Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Answers to Twelve Questions From Crisis Magazine



The conservative Catholic magazine, Crisis asks readers of its web site if they can expose 12 myths from an orthodox Catholic perspective. Without reading their responses first, I decided to take a crack at it.

The twelve "myths" (which I do not agree entirely are "myths" ) are in bold below, with my responses. I have recently signed up for their e-letter so that I can compare their responses with my own.

1. Christianity is no better than any other faith. All religions lead to God.

I sometimes wonder if those who say that all religions equally lead to God truly mean to say that the religion of David Koresh or a tribe offering human sacrifices is equivalent to modern Judaism.

While it may be a true statement that all religions contain some degree of truth, it seems obvious to me that organized religion can be distorted, and some religions are more distorted than others.

My own perspective is that from a God's eye perspective, the mystery of the Church is the body of all people who are being saved by grace. Grace is God's very life infused in the heart of the person open to receiving it.

I believe that the true Church, understood from a God's eye perspective, is bigger than the Roman Catholic Church, but subsists in the Roman Catholic Church.

The religious impulse of humanity universally expressed in various cultures is a response to potentially salvific grace. Each culture forms a concrete historical religion based on the shared experience of grace within the particular culture and in the culture's language. Language shapes consciousness, and organized religion functions to lead people within a culture to an experience of transcendent divine holy mystery.

The Roman Catholic culture is a community of believers that speaks of Jesus Christ as God in the flesh, and since grace is God's life, there is no salvation apart from Jesus Christ in Roman Catholic language. Furthermore, we understand this language to be true from God's perspective.

The mystery of the Church from a God's eye perspective, as a body of people being saved by grace, is the body of Christ. With Jesuit theologian, Karl Rahner, I believe there are people we could call "anonymous Christians".

These are people united to Christ who do not know Christ by name. Just as a life guard can save one from drowning without the drowning person knowing the life guard’s name, so too, Jesus can save people who do not know his name.

Just as our individual bodies are animated by our individual soul, the body of believers is animated by a single spirit, which is the Holy Spirit. All people united to the mystery of the Church as understood from a God's eye perspective are animated by one and the same Holy Spirit.

Thus, if there is no salvation apart from Jesus Christ, there is also no salvation apart from the mystery of the Church understood from a God's eye perspective.

The Roman Catholic Church is a concrete and historical expression of a body of believers in Jesus Christ. Roman Catholics are able to trace the institutional history of this body back to the historical person of Jesus Christ. We believe that the Church as understood from a God's eye perspective "subsists in" the Roman Catholic Church.

We also believe that the teachings of this Church contain the fullness of truth necessary to salvation, and may even contain truths that remain valid and helpful to salvation, if not absolutely necessary. There is a hierarchy of truth, and some truths are necessary, while others are not.

The fullness of truth necessary to salvation is contained within the deposit of faith of the Roman Catholic Church. However, there are also truths within this deposit that are valid and perhaps even helpful to salvation, but simply not necessary to believe in order to be saved, and therefore lower on the hierarchy of truth.

Among the truths expressed in Roman Catholic teaching is that a gift was given to the office held by Saint Peter of infallibility in teaching what was handed on from Christ. This office is preserved in the papacy.

This gift does not mean that the person holding the office is sinless nor that an individual pope expresses the fullness of truth all at once nor can the pope introduce a doctrine that was not true from a God's eye perspective at the time of Christ. Nor does it mean that everything the Pope says is to be considered infallible. The gift of infallibility is invoked under strict conditions.

The gift of infallibility is also given under similar strict conditions to the entire body of bishops in union with the pope when acting collegially as teachers and judges, such as at an ecumenical (worldwide) council.

Likewise, Roman Catholics hold that when the body of the faithful simultaneously hold a position definitively across the globe, the "sense of the faithful" is protected by the gift of infallibility.

Roman Catholics do not believe the institution of Roman Catholicism can simultaneously be lead astray across the globe on a definitive or infallibly understood matter of faith and morals necessary to salvation.

Among those truths or doctrines held infallibly by Roman Catholics are doctrines regarding the seven sacraments as means of expressing, actualizing, and nourishing the life of grace. While grace can come from other channels than the sacraments, the seven sacraments rooted in Scriptural revelation and the life of Christ are sure means of receiving grace.

With all of this said, the true Church as perceived in a God's eye perspective does include people who are being saved by grace which comes from Jesus Christ and who do not belong to the Roman Catholic Church. In some cases, it is possible that a person who does not consciously know Jesus Christ by name is still responding to the mystery of God's grace.

Catholics are so certain that intellectual knowledge of Jesus Christ is not an absolute requirement of salvation that we baptize infants who cannot possibly comprehend this language.

We also believe that the prophets of the Old Testament who had no explicit formal intellectual knowledge of Jesus Christ are counted among the saints.

Furthermore, the Church explicitly teaches that Jews and Muslims are united to the mystery of the Church, understood as that mystery of the community of believers being saved as seen from a God's eye perspective.

There is an important caveat to what has just been said. Roman Catholics are so certain that Jesus is God in the flesh and that grace comes through him that we believe a person who knows this and rejects Jesus anyway cannot be saved.

On the other hand, many people who reject Christianity as an organized institutional religion are not consciously rejecting the person of Jesus, and even if such a skeptic understands that we believe Christ to be God in the flesh, that person is not automatically damned for rejecting this doctrine.

Such a person may not be rejecting Jesus, per se. Instead, such a person is rejecting our poor witness to who Jesus is. Such a person may be rejecting me, rather than Jesus.

This bears repeating for emphasis: A person who does not believe Jesus Christ is God in the flesh is not rejecting Jesus per se. Such a person is mistaken about who Christ is, but the person is not closed to the possibility of salvific grace operating in his or her life.

Only one who fully understands and appropriates the doctrines of the Church, and then consciously rejects the gift of salvific grace from the one they know to be the savior with full knowledge, freedom, and deliberation is damned.

There is a difference between saying, "I know Jesus is God, but I refuse to trust him" as the demons do in Scripture, and saying, "I know that you believe Jesus is God, and I do not share your conviction that he is God" as people do in this life.

It is also important to realize that nobody being saved by grace is perfect as an individual human person. All of us are sinners, and all of us are in the process of discerning truth. Catholics sin, just like everybody else.

The Roman Catholic Church is not a society of those claiming perfection. Rather, it is a society of those claiming the need for the gift of God's grace in order to become better than we currently are.

Furthermore, while the fullness of truth necessary for salvation is contained within the Roman Catholic Church, real and valid truths are expressed in other religions.

In some cases, it is conceivable that a particular truth is expressed better in another religion than in Roman Catholicism.

It is even theoretically possible that another religion also contains the fullness of truth necessary to salvation, since not every valid truth taught in the Roman Catholic Church is absolutely necessary to salvation. For example, most Roman Catholics accept that the Eastern Orthodox embrace the essentials of Christian doctrine necessary for salvation.

It may even be theoretically possible that from a God's eye perspective, the fullness of truths are considered absolutely necessary for salvation are expressed minimally in non-Christian religions. The Roman Catholic Church affirms all that is true, good, and holy in all religions.

Since it is nearly certain that individual people outside of the Roman Catholic Church are being saved by grace, and it is also at least theoretically possible that the fullness of truth is contained within another institutional religious body, the Roman Catholic Church believes that ecumenical dialogue, ecumenical prayer, and ecumenical work on common cause projects are a moral imperative that express the unity of the true Church understood from a God's eye perspective.

Furthermore, while the Roman Catholic Church is protected by the special gift of infallibility in certain strict conditions, there are doctrines and practices common to most Roman Catholics that have not been defined infallibility.

While Roman Catholics believe that the Holy Spirit prevents the entire Roman Catholic Church from being lead simultaneously across the globe into error in the definition of an infallible teaching, the Roman Catholic Church does admit that there has been and could be widespread erroneous practices or doctrinal opinions at the non-infallible level.

Non-infallible teachings of the Roman Catholic Church should be engaged critically, examining both the strengths and weaknesses of the theological arguments.

Ultimately, such teachings should be obeyed unless conscience dictates otherwise, and the teaching should be given some benefit of the doubt in intellectual understanding. At the same time, it is not wrong to question such teachings, especially when obedience leads to a conflicted conscience.

Some people ask why anyone should want to belong to a religious institution that admits the possibility of wide-spread error within its own ranks. From a Roman Catholic perspective, what we say of ourselves is true of others as well. There is no religious institution immune from the possibility of wide-spread error or sin.

All organized religion contains some degree of truth, and all organized religion contains some degree of error. Some organized religions are more distorted than others. Roman Catholics naturally tend to believe that our own views are among the least distorted, and being the largest religious body on earth with a 2,000 year history is good evidence that what we say makes sense to many people.

There are many Roman Catholics who become confused at all of the nuance of what has been said.

