Anyone who is familiar with the Catechism of the Catholic Church knows that this volume takes the words "Thou shalt not kill" very, very seriously. Thus, it is also crystal clear in its affirmation of the early church's rejection of abortion. Honest. Here is a sample:
Human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception. From the first moment of his existence, a human being must be recognized as having the rights of a person -- among which is the inviolable right of every innocent being to life. ...
Since the first century the Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion. This teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable. ...
Formal cooperation in an abortion constitutes a grave offense. The Church attaches the canonical penalty of excommunication to this crime against human life. "A person who procures a completed abortion incurs excommunication latae sententiae," "by the very commission of the offense." ...
It's hard to get more serious than that.
The issue, in a recent Religion News Service report, is whether this makes this ancient, unchangeable teaching, which has instant and eternal consequences for those who do not repent, a "core" teaching of the Catholic faith. The same is true of several other issues linked to sexual ethics and the sacrament of marriage.
Right away, anyone who reads this story needs to answer this basic question: Who who gets to decide what is in the Catholic doctrinal "core"? If the answer is the individual Catholic, as opposed to the doctrines and tradition of the Church as embodied in the Church itself, why can't the faith that results accurately be called "Protestant"?
Oh well, whatever, nevermind. It appears that someone, somewhere has decided that it depends on (and I can hear several regular GetReligion readers clicking the comment button as I type) whether the believer making these kinds of decisions is a member of the Roman Catholic Church or the American Catholic Church. Thus, we read:
American Catholics have by and large remained loyal to the core teachings and sacraments of their faith, but increasingly tune out the hierarchy on issues of sexual morality, according to a new study released Monday (Oct. 24)
The sweeping survey shows that over the last quarter-century, U.S. Catholics have become increasingly likely to say that individuals, not church leaders, have the final say on abortion, homosexuality, and divorce and remarriage. That trend holds true across generational and ideological divides, and even applies to weekly Mass attenders, according to the survey, which has been conducted every six years since 1987.
“It’s the core creedal sacramental issues that really matter to American Catholics, more than the external trappings of church authority,” said Michele Dillon, a sociologist at the University of New Hampshire and a co-author of the report, in releasing the report at the National Press Club.
A key element of the survey is that the number of "moderately committed" Catholics is rising and the number of "highly committed" is in decline. It would be interesting to know more about how those two groups are reflected in Catholic pews on a typical Sunday morning.
So what is in the "core," according to American Catholics? The survey writers, RNS reports, agree that:
Across the board, Catholics tend to agree on four key markers -- the resurrection of Jesus (73 percent), helping the poor (67 percent), devotion to the Virgin Mary (64 percent), and the centrality of the sacraments (63 percent) -- as core to their Catholicism.
Opposition to abortion (40 percent) and to same-sex marriage (35 percent), and the authority of the Vatican (30 percent) and support for a celibate, all-male clergy (21 percent) were further down the list.
Now here is my key question: What separates the "core" doctrines of the moderately committed Catholics from the "core" doctrines of the highly committed? In particular, what separates these two groups in terms of their understanding of what it means to be committed to the "centrality of the sacraments"?
I predict that this can be summed up in one word -- "confession."
The bottom line: I would love to know if it contains a question (a) about the centrality of the Sacrament of Penance and (b) how the answers that American Catholics give on that question align with their beliefs about sex, marriage, abortion, etc.
Once again, we need to ask: How many "sweats the details" Catholics are there these days, the kind who make regular confessions of their sins and seek forgiveness?