This week Speaker Pelosi commented on what she thought was the correct understanding on the Catholic Church’s teachings on the morality of abortion. Needless to say, the Speaker of the United States House of Representatives could not have been any further from the mark in her personal interpretation of the Catholic moral teachings surrounding this topic and inflammatory political as well as social issue. Thankfully, His Eminence Cardinal Rigali spearheaded the clarification of Catholic teaching and explained the correct teachings on Catholic morality through the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops website. www.usccb.org  

The erroneous beliefs held by Speaker Pelosi are held by countless other Catholics that consider their position on issues such as abortion, birth control, gay marriages and female priests as part of their personal formation of their own Catholicism. More often than not, individuals that consider themselves faithful Catholics hold opinions and may even live a lifestyle that is in direct opposition to the reality of what the Catholic Church teaches. For such Catholics, which I should cite are  misinformed in their opinions on these issues the essential comprehension of what it implies to be fully Catholic is misunderstood. Most Catholics, as indicated in last weeks Associated Press poll indicated their faith and their political beliefs are entirely separate and isolated from each other. As a result, these nominal Catholics consider it perfectly and politically correct to disavow religious and moral convictions that stand in contradiction to political and social convictions. Such an isolationist view of theological beliefs and political convictions are indeed dangerous and flammable opponents for Catholics that are committed to an integrated perspective of their faith with their everyday lives.

The American Catholic Bishops last November introduced a statement, “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship.” This declaration illustrates the critically important factors that combine together to constitute a “well formed Catholics conscience.” At the same time the document does not advocate any political rhetoric that influences Catholics to choose a particular political allegiance over another. Primarily the traditional Catholic development of a well informed conscience includes a healthy and honest appreciation of natural law, coupled with Divine Law followed by an adherence to ethical and moral truths held by the teaching authority of the Catholic Church since the Apostles. This point is one that deserves great attention. Most Catholics, well informed or uninformed are sometimes unaware of the continuity of theological and moral beliefs that are held by the Church from its earliest exception. To use the always popular subject of abortion, which contrary to popular opinion is not just a topic encountered in the modern era of the Church. The Church’s opposition to this action have consistently been part of the Church’s moral and ethical teachings since the first century A.D. Tertullian, makes reference to this abhorrent act against the dignity of human life in his writings. The Catechism of the Catholic Church clearly states that direct abortion…is gravely contrary to moral law. (CCC 2271). As the Church developed the Middle Ages saw some development of discussion as to when the human soul was infused into the embryonic human fetus. Even then with such discussion it was consistently maintained, especially by the Angelic Doctor, Saint Thomas Aquinas that human life was sacred from the first hint of human existence and should be safeguarded at all costs.

Perhaps a historical overview of the Church’s concurrent teachings on the value of human life should be offered to our parish communities to illustrate the consistent message the Church has proclaimed as true since earliest apostolic teachings. Of course, parishioners would always have the right to choose participation in such symposiums; however it seems that in light of the erroneous public views and even erroneous Catholic views on this issue, pastoral catechesis is a real need and obligation of our bishops and parish priests.

Speaker Pelosi was quick to point out in her opinion regarding the time of conception and the infusion of a soul into a human fetus that this issue has been consistently debated by theologians and philosophers since the Middle Ages. However, in the 21st century, based upon the vast accumulation of scientific data regarding embryonic and fetal development no individual can possibly deny the instant of human life starts at the moment of conception. If indeed, parishes offered a discussion to all parishioners and an educational opportunity to study Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body in conjunction with the teachings of Saint Augustine, Saint Thomas Aquinas and even Pope Paul VI in his remarkable and insightful encyclical in 1968, Humanae Vitae our most grievous misunderstandings of Catholic teachings on life and the transmission of human life would be dispelled. The American Catholic Church at this period in our development has a unique opportunity to evangelize Catholics and the rest of the world with a newly restored understanding of the inspired sentiments and potentially catastrophic results offered by science in light of Paul VI’s monumental teachings.

The need among American Catholics to receive accurate and correct interpretations of Catholic teachings is most apparent it seems with the generations of Catholics that have come to maturity since the social, moral and ethical turmoil of the American cultural shift of the 1960’s and even the 1970’s. During this period, the traditional norms of Catholic educational praxis began to shift due to the ongoing changes of the Second Vatican Council, and the cultural changes faced in everyday American society. Even since that period our world has seen substantial demographic shifts that range from the reorganization of Easter Europe, the demise of Soviet Communism, the tearing down of the Berlin Wall, the rise of Islamic influences and the rise of industrial and economic superiority in Asia. Indeed, our American Catholic Church and the world itself are quite different from that of just a few generations ago.