Some Roman Catholics wonder why one should remain committed to the Roman Catholic Church if it is possible for widespread error and individual sin to exist within the institution. They wonder why one should remain Roman Catholic if it is possible that the fullness of truth necessary for salvation is expressed elsewhere. It is even asked why one should embrace Christianity if some non-Christians are potentially saved.

The answer to these questions is that each one of us must respond to the grace given to us in concrete and historical reality.

If you have been exposed to the infallible doctrines taught by the Roman Catholic Church and found them compelling, it makes sense to embrace those truths through active participation in the life of the Church even if there are other means of grace and salvation.

In some cases, this will involve a formal conversion from one religious body into the institution of Roman Catholicism. In other cases, a particular individual within a another religious body will embrace aspects of Roman Catholic spirituality and try to work to incorporate those within his or her own religious body.

Both of these responses to Roman Catholic spirituality and theology are believed by many Catholics to be graced.

Many Roman Catholics wonder why we should engage in missionary activity and evangelization if there is truth elsewhere than the Roman Catholic Church.

In response to this question, it is important to realize that Jesus Christ taught that it is through relationships with others that we express our love for God and grow in the knowledge of truth. We are called to mission not simply to convert others, but to convert ourselves in relationships with others.

Evangelization is not a one way effort to make the case for Roman Catholicism. Nor is it a one way reception of everything others believe.

Evangelization is a dialogue involving the mutual sharing of faith. Roman Catholics can and should hold firm to our core beliefs in conversations with others, offering a reason for the hope that lies within us with gentleness and respect, while also being open to the goodness of the perspectives of others. We learn from others as they learn from us.

There is a sense that missionary activity and evangelization by Roman Catholics does not have its primary end as producing more Roman Catholics. Instead, the primary end is to further reflection among the entire human race that leads the entire world to grow in the understanding of truth.

When dialogue between a Hindu and a Roman Catholic leads the Hindu to become a better Hindu and the Catholic to become a better Catholic, grace is operating in both persons. Unbeknownst to the Hindu, we believe that Christ is at work in this process. Christ was working on the Hindu through the Catholic, while also working on the Catholic through the Hindu. It is precisely in this sense that we say there is no salvation apart from the Church.

A final point should be made about atheism. Close to ninety percent of the world holds some sort of religious belief, and the atheist claims all religion is equally wrong, and perhaps equally distorted.

The atheists may be touched by saving grace in a way that is not fully apparent to him or her. Often, it is the sin, distortions and widespread errors of religious people that is rejected more than God, himself. Roman Catholics should not dismiss the hard questions of atheists when engaging others in dialogue.

Yet, just as it is the case that not all religions are equally true, it is also the case that not all religions are equally false. The atheist is making the same mistake as the syncretist by making all religions equal.

2. Why should I believe the Bible? The Old and New Testaments contradict each other countless times.

The Bible is not a single book, but is instead a collection of several books by different authors written over a long period of time. Each author is describing an experience of God from his or her own unique perspective in his or her own concrete historical circumstances, culture and language.

Despite the variety of perspectives in the Bible, the collection of books taken together forms what the community of faith expressed in the institution of Roman Catholicism sees as a unified whole. As a unified whole, this collection of writings records the earliest formation of the institution as it emerged from Judaism.

Roman Catholics believe the unity discerned in the variety of perspectives arises from the fact that there is one God, and only one God, who was "speaking" to each author in the author's unique historical circumstance.

Indeed, this unity discerned in the variety of perspectives is one of the reasons Catholics would place the Bible above a religious text originating from a single perspective, like the Q'ran.

The apparent contradictions between each author are often cleared up by examining the context of the writing with a sincere effort to understand what the author was trying to say in his own language in his own time.

As one slowly begins to discern the unity of the collection of writings and the apparent contradictions begin to become clarified, an image of the one true God is formed in the mind of the reader.

This image of God then begins to shape our own experience such that we too begin to experience the one true God in our own unique historical circumstances.

As an aid to understanding Scripture as intended, the Roman Catholic Church, unlike some other Christian denominations, believes that the Holy Spirit has been given to the Church in the form of a Sacred Tradition that illuminates the meaning of Sacred Scripture.

The notion of Sacred Tradition is that there is a dialogue occurring through history between the Church as a body of believers, and the Scriptures. This dialogue develops, just like a good conversation between two people develops. Through the process, the Church as a whole comes to a fuller understanding of what God revealed in Scripture and what it means to us today.

In Roman Catholicism, similar to the processes of civil courts, this dialogue we call Sacred Tradition gives weight to historical precedent. If two equally compelling cases are made for the correct interpretation of a Scriptural passage, the interpretation that has stood the test of time in history or is rooted in the beliefs of the early history of the Church are given deference.

Yet, it does occur that new information and changing circumstances lead to a development of our understanding of what was revealed in Scripture. This leads to a development of doctrine in the Roman Catholic Tradition.

Because there are many individual people participating in this dialogue, and many competing voices trying to be heard, Roman Catholics believe that certain offices were designated by Christ to make definitive judgments regarding the correct implications of Sacred Scripture as understood in the unfolding dialogue of Sacred Tradition.

This notion is rooted in the very history of the early Church. When there was conflict over the interpretation of Scripture within the New Testament era, the community of believers in Jesus Christ looked to those who most closely associated with Jesus for an answer. Thus, what Saint Peter had to say carried more weight than what Saint Barnabas might have said.

As those who knew Jesus personally died out, a similar practice continued where those who were most closely associated with Peter and the other Apostles were consulted and considered more "in the know" than those who could not demonstrate a connection to the Apostles.

During this period of the early formation of the Church, the New Testament was written. The New Testament contains passages that Roman Catholics believe are indicative that Christ promised guidance to the Apostles and their successors to guide them in all truth.

Based on the promise of Christ to be with the Church throughout time, to which Scripture gives witness, Roman Catholics believe these offices are protected in certain strict conditions with the gift of infallibility.

It is important to note that the offices possessing infallibility, which are typically referred to broadly as the magisterium of the Church, are not the sole interpreters of Scripture.

The Roman Catholic Church does not forbid the private reading of Scripture nor even the private interpretation of Scripture. Indeed, the Roman Catholic Church teaches that everyone who can read should engage the text of Sacred Scripture for personal growth and in order to join the great conversation that is Sacred Tradition. Nor is the Church closed to rigorous critical study of the Bible using the tools of modern and post-modern scholarship.

Yet, Roman Catholics believe that when private interpretation or a scholarly opinion conflicts with the magisterium, one should give deference to the magisterium. In turn, the magisterium does not serve as lords over Scripture, but humbly serves Scripture.

Because of the use of Scripture within the community of faith through history, the teaching authority of the Church has discerned that we can rightly call the Sacred Scriptures "the Word of God", meaning that the entire text was inspired by the Holy Spirit to communicate God’s love for us. For the believer, this collection of writings has a place of preeminence among all the world's literature.

A point should be made that Protestant Christians disagree with most of what has been said up to now about why the Bible should be read. For the Protestant, the Bible is the sole rule of faith without reference to Sacred Tradition or deference to any office possessing a teaching authority.

Roman Catholics find the Protestant view difficult to understand since the Bible did not reach completion until after the initial formation of the Church, and it is the Church that authenticates Scripture.

Protestants believe that God's grace reveals to the reader directly that the book is divinely inspired, and simply invite anyone to test the assertion by reading the Bible.

The Roman Catholic Church does not formally deny the possibility that other writings may have some degree of divine inspiration. Indeed, there is a sense that we can say that any writing describing an experience of God has some degree of inspiration.

Yet, due to historical precedent within the community of faith, the Bible will always hold a place of preeminence to the Roman Catholic.

On another note, aside from the Catholic understanding of the role of Scripture in shaping our individual image of God and informing our collective Sacred Tradition, there are other more personal reasons an individual may find compelling to inspire Biblical reflection. The Bible is the most widely published and widely read book in the world, and any educated person would want to read it simply to understand the world of common ideas.

Many people also find that after understanding the works in their historical context, the Bible is simply a collection of beautiful pieces of ancient literature. Indeed, some find the beauty of the works themselves to be a compelling case that the God portrayed in them is real.

Finally, there is a remarkable fact about the Bible that is sometimes exaggerated and over emphasized, and open to critique, but basically true nonetheless.

In comparison to other ancient literature, the Bible seems to have almost miraculous characteristics in the purity of the manuscript tradition, in its archeological accuracy, in the nature of prophetic fulfillment, and the statistical probabilities of certain events recorded within occurring exactly as they did. While these factors can be greatly exaggerated, many people have come to faith based solely on these factors.

3. I don't need to confess my sins to a priest. I can go straight to God.

It is true that the Roman Catholic Church does not teach that confession to a priest is absolutely always and everywhere necessary to salvation.

The Church has always taught that a perfect act of contrition made at the moment of death can be sufficient for salvation. Furthermore, many martyrs are honored as saints who did not receive sacramental reconciliation or even water baptism!

