“Liberals can’t be Catholic? But I’m both!”
If that was your reaction to this post’s title, please keep reading. I want to show you why I make that claim, and I think by the end, you’ll agree.
It is my observation that those who identify as liberal disagree with at least one of the Catholic Church teachings on a matter of faith or morals. Perhaps you consider yourself liberal but do not disagree with any Church teachings; perhaps you follow Catholicism exactly as faithfully as you were taught to follow it and see no disagreement between liberalism and Catholicism.
In any case, I am not here to call you to task for being purposefully wrong; your assumed lack of catechesis is most likely not your fault. I am not here to tell you how you have to change, although I will be making the suggestion that you should change either your mind or your label.
My entire argument boils down to this: to say “I am a Catholic” means “I am a person who accepts all of the Catholic Church’s teachings, or at least all of their doctrines and laws.”
This seems extremely obvious to me, so obvious that I expect much agreement already, if hesitantly. After all, you would not call yourself an atheist simply because you don’t believe in the divinity of Zeus. You would not call yourself a vegan if you only avoided eating steak. You would not call yourself a bisexual if you were only attracted to men. Then why would anyone call themselves a Catholic if they ignored Church teaching?
Certainly, an atheist wouldn’t believe in Zeus, a vegan wouldn’t eat steak, and a bisexual would be attracted to men, but in each case, there is much more to the term than simply that trait. In the same way, there is much more to Catholicism than simply being baptized and going to Mass on Easter and Christmas.
It is true that a Catholic, in the very strictest sense, is merely a person baptized in the Catholic Church (CCC 272), so there is some truth to calling oneself “Catholic” solely on that merit. (In that sense, I myself am a Catholic, although I’m an apostate.)
However, Baptism (as the Catholic sacrament) brings with it an obligation “to ‘obey and submit’ to the Church leaders” (CCC 269). This alone is enough to prove that all Catholics are required to follow the Code of Canon Law, for that is the collection of rules from Church leaders.
In addition, the very first commandment (“You shall worship the Lord your God and Him only shall you serve”) forbids heresy, which is “the post-baptismal denial of some truth which must be believed with divine and catholic faith” (CCC 2089).
If you disagree with anything the Church teaches, you are by definition a heretic. At that point, to call yourself a Catholic is to bend the truth, if not break it.
Further, to disobey the Church is by definition sinful; to disregard Church commands is schism (CCC 2089). Once again, calling yourself a Catholic under such circumstances is certainly at least inaccurate.
So what does the Church teach? What do the Church leaders command?
Origin of Man
Obviously, the Catholic Church has learned something from the Galileo fiasco (which was probably not quite as bad as it is commonly understood, anyway). For decades now, the Catholic Church has officially allowed Catholics to accept the scientific theory of evolution, ever since the papal encyclical Humani Generis of 1950. Well, at least, the Catholic Church has not denounced this science or forbidden its study, which is somewhat of a different thing than endorsing it.
However, a close examination of paragraph 37 of this encyclical reveals a story rarely told to anyone. The Catholic Church, in the person of Pope Pius XII, specifically and explicitly forbids belief in any theory of the origin of humanity that includes more than one man. Interestingly, there is less concern with Eve, but the Church has decided that there was one literal “individual Adam”, at least until they can find a way to make more than one Adam fit with the doctrine that Original Sin is passed through the genetic line. There is, certainly, some wiggle room in the document if such an explanation is found.
One point of interest is that the encyclical specifically uses the word “polygenism”. The scientific understanding of this term is that humans evolved separately in more than one geographical location, e.g., Africa and Europe. The scientific community, to the best of my knowledge, has rejected this idea. Unfortunately, the encyclical is clearly using the term in a much narrower sense, wherein it means that humans evolved from more than one breeding pair (or at least more than one breeding man).
I say “unfortunately” because science has shown that there was never a first human. The evidence overwhelmingly shows that polygenism, in the sense the encyclical uses the term, is true. For a Catholic to accept this scientific finding, they must reject the word of a Pope.
The official teaching on the homosexual act is that it is “intrinsically disordered”, “contrary to natural law”, and “of grave depravity”. “Under no circumstances can they be approved.” (CCC 2357) In addition, “the sin of Sodom” is listed second in a list of four “Sins Crying to Heaven for Vengeance” in The Roman Missal of 1962. (For the record, the others in order are willful murder, oppression of the poor, and defrauding labourers of their wages.)
For a person who calls themselves Catholic, to support legalizing state recognition of a relationship which almost by definition will contain this gravely sinful act, at least in the majority of cases, is to defy the teaching of the Church.
Contraception / Family Planning
According to at least one study, over 70% of Catholic women trying to avoid pregnancy rely on artificial contraception, so it is likely that you or someone you know has used a contraception method forbidden by the Church. Paragraph 2370 of the CCC calls every method of artificial contraception “intrinsically evil”. Even for an otherwise faithful husband and wife to use a condom is a matter of grievous sin.
Masturbation / Pornagraphy
According to the CCC, “masturbation is an intrinsically and gravely disordered action.” I believe the related Bible verse is an order against “spilling the seed”, which clearly applies to only male masturbation. However, the wording of the Catechism is such that a Catholic should consider masturbation as mortally sinful in most instances.
