Bioethics Blogs

Catholic Identity and Strong Dissent—How Compatible?

Written by Professor Tony Coady

University of Melbourne

In a previous Uehiro blog[1] I offered a number of fairly radical criticisms of church disciplinary practices, and of several prevailing “official” teachings of the Church, such as on artificial contraception, abortion and much else in the area of sexual and reproductive ethics. Subsequently, several people put the question to me: “Given your critical views of so much official church teaching, how can you still call yourself a Catholic?”  

Those who raise this sort of question for “liberal Catholics” seem to me captive to a certain view of adherence to the Catholic Church that I will call The Picture.  Their capture is understandable because The Picture had been assiduously cultivated by the church’s leadership for generations upon generations, so it is not surprising that outsiders and many insiders and ex-insiders take for granted its accuracy as a measure of Catholic identity. But recent turmoil in the Catholic Church has damaged The Picture severely as definitive of Catholic identity.

The Picture portrayed a proud monolith, firmly grounded in an array of crucial doctrines, disciplines and ageless, immutable moral teachings that united all Catholics in a posture of certainty against heresy and the numerous errors of any given age. It not only served to fortify adherents, but it attracted outsiders seeking certainty amidst what they saw as the gloom and confusion of modernity and its often strident, anti-religious outlook.

The first serious disfiguring of The Picture was made at Vatican Council II which overturned in its wake such proud pillars as the Latin Mass, the Index of Prohibited Books, most mandated abstinence and fasting routines, such as no meat on Fridays, the almost total subservience of the laity to clerical authority in matters religious and sometimes secular, disdain for the non-Catholic world, denial of freedom of conscience, as well as much else previously bound up with Catholic identification.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.