It is also true that the sacraments of baptism and of the Eucharist have the effect of the remission of sin, and some theologians speculate that the Eucharist, as the source and summit of Catholic spirituality, is the primary sacrament of reconciliation.

It is also true that reconciliation with those human persons whom we offend by our sins is a grace filled act and a moral imperative based on justice.

In the early Church, sacramental confession was typically reserved for only a handful of serious offenses, and was received far less frequently than the Church encourages today. Confession was usually made for murder, adultery, heresy and apostacy. The notion of confessing sins more frequently was a later development that grew out of the practices of monastic spiritual direction.

Biblically, we see that Jesus Christ caused scandal by declaring sins forgiven. Opponents of Jesus claimed it was blasphemy for a human being to declare sins forgiven. Jesus is also recorded in the Gospels telling his disciples that they too could declare sins forgiven in God's name. In the New Testament epistles, sinners are encouraged to ask the prayers of the elders of the Church for the forgiveness of sins.

Roman Catholics believe that sacramental confession gives one the assurance that a particular sin is forgiven. One of the greatest temptations people face is to despair in God's mercy, and the Roman Catholic Church teaches firmly as an infallible truth that sins confessed to a priest in the sacrament of reconciliation are truly forgiven.

Confession to a priest not only provides one the assurance that a particular sin is forgiven, but a regular habit of confession can help form a discipline of accountability and self-awareness of your own actions before God, self, and another person. Frequent confession nourishes the virtue of humility and helps one break patterns of sin.

The priest prays for our forgiveness and delivers the promise of forgiveness not in his own name, but in the name of Christ. As a Church elder, he also represents the entire Church as a welcoming presence back to full communion with the body of believers. The priest is also bound by the most sacred promise not to share what is revealed in confession.

On a purely human level, confession is older and more widely used than psychotherapy, and provides people an opportunity to unload burdens and seek advice and counsel from another person. Unlike psychotherapy, the sacrament is free of charge.

Given what confession is and what it promises, the real question is not whether one is obligated to confess sins to a priests. The real question is why any believer in Jesus Christ who has the vaguest understanding of Roman Catholic sacramental theology would not want to take advantage of this wonderful gift.

Saint Paul also warns us not to approach the sacrament of the Eucharist unworthily, and the Roman Catholic Church has historically interpreted this warning to mean that all serious or mortal sins should be confessed to a priest if possible prior to receiving communion.

Furthermore, to unite ourselves with those preparing for baptism, and to ensure that the experience of the sacrament is known to all in the community of faith, Catholics are strongly encouraged to confess their sins at least once a year at Easter time.

Some theologians speculate that communal penance services where there is a general confession of sin without naming particular sins directly to a priest in private might have the same grace as traditional private confession. The Roman Catholic Church does permit such services, but currently does not officially recognize such a service as a replacement of the traditional rite.

Given that the early Church did not practice frequent private confession to a priest or confession of individual sins other than extreme cases, it is very possible that communal penance services will one day be recognized as a legitimate development in the practice of sacramental confession.

4. People's memories of their past lives prove that reincarnation is true...and that the Christian view of Heaven and Hell is not.

Reincarnation is a more comforting idea to some spiritual people than eternal heaven or eternal damnation because most of us have a strong sense that while our hearts are in the right place, we are not perfect. We sense that there is room for spiritual growth and it is frightening to consider we could die before the process is complete.

Unlike Protestants, Roman Catholics believe that Scripture and Sacred Tradition imply a state of purification called purgatory. Those who are responding to God’s grace and moving forward in the process of salvation by God’s grace are experiencing reality exactly as it is. If we die before the process seems complete, it does not entail eternal damnation.

Roman Catholics are often accused of close-mindedness for not giving reincarnation greater consideration. The notions of reincarnation and resurrection of the body in heaven or hell are mutually exclusive ideas, and Roman Catholics find those who adamantly defend reincarnation to be just as close-minded as we are accused of being.

Two points need to be made about memories of past lives.

First, the evidence that such memories exist without natural explanation is extremely weak to non-existent. More often than not, these cases have been demonstrated to be fraud, exaggeration, or distorted perceptions of reality.

Second, even if one could prove beyond doubt that a person has an accurate mental image of historical events and languages that occurred before the person was born, there is no way to prove that this occurred because of reincarnation.

Such a phenomenon would clearly have some sort of "supernatural" explanation, and reincarnation is not the only possible supernatural explanation. For example, it is at least theoretically conceivable that a demon is playing a trick on the person.

However, speculation of demonic tricks aside, the ultimate reason Roman Catholics reject the theory reincarnation is that we are a people who have encountered Jesus Christ risen from the dead.

We encounter the risen Christ in word and sacrament, in our interactions with others, and in prayer and small moments of grace throughout our lives. Christ is not reincarnated in specific human being. He is alive and revealing himself in our midst.

Once one encounters the risen Christ, it is impossible to believe in reincarnation because Jesus Christ is not reincarnated, but is alive and is the same person who walked the earth 2,000 years ago.

Furthermore, Christians believe that by the incarnation event, God has revealed that each and every individual human person - whole and entire - has a unique and incomparable dignity as the image of God.

Roman Catholics consider it an insult to the human person to see the body as a mere shell for some vague reality trapped inside the body. Roman Catholics believe in the resurrection of the body based on what happened to Christ and what is revealed about human dignity in Christ.

Though some people have taken a very small handful of Biblical verses out of their original context as indicative of the possibility of reincarnation, the Bible actually offers absolutely no evidence of reincarnation. Furthermore, such a notion was never widely believed by the Jewish people up to the time of Christ, if it was ever believed at all.

Reincarnation denies an essential doctrine of Christianity, is not supported by the Bible, and has no compelling rational evidence. The theory is ultimately an insult to the human person and the goodness of the body. The theory runs counter to our experience of the risen Christ. For all of these reasons, Roman Catholics soundly reject reincarnation as an erroneous conception of the afterlife.

All of this said, it is important to separate error from the person in error. A non-Christian who embraces the notion of reincarnation is beginning to grasp the basic truth that there is life after death, and that justice demands purification from sin. It may be a real response to divine grace that leads one to hope in the erroneous opinion that reincarnation is real.

Also, there is a very real sense that in the mind of God, a person existed before they were born, and sometimes, in mystical prayer, a Christian can gain a glimpse of this sort of "pre-existence" through a special gift of grace. Others may have a glimmer of such an experience as well.

Furthermore, even if a demon is playing a trick on a person to deceive one through false memories, such an experience will feel very real to the subject, and the subject is not in sin for having the experience. Sin is placing our trust in subjective experience when it is contrary to reason and objective truth.

Roman Catholics are morally bound by our Church's own teaching to be respectful of people who believe in reincarnation. At the same time, we feel no compulsion to give credence to a doctrine that seems to be clearly erroneous.

5. Properly interpreted, the Bible does not condemn homosexuality.

This is actually technically correct. The Bible does not condemn homosexuality as we mean the term in the twenty-first century.

The ancients had absolutely no word or concept for the notion that a human person could be predominately or exclusively attracted to the same gender through no deliberate choice of their own, which is what we mean today by homosexuality.

What the Bible does condemn is freely chosen homosexual acts by those who have a heterosexual orientation (Rom 1:24-27). This text is sited by the Catechism, but the passage very clearly refers to those who freely “exchange” a natural heterosexual desire for homosexual activity.

The Catechism also sites 1 Corinthians 6:10 and 1 Timothy 1:10 in relations to homosexual acts. Scholars are not in full agreement that these passages actually refer to homosexuals or homosexual acts, because the words used are obscure.

Even some of those scholars who accept a homosexual connotation in these passages point out that the probable historical context, partly confirmed in the text itself in references to kidnapping, is most likely sexual slavery involving married heterosexual men with prepubescent boys. Does condemning sexual slavery or pedophilia necessitate condemnation of all homosexual acts or of persons who experience a homosexual orientation?

The Catechism also sites the story of the destruction of Sodom in Genesis 19:1-29 as evidence that homosexual acts are wrong. However, Luke 10:12 records Christ as interpreting the narrative more as an issue of mistreatment of foreigners and inhospitality. This interpretation also prevailed in the early Church well into the fourth century.

Many people site Leviticus 18:22 as a further condemnation of homosexual acts, but the passage is taken from a book that condemns eating non-kosher food as an abomination and prescribes the death penalty for a child who curses at his or her parents. Some scholars also believe the passage is specifically addressing temple prostitution, and was addressed more to priests than the general population. The passage also addresses acts only, and not orientation, and only acts between males, with no mention of lesbianism.

From these passages, the historic teaching has been that all homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered. The Church has never taught that a homosexual orientation that is not chosen is a sin in itself. Indeed, the Vatican explicitly denies that homosexual orientation is a sin.

