Friday, October 7, 2011

Another anti-Catholic myth that needs to die!

Over at Patheos, Marc Barnes has written a lampoon centering on the gender gap among atheists — the male-to-female ratio being something like 3 or 4 to 1. Marc writes very well and humorously, although I thought this particular example was a pretty heavy-handed snark-fest since atheists are hardly all cut from the same cloth. An atheist writing under the nom de Net "Quasar" thought so, too, and made some fairly intelligent replies without sneering over religious beliefs ...

... until he wrote, "Dawkins, Hitchins and others have been thoroughly chewed out by their own fans every time they show their privilege blindness. Can you say the same for your authority figures?"

Yes. Absolutely. It's called "fraternal correction".

There's a difference between filial obedience and blind obedience, and the only person who believes Catholics let themselves be doormats for priests and bishops is a person who doesn't know anything about Catholics. If a pope, bishop or priest has done something dumb, you can bet your sweet bippy other Catholics lower down on the food chain have let him know it in no uncertain terms. In fact, if a pope, bishop or priest has done something wise and foresighted, you can bet other Catholics not quite as wise or foresighted will take issue with him on the matter.

But we can just take a small sample and go from there. For instance, there was this little matter fairly early on about whether Gentile converts should follow the Law of Moses. This is the occasion when St. Paul called out St. Peter for trimming his position: he would eat with Gentiles, but not when St. James and others from the circumcision party were around. So Paul challenged him: "If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?"

We can also look at a mid-third century dispute over the baptism of heretics. St. Stephen I (r. 254 - †257)  ruled that baptism performed by heretical sects was valid, and that they were not to be re-baptized upon reuniting with the Church, a position the Church still holds today. But not everyone agreed with this position; one of his most vocal critics, St. Firmilian, groused in a letter to St. Cyprian of Carthage:

Except that we may in this matter give thanks to Stephen, that it has now happened through his unkindness that we receive the proof of your faith and wisdom. But although we have received the favour of this benefit on account of Stephen, certainly Stephen has not done anything deserving of kindness and thanks. For neither can Judas be thought worthy by his perfidy and treachery wherewith he wickedly dealt concerning the Saviour, as though he had been the cause of such great advantages, that through him the world and the people of the Gentiles were delivered by the Lord's passion.
One of my favorite examples is St. Catherine of Siena. Pope Gregory XI had made a promise to Jesus (the story goes) that he would return the papacy to Rome from Avignon, but had told no one in his court about it. But in the midst of her lecture to him, the mystic shouted, "Do what you have promised!"

Another good example is St. Philip Neri. Clement VIII was refusing to withdraw the excommunication and anathema of Henry IV of France, although the king had formally abjured Calvinism. To push Clement into receiving Henry back, St. Philip directed the pope's confessor, Baronius, to withhold absolution and resign as confessor unless Clement yielded. Clement collapsed very quickly, and later expressed gratitude for Philip's intervention.

Although it's easy to point out such dissident rags as the National Catholic Fishwrap and prominent heterodox theologians as Fr. Hans Küng, we can also frequently see orthodox commentators snarking at bishops and even Pope Benedict for various things. For instance, George Weigel's book The Courage to Be Catholic takes the American hierarchy to task for collapsing in the face of opposition from dissident theologians and criticizing bishops such as Cdl. Bernard Law for trying to cover up abusing priests; he also criticizes curial advisors to Bl. John Paul II for keeping news of the American scandals away from the pontiff for too long. 

And there hasn't been a doctrinal or disciplinary development in all the years between Calvary and Anglicanorum Coetibus that hasn't been hashed out in sometimes acrimonious debate or had its critics ... or does no one remember Humanae Vitae?

No, the whole myth about Catholics being mentally-crippled sheep following their leaders blindly is simply self-serving horse hockey anti-Catholics pass around to each other to pat themselves on the back for their independence. But if you're not free to agree, then disagreement is no sign of intellectual independence.