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Law, culture, and Catholicism...up in smoke!

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

By What Authority? Part 2

This post offers the latest installment of an e-mail debate I have been having. Part 1 is here.


We may not be so far apart after all. You said: "I agree that Catholics should go to the Internet, but I would say that they should go first to www.vatican.va and www.usccb.org before moving on to Internet sites that 'appear' to have but have no 'imprimatur' or any other way of determining their legitimacy in terms of being 'authentic Catholic teaching.'"

I mostly agree with this, except that I would not encourage Catholics to go first to the USCCB's site. This is not to say that the USCCB's site is not a useful resource. It certainly can be, and I check it somewhat regularly myself. Nevertheless, the USCCB offers no specific guarantee that its teachings are faithful to the Church. Therefore, anything from the USCCB must always be read in light of the authentic teaching of the Church. (For authentic teaching, I would refer to the various councils, canon law, the Catechism, as well as papal encyclicals.) And I'm not just being skeptical of USCCB, all teaching must be read in light of official Church teaching, whether the teaching is from an ostensibly Catholic web site, from an unnamed Vatican official, or from a speech or homily by the Pope himself.

Regarding your statement: "
I disagree that the "Voter's Guide" inference about "non-negotiable issues" is "minor" compared to the fact that farm subsidies are an "important" component of Catholic social teaching," I think we will have to keep disagreeing.

Saying that an issue is non-negotiable does not mean that other issues are not important. What it means is that other issues are not equally important. I guess my question for you is whether you believe that any issues are non-negotiable?

Under Catholic teaching, I think it is clear that some issues are non-negotiable. For instance, the Church has clearly taught not only that abortion is intrinsically evil, but that society has an obligation to prohibit abortion through its laws. There is no room for disagreement regarding this.

The Church also teaches that helping the poor is an obligation of Christians and of society. One could even say that this is non-negotiable.
I am unaware, however, of any political candidates who say that we shouldn't help the poor. Where the disagreement among candidates is as to the legitimate questions of how we should help the poor and what is the most effective way of helping the poor. These questions are legitimate because the Church offers no concrete answers to them.

Catholic Answers' Voter's Guide laid out five issues which it believed were non-negotiable. All of these issues were also issues in the 2004 Election (accordingly, there was no reason to include slavery, genocide, or other uncontested issues as non-negotiable issues). I don't think there should be any doubt that the issues Catholic Answers chose are non-negotiable. I believe the fairer question is whether there were other issues raised in the election which might also have been non-negotiable. This question aside, I think Catholic Answers' Voter's Guide did a commendable job and that it was firmly rooted in Church teaching.

You (and others) have repeatedly argued against the Voter's Guide based on the fact that it was unauthorized by the USCCB and by the Archdiocese of Detroit, and that Faithful Citizenship was the authorized document.
The argument based on the authority of the USCCB and of the local ordinary is weak, however. As explained above, the USCCB and local ordinary can offer no guarantee that their teachings are faithful. Instead of defending Faithful Citizenship based on an argument from authority, it would be more useful to defend the substance and utility of Faithful Citizenship. I have yet to see such a defense, certainly not a convincing defense.