In our own day age, we have a concept that some people may be born with a predisposition to homosexuality that is not chosen. The Bible simply does not address this possibility.

In light of mounting evidence that homosexual orientation is not chosen for a small group of people, many theologians are asking whether the Biblical teaching regarding homosexual acts really applies to these people in every situation. Could a monogamous gay union be morally similar to a marriage between infertile heterosexuals?

It is important to note, as well, that the passages referring to homosexual conduct with no reference to orientation not only have an ambiguous historical and literary context, but the passages are smaller in number than passages that seem to support slavery or polygamy.

If God truly considers homosexuality to be as important as modern conservatives claim, he has a funny way of showing us what his priorities are.

Furthermore, while nobody denies that historically the Church has condemned all homosexual acts, this teaching was never defined infallibly.

With developments in sexual morality that place emphasis on the unitive dimension of sexual love, some theologians are asking if there may be instances where committed monogamous partnership might make some homosexual acts morally licit.

It is important to understand that the questions raised here do not in any way imply a sexual free for all where nothing of a sexual nature can be deemed a sin.

Most of the historic understanding of sexual morality would be preserved by emphasizing the Church's own teachings on the unitive dimension of sexuality that we already know is expressed in heterosexual marriage.

6. If the Church truly followed Jesus, they'd sell their lavish art, property, and architecture, and give the money to the poor.

The property belonging to the Roman Catholic Church is really public property. It belongs to the entire faithful and is open to the world. It does not belong to the priests, bishops or Pope. Roman Catholics believe that we express our love for God in bodily ways, just as God expressed his love for us in the incarnation.

Beautiful art is an act of worship and lifts the human spirit. In the mind of a Roman Catholic, it is simply a false dichotomy to feel forced to choose between beauty and service to the poor. The two go together - a beautiful worship space open to the poor, and a hot meal for those who have nothing to eat.

7. Catholics should follow their conscience in all things...whether it's abortion, birth control, or women’s ordination.

Technically, it is an accurate theological statement to say that a Roman Catholic must always and everywhere obey his or her conscience. Even Crisis ultimately admits this.

However, in saying this, conscience is more than a "gut feeling" or simply doing what wants in a given moment.

Conscience is discernment of the voice of God within. We discern God's voice through deep prayer and reflection. Our feelings are a very important part of the discernment process, but we also test those feelings in light of reason, Scripture, and Sacred Tradition.

Following your conscience means making your best educated guess in the moment to do good and avoid evil. We are all obligated to do this in every moral decision we make no matter how small or grand the decision.

Roman Catholics affirm that one must always follow conscience, because the one true God speaks in conscience.

One of the common dictates of conscience God provides to all people is that we are all obligated to continually "form" our conscience, meaning we deepen our relationship with God by continual prayerful reflection on how to do good and avoid evil.

We must make an educated guess in every moral decision, meaning we have a moral obligation to educate ourselves.

When a gut feeling, natural reason, Sacred Scripture, Sacred Tradition and the teaching authority of the Church are all of one accord, one can have a high degree of certitude that one is hearing the voice of God.

Such instances are actually rather frequent and almost taken for granted by most Roman Catholics. For example, we all know it is wrong to kill an innocent human person.

On an issue like abortion, questions arise not because anyone questions whether it is true that murder is a sin. Questions typically arise because of a lack of certainty that the unborn is a human person in the same sense as an adult.

In some cases, we will not be able to simultaneously reconcile our gut feelings, our natural reason, Sacred Scripture, Sacred Tradition and the teaching of the Church all at once in our own mind.

Yet, we will often find that a preponderance of evidence weighted in favor of the Church teaching. There is no moral obligation to claim absolute certainty in such an instance. All that is required is that you obey the teaching and admit that the Church's case has some merit worthy of reflection.

This is an important point, because many Catholics mistakenly identify faith with absolute intellectual certitude. Faith is primarily trust in God.

If you can find merit in Church teaching and obey the teaching without conflict, you should act accordingly according to your best educated guess. The questions in your mind will linger while you continue to reflect. Questions are not sinful.

Continual reflection implies a mandate to listen to others and to be humble enough to admit when others are speaking a truth that seems to prove a "gut feeling" is likely an error.

As ultra-sound technology has developed over the years, many American Catholics who were less certain of the Church's teaching on abortion in the 1970's have come to the gradual conclusion that the Church was right all along on this issue.

It is generally a very pleasant experience to discover that something you believed with a low degree of certainty years ago can actually be known with a higher degree of certitude in the present.

Many Catholics have "aha moments" where they discover a truth was right under their noses in traditional Church teaching for decades.

It also a common experience for many people to come to realize that the reason one often disagreed with a particular teaching is that one never truly understood the Church teaching properly.

For example, the Church teaches that procreation is the primary end of every conjugal act. Some Catholics misunderstood this teaching and thought it meant an infertile couple could not express married love conjugally. Even some priests have made this mistake historically.

The actual teaching does not mean that one cannot engage in conjugal acts where procreation is unlikely. Rather, it means that one should not intentionally block procreation in a conjugal act. Understood properly, couples struggling with infertility are better able to embrace the teaching in question.

What we learn from all of this is that when we have a question about Church teaching, the question itself is not wrong. The question about a doctrine should lead to a method of discernment where one habitually asks a series of deeper questions.

Am I understanding the Church teaching properly? If I am understanding it properly and still feel conflicted, what level of authority is at stake (is the teaching infallible)? If the teaching in question is not infallible, my questions may be valid, but is there any particular moral reason taught by the Church to voice those questions publicly or disobey the teaching? If not, can I obey even in my doubt?

Given our beliefs that the fullness of truth is expressed within the Roman Catholic Church and that in certain instances, the Church is protected by infallibility, a strong benefit of the doubt always should be given to Church teaching in the formation of conscience. When in doubt, one should always obey the Church.

All other things being equal in trying to make a decision to act, one should obey the Church over another authority - including civil law, common cultural mores, or even a "gut feeling".

Yet, it does occur sometimes that a non-infallible teaching will contain error. Non infallible teaching is, by definition, fallible. While it may contain some degree of truth, the truth may need further development or the teaching may even contain some degree of error.

For example, there were abolitionists in the Roman Catholic Church at a time when those in authority in the Church strongly implied non-infallibly that slavery was in accord with Scripture and natural law.

During this time period, many religious orders owned slaves.

Imagine the conflict in conscience for a priest who came to understand the immorality of slavery who is simultaneously bound by a vow of obedience to his slave owning superiors who have the authoritative but non-infallible support of the magisterium.

In such instances, there exist a principle of "legitimate dissent".

Many conservative Catholics often do not like to admit this possibility. Crisis does not even raise the possibility in its response to this issue.

The simple fact is that legitimate dissent is recognized in the teaching of the Church and canon law.

It is important to realize that legitimate dissent is always more than saying "I have a gut feeling this teaching has error." While a subjective feeling may be a clue that error is possible, and deeper reflection is required, it is not proof in itself.

One must make the effort to understand the teaching in question as it is intended, and one must make an effort to demonstrate that your gut feeling is actually based on a principle of Catholic teaching known with greater certainty that indicates the likeliness that the less certain teaching may contain an error.

In the case of slavery, the abolitionist slowly built the case that the dignity of the human person revealed in the core truth of the incarnation clarified that slavery is inherently wrong.

There is currently a great deal of debate on issues like abortion, contraception and women's ordination.

Those who voice dissent on these topics are often appealing to moral teachings supported by the Church.

Some Catholics wish to stop the debate by an argument that Church authority has clearly condemned these specific acts, but the argument is often made on the basis of authority alone, which is the weakest form of argument.

While it is true that the teachings on these issues are "clear", and defined by authority, it is also true that some of them have not been defined infallibly.

If one agrees with the Vatican's position, one serves the Vatican better by explaining why you agree with the Vatican than by simply appealing to her authority.

If the Roman Catholic Church cannot convince her own members of a position based on arguments other than appeal to authority, she will never be able to convince outsiders of the position.

Because these teachings have not been defined infallibly, it does not exclude one from communion with the Roman Catholic Church to suggest that there may be room for development of thought or even an error contained in the teaching mixed with truth.

Nor does it exclude one from communion to admit that even though you lean towards obedience, you have questions about the teachings that have not yet been resolved in your own mind.

Some people suggest that voicing such questions or reservations in public causes scandal, disrupts unity and they fear it may encourage sin if the Church's authority is eventually proven correct or the teaching is later defined infallibly. These are valid concerns.

If one has questions or reservations about a non-infallible teaching, there may be instances where one should ask those questions and voice those reservations to a limited number of people.

The ultimate justification for voicing "legitimate dissent" in a wider arena is that after careful prayerful reflection, you reach a point where obedience to a non-infallible teaching and silence regarding your reservations would actually seem to cause you to sin against another principle of Catholic teaching that is known with a higher degree of certainty.

