Nothing may irk Catholics more than bishops and priests going public on moral issues with which they struggle (or disagree) except those same leaders staying silent on issues they agree with! Perhaps this is also true for many non-Catholics. The Church is not a democracy and never will be. It cannot be. Unlike the U.S. federal union — which, incidentally, is not a pure democracy either but a constitutional republic — it is neither formed nor ruled by the “consent of the governed.” The Church was founded by Jesus Christ and must answer to his teachings — not the opinions or preferences of a polling of its members. Also, unlike five justices who can say what U.S. law is, it is up to the Magisterium to proclaim what Christ teaches.
Jesus Himself was constantly challenged by His contemporaries — in religious, political and family circles — to define Himself according to what the people of His time expected from a Messiah. Not differently from those wishing their bishops or priests would be more “liberal” or “conservative” on certain issues or who say the Church should “keep up with the times,” Jesus disappointed many who hoped He would confirm their positions.
How “rigid” and “exclusive” for Jesus to come down uncompromisingly on the side of traditional marriage and personal chastity — for both men and women. How not “moderate” or “progressive!” Though divorce was widely tolerated in religious and political circles, Jesus refused to “liberalize” the original Bible teaching against it. “Conservatives” of His time were also scandalized by some of His practices — like His standing up for women, foreigners and social outcasts. Even though He was admired for His good and powerful works, Jesus never allowed Himself to become a pop hero. He was not a slave to the times because He was His Father’s servant, leading the times. And so His Church must lead by following Him.
Some may label us “old-fashioned” because we uphold the sanctity of all human life from conception to natural death and the practice of chastity both within and outside of marriage. Others will call us “radical” because we proclaim the equal dignity of all people regardless of race, sex, nationality or legal status. Jesus Himself and His disciples were constantly opposed for taking unpopular and controversial positions.
Christians often struggle personally with some of Christ’s teachings. To the ancient world where Christianity was born, Christianity seemed radically out of sync with pagan practices. Read St. Paul — how he reamed out the Corinthians for their undisciplined sexuality or excoriated other local churches for their pettiness and materialism. From its earliest days, the Church’s welcome of slaves, foreigners, Gentiles and sinners of all stripes scandalized the world. Christian teaching is powerfully exclusive in practices it forbids. Yet, paradoxically, the Church remains the most inclusive community the world has ever seen, transcending race, class and sex.
This “Christian paradox” is still seen today. Many Catholics, for example, might wish the American bishops would “tone down” their “conservative” seeming statements on pro-life issues and on the serious flaws in the current healthcare legislation. Yet others would accuse the same bishops of being too “liberal” for their stance on immigration or labor policy.
If we really believe that Jesus comes from outside and if He Himself warned us that the world would “hate” us just as it “hated” Him, should it surprise us to find some of that “world” in ourselves or are we not part of this world? If salvation is what we seek, then we need to be saved from ourselves — from attitudes and practices that separate us from the holiness of God. If not Christ and His Church, then whom do we follow?