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Define ‘Catholic’

Letter to the Editor | Tuesday, April 28, 2009

I would like to respond to the points raised by Levi Checketts (“Liberal Catholicism” April 27). I would like first to nail down what the term “Catholic” means, since I think Checketts misdefines it. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says the Church is called Catholic because “In her subsists the fullness of Christ’s body united with its head … she receives from [Christ] ‘the fullness of the means of salvation'” (CCC 830). Secondly, she is Catholic or Universal, because “she has been sent out by Christ on a mission to the whole of the human race.”

What this Catholicity does not imply is the acceptance of divergent opinions on matters of defined doctrine, dogma, or the natural law. The term Roman Catholic is not an oxymoron: the Church, under the authority of the Bishop of Rome, still possesses the fullness of the means of salvation, and this salvation is open to all men of every race. Further, there are other kinds of Catholics beyond Romans: Maronite Catholics, Ukrainians, Armenians, and a host of others. These various Rites of the Catholic Church differ in their liturgy and disciplines (fasting regulations, canon law) but are in perfect unity in doctrine and dogma, under the teaching authority of the Pope and bishops united to him. Checketts gives the names of numerous individuals and events that he labels as “conservative” or “liberal.” However, all of these individuals and events shared continuity in essential matters of Catholic doctrine, dogma, and morality, with the possible exception of Merton near the end of his life (He came rather close to Buddhism).

President Obama, however, stands radically opposed to a fundamental principle of justice and morality held by Catholics: innocent human life must be defended at all stages. To promote policies that deny personhood and rights to unborn humans (which Obama has done) is no less evil than for a racist to deny them to Africans or Hispanics. For a Catholic school to honor such a person is not Catholic in any way; rather, it is a mockery of our fundamental moral precepts.

John Gerardi


Knott Hall

April 28