Catholic Culture Podcasts
Catholic Culture Podcasts

Defectors in place

By Fr. Paul Mankowski, S.J. ( articles ) | Aug 01, 2003

Andrew Sullivan posts two e-mails from gay Catholics announcing their decisions to leave the Church in response to the Vatican's document contra same-sex marriages, and then adds his own hesitations.

I feel my own conscience getting closer and closer to making the same decision. It tears me apart to see no prospect of the Catholic Church ending its war on gay people and their dignity in my lifetime.

I don't think most commentators understand the true significance of these declarations. These men are subversives -- disappointed subversives, at the moment, but subversives all the same. Note that the Holy See's document added no new obligation, pronounced no new censure, taught no doctrine that wasn't universal and immemorial in the Church. Sullivan's pique -- and the despondency of his fellow gay partisans -- is a reaction to the Holy See's standing pat.

This means that the Andrew Sullivans in our midst, though they identify themselves as Catholics, are conditional rather than unconditional Catholics: they persist in their membership, but with the understanding that the Church will be a different Church in the future. And if the Church will reverse her teaching in future, the Church must be wrong now. And if a man believes the Church is wrong now, he can't possibly mean the same thing I mean when he professes her to be one, holy, catholic, and apostolic.

The Andrew Sullivans are often incensed when we point out their bad faith. But to claim they are in bad faith is not some moralising pronouncement on the state of their inner life, it's a simple logical entailment of their own assertions. You can't consistently say (with twenty centuries of martyrs) that God protects the Catholic Church from all error in her solemn teaching while urging her to undo that teaching. In this respect the Sullivans are no different from self-identified Catholics who believe the Church will eventually permit contraception or remarriage or women priests.

Yet they ask for tolerance by fellow Catholics; they ask for inclusion. It's impossible. We can't die in the same Church -- not because our hearts aren't big enough or our imaginations are too limited, but because an assertion and its contrary cannot both be true. The orthodox bear with the Andrew Sullivans because (and only because) we hope that they will eventually have a change of heart and embrace the Church's teaching. The Andrew Sullivans put up with the orthodox because (and only because) they hope the orthodox will abandon their orthodoxy.

We can't both be right. We can't both (conscientiously) be in good faith.

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