Singer and Songwriter, Neil Diamond wrote the song "Sweet Caroline" with a young Caroline Kennedy in mind. The artist says he was inspired by a photograph of the young Kennedy taken during those Camelot years in the White House. But now sadly it seems that "sweet" Caroline has turned rather sour. At the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte recently she proclaimed: "as a Catholic woman I take reproductive health seriously." Of course by reproductive health she did not mean having lots of children. And most people, including those living under a rock find her statement an oxymoron. Or at least not something a Catholic declares on National TV.
The fact is how could you (and why) call yourself a Catholic and be so willing to embrace a position that is at complete odds with essential Catholic moral doctrine? Caroline Kennedy is by no means the exception as there are numerous well-known Catholic politicians and public figures cheerleading for abortion. Yet the world sees them as "enlightened" and progressive and it never seems to matter that these public figures are taking a position that is radically different than the Church they claim to be a part of. Yet when a Catholic politician, like Rick Santorum holds the Catholic position he is called "extreme". The Santorums of this world are just ordinary Catholics and the Kennedys are the "extreme" Catholics.
As I heard that statement by Caroline Kennedy I thought, "well she is telling us she is much more loyal to the Democratic Party than the Catholic Church." Which is what it comes down to. On both sides of the aisle many Catholics are more devoted to their politics than their faith, which in turn causes divisiveness to break out among us. Too often we break ourselves off into all the various political categories and substratum: liberal, conservative, right, left etc. When in fact if you really tried to fit yourself into any of those categories as a Catholic you would have to be a contortionist since the Catholic view of things rambles through the right on some things and on the left on others and is at times more conservative than Rush Limbaugh and on other issues so liberal that even Gloria Steinem would be surprised.
But when public figures declare their opposition to fundamental moral teachings of the Church they cause not only divisiveness but also scandal. We should remember here that Jesus was very blunt when he warned us about causing scandal: "better a millstone be tied around one's neck and be cast in the sea rather than cause scandal to one of these little ones." Catholic teaching for centuries has said that private dissent on issues of faith and morals is understandable but public dissent is a serious matter since it has the potential to lead others astray and hence cause scandal. Privately we all struggle at times with understanding our faith and accepting specific teachings of the Church. But that is a private individual matter and requires a willingness to pursue a resolution privately. When we take it into the streets, especially if we have some sway in society then it becomes another matter.
One point to remember that will help you when you ever so gently discuss politics: there is a difference between dissenting on essential moral norms, abortion for example and making a prudential decision on less meaty matters such as economic policy, taxes, or public policy matters. In the latter case honest disagreements will occur and different conclusions will be drawn while still remaining within the Catholic tent. But too often we morally equivocate, giving everything the same moral weight.
Both in private and public cases it is up to pastors and Bishops to try to help the person who is embracing dissent from Church teachings to come to a different understanding. This of course requires serious effort and study and prayer. A pastor in some cases might ask the person to refrain from taking Holy Communion until they are more clear about what being "in communion" with the Church means and signifies. And it is possible in some cases that a Bishop or pastor could refuse to admit a more recalcitrant person to the sacrament. Remember Jesus did give the Church the power to lose and to bind.
In the end the issue is not easy and the solutions will be imperfect. But maybe the more effective strategy is that we refrain from labeling ourselves as anything other than Catholic. Once we become conservative Catholics, or social justice Catholics or moderate Catholics we have guaranteed that we will be more allegiant to a political position than our faith. Remember we can't vote ourselves into heaven.
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Fr. John Bonavitacola