Reading this article on William Luse’s blog has gotten me thinking more and more about some recent events. The article, actually an interview transcript, is from 1981 and reproduces a conversation between William F. Buckley and Malcolm Muggeridge. In this conversation, Muggeridge discusses his reasons for not being Catholic (he did eventually convert, but that is beside the point). His reasons for not becoming a Catholic, despite his belief in purgatory, papal infalibility, the Creed, his own admiration for the saints, his own opposition to contraception, etc., is that he did not see the Church as actually believing what it said about contraception.
This is quite problematic. This problem is not one of simple, conventional hypocrisy. That kind of hypocrisy is easily resolved: a man with the highest and noblest of principles will undoubably fail to live up to them at times. Some people try to make this an excuse to abandon those principles altogether, but it is fairly transparent that this is incorrect. The shock at discovery of hypocrisy comes from the failure, not from the thought that one would have such principles to begin with. The hypocrisy that Muggeridge seems to have seen is different.
It is a lack of moral honesty. Muggeridge saw a Church that taught against contraception–with a wink and a smile. A Church where officials were concerned with making sure that their own alleged beliefs were not carried out. It is not that the priest in question, who wanted Muggeridge to allow the distribution of contraception, believed that contraception but failed to live up to that believe. Rather, he did not believe that it was wrong to use it, and he attempted to subvert the very principle that he, as a Catholic priest, was required to believe. In short, he was a liar.
Now, when Obama spoke at Notre Dame, I had a conversation with a formerly-Catholic agnostic who has shown a great respect for the Church and Her teachings in the past. This agnostic told me that she no longer thought that the Catholic Church was “good at all.” Though in fact many bishops did speak out against Obama’s speaking at Notre Dame, this fact did not erase the reality that the many priests at Notre Dame did not do anything to stop Obama from speaking there and receiving an honorary degree. In fact, they brought it about. For someone who is not already a member of the Church, but who respects the Church for Her stance against abortion, this is a crushing blow to that respect. Suddenly the Church is not an organization that opposes abortion, but an organization that can’t get its act together and that talks out of both sides of its mouth.
I have, and I’m sure any readers who might happen upon this post have, met priests and other “officials” in the Church who do not believe and even who act against what the Church teaches. These are not hypocrites who fail to live up to their own high standards, but rather hypocrites and liars who try actively to undermine the truth.
I am not saying that they are “not real Catholics.” That is an easy dodge of the issue. They are real Catholics. Some of them have studied, gone to seminary, and been ordained. Some are even trusted by the Church with sensitive issues like the religious education of children. Yes, they are heretics, but they are Catholics to themselves and to the world. Thus, it is vitally important that when we discuss Church issues with anyone, that we remain true to our Catholic principles. Little, weaselly words like “well I don’t agree with the Church on everything ” (perhaps you mean an issue like who to appoint Bishop of San Diego or something) is heard by the non-Catholic listener as “it’s okay to disagree with the dogmas and doctrines of the Church.” By accepting the name Catholic and receiving Holy Communion, we acknowledge the truth of the Church’s teachings. If we believe otherwise, we are creating a scandal, whether we wish to do so or not.