On moral issues, the Church's own teaching is that the golden rule applies to every moral decision. If you reach a high degree of certainty that obedience to Church teaching is causing you to violate the golden rule, you may have a moral obligation to voice your concerns.

When obedience to Church teaching leads to violating the golden rule in way that gives rise to a bad "gut feeling" one can have a pretty good hunch that you either misunderstand the Church teaching, or are headed down a path to what may be turn out to be legitimate dissent.

8. Dissent is actually a good thing, since we should all keep our minds open to new ideas.

This is a true statement when it refers to legitimate dissent as described above.

However, there is a form of dissent that is simply childish. Uninformed dissent based solely on gut feelings and closed to any real reflection is generally disruptive to the unity of the Church, causes scandal to the Church as she tries to witness Christ to the world, and encourages other people to sin by acting in ways that may actually violate their own conscience.

Asking questions and voicing reservations is not inherently wrong. Refusing to listen to a reasonable answer is wrong. An appeal to authority is not necessarily a reasonable argument, but the Church does not rely solely on appeals to authority.

Frequently, Roman Catholics make judgments of other people implying the other person is voicing illegitimate dissent or outright heresy. This practice should really be avoided even if it is true. Heresy involves the denial of an infallibly defined truth, where dissent involves non-infallible teachings.

Furthermore, only a bishop has the authority to formally declare someone a heretic.

The reason to avoid this practice of judging others is that it is also Church teaching that we can never judge another person's conscience.

One person voicing dissent may actually be trying to learn, while another is close-minded. Still another person may be voicing dissent who examined the issue far more thoroughly than you, and is in a position more like the abolitionists who opposed slavery.

In other words, the person voicing dissent may be right, and the Church may come to recognize this in time.

Ultimately, only a bishop has the right and the authority to formally declare a Roman Catholic as having crossed the line from legitimate dissent to illegitimate dissent or heresy.

Lay people should avoid such judgments like the plague, and bishops should be very judicious, prudent and cautious in exercising their rights and authority in case the dissenter is right in God's eyes.

If someone voices an opinion that strikes you as outright heretical, it is extremely important to separate the idea from the person, and to avoid outright accusations of heresy. It is better to say, "Your opinion seems dangerously close to the Arian heresy" than to say "You are an Arian heretic."

9. There's no such thing as absolute truth. What's true for you may not be true for me.

The statement "there's no such thing as absolute truth" is internally inconsistent, since it can only be true if it is absolute. However, the statement that what's true for you may not be true for me is possibly valid.

Above, we said that a person must always and everywhere follow their conscience. Furthermore, we highlighted that everyone has an obligation to inform his or her conscience with reason, Sacred Scripture, Sacred Tradition and the teaching of the Church.

However, in a given point in time, a person must make their best educated guess on how to do good and avoid evil.

A person who is in the process of discerning the meaning of the Church's teaching cannot be judged by the same standard as a person who fully understands the same teaching. What is true for the novice is not true for the advanced, or vice-a-versa. Or, as Christ is recorded saying the Gospel, to whom more is given, more will be expected.

Furthermore, because of the possibility of legitimate dissent that will later be discerned as truth by the whole Church, even the advanced may seem to be departing from tradition and authority, not out of an immature rebelliousness and sin, but out of a legitimate development in doctrine.

10. I don't need to go to Church. As long as I'm a good person, that's all that really matters.

Imagine a young person considering marriage said, "I already know my feelings for my fiancée, why do we have to keep dating?"

Setting aside one day a week to nourish our spiritual life and develop our relationship with God through prayer and rest from work is actually very little commitment. Compared to the effort involved in building most of our valued human relationships, one day a week is very little time to spend nourishing a relationship with God.

Roman Catholics believe that in the Mass, we receive the very body and blood, soul and divinity of the Lord, Jesus Christ. God makes an offering of self to us in the Eucharist, and when we receive this precious gift, we are divinized and incorporated into the body of Christ.

The real presence of Christ in the Eucharist is not the only mode of real presence at the Mass either. When we hear the proclamation of the Word, it is truly Christ who speaks. The ministerial priest also acts as another Christ sacramentally and we hold in faith that the Holy Spirit is active to ensure that there is something of value in the homily to address each of us in our concrete daily circumstance. We encounter Christ in a real way through one another gathered in community.

The Mass is also act of worship that nourishes the spirit in song and in collective prayers belonging to the entire Church. We are united not only with our local community, but with the global Church.

The real question is not why one needs to go to Church. The real question is why anyone would not want to go to Church?

Additionally, no human being is perfect. What exactly does it mean to say, "All I have to do is be a good person" ?

Anyone who claims that he or she has never acted in violation of his or her own conscience is simply lying. We are all sinners in need of salvation from a higher power than ourselves. We are saved from our sins not by our own efforts, but by the grace of God.

There is no such thing as a perfectly good person, or a wholly evil person. Turning to Christ as he offers himself in the Mass is an acknowledgement of our need for his help to become better than we currently are.

The thrill of frequent Mass particpation is that the change actually occurs, and we begin to find the practice becoming the highlight of our lives over time.

11. Natural Family Planning is just the Catholic version of birth control.

Natural family planning can be a very effective form of birth control for limiting the number of children or spacing the birth of children apart as an exercise of responsible parenthood. Statistics indicate it can be more effective than many artificial means of birth control. Natural family planning can also be used to aid couples who are trying to conceive and experiencing difficulty.

An advantage of natural family planning is that it is one hundred percent natural and organic, meaning it has no inherent health risks or risks of side effects.

Natural family planning is not simply a Roman Catholic practice, but is used by many couples who are adverse to surgery, putting chemicals in their body, or who feel that condoms detract from the experience of love making.

Many practitioners of natural family planning experience increased communication with their partner and increased satisfaction with their sex lives. Marriages are typically more stable among practitioners of natural family planning.

Some forms of artificial contraception work by producing an abortion. Those who believe that abortion terminates the life of an innocent human being are naturally uncomfortable with these types of contraceptives.

Most Roman Catholics oppose abortion in principle, and the Church is extremely clear that abortion is intrinsically a grave moral evil. Thus, many Roman Catholics chose not to use any contraceptive that has abortificient potential. Many forms of the pill have abortificient potential.

Likewise, there is a mentality that can form in the mind of those who casually contracept with little reflection that the very notion of bearing children is like a disease that should be prevented by medication or removed by surgery.

The Bible portrays an image of producing children as a natural good. Children are a blessing from the Lord and a wonderful gift. Children also school their parents in love. Some Protestant Christians have accepted that the Biblical attitude towards children is biased against contraception, and until the twentieth century, all major Christian denominations opposed contraception.

The Church is basically and fundamentally affirming the goodness of children and opposing a world view that treats children as a disease. Some conservative Catholics fear that the contraceptive mentality can become a slippery slope to acceptance of abortion or even infanticide.

The Church's teaching on human sexuality can be understood in its best light as trying to communicate that the Catholic desire is that people enjoy really great sex. Really great sex is the most pleasurable sex.

The experience of the community of faith through the centuries is that sex is best when it is celebrated between two people who love one another, and are publicly committed to one another in a permanent monogamous relationship.

Within this context, the conjugal act is most pleasurable when it is a consensual act of mutual self offering in unitive love open to the possibility of procreation. The further we move away from this ideal, the less enjoyable the sex act becomes. Great sex is so good it is holy and sacramental. The farther as we fall away from the ideal, the more easily we can say that a sexual act can become a sin.

Marriage in the Bible is always open to procreation and the Church has taught consistently for 2,000 years that procreation is a primary end of marriage and one of the ends of sexual acts. The Church holds that this view of sexuality is so ingrained in human nature that the goodness of procreation and its connection to sexuality can be understood entirely apart from revelation through the natural law written on our hearts. Many Catholics believe that an unbiased atheist could see the logic of this position.

Pope John Paul II has written extensively of a theological concept that has become known as the theology of the body. In the Roman Catholic worldview, we are our bodies. Even in the afterlife, we do not believe in ghosts. We affirm the resurrection of the body.

There can never be a separation of mind and matter, or spirit and flesh. What we are spiritually is expressed through our bodies in our deeds. Thus, it is vitally important that we do not separate the inherent meaning and purpose of sexuality at its best from the acts we do with our sexual bodies.

John Paul has also expressed that the marriage covenant serves as a sacrament of God's grace by signifying our union with God. In Roman Catholic theology, God is three persons but only a single being.

The word "being" answers the question, "What is it?" and there is only one being rightly called God. The word "person" is an identity that forms on the basis of relationship, and answers the question "Who is it?". In God, there are three persons in relationship to one another, united as one single being. This God is also the creator of all else that exists.

In marriage, two human persons become one flesh. This union of persons then expresses itself in an ecstatic act of love that lifts both persons out of themselves into union with each other and with God – and into sharing in the very creative power of God. The nuclear family unit then becomes a sort of concrete symbol of the Trinity itself.

