A recent book is enjoying brisk sales and generating no small amount of discussion in the book-selling community. Is it the newest from Stephen King, who can pen a bestseller in the time it takes most of us to write a response paper? Or maybe it's a romance novel, the cover showing a shirtless Fabio embracing a well-endowed woman on a windswept plain. Alas, no. The book I speak of offers nothing in the way of violence or lust--although it may provoke horror or love depending on who reads it.
Now in an attractive paperback edition, the Catechism of the Catholic Church has been experiencing popularity among Catholic and non-Catholic readers alike. It's a kind of owner's manual for those who call the Catholic faith their own, a definitive statement of Catholic belief. At $19.95, some might say it's steep for a paperback; but it's worth every penny.
Prepared following the Second Vatican Council the Catechism comments on both essential tenets and recent "hot" issues. In intelligent, concise and well-written prose, the Church reaffirms its opposition to homosexual acts (not homosexuals--there's a difference). It explains its continued opposition to abortion. It maintains the prohibition on the use of contraception.
The Catechism's stances on these issues are probably the ones that would draw the most fire from Harvard liberals. These students have the right to their own opinions and to religious freedom. If they aren't Catholic, they're free to condemn these statements until they turn blue in the face.
The people I find far more upsetting are those who profess Catholicism and still disagree with the Church on the issues. Many Americans, like former Times columnist Anna Quindlen, call themselves "Catholic" and then wear their support for abortion like a badge of honor.
What these dissenters must realize is that the Church doesn't make its rules according to a pleasure-maximizing calculus. If you're Catholic, you subscribe to the basic tenet, built into the faith, that the Church's positions on issues spring directly from the word of God.
The biggest problem with those who reject Catholic stances lies not in the individual issues over which they disagree with the Church. The problem is the implicit message encoded into their opposition: the refusal to accept the Church's claim to full moral and spiritual authority in this world.
The Catechism explains: "The task of giving an authentic interpretation of the Word of God, whether in its written form or in the form of Tradition, has been entrusted to the living, teaching office of the Church alone" (emphasis added). What kind of Catholic would assert that his own conscience is an authority greater than that of the Church?
The Catholic Church isn't like a club that institutes whatever changes make its members happy. The Church simply tells people; this is what you must believe to be a Catholic. The Church believes in freedom of conscience. But it also believes that consciences must be well-informed--hence the Catechism.
The best way of registering disapproval with an institution is to vote with your feet. If disagreeing Catholics actually had some backbone and the courage of their convictions, they would have left the Church a long time ago.
To so-called Catholics who disagree with the positions set forth in the Catechism. I urge you; make yourself heard I'm listening for the shuffling of your shoes as you descend the Church steps.
David B. Lat's column appears on alternate Thursdays