This blog started out as a companion piece to my book, Musings from the Christian Left (excerpts of which can be found in the July 2004 link) and to support a planned radio show. Now, its simply a long term writing project from a Christian Left Libertarian perspective (meaning I often argue for liberty within the (Catholic) Church, rather than liberty because the church takes care of a conservative view of morality.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Benedict XVI and the Catholic Left

In the past year, the ascension of Pope Benedict to the papacy has gotten quite an interesting reaction in the United States, especially among the Catholic left. Many are wringing their hands about the likely direction of the Church on such issues as homosexuality, birth control, stem cell research and the need to expand the priesthood to women and the married (and supposedly married women). I do not share their desparation, however.

His Holiness, in his last homily before the election, decried relativism in Catholic doctrine, stating that some doctrines cannot be changed. This is all well and good, or all so tragic, if you believe that the papacy has the power to determine what is moral and what is not. Claiming such a power is itself the height of relativism. The truth is the truth, no matter what the pope says. This is Benedict's blind spot, which many Catholic's don't share. It is not absolute truth that is in doubt, for God is abolute truth - it is the Roman Curia's monopoly on it that we question. Indeed, one cannot claim both authority and natural law in the same breath and expect me not to laugh, since the resort to authority is the suspension of the use of reason. The power of natural law is that it is true, and indeed divine law, because of its own truth, not because it is what the Pope says. The Pope is indeed skilled in his knowledge of natural reasoning, except for that blind spot about papal authority.

The fact of the matter is, Rome's teaching on birth control and homosexuality are only relevant if we make it relevant. Most Catholics, acting on a fully formed conscience, choose to disregard Rome's teachings on these issues. It is obvious to us that birth control is not the same thing as abortion and that homosexuality is not some disordered condition but merely a biological variation. Any Roman attempt to teach otherwise is, and will be, seen as out of touch and largely irrelevant. Papal teaching on these issues is only a problem if you believe the Pope has the power to determine the truth. Those of us who are in the know on the history of the papacy know that any claims to such power, with or without resort to an infallible declaration, are simply not true. If the Western Patriarch were to act in concert with the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople and the remainder of the "Great Churches" we might be convinced - although most likely not because the science does not support papal teaching on either homosexuality or birth control/stem cell research. Benedict XVI and the Curia are of course entitled to their opinions on these issues, but they are entirely their opinions and nothing more. If they wish to torture themselves as to what the people in the pews are doing, they have that right. I will not lose any sleep over it and neither should the Catholic left.

As to the ordination of women and married people of both genders - and the eventual right of priests to marry - these will come as our common understanding of the equality of women and the God given nature of sexuality overcome the warped attitudes of the past, which have nothing to do with natural reasoning and everything to do with a false sense of sexual piety. The Church will evolve in God's time. There is nothing that we, or this pope, can do to speed it up or slow it down one bit.

Unlike my colleagues in the Catholic Left, I have no fear of this papacy. Indeed, from what I have heard to date, Benedict XVI is something of a saint. My hope is that he will be a symbol of our common heritage as Roman Catholics. My faith tells me that God will use him well and we may well yet be pleasantly surprised at how he governs the Church (bringing collegiality back to community of bishops and even reaching out to the East). If we merely love God and love him, all things are possible.

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