Finally, John Paul's notion of the theology of the body introduces a new theological term to Roman Catholic vocabulary of "complementarity". Since we are our bodies, John Paul argues that the differences between men and women are theologically significant. Both men and women share in equal dignity, but have roles that complete one another. Thus, marriage can only be between a man and a woman, and only men can serve as ministerial priests.

Is it true that every married couple who practices temporary artificial means of non-abortificient contraception are in sin?

In order to be in sin, one would have to know an act is sinful, and chose to do it freely and deliberately anyway. It is not at all clear that most Catholics know and understand the Church's teaching on artificial contraception. Going further, however, it is also not clear that those who are familiar with the Church's teaching do not have reasons for legitimate dissent.

Biblically, those who believe that contraception is sinful site the story of Onan in the Bible. Onan used the withdrawal method of birth control to frustrate the end of procreation and the Bible says God killed him.

However, most Bible scholars today believe that Onan's actual sin was a refusal to carry on the family line of his deceased brother. The latter interpretation is more consistent with what the text actually says, and more consistent with the whole of Scripture and the historic context of the narrative.

The Roman Catholic Church permits conjugal acts during a period when a couple knows a woman to be naturally infertile precisely because the Church recognizes that there is a moral obligation to exercise responsible parenthood that seeks to limit the number of children in certain instances.

Yet, those who are obligated to exercise this form of responsible parenthood also have a right and a moral duty to express unitive love with one another. When practicing natural family planning, the conjugal acts during a period of known infertility are considered morally licit because they express unitive love.
During a period of fertility, abstinence is considered a moral way of preventing conception. The Church argues that temporary artificial non-abortificient contraception directly blocks a natural good of procreation, and therefore is intrinsically disordered.

The natural end of the act appears to be frustrated and on a more personal level, there is a sense in which the partners are not giving themselves fully to one another. While the end of expressing unitive love with no intention of procreation is not questioned, the means of achieving the end are deemed immoral.

Those who withhold assent ask why it is intrinsically disordered to temporarily block the procreative process for the sake of another natural human good, such as the expression of unitive love. The question is why the means are considered intrinsically disordered if the end itself is the same.

Put another way, if conjugal acts are morally licit during a period of infertility that was freely, deliberately and knowingly determined through the techniques of natural family planning, why are conjugal acts that use the gifts of God's creation to extend the period of infertility considered illicit?

Those who withhold assent point out that prior to 1968, the Church had consistently taught that procreation was the primary end of all conjugal acts. The notion that contraception is wrong was rooted in this theology. This theology developed historically before anyone understood that women were infertile at certain periods of the month.

In the twentieth century, the notion of expressing unitive love as an end of conjugal acts was introduced, and was embraced by the Second Vatican Council as well as Pope Paul VI's encyclical on contraception by the title of Humanae Vitae.
Paul VI's letter permitted natural family planning, even implying it is sometimes an obligation of responsible parenthood. For the first time in Church history, the magisterium taught that unitive love alone could render a conjugal act morally licit.

Those who withhold assent argue that Humanae Vitae is internally inconsistent in its own internal logic, and inconsistent with historical Church teaching.

If artificial contraception is intrinsically evil, this could only be because the traditional teaching that procreation must be preserved as the primary end of each and every sex act must be preserved, as Pius XI indicated. If artificial contraception is intrinsically evil, natural family planning should be considered intrinsically evil for the very same reason.

On the other hand, if natural family planning is morally licit, some instances of using contraception may be morally licit for the same reasons.

Some conservative Catholics, including Pope John Paul II, have admitted that natural family planning can sometimes be sinful if done for the wrong reasons.

However, the critique of Humanae Vitae is that natural family planning is either intrinsically disordered, or it is wrong to say that procreation is the primary end of all sex acts.

Those who withhold assent argue that we could accept that since responsible parenthood is a duty, and since we now understand that unitive love can take precedence over procreation as the primary end of the conjugal act. Natural family planning is seen as proof of this principle. Thus, it can be argued that any sexual act expressing unitive love is morally licit.

Unitive love is expressed in a publicly committed monogamous relationship where the sexual act is a consensual act of mutual self offering. However, procreation does not need to be an end of each and every individual act so long as the relationship is open to children.

Some of those who withhold assent will even go so far as to suggest that homosexual unions might meet such a definition of unitive love.

Such unions may be just as morally licit as a marriage between heterosexuals who are infertile, and open to children, but unable to produce offspring through no fault of their own.

In response to John Paul's very recent notion of complementarity, the dissenters ask where hermaphrodites fit in the picture. While compementarity may have some general value, it is a new concept that does not appear to have an absolute or intrinsic application to every situation.

Addressing the issue of the slippery slope argument raised by many conservatives on this issue, those who withhold assent point out that it is a logical fallacy to say one free human act causes another free human act.

Having sex in marriage does not lead to adultery, and adultery does not lead to homosexuality and then bestiality. Each act must be judged on its own terms.

Are those who withhold assent exercising "legitimate dissent"?

Some conservative voices in the Church try to build an argument that the wording of an Encyclical by Pius XI called Castii Connubbii condemning artificial contraception is so strong that one should consider if infallibility was invoked. If Pius XI invoked infallibility, it is argued, than one cannot withhold assent without falling into heresy. One cannot dissent legitimately from infallible definitions.

Conversely, most theologians have held that an Encyclical, by its very nature, cannot be used to invoke papal infallibility. Since an Apostolic Constitution carries greater authority, and infallibility is only invoked when the Pope is using the full weight of his office, those in dissent do not consider Pius XI's Encyclical infallible.

Furthermore, some theologians speculate that a doctrine cannot be considered infallible unless it can be proven both that the teaching authority met the conditions of invoking infallibility, and that the doctrine was received as infallible by the baptized faithful.

If eight or nine out of ten practicing married Roman Catholics are using artificial contraception and do not believe they are sin, it is difficult to argue the teaching was received as infallible by the faithful. On this issue, this seems to be the case.

The opinion on the authority of Castii Connubbii as non-infallible has long been the majority opinion in the Church, and even many Catholic theologians who oppose contraception do not claim the teaching is infallible.

Pope John Paul II had not clarified his position on this question in any way for or against the infallibility of Castii Connubbii.

Assuming Castii Connubbii is not infallible, the only remaining question in order to determine whether dissent is legitimate is whether there is merit to the argument presented by the dissenters that unitive love morally justifies sometimes extending the period of infertility temporarily through the use of God's creation.

Because it is based on the Catholic doctrinal principles of unitive love and responsible parenthood, it is not merely expression of an uninformed "gut feeling". It is an informed dissent

What should a Roman Catholic who feels a duty to limit children as a moral imperative of responsible parenthood do?

The bottom line is that I think that priests who provide the Church's teaching and the questions it raises and tell people to pray over it and follow their conscience are not making a single technical error.

This is a pastorally sensitive approach that shows respect for the intelligence and good will of other people without denying Church authority.

If, in the long run, such advise leads to wide spread contraceptive use, the Curch needs to carefully consider the sense of the faithful in making any definitive judgment on this issue.

The Church is clear that responsible parenthood implies a moral obligation to consider limmitting the number of children in certain instances, and that the unitive dimension of conjugal love can be expressed legitimately with no intention to conceive a child.

For many people, responsible parenthood is discerned through a desire to be able to provide the best for the limmitted number of children for whom they can provide support. Some Catholics also look at the bigger picture of the effects of population growth on the economy and use of the world's resources. Still others see medical reasons to use certain types of contraception, including disease prevention.

My wife and I do not use artificial contraception, and have not had any desire to do so. We desire children, and have had trouble conceiving in the past. Even if we did wish to avoid pregnancy, we would try abstinence or natural family planning before any other means. For us, the Church's teaching on contraception is not an issue when it comes to obedience in practice.

However, the questions raised by dissenters seem to me to be valid, and I feel a moral imperative to voice the case for dissent for two basic reasons.

First, there is a danger of judgmentalism among many practitioners of natural family planning against those who decide differently. We each must follow our conscience, and it is rash to judge people in sin who feel some moral obligation to use contraction based on informed dissent.

Second, the extended argument about the nature of unitive love is important to how I will treat homosexuals, and denying the right to legal unions with the benefits of marriage to homosexuals would lead me into a clear violation of the golden rule in my own conscience.

Just as I do not want the state dictating who I can marry, I do not want the state dictating who another person can marry unless it is clear to me that harm is being done to one of the two in this life.

12. Someone can be pro-choice and Catholic at the same time.

Personally, I am passionately pro-life and support an Amendment to the United States Constitution protecting the right to life from the moment of conception until natural death. I would rejoice if Roe v. Wade were overturned. I want the production and sale of abortificient contraceptives prohibited by law.