Concurrent and consistent however to all of these developments and changes, Catholic moral teachings have remained constant. It is precisely this consistency and continuity of theological and moral beliefs that should be advocated by all of our priests and bishops during this tumultuous election period in the United States. The American Democratic Party this week during its convention in Denver is attempting to proclaim a message of political ideology that is based upon the Democratic Party’s need to present a platform of political unity in order to win the November presidential elections. Perhaps the Democrats in the pursuit of the White House are indicating a malady that is symptomatic of American Catholics as well. Namely a theological malaise that is rooted in decades of invasive democratic and modernistic dilution of our most sacred Catholic beliefs and principles. Many times before I have indicated the Catholic Church is not a democracy in the nature of structure or even its governance. From a personal perspective the proper teachings of ethical and moral norms are not subject to a democratic discussion either. These moral, social and ethical norms that are part of our sacred deposit of faith are based upon millennia of natural, divine and Church teaching …not the results of a democratic quorum. If then as Catholics we began to appreciate not only the Church of the present, as well as the Catholic Church of the Past and the Catholic Church of the future, then we might appreciate and understand the transcendence of our Catholic beliefs as relevant to all people for all times. The new evangelization that is envisioned by Pope Benedict XVI needs to take place on many levels if it is intended to be successful. Catholics need to take the opportunity to embrace the entire historical and social inheritance they have as part of our evangelical and catechetical proclamation of Catholic doctrinal and spiritual unity. If the Democrats can profess unity in political plurality, that we the inheritors of the Eucharistic mystery and sacrifice can overcome our own internal Catholic plurality and start teaching and believing our most sacred truths of Catholic faith from the sacredness of human life perspective.

Catholic political plurality does not extend to our moral and ethical teachings in the Catholic Church. Maybe in addition to an appreciation of John Paul’s Theology of the Body we might be best served as Catholics if we embrace the Pauline appreciation of the Mystical Body as we develop our social and political ideologies as Americans, as Catholics and as functioning parts of the Body of Christ.

Theological discontinuity has no place among the members of Christ’s Body the Church. At the same time it greatly disturbs me when political candidates that advocate positions contrary to the teachings of the Catholic Church continue to receive and are welcomed into the reception of Holy Eucharist. Our Bishops and priest need to make a definitive statement regarding political candidates that publically proclaim and profess a political platform and agenda that is not consistent to Catholic moral teachings. Catholicism and the participation in the Sacraments are reserved for those that are properly disposed to receive the Eucharistic Lord. If an individual or group dissents from the Magisterium of the Catholic Church especially in moral and ethical matters that individual or group has divorce themselves from the living notion of, lex orandi, lex credendi that stands as the principle motive of Church life and worship.

American Catholics during this political season need to pray for guidance regarding their choices of political candidates. At the same time, we all need to be consciously aware of all of the implications that are incumbent upon our sacred beliefs and truths as Catholics. The pursuit of a Catholic lifestyle cannot accept political and social principles that proclaim indifference to our Catholic moral and ethical principles. With this as a reason alone, our Bishops and Priests need to strongly use the teaching opportunity that is presenting itself to the Church as a time for internal revitalization and evangelization of our most basic precepts of Catholic identity.

Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship is a critical document for every Catholic to read, digest and understand not only for the effective teachings it offers regarding the duality of faith and citizenship; but for the historical overview it provides for Catholics to understand the proper progression of actions and though that contribute to the formation of a Catholic well formed conscience that coexists in a pluralistic and sometimes antithetical Catholic society.

Perhaps the opportunity this political season offers to all Catholics is one that gives us all an opportunity to experience a theologically rich catechical moment that brings unity to not only political parties but also unity of Catholic faith to a divided family of Christ’s believers. When the discussions and arguments of political opposing points of view begin to manifest themselves around the various political campaigns this fall, we should be united in not only our moral and ethical convictions as Catholics, but also in our sacramental unity of Eucharist which joins together past, present and future generations of Catholics regardless of political affiliations.

Hugh McNichol is a Catholic author and journalist that writes on Catholic topics and issues. Hugh studied both philosophy and theology at Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary in Philadelphia. He writes daily at: http://verbumcarofactumest.blogspot.com & http://catholicsacredarts.com & http://pewsitter.com He writes about Irish Catholic experiences  at http://graysferrygrapevine.blogspot.com  Comments are always welcome @ hugh.mcnichol@trinettc.com  

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