In high school and college, I would have accepted the slur (or praise, as it was then) of being a devotee of liberation theology. I read fairly extensively in the field, and “lived out” what was taken to be its practical expression by doing Habijax summer missions, supporting poor children in Haiti and the Dominican Republic, and serving in an intensive inner-city mission with IVCF.
At some point, however, I read more in “real economics” and realized that there was no coherent opposition between dogmatic rigorism and pastoral care (quite the opposite, in fact). So, while I still endorse my younger charitable efforts, I utterly reject the socialist, statist strings attached thereto. The sticking point came as I was reading James Cone’s God of the Oppressed. It is one of those vivid, episodic memories: I can remember lying on the bed in a motel in Florida, reading, though I cannot recall why I was in a motel, and I distinctly recall being caught short by something Cone wrote (on page 130 or so?), and reading the passage again to be sure–and realizing, “Houston, we have a problem.” If my commitment to social justice meant abandoning my credal faith, then fuhgeddaboutit. #honestly
And so it came to pass that I became Catholic, and, whilst serving at WYD in Köln, I read The Ratzinger Report (well, to be specific, it was during my follow-up jaunt to Rome), which either followed or triggered my reading of the CDF instruction on certain aspects of liberation theology. At that point my buyer’s remorse crystallized and hardened: I had been hoodwinked by the latent Marxism of my evangelical liberation theology, and would not be fooled again.
And so it came to pass that over the next several years I dug deeper into the libertarian, free-market theory of social commerce. And I loved it. It made sense. It dignified business. It made sense of micro-loans and every other “soft conservative” practice which I knew actually helped “the poor”. And yet it seemed at odds with various prescriptions of the Holy See. And so ripples formed afresh on the surface of my mind. Was I required to be a statist, after all? I dove into Distributism, but walked away jaded by the usual leftist slippage. At which point I was fairly profoundly disillusioned with “Catholic Social Teaching”, since it seemed to compel me to embrace the economic version of Young Earthism. In the course of becoming disillusioned, I burned a few bridges and finally just decided to withdraw from the discussion altogether.
That was about a year ago. Since then I have re-approached (not “reproached”!) the Church’s social teaching with a somewhat more open mind. It’s all of a piece with my larger aporia these days with respect to the Vatican and the Magisterium. (FYI: My current thorn is trying to understand what the point of internalizing and defending Holy Tradition is, if all we are obliged–and allowed–to embrace therefrom is “what Rome says now.”) I am often tempted by anti-realist views of science–a concern, note well, which predates by years my interest in economics and the even more grotesque carnival that is the end-of-the-last-and-the-current-papacy–and, so, my most soothing stance these days is to say that, since no economic theory is complete, I might as well go with the-threads-which-can-be-woven-into-an-economic-theory based on a century or more of Roman pontifications. In other words: what do I know and why should I care? Obedience is a virtue.
In any event, lest I lose the thread of this post (even more), let me explain the title. The game changer for me was the 2003 CDF document about Catholic responses to “homosexual unions.” I was reminded of the impact of this document upon my by a recent post from my colleague, Hilary White. The key lines of that CDF document, among many gems, are these:
In those situations where homosexual unions have been legally recognized or have been given the legal status and rights belonging to marriage, clear and emphatic opposition is a duty. One must refrain from any kind of formal cooperation in the enactment or application of such gravely unjust laws and, as far as possible, from material cooperation on the level of their application. In this area, everyone can exercise the right to conscientious objection.
That hit my instinctively libertarian soul like a thunderbolt. I had been inclined to say that the State (that harlot) could do whatever she wanted in the game of bread and circuses, yet I was stopped short by the realization that a commitment to the reality of marriage was a call not to conservative quietism, but to social activism. And so I became a devotee of numerous CDF documents, including the much maligned “pastoral care for the road.” Years later I also read enough to see that the State is not a pure enemy, and yet I wonder if the state as we know it now still corresponds to the what the Magisterial Tradition has in mind as far as the limits of liberalism go.
Well, seeing as God writes straight with crooked lines, my soul finds itself clinging once more to the austere wisdom of those dusty, ole CDF documents. There is much hullabaloo about the “pastoral” foment at play these days, and I think it’s one of the great arguments in favor of traditionalism that all “modern” quandaries are but questions put to Tradition with insufficient knowledge thereof. As the Rorate piece just cited notes, no serious discussion about this “pastoral” gambit can be had unless we first admit that the crux of the question is whether the Church now wills to admit bigamists to Holy Communion. (Oddly enough, this parallels the starkness with which the “gay marriage” debate must be faced: is it in the interests of the State to subsidize any passing genital interest, and, if so, on what grounds does the State limit its patronage to only a pair of genitalia?)
What, then, do those old CDF documents say? Way back in 1994 we are told:
6. Members of the faithful who live together as husband and wife with persons other than their legitimate spouses may not receive Holy Communion. Should they judge it possible to do so, pastors and confessors, given the gravity of the matter and the spiritual good of these persons(10) as well as the common good of the Church, have the serious duty to admonish them that such a judgment of conscience openly contradicts the Church’s teaching(11). Pastors in their teaching must also remind the faithful entrusted to their care of this doctrine.
This does not mean that the Church does not take to heart the situation of these faithful, who moreover are not excluded from ecclesial communion. She is concerned to accompany them pastorally and invite them to share in the life of the Church in the measure that is compatible with the dispositions of divine law, from which the Church has no power to dispense(12). On the other hand, it is necessary to instruct these faithful so that they do not think their participation in the life of the Church is reduced exclusively to the question of the reception of the Eucharist. The faithful are to be helped to deepen their understanding of the value of sharing in the sacrifice of Christ in the Mass, of spiritual communion(13), of prayer, of meditation on the Word of God, and of works of charity and justice(14).
7. The mistaken conviction of a divorced and remarried person that he may receive Holy Communion normally presupposes that personal conscience is considered in the final analysis to be able, on the basis of one’s own convictions(15), to come to a decision about the existence or absence of a previous marriage and the value of the new union. However, such a position is inadmissable(16). Marriage, in fact, because it is both the image of the spousal relationship between Christ and his Church as well as the fundamental core and an important factor in the life of civil society, is essentially a public reality.
A few centuries thereafter in 1998 we are told:
The possibility of separation, which Paul discusses in 1 Cor. 7, regards marriage between a Christian and a non-baptized person. Later theological reflection has clarified that only marriages between baptized persons are a sacrament in the strict sense of the word, and that absolute indissolubility holds only for those marriages falling within the scope of Christian faith. So-called “natural marriage” has its dignity from the order of creation and is therefore oriented toward indissolubility, but it can be dissolved under certain circumstances because of a higher good — which in this case is faith. This is how systematic theology correctly classified St Paul’s reference as the privilegium paulinum, that is, the possibility of dissolving a non-sacramental marriage for the good of the faith. The indissolubility of a truly sacramental marriage remains safeguarded; it is not therefore an exception to the word of the Lord. …
Since marriage has a fundamental public ecclesial character and the axiom applies that nemo iudex in propria causa (no one is judge in his own case), marital cases must be resolved in the external forum. If divorced “and remarried members of the faithful believe that their prior marriage was invalid, they are thereby obligated to appeal to the competent marriage tribunal so that the question will be examined objectively and under all available juridical possibilities.
There is no shortage of orthodox commentary on this topic (here1 and here2), even in the age we inhabit centuries after those “querulous” CDF documents. Point being: don’t let the wave of verbose activism sweep you away.