On Saturday, January 21, I posted the following as my Facebook status: "Confession is available today for any Catholic who voted for Obama. You are the ones who permitted any protection of our consciences to be trod upon by this administration."* One might say I was a bit indignant when writing it. After fifty-eight comments, the eruption of opinion ended. Several days later, J. Thorp posted a review of the Church History Primer, Triumph: The Power and Glory of the Catholic Church. Therein he criticized the caustic tone of the author. That same evening I received a message from a former seminary colleague with a reputation (and a talent really) for his acid tongue and acerbic wit. He rightfully chided me for the imprudence of my remark.
The combination of these three events brings me to a serious point of reflection. First, given my role and the impact of my words, to what extent must I curb my tongue so as to avoid unduly influencing my people in areas beyond realms of my own as well as the Church's competence? Second, even though honey seems to attract more flies than vinegar, is there a time for vinegar? Third, is there a value in knowingly and intentionally angering a certain segment of people if one will simultaneously bolster another segment?
As to the first question, I simply concede that in the majority of cases, I do not speak where I do not think I have the competence to do so. Likewise, I generally do not publicly delve into the specifics of issues where the Church does not do so. For instance, while it seems clear that a Catholic cannot, given his outspoken positions in contradiction to clear and consistent Catholic teaching, cast a vote for Obama in good conscience, I would not venture to suggest who someone should vote for instead (at least not from the pulpit). I do not know what car Jesus would have driven, and I am not sure of the best means for overcoming poverty. These are within the competence of others.
As regards the second, the answer is easy. Sometimes I have to say things that fall harshly on the ears of those who disagree. Abortion is a sin. Artificial contraception and sterilization are sins. Sex outside of mariage is a sin. Living with a person of the opposite sex to whom you are not married or with whom you have no familial relationship is a sin. These are vinegary things to say, and to my mind, need to be said with clarity so as to ensure than no confusion can surround the issue.
The third issue is a harder one.
It is certainly no secret that there are a great many Catholics who seem to believe that they get to decide for themselves what it means to be Catholic. This opinion is, of course, patently false, and opposed to the very idea of what it means to be Catholic. The issue relates to the question at hand in this way, though: Should one try to gently shepherd them back toward the truth, or should they be cut off, cast out, or handed over to Satan as St. Paul admonishes from time to time?
To my mind, this is not an either or sort of question. St. Paul and the Church both see excommunication as a way of demonstrating to the sinner the error of his ways. Finding themselves cut off from the community, they realize that they have done this to themselves by their words and actions. Likewise, they are thereby limited in their capacity to do damage to the faith of others, to give scandal, to foment confusion, and to open the Church to charges of hypocrisy. While the question at hand is not directly about excommunication, it is about whether or not those who sow the seeds of discontent within the Church ought to be coddled, or rather, should they be shaken? Should they be offended? Should it be suggested with great passion that they do not think with the mind of the Church? In shaking them, is it possible to awaken their awareness that they stand apart from other Catholics, and that, like sheep, a man apart is likely to be taken by the wolves? Does shaking them kindle their desire to be in the center of the flock?
The issue is complicated further by the fact that many faithful Catholics feel as though their voice has been silent for a long time. They wonder when they will find a leader who will lead them into battle for what is True, and Good, and Beautiful, and Right, and Just. Should they languish for fear of offending those who disagree with them?
The question here is not one of Charity. One should speak even hard things with charity. It is not necessarily uncharitable to say, though, "If you don't like it you are free to leave."
This is not about politics. It is not about simple differences of opinion. I think the question I am circling here strikes at the very heart of Catholic identity. Who are we? Who are we to be? And honestly, I am not quite sure where to stand. I know where my passions lead me. Because my passions lead me there, I am suspicious of that direction. I know where my own experience of being on the outside has taken me. I also know the experience of feeling muzzled. I know the feeling of righteous indignation.
So, I guess this is ultimately something of an open forum. Thoughts?
* For the full context prompting my remark, go here.