Luther left the Church. Today, dissenters stay.
Whatever else you might think or say about Martin Luther, give him credit for this much: having broken with Catholic teaching, he broke away from the Catholic Church. Today’s dissenting Catholics rarely show the same consistency. Even after rejecting the fundamentals of Catholic doctrine, they continue to masquerade as Catholics. Do you ever wonder why?
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Take the case of Donna Quinn, the object of a sympathetic profile last week in the Chicago Sun-Times. She describes the Catholic priesthood as a “hoax.” She sees no difference between the Eucharist and a grandparent’s embrace of a grandchild. She is, however, absolutely firm in her belief in “choice” when it comes to abortion—so much so that she once volunteered at an abortion clinic. Yet she still describes herself as a Catholic, and even more: a member of a women’s religious order. So the Sun-Times can justifiably (if not accurately) identify her as “Donna Quinn, Catholic nun, feminist…”
By any logical measurement, Martin Luther was more closely aligned with the Catholic Church than Donna Quinn is today. But Luther left, and Quinn stayed. The Sun-Times offers a revealing explanation: “She ‘could have left’ the Church long ago but thinks her voice is stronger within.”
Exactly! Identify Donna Quinn as, say, a Unitarian, and her views would no longer seem remarkable. Her complaints against the Catholic Church would not find their way onto the pages of the Sun-Times. Her views are newsworthy only because she claims to be a Catholic.
Donna Quinn is not alone, of course. She is only one of many priests, religious, and theologians who remain ostensibly inside the Church, while professing a sort of faith that cannot possibly be reconciled with Catholic teaching. By insisting that they are still Catholics, they cause confusion among the faithful, and give rise to the notion that it really doesn’t matter what you believe.
The presence of this fifth column within the Church prompts two questions: First, how can thoughtful people who reject the Catholic faith continue to claim that they are Catholics, without forfeiting their own integrity? That question is best answered by those to whom it applies.
Second, why don’t Catholic bishops clear the air, by stating forthrightly that these unfortunate individuals have placed themselves outside the Catholic community? Granted, a public decree of excommunication would provoke a storm of publicity; pundits would defend the dissenter and berate the hierarchy. So that’s the answer to the second question, I suppose—if you believe that a bishop’s primary responsibility is to avoid negative publicity.
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