I was contemplating today the constant debates and arguments that we seem to have in the Catholic Church around various subjects. I was in particular thinking about emotionally charged subjects like the ordination of women, gay marriage and the use of contraceptives to regulate childbirth.
I must be honest and declare that I do not like these constant arguments. I am, despite what I may seem, actually very sensitive and I find these arguments, especially because they inevitably become quite personal, very upsetting. I am constantly torn between wanting to simply remain silent and, on the other hand, wanting to react to defend the Church’s official teaching on the subject.
I find it really offensive that the proponents of these subjects, subjects which have quite clearly been definitively decided on by the Church already, persist in their endeavours to challenge and change the Church’s teaching, particularly when it is Catholics who are the proponents. The latest example is a story in the National Catholic Reporter about Melinda Gates. Gates is the wife of Bill Gates, one of the founders of Microsoft, and she has now made it known, along with highlighting publicly her Catholic identity and values, that she does not agree with the Church’s teaching on artificial contraception.
I would like to simply remain silent. I would like to ignore it to avoid confrontation. But I cannot remain silent because that, sadly, is what most Catholics do in these situations. It is precisely this silence, of the majority of Catholics, which encourages the proponents of these subjects and which has even, of late, led these proponents to disingenuously, and without basis, interpret this silence as a reflection of the support given by Catholics against the official teaching of the Church.
The question of course is why do I, and millions of other Catholics accept the official teaching of the Church on these subjects, as correct and refute those who present alternate views. What makes us so absolutely dead certain that the Church is right and convinces us that all others are wrong?
The answer to this question comes directly from our Lord Jesus: “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”[i]
In the same way, our Lord appointed the apostles to lead the Church: “And when it was day, he called his disciples, and chose from them twelve, whom he named apostles”.[ii]
Our Lord Jesus appointed St Peter as the head of the Church and, along with him, the other apostles as the foundation of the Church. They act in the person of Christ. This is confirmed by Vatican II when it says: “it is clear that, by means of the imposition of hands and the words of consecration, the grace of the Holy Spirit is so conferred, and the sacred character so impressed, that bishops in an eminent and visible way sustain the roles of Christ Himself as Teacher, Shepherd and High Priest, and that they act in His person.”[iii]
Vatican II also reaffirms that the “pope’s power of primacy over all, both pastors and faithful, remains whole and intact. In virtue of his office, that is as Vicar of Christ and pastor of the whole Church, the Roman Pontiff has full, supreme and universal power over the Church. And he is always free to exercise this power. The order of bishops, which succeeds to the college of apostles and gives this apostolic body continued existence, is also the subject of supreme and full power over the universal Church, provided we understand this body together with its head the Roman Pontiff and never without this head.”[iv]
Therefore, when the Pope in Humanae Vitae declares that the use of artificial contraceptives is wrong, or in Ordinatio Sacerdotalis that the Church has no authority to ordain women, or the Church makes its position on Gay Marriage abundantly clear, what more do we Catholics actually require in order to accept this teaching as the only correct teaching. If we challenge these teachings of the Church, are we not in fact directly choosing to challenge Christ?
What more do we need to be convinced that we are right? Simply following the official teaching of the Church is enough. We need nothing else!