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Catholics and dissent

Greg Yatarola | Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Back when I wasn’t so pessimistic and grouchy, I was very interested in getting married. I’d only marry a Catholic, since it didn’t make sense to enter into a sacrament with someone who didn’t understand it in the same way. Besides, I’d want my kids raised Catholic, and they’d never get it from me.

I’m not ashamed that one reason I picked Notre Dame was to find a wife – with so many Catholic girls, there was sure to be one stupid enough to like me. I know some girls at Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s get ridiculed for being extra-eager to find a husband – the “M.R.S. degree.” This makes no sense to me. How is it in any way shameful to be more interested in finding a spouse than getting a diploma? Which, ultimately, is more important?

So it saddens me that there aren’t more graduation-weddings. It’s a problem that people wait so long to marry these days in general. For one thing, the Church has traditionally understood the primary end of marriage to be the protection of chastity. This is clear in St. Paul’s writings (e.g., 1 Cor 7) and later in St. Thomas Aquinas. Most people, men especially, can’t achieve celibate chastity and couldn’t even if they were at all inclined to try. Besides lots of grace, it takes strenuous effort of the soul, constant vigilance, discipline, and a determination to keep getting back up no matter how many times you fall. These are very manly qualities, yet somehow much of our society considers it manlier to be a slave to pleasure (which always is emasculating) and one’s desires than to disdain them. So anyway, if people wait until they’re 30 to marry, that usually means they spend their twenties habitually sinning against chastity. Bad enough in itself, and certainly not good preparation for marriage.

Well, I was sort of new to Catholicism when I came to Notre Dame, and somewhat naive. I assumed Catholic meant Catholic. Now, one potential major problem (obviously) in marriages between Catholics and non-Catholics, or between Catholics with different understandings of being Catholic, is the issue of contraception.

Since getting attached to someone you wouldn’t marry is foolish, I had to get girls’ opinions before potentially becoming interested in them. I figured out pretty quick that not all – not even most, I’d say – self-described Catholic girls at Notre Dame agree with the Church’s teaching on contraception. I knew about as many who supported it as were categorically opposed to it, though that probably reflected the kind of people I was around.

My point isn’t that contraception is wrong. See Paul VI and Janet Smith for that. Nor am I saying shame on Notre Dame kids for supporting or using it. We all must form and follow our consciences ourselves. No, what I’d like to explain is how dumb it is to say you’re Catholic and yet support contraception.

The Church, particularly in the person of the pope, makes outrageous claims about itself. The bishops in solemn assembly, or the pope ex cathedra, say they’re infallible about faith and morals. That means never wrong. That means not even capable of being wrong. If you believe the Church is in error in its formal announcements about contraception, you can’t very well at the same time agree that it’s infallible. So why swear any allegiance to a church which doesn’t know – or worse, knows but won’t admit – the truth about itself? If it can’t be believed about itself, how can it be believed when it proclaims other outrageous doctrines, like the Atonement, Real Presence, or the Trinity? The Church claims to speak with the voice of its Founder. If it does, it deserves full assent. If it doesn’t, it’s a great big blasphemous fraud that deserves nothing but hatred and opposition.

If you recognize this argument as like C.S. Lewis about Christ, good eye. But I thought of it myself, when all I knew about Lewis was Narnia. I say this not to brag but to show that anyone could think of it. Obviously, the argument holds for any issue, but I apply it to contraception because dissent on that matter is particularly widespread and vehement.

I’m not telling anyone to leave the Church any more than I was telling anyone to leave Notre Dame before. But if I was puzzled about people opposed to Catholic doctrine staying at Notre Dame, I’m definitely confused about such people staying in the Church. And so what if you’re a priest or teach Catholic theology.

Am I saying a Catholic has to believe whatever the Church teaches authoritatively? Pretty much, yeah. Does a Catholic have to actually live whatever the Church teaches? Hardly – if that were the case, there would be no Catholics. Failing to live up to our faith is part of being Catholic, but we must try to change our lives to fit our beliefs, not the other way around.

About 85 percent of Notre Dame students consider themselves Catholic. Just about all who are admitted are very intelligent. And I’d bet almost as many think the Church is wrong about one thing or another. These three dots can’t be connected logically. I know I have no right to tell others whether they should be Catholic or not, but I’d seriously like to know – if you disagree with the Church, why not just leave it? I know I would.

Greg wishes to congratulate the rugby team on being re-instated,and wishes them best of luck in getting banned again. He can be contacted at gregpy@hotmail.com

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.