Like masturbation, pornography is listed in the CCC as “a grave offense”, and everyone involved is culpable (2354).
I find it hard to believe I even need to point out how severely the Catholic Church has condemned the act of abortion. The CCC describes it as “gravely contrary to the moral law” (2271; see surrounding paragraphs for further information).
The Church certainly doesn’t say capital punishment is wrong. This article puts it pretty well, saying that the death penalty is accepted in extreme cases but it is also okay for individual Catholics to be against it, especially in individual cases.
Evangelization / Correcting Other Catholics
The correcting of other people ties in to evangelization. Canon 225 states, “lay persons […] are bound by the general obligation and possess the right as individuals, or joined in associations, to work so that the divine message of salvation is made known and accepted by all persons everywhere in the world. This obligation is even more compelling in those circumstances in which only through them can people hear the gospel and know Christ.” Further, CCC paragraph 900 states, “Since, like all the faithful, lay Christians are entrusted by God with the apostolate by virtue of their Baptism and Confirmation, they have the right and duty, individually or grouped in associations, to work so that the divine message of salvation may be known and accepted by all men throughout the earth. This duty is the more pressing when it is only through them that men can hear the Gospel and know Christ. Their activity in ecclesial communities is so necessary that, for the most part, the apostolate of the pastors cannot be fully effective without it.”
In other words, every Catholic has a duty to evangelize. What is the best way to evangelize? Probably by demonstrating charity. This chapter explains exactly why policing people is the highest form of charity. In addition, there are the Spiritual Works of Mercy, which include “instruct the ignorant” and “admonish the sinner”. No doubt the admonishment should be done with as much kindness as possible, but it is certainly Catholic to correct those who do or say things in contrast to Church teaching.
Befriending / Dating / Marrying Non-Catholics
While it is certainly not forbidden to befriend, date, or even marry a non-Catholic, it is quite obviously frowned upon for the dangers it entails.
The Catholic Church warns against near occasions of sin, and even asks Catholics to promise to avoid them as part of Confession in the Act of Contrition. According to the Baltimore Catechism, any companion in whose company we sin is a near occasion of sin. It is not hard to take that and go to “avoid those who are okay with sins with which I am not okay.” The intermediary steps include “those who are not Catholic have different morals” and “everyone will be as pushy/open about their morals as I am supposed to be about mine”.
Whether we should even date non-Catholics is an issue not really covered in my research. I mean, there are provisions for marrying them, so why wouldn’t it be okay to date them?
To check the teaching on marrying non-Catholics, I went to the CCC, paragraph 1634: “Differences about faith and the very notion of marriage, but also different religious mentalities, can become sources of tension in marriage, especially as regards the education of children. The temptation to religious indifference can then arise.” In other words, marrying a non-Catholic is a risk and could be a grave danger to any children resulting from that marriage, not to mention the Catholic spouse.
Various Teachings You May Not Know
Canon 1247 of the Code of Canon Law minces no words when it states that “On Sundays and other holy days of obligation, the faithful are obliged to participate in the Mass.” Further, paragraph 2181 of the CCC states, “Those who deliberately fail in this obligation commit grave sin.” This is, of course, a mortal sin.
In my experience, most American Catholics are entirely unaware that the Code of Canon Law still forbids the eating of meat on every Friday throughout the year. While an Episcopal Conference like the USCCB can change which food Catholics must refrain from eating, it is not permitted for them to remove that penance entirely.
Only Christians Can Do Good Acts
Please examine this article, pointing specifically to the first quote by Augustine: “But who is able to live righteously and do good works unless he has been justified by faith?” (Various Questions to Simplician 1:2:21 [A.D. 396]). Also, I did read an approved Bible Commentary that said that non-believers can do good works but they didn’t count because those works are not done for the love of God.
Role of Women
The Catechism of the Council of Trent says in as many words that wives should obey their husbands (with the obvious exception of anything contrary to what the Church says to do). This is left out of the Catechism of the Catholic Church as near as I can tell, and the current Canon Law doesn’t seem to have anything to say about it, either. However, the CCT also says that the husband has a duty “to treat his wife courteously and with honour” (II, VIII, XXVI). In other words, while it has been Catholic teaching in the past that a woman should obey, even then there was an order that the man must not abuse that power, and Catholicism seems to have officially stepped away from this teaching.
Of course, I feel the need to point out that rape is not on the list of four “Sins Crying to Heaven for Vengeance” in The Roman Missal.
I hope you have learned something of what the Catholic Church actually teaches.
If you are a Catholic who is reading this and thinking, “Well, if that is Church teaching, then I will change my actions to line up with my beliefs,” I commend you for your commitment to consistency.
If you are a liberal who is reading this and thinking, “If that is REALLY what the Church teaches, I’m defecting!” I commend you. Many of these teachings are horrifying to me, too, and they are a non-inclusive list of my reasons for remaining in my apostasy.
If you are horrified by things on this list and still wish to remain Catholic, I have but one question: Why would you cling to a label that paints you with beliefs which you do not hold?
Note: This is eventually intended to be expanded and placed in book form, hopefully soon. Please offer any criticisms you have so that I may improve this document and make it more persuasive.