In the meantime, I support any law that restricts the number of abortions or makes an abortion more difficult to obtain. I support any law that recognizes the unborn as an individual with rights. I support any social economic justice efforts or poverty reduction programs that will reduce the abortion rates. I support any abstinence program or non-aborticifient temporary contraception program that will prevent abortion.

I am consistently pro-life, meaning that in addition to opposing abortion, I am opposed to euthanasia, human cloning, the death penalty or unjust wars, such as unilateral wars of aggression. I support gun control and crime reduction. While I support adult stem cell research, I am opposed to embryonic stem cell research.

These convictions have informed my votes, and I voted more often for Republicans than Democrats because I consider abortion among the most important issues of our time. Indeed, I am a registered Republican largely because of this issue. I have protested at abortion clinics and pray for the end of abortion.

The Vatican would approve of my political stance, and I stand with most conservative Roman Catholics on this issue.

The Vatican's position on abortion is clear. Abortion is considered a grave and intrinsic evil that takes the life of an innocent human being. Calling the act grave means that it very serious. Calling it an intrinsic evil means that there are no ends, means or circumstances that morally justify a direct abortion. Rape and incest do not justify a direct abortion.

The issue is considered so grave that direct procurement of an abortion gains one an automatic excommunication.

Unlike most issues where the Vatican avoids a political stance, the Church actually teaches explicitly that abortion should be illegal and that it is a form of cooperation with evil to support any law permitting abortion. Deliberate cooperation with evil is only permitted under very strict conditions.

Abortion was condemned specifically at the Second Vatican Council, and based on this, it can be argued that the teaching is to be held infallibly. The teaching makes good rational sense to me according to natural reason, and is consistent with Scripture and Sacred Tradition.

My certainty that abortion is immoral is high in my own conscience, and the Vatican holds the same position at a very high level of authority. The teaching is also widely accepted. More than two thirds of Roman Catholics do not believe in abortion on demand in all three trimesters of pregnancy.

Based on all of this, one would assume that I am going to say that it is impossible to be pro-choice and Catholic at the same time.

I do not hold this position, and neither does the Vatican!

The problem with saying one cannot be pro-choice and Catholic at the same time is that it oversimplifies the issue in the United States of America.

For example, in the 2004 election, George W. Bush and John F. Kerry were both ultimately "pro-choice".

President George Bush believes that abortion should be a legal option in cases of rape and incest, which is a moderately pro-choice position.

John Kerry held the position that though he is personally opposed to abortion, the current laws do not need to change, and abortion could be reduced through other means, which is a moderately pro-life position.

No major candidate was not "pro-choice" to some degree, and no candidate was "pro-abortion".

The first issue I am raising here as a starting point is that while it may be good politics to say one cannot be pro-choice and Catholic, it is extremely bad theology that creates confusion.

When bishop Burke came out strongly against John Kerry and implied one cannot be pro-choice and Catholic, there actually were Bush supporters in his diocese who went to confessions in droves with torn consciences, which was not what bishop Burke likely intended.

The actual teaching of the Church is that one can vote for a pro-choice candidate if the candidate will limit the harm of abortion more than the alternative. Pope John Paul II explicitly stated this in Evangelium Vitae.

Not only is saying one cannot be pro-choice and Catholic at the same time wrong when viewed by how it effected the consciences of Bush supporters, but it lead to rash judgment of the Catholic support for Kerry.

Though voting for a pro-choice candidate is always some form of cooperation with evil, the Church teaching is that this form of cooperation is "remote material cooperation with evil" so long as you oppose the candidate's view on abortion and voted for him or her for a different reason of equal proportion – such as another life issue.

It is important to note that this position that voting for a pro-choice candidate for another reason was articulated by none other than Pope Benedict XVI prior to his recent election to the papacy.

Many John Kerry Catholics opposed his view on abortion, but saw an unjust war of unilateral aggression, which kills innocent people, as a graver issue providing proportionate reason to vote pro-choice.

When the state orders killing, it involves the entire democratic society in a more proximate material cooperation with evil than the remote material cooperation with evil of the state permitting a private citizen to kill.

Remote material cooperation with evil should always be chosen over more proximate material cooperation, especially when the two evils involve the same degree of gravity, such as two issues involving the dignity of human life, as is the case of abortion and just war doctrine.

Other Catholics who oppose abortion honestly believed that John Kerry would reduce the abortion rate faster than George W. Bush.

The argument here is political, rather than theological, but obviously, if a person believed in their hearts that John Kerry would reduce abortions more than Bush, that person must vote for Kerry.

Still others combined the two arguments above with the fact that Kerry's stance on issues like the death penalty and economic justice for the poor suggests that the sum total of a Kerry presidency would be more pro-life than the sum total of a Bush presidency.

I voted for Kerry for all these reasons combined, despite my passionate disagreement with his exact position on abortion.

So we see that a Catholic can support a pro-choice candidate, and whether you voted for Bush or Kerry, you did just that!

What about the responsibility of the Catholic politician to vote morally?

Even if a Roman Catholic voter as a private citizen did not sin by voting for Kerry, was John Kerry, as a Catholic politician, sinning against his faith?

In the 1980's, New York Catholic Governor, Mario Cuomo, offered the opinion that a Catholic politician is morally obligated to not only try to vote according to his own conscience, but to represent the interest of his or her constituents.

If a large enough majority of a politician's constituency supports measures contrary to Church teaching, Cuomo argued that the politician must represent those interests, even as he works to try to shift the consensus in a different direction.

According to Cuomo, a Catholic politician could be "personally opposed to abortion, but pro-choice".

I do not wholly agree with Cuomo, but I think the Church does support some of what he says.

For example, in Evangelium Vitae, John Paul II does state that a politician whose opposition to abortion is known, and who believes that laws permitting abortion cannot be abrogated at the current time, may try to limit the harm through a compromise.

The difference between the position of the late Holy Father and the position of Cuomo is that the politician cannot positively and actively support his or her constituents on an issue that is so gravely immoral.

Yet, both the late Holy Father and Cuomo are similar in believing compromise is sometimes necessary.

I have been criticized by conservative American Roman Catholics for saying this, but I believe that Cuomo is right that a Roman Catholic politician cannot vote directly against an overwhelming consensus held by his or her constituents.

Where Cuomo is likely wrong is that the same politician also cannot vote directly for the immoral position.

The politician must try to persuade her or his constituents of the immorality of the issue and make some sort of compromise or trade-off trying to limit the harm, or abstain from voting or even resign in protest.

Yet, this politician cannot vote in any way that would increase the likelihood of the gravely immoral act.

Even with the nuance I suggest, which is a nuance I believe is consistent with Church teaching, it is obvious that a Catholic politician can be personally opposed to abortion and moderately pro-choice in the sense of being willing to find a compromise.

Many Roman Catholics will counter that none of what I suggested applied to John Kerry, who voted against the partial birth abortion ban, promised to appoint Supreme Court Justices who would uphold Roe, and promised to expand federal funding on both abortion and embryonic stem cell research. Kerry seemed to be pandering to the pro-choice voting block.

I do not support Kerry's position politically, but the question is whether a Catholic can hold such positions according to Church teaching.

An important point that Kerry seemed to be trying to make, which is a different point than Cuomo, is that he did not personally create the situation where abortion is considered a constitutional right in the United States.

Kerry's position was different than Cuomo's in that his position was that he is personally opposed to abortion, but he believes it is illegal to prohibit abortion in any way that violates the Constitution as interpreted by the Courts, and it is illegal to deliberately place a judge on the Court who rejects historical legal precedence.

He also voted against the partial birth abortion ban on the same grounds, claiming that the wording of the law was unconstitutional even before the courts ruled that he was correct and the law was unconstitutional.

The question the Kerry candidacy raised is difficult.

How can a Roman Catholic ever run for the President of the United States if Kerry is right that it is illegal to contradict Roe through any process other than an Amendment?

If Kerry is interpreting U.S. constitutional law correctly, Catholic polititicans must conscienciously object to the American system by refusing to participate in it at all!

Many conservative American Roman Catholics reject John Kerry's argument on the appointment of Court Justices because of the opinions expressed by Justice Antonin Scalia, who is also a Catholic.

Stated simply, Scalia believes that abortion is not a constitutional right, and that Roe can be overturned because it is based on faulty legal arguments.

However, Scalia's argument is based on judicial philosophies and interpretations of constitutional law that make it impossible for a Supreme Court Justice to be opposed to the death penalty.

According to Scalia, a federal judge cannot oppose the death penalty because the constitution must be interpreted as the authors intended if there is evidence of their intent. Since the founders supported the death penalty, the eighth amendment cannot possibly be interpreted as prohibiting the death penalty.

Rather than seeing legal predent developing within a tradition, Scalia interprets the Constitution the way an Evangelical Protestant interprets the Bible. The document is seen as a frozen document that must be interpreted only according to the intent of the author.

