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Northwest Voices

Seattle Times letters to the editor

January 9, 2009 at 3:30 PM

The Catholic Church and politics

The role of revelation

Terrence Carroll and Sam Sperry [“Churches and politics: conscience or dogma?” guest column, Jan. 8] are respected individuals in the field of U.S. law and journalism. They are faithful sons of the Catholic Church, but also show themselves to be children of the Enlightenment era.

René Descartes ushered in our postmodern age. His axiom, “I think, therefore I am,” attempted to dismiss external authority and objective truth. Carroll and Sperry seem to imply that moral principles should be determined by majority vote.

Christianity, however, is a religion based on revelation. In the Catholic faith, revelation is transmitted through scripture and tradition.

Bishops form the magisterium or teaching authority in the church. Reception of teaching by the laity does play an important role, but the teaching is not determined by majority vote of the laity in any given area, whether it be Washington state, the United States or any other world nation.

I agree with Carroll and Sperry that a few in the episcopacy have not been the best of teachers, resorting to the threat of excommunication and denial of the sacraments. On the other hand, some of the faithful have transformed Descartes’ axiom into “I think, therefore I am right.” They seem closed to any view but their own, even though they may have no background in studying the scriptures or moral theology.

I regret Carroll and Sperry feel that the laity does not have any meaningful role in the church. If they reviewed the documents of the Second Vatican Council, they would discover that the role of the laity is to transform the world.

Yes, the laity has a minor role in the formation of church teaching. But, they have a major role in bringing the joy, justice and peace of God’s kingdom to every aspect of life and, yes, to transform the world.

— William McKee, Federal Way

Proud to be Catholic, proud to support life

As a Catholic, I see the church take strong moral stances on social issues. As a Catholic, I know that our bishops will avoid moral relativism. And as a Catholic, I am disappointed to see Terrence Carroll and Sam Sperry call for church leaders to dialogue with the laity about watering down the Catholic stance on abortion, assisted suicide and human-life issues.

Dialogue is not the problem. The Catholic Church has spent the past few decades in dialogue. This election season produced a great deal of dialogue. Theologian George Weigel and a group of well-respected Catholic professors published an intense dialogue in Newsweek this fall over whether a vote for President-elect Obama could be considered “pro-life.”

These issues are not new, but Americans have warmed up to them with the advent of embryonic stem-cell research and scientific advances. As a consequence, people wrongly accuse the Catholic Church of being stubborn and naive. Get with the times, Catholics critics proclaim.

As a Catholic, I am proud that the church stood against I-1000. Such extreme adherence to our long-held social beliefs can be lonely, but Catholics must be open to life from natural beginning to natural death. God’s own incarnate flesh began in the womb and ended in obedience to the point of death. That is God’s statement of support for life.

Abortion, assisted suicide, the death penalty and stem-cell research have been evaluated exhaustively. Look it up. I’m sure you can find a coherent Catholic stance.

As a Catholic, I cannot justify denying life in any circumstance, based on the church’s well-documented and grounded teachings. As a Catholic, I am proud that my church does not compromise on issues of life. As Catholics, Carroll and Sperry should be, too.

— Daniel Miller, Mill Creek

Submission is all or nothing

Terrence Carroll and Sam Sperry contended that Catholic bishops wrongly refuse to follow the lead of their parishioners regarding gay marriage and abortion. I am not a Catholic, not even close, but I don’t think someone would have to oppose abortion or gay marriage to see how weak their reasoning is.

If you belong to a church, you agree with its dogma. Dogma is a matter of faith, not opinion. A person is not born a Catholic, like being born Irish or African. Being a Catholic requires emotional and intellectual assent to the teachings of the Catholic Church. People who don’t agree with the Catholic Church regarding its most fundamental teachings, may disagree out of good conscience. But, they are not Catholic. This is not pejorative. It is simply true.

Carroll and Sperry wrote: “We understand the church has been administered like a monarchy for centuries. But, if the American bishops expect their fellow Catholics to accept their leadership on matters of public policy, then they must respect those among the faithful who, in good conscience, have formed their own views.”

It is true that the church has been administered like a monarchy. That is because it is a monarchy. Catholics believe that the monarchy is ruled by the monarch: Christ the King.

The king, in his absence, has left vicars to administer the kingdom. They are the pope, cardinals, bishops and priests. Since they are the vicars, standing in place of the king, they are not free to change the laws of the kingdom just because the majority has changed its mind.

Vatican II states: “Although the individual bishops do not enjoy the prerogative of infallibility, they can nevertheless proclaim Christ’s doctrine infallibly. They are teachers and judges of faith and morals for the universal Church. Their definitions must then be adhered to with the submission of faith.”

Vatican II also says, “The pope’s definitions, of themselves, and not from the consent of the Church, are justly held irreformable, for they are pronounced with the assistance of the Holy Spirit.”

To say you are a Catholic, but don’t believe the mandates of the pope or bishops, is kind of like saying you are an atheist, but you believe in God. It makes no sense. They flunk the debate.

The columnists wrote protesting the authority of the Catholic Church. They join a long and venerable line. But, they should at least have the courage and honesty to call themselves by the name most other protesters use: Protestants.

— Mark McLemore, Mill Creek

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