What Does it Really Mean to be a Practicing Catholic?
Pope Pius XI's Casti Connubii (No. 56), or Pope Paul VI's prophetic Humanae Vitae (Nos 13-14), or John Paul II's Familiaris Consortio (No. 32) or myriad other texts and documents, it is manifest that the Church's teaching is that artificial contraception is an intrinsic evil. At a minimum, this appears to be ordinary infallible teaching. I believe like the theologian Ermenegildo Lio, however, that Humanae Vitae was an extraordinary form of the prior ordinary teaching that artificial contraception is an intrinsic evil and so infallible per se.
As Vatican II (Gaudium et spes, No. 51) stated and as reiterated in John Paul II's Evangelium Vitae (No. 62), abortion is an "unspeakable crime," a nefarious moral act, which "as an end or as a means," will "always constitutes a grave moral disorder, since it is the deliberate killing of an innocent human being." This is extraordinary, infallible teaching.
Finally, the teaching of the Papal Magisterium regarding homosexuality as found in the Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons (No. 3) is that the homosexual inclination, though not itself a sin, is an "objective disorder," and homosexual activity itself is "intrinsically disordered" and hence always gravely sinful. For these and other reasons, Pope Benedict XVI has repeatedly expressed opposition to any suggestion of the liciety of homosexual "marriage," such as in his ad limina visits with the American Bishops or in his Christmas Address to the Roman Curia on December 21, 2012. All of this is, at minimum, ordinary infallible teaching.
Now I think, as do most trustworthy theologians, that these teachings are all infallible, and so are due the assent of faith (theological assent). (Though one might argue, in some but not all of the cases, whether they are ordinary or extraordinary modes of teaching, I think it is impossible honestly to believe that the teachings, regardless of their mode, are non-infallible and so possibly reformable in some sense.) But even if (arguendo) they are not infallible, they are due, at the very minimum, religious submission of intellect and will.
One of the essential qualities of internal Catholic practice (certainly not the only, there are many more requirements) is that the Catholic at minimum submit his intellect and will to the authentic teachings of the Church on faith and morals. These, along with the extraordinary or ordinary infallible definitions or teachings, define the "standards of excellence that are appropriate to, and partially define, the form of activity" of Catholic practice.
If these "standards of excellence" are denied, then one is not a practicing Catholic--but something else. As Archbishop Chaput recently put it, "If they don't believe what the Church teaches, they're not really Catholic."
The person who claims to be a practicing Catholic while refusing at least religious submission of intellect and will to the all Church's ordinary teaching, including that related to the ordination of women, artificial contraception, abortion, and homosexuality (to pick a few of the hot-button issues) is being disingenuous. In fact, I am of the opinion--as are most orthodox theologians--that the submission of faith, or theological assent (something greater than religious submission) is demanded here. These moral teachings are part of the "standards of excellence" that are part of the Catholic practice.
To dissent, to refuse religious submission of mind and will, to reject these "standards of excellence" is to step outside the Catholic practice. It would be akin to a lawyer arguing before the Supreme Court of the United States that neither the U.S. Constitution nor the laws passed by Congress and signed into law by the President apply in the premises, but rather, that the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran and the laws made by the National People's Congress of China ought to apply. Whatever would be going on in such a hypothetical, such an advocate would not be practicing law, although an argument could be made that he is practicing clownship or buffoonery.
Someone who dissents from the ordinary teaching of the Catholic Church, i.e., someone who fails to give religious submission of intellect and will to those teachings, is outside of Catholic practice, which necessarily translates to the fact that he or she--whatever he or she is--is not a practicing Catholic. They are perhaps practicing clowns or practicing buffoons or practicing pagans or practicing Catholic apostates, but they are certainly not practicing Catholics.
Andrew M. Greenwell is an attorney licensed to practice law in Texas, practicing in Corpus Christi, Texas. He is married with three children. He maintains a blog entirely devoted to the natural law called Lex Christianorum. You can contact Andrew at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Pope Benedict XVI's Prayer Intentions for January 2013
General Intention: The Faith of Christians. That in this Year of Faith Christians may deepen their knowledge of the mystery of Christ and witness joyfully to the gift of faith in him.
Missionary Intention: Middle Eastern Christians. That the Christian communities of the Middle East, often discriminated against, may receive from the Holy Spirit the strength of fidelity and perseverance.
Keywords: Catholic, magisterium, religious submission, dissent, practicing Catholic, Andrew Greenwell
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