, dressed in medieval costumes which carefully signal their status in a most worldly fashion, asserting their unique access to truth – good men though they may be. So I ask the question, is each of these fact-based characteristics essential to Christ’s Church on earth?

  5. RMBlaber says:

    The One, Holy (Roman) Catholic and Apostolic Church claims to be the means – not the _sole_ means, but the means _par excellence_ – whereby Divine Truth is revealed to the human race.
    Of course, if that is not the case, or if there is no God, and therefore no Divine Truth to be revealed, then the claims of the Magisterium are a fraud.
    I think I know what Quentin means by his use of the phrase ‘à la carte Catholic’. An ‘à la carte Catholic’ is indeed a _contradicto in adjecto_. It is what Cardinal Newman would have called a ‘liberal’; someone who elevates his own private judgement above that of the Church’s Magisterium, rejecting anything that the Church teaches which goes against his own conscience, or perhaps just personal preference, and keeping the rest. I can cope with Catholic teaching on abortion, so I’ll accept that, but not Catholic teaching on homosexual relationships or contraception.
    The trouble is, on this definition, both Quentin and I are ‘à la carte Catholics’, notwithstanding his expressed distaste for them. Cardinal Newman _himself_ ended up being accused of being a liberal (irony of ironies!), because he insisted on the primacy of conscience.
    However, that said, he _also_ insisted that our consciences should be _formed_, that is to say, that we should educate and train our consciences by listening to what the Church has to say. Only if, after having listened very carefully to what She teaches, not just about contraception or homosexual relationships or whatever, but about the broad range of moral questions, we still find any particular teaching of hers unsatisfactory on genuinely conscientious grounds – and not on mere whim – should we reject it.
    This does not cover dogmatic issues. If we have a problem with any of the Church’s dogma, then, to be honest, it is time for us, either to hope that the the problem will go away (and talking it over with one’s priest is always a good idea) or if the problem is really fundamental and unlikely to go away – then to walk away. God will be more prepared, I think, to forgive an honest doubter, than someone who stays and pretends to believe when he doesn’t.
    What ‘Superview’ has to say is trenchant, and there is all too much truth in his criticism. The Church covered up the truth about paedophile priests, and is now paying the price (literally and metaphorically) for having done so. But paedophile priests and ministers were not unique to the RC Church – I know of cases of Anglicans as well, including one in my home town, whom I knew personally, although I had no idea what he was up to at the time.
    The ultimate rule is – it is not rules that count, be they about Mass attendance or anything else. What counts is _love_, of God and Man. Legalism is the besetting sin of the Catholic Church. (Not that the Protestant denominations are exempt.) Love, and do as thou wilt, as St Augustine said. If we truly loved God, no-one would have to create a rule about Sunday Mass attendance, because we would all be there (unless duty, sickness, or disability prevented us) queueing up at the Church door joyfully.

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