- Published on Wednesday, 02 May 2012 07:09
- Written by John Draper
- Hits: 2317
Catholics will often talk about social justice - things like equality, caring for the poor and disadvantaged and forgiving sinners. This would come with a label of "Liberal". Others like Rick Santorum, talk about strict bans on abortion, pre-marital sex, easy contraception, gay sex and more - this comes with a label of being on the right. So what are Catholics? Right or Left - or maybe centre? Since Catholics have a hierarchy that is supposed to provide all the answers and instruction on what to believe, we can look for guidance to the Pope. Over the past few years, the current Pope has come down firmly on the side of the right. He does not want contraception even to protect from AIDS; he does not want any compassion for women who need care even though they may also need an abortion (he read the riot act to nuns who were providing help to women in need); he thinks covering up abuse by priests is more important than caring for their victims and preventing recurrence. U.S. Catholic Bishops fired a nun who approved a life-saving abortion; they spoke against a plan to allow women to decide for themselves on contraception (Obama's Health plan). What happened to the priests who were so "left" with their care for social justice issues that they were accused of being communist? Where are they now?
I would say that the problem is intrinsic in Catholic teaching. They teach that morality is absolute - a particular action (e.g. abortion) is either right or wrong. So when borderline cases come up, they have no room to be lenient. Ironically, they can forgive but never approve in advance or publicly. So privately, they can say "go ahead then come to Confession". But that would in itself be wrong and certainly hypocritical. Some priests are smart enough to see the conundrum and even say, usually privately, that these issues are complicated and not easily decided.
But one priest has been willing to discuss these issues openly - Catholic priest Reverend Richard Sparks was interviewed here by Jennie Rothenberg Gritz from Atlantic. He was talking in particular about the case where a Catholic teacher (Emily Herx) was fired because she used in vitro fertilization and as Father Sparks implies, not all Catholic bishops would have objected. However, Fort Wayne Bishop Kevin Rhoades told her that IVF was "an intrinsic evil, which means that no circumstances can justify it." The U.S. federal government saw things a bit differently. Herx filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and won - paving the way for a civil lawsuit which has not yet been heard.
Fr. Sparks explains that a big part of the problem for Catholics is that "When you're dealing with extra embryos in a laboratory, then it does bump up against the abortion question. You've combined sperm and ova in a lab; now you have a zygote or an embryo. Is it fully human? Do we now have a new life - not just the parts that could become a life, but a new, ensouled person?" So the Church plays safe - don't mess with this. However, some liberal theologians say until it's implanted in a womb, an abortion would be OK. It's not clear cut at all. For example, what about miscarriages? Should there be a funeral for this "person"? Does it have a soul? Fr. Sparks explains:
"We have not traditionally had funerals and coffins for spontaneous miscarriages. Does that mean we didn't say they were persons? No. But we kind of let that one fall between the cracks. If parents wish to remember them, they're welcome to remember them. If they want to give them a name, that's all right. Rick Santorum did that. But in the case of Emily Herx, what you see is the conservative side of the Church trying to tighten boundaries that were sometimes left a little bit vague."
So Fr. Sparks is really saying that not all Catholics see things the same way - not even bishops, priests and theologians. Until the Pope decrees something and speaks "ex cathedra", these are open questions. Even then many Catholics have their own opinions sorry, beliefs.
So to answer the question in the title: U.S. Catholics seem to be trending right but there are some who are right (like Bishop Rhoades) and some who are liberal (like Rev Richard Sparks). This despite the fact that Catholics are all supposed to believe the same things as spelled out in their catechism.
Note that Fr. Sparks is lambasted by those on the right so that confirms he's on the left!