I have reached three basic conclusions after reading the same front-page Washington Post story that Mollie responded to earlier today. You see, without knowing it we both started pounding out our own separate reactions. As you would expect, there's quite a bit of overlap. Nevertheless, I have some reactions that add to her take on this.
Let's start with three basic observations, after mulling over the contents of this story:
(1) It appears that liberal Catholics listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit. Conservative Catholics prefer, for some reason, to listen to fallible men called "bishops."
(2) The Post seems to love, love, love believers whose approach to doctrine and church history mirrors that of the modernized Episcopal Church, especially when those people are billed as reformers in the Roman Catholic Church.
(3) Based on years of reading Post coverage of the many doctrinal battles between liberal and conservative Episcopalians, it appears that it absolutely crucial for conservative Episcopalians to obey their liberal bishops (and everyone heads to secular courts if they cannot work things out), but it isn't terribly important for liberal Catholics to obey their conservative bishops, even when those bishops are acting in obedience to that Bishop of Rome guy.
MZ's post contains the story's crucial quotes, but I believe that it is truly crucial for GetReligion readers to read the whole Post report -- just to be fair. Pay special attention to the references to the leading of the Holy Spirit.
For me, the key to the whole Post story is that the bishops, and their acolytes, appear to be charged with defending the opinions -- political in nature, of course -- of elite church officials who exist in the here and now. For example, centuries of church teachings on abortion represent a political statement in this day and age, not an affirmation of, let's say, the doctrines stated in the First Century document called the Didache. What we have here is the current pope ordering the current bishops to enforce orthodoxy on modern opinions about modern political controversies. Ancient doctrines? Creeds? What?
As it should, the Post story includes lots of quotes from Catholics who are critical of the pope and the bishops. However, these quotes clearly establish their anger with the church hierarchy, but never offer firm details on the unorthodox beliefs of these liberal Catholics.
Let me underline, once again, one of the story's crucial quotes, from protestor Kathleen Riley:
“I’m just shocked, I can’t believe they’re asking me to sign this,” said Riley, who said she may keep her own children out of the parish education program in the fall. “The bishops are human, and sometimes their judgment is not God’s judgment. We always have to be vigilant about that. The Holy Spirit gives us the responsibility to look into our own consciences.”
So Riley disagrees with the bishops. We got that. But, just as a statement of essential facts, did she say which church teachings she has chosen to reject? That would have been good to know. I mean, what is at stake here? The implication is that these disputes are about abortion, contraception and gay marriage -- but readers never find out the specifics, in terms of the beliefs of the Catholics who are refusing to sign on the bottom line.
One final point: The Post story contains one or two snippets of these doctrinal statements, but never an actual body of quoted material from an oath being used in an Diocese of Arlington parish. That's a major hole, for me.
Thus, with a few clicks of a mouse, I found the following (.pdf document), posted on the website of St. John the Evangelist Parish in Warrenton, Va. This text would shock Episcopalians, I am sure, but not many pro-Vatican Catholics. This oath for teachers begins like this:
Being a practicing Catholic means that one follows the precepts of the Church and is loyal to the teachings of the pope (Vicar of Christ), in regards to issues of faith and morals (i.e. abortion, contraception, etc.). I realize that the Catholic Church is guided by the Holy Spirit until the end of time and is therefore infallible in regards to issues of faith and morals. I obey the Magisterium (bishops and the pope) of the Catholic Church realizing that it was Christ Himself who gave our first bishops authority when He said:
“As the Father has sent me, I also send you.” John 20:21
“Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound also in heaven.” Matthew 18:18
“All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore, and teach all nations ..... teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and behold, I am with you all days, even unto the consummation of the world.” Matthew 28:20
“He, who hears you, hears me; and he who rejects you, rejects me.” Luke 10:16
And all the people said, "Amen." Or not. That's kind of the point.
IMAGE: A bunch of those bishop-type guys, gathered in Nicea.