Scalia has explicitly stated that any Roman Catholic who accepts John Paul's position on the death penalty is morally obligated to resign from the office of federal judge in the United States over this issue – not only the Supreme Court, but the lower federal courts as well.

In other words, just as Kerry's position is that it is illegal to appont a judge who openly contradicts Roe, Scalia's position is that it is illegal for a judge to oppose the death penalty.

Scalia feels no conflict in conscience because he openly dissents with the Church teaching on the death penalty.

Furthermore, Scalia is extremely clear that the courts cannot prohibit abortion.

The very argument he makes as to why abortion is not a constitutional right is that abortion is not mentioned in the constitution, the founders never addressed it, and therefore, the courts must remain silent on the subject.

If the choice is between Kerry's judicial philosophy and Scalia's judicial philosophy, we must dissent with Church teaching in either case, and abortion remains legal under both philosophies.

To make matters even more complicated, President Bush has admitted that if the President asks a potential court appointee if he or she would overturn Roe, the appointee would be legally required to recuse him or herself from all abortion cases if the inquiry became public.

In other words, even Bush admits that Kerry is right that it is illegal for the President to ask such a question, making it impossible for an honest Catholic political candidate seeking the Presidency to ever promise Roe will be overturned.

The point I am trying to make here is that there is a general agreement between Kerry and Scalia and Bush that it is illegal to simply impose Roman Catholic morality on Americans.

The issue here is that the only legal way to prohibit abortions in the United States while remaining consistent with the fullness of Catholic teaching is through the amendment process, which requires two thirds passage in both houses and ratification by three fourths of the states.

Further, the president and the judges are not part of the amendment process. Catholic politicians who do not wish to ever contradict or compromise Church teachings have only one option: they must stay in the house of Congress and push for an amendment for life, and otherwise support any measure reducing abortion that is consistent with Roe, and they must do this with popular support.

In other words, to make abortion illegal requires building a large consensus in the wider society.

In the meantime, all Roman Catholics participating in American political life and public office must make compromises with Church teaching on critical life issues, or no Roman Catholic can participate in political life and public office at all!

The Roman Catholic Church does teach a legitimate autonomy between Church and state.

What Catholic politicians ask of the Church's spiritual leaders is some "wiggle room" to maneuver on these issues as they do their best to work within the democratic process to build up the common good.

Initially, in the 2004 election, it seemed that the more vocal bishops were giving more "wiggle room" to conservatives to exercise compromise or dissent on issues like the unjust war in Iraq, torture and the death penalty.

However, when the question became whether to deny John Kerry communion, the bishops voted almost unanimously to not take this step as a unified body. The decision was left to individual bishops what to do in their own individual diocese.

Contrary to what American Roman Catholic conservative pro-life Republicans would want other Roman Catholics believe, a politician in the United States does have "wiggle room" on abortion.

Having explored my own political stance, which is adamanently pro-life, and the Church's teaching as it applies to politics, let's delve a bit deeper into the moral theology questions surrounding abortion.

Is it ever morally licit to have an abortion?

The Church teaches that it is.

While all direct abortions are considered intrinsically evil, an indirect abortion, even done deliberately, is considered morally licit in the circumstance of double effect.

If a woman has uterine cancer that seems certain to kill both mother and unborn child, a doctor may remove the cancer, even if he or he is certain this will terminate the life of the unborn child, so long as the doctor does not intend the death of the unborn child, and would save it if he or she could.

The principle of double effect means that there are two effects to a single act. If one of those effects is evil, and the other is a proportional good, you may engage in the act if your intent is the good, and the evil is not intended.

How do we know that a fetus is a human person with a soul?

We don't, and neither the Church nor I make the argument for laws against abortion based on the existence of personhood or a soul.

The teaching of the Church expressed in Donum Vitae 26 is that the Church makes no dogmatic claim to the exact moment that personhood or ensoulment occur.

Indeed, there is a possibility that a soul does not exist during the early phases of pregnancy when monozygote twinning and monozygote twin fusion remain possible, and the Church has made no definitive judgment on the issue, and she refuses to do so.

The way the Church frames the question on abortion is not how we are certain there is a person with a soul, but instead, how can anyone be certain there is not a soul?

The argument for why abortion should be illegal from the moment of conception is that the civil law must grant the rights of a human person to every being that might be a human person, even if personhood cannot be proven and seems somewhat unlikely.

In a world where genocide, slavery, wars of aggression and ethnic cleansing have all been rationalized by denying personhood to human beings, the Church and I hold the position that the rights of personhood should be applied according to the broadest and most inclusive definition possible: all human beings or all individual human life should be treated as persons under the law, whether we can be certain of personhood or not.

The Church teaches that the right to life belongs to human persons, and also to a human being if there is any chance that human being might be a person. A human being is an individual human life – a unique living self contained human organism.

When we understand what the Church is really saying on this issue, there are some Roman Catholics who begin to wonder if the Church should actually compromise on the matter of whether very early abortions in cases of rape and incest should be legally permitted, since personhood is not known with certainty.

Also, given that personhood and ensoulment are uncertain, many Catholics wonder if early abortion should also be legal in cases where there is endangerment to the life of the mother alone or where the abortion is direct and double effect does not strictly apply.

We are speaking of the rather common threat of ectopic pregnancy here. In this case, the life of mother and unborn child is threatened, but the abortion is direct, rather than indirect.

The same sorts of questions are asked for extreme deformity in the early fetus. If personhood is uncertain, might it be more compassionate to end the development process before personhood forms?

Finally, some Roman Catholics have even gone so far as to ask if it might be possible that a person would knowingly and deliberately and freely kill an unborn child even if the child is presumed to be a person with a soul in the case where the child's life would be extremely difficult due to health concerns and poverty. These Catholics ask if we can kill in the name of love.

The Church teaches that the ends do not justify the means, and the way to prevent a child from growing up in suffering is to try to solve the suffering without ending the life. I agree with this position, while admitting it is highly idealistic.

Most Roman Catholics are against the notion of killing a person in the name of love, and reject the last option.

Yet, in cases of rape, incest, deformity and life endangerment, many Catholics are ultimately moderately pro-choice in the first trimester. They may favor some restrictions to prevent "frivolous" abortions, but not absolute restrictions in these cases in the first trimester.

This is not my own position, nor the Vatican's, but it is a position many Catholics hold for understandable reasons.

Very few Catholics support abortion after viability, when personhood is almost certain. Even John Kerry worked with Catholic Democrat, Tom Daschle, in 1997 to create legislation consistent with Roe that would define personhood starting at viability.

This compromise would not have been acceptable to the magisterium of the Church because it would have permitted early abortions.

Yet, Cuomo and many Catholics, including some priest-theologians like Charlie Curran, seriously questioned whether personhood in early pregnancy can ever be established with a level of certainty that would convince the majority of American people to prohibit abortion even in cases of rape, incest and endangerment to the life of the mother.

Currently, the Democrats are positioning themselves for 2008 with a new strategy on abortion. Hillary Clinton has declared that the goal of pro-choice Democrats should be to reduce the abortion rate to zero, even while abortion remains a legal option.

The party has also opened itself to some high profile pro-life candidates, including a house speaker who favors restrictions on abortions after viability, and backing for pro-lifer Catholic Democrat, Robert Casey Jr., in a senatorial bid against pro-life Catholic Republican, Rick Santorum in Pennsylvania.

Can a person be a Catholic and pro-choice at the same time?

To some extent, all American Roman Catholics already are. Every single American who has lived since 1973 is in some form of cooperation with the evil of abortion. The question is not whether one can be pro-choice, but to what degree one can be pro-choice.

Given all that has been said, I believe this all a bit much for a Catholic to absorb and I'm not sure the Church's current discipline of automatic excommunications makes sense when applied to a teenage girl under stress.

All of these nuances and distinctions and caveats aside, I do seek a day when all direct abortions will be illegal, and undesirable.

In order to build the consensus we need to make that happen, I do think Roman Catholics need to spend more time thinking about how to present our case. I think we need to allow a politician some "wiggle room".

We need to do a better job of reducing the desirability of abortion by providing women with real alternatives by addressing economic issues like health care and poverty.

We need to address women's rights issues both in order to deflect the argument that being anti-abortion is misogynist, and because it is the right thing to do.

We need to hold to a consistent ethic of life, tying abortion to issues like the death penalty and war policy.

We need to show mercy and bring healing to women who have procured abortions.

We need to bear in mind that the laws should aim to punish doctors, and not women in crisis. This also means toning down rhetoric that implies women are murderers.

We need to do more to prevent rape and incest and teen pregnancy.

We need to build the philosophical case for why human life needs protection at conception in a way that an atheist can accept as logical.

We need to pray for the end of abortion.

We do not need to make rash judgments about one another, since all of us are cooperating in some form with this evil by our mere residency in the United States.

Peace and Blessings!

Readers may contact me at jcecil3@attglobal.net