On Being A Good Catholic

I decided to join the Roman Catholic church at eighteen years of age, and went through the Church’s RCIA programme (the Rite of Catholic Initiation of Adults), which required attending weekly lessons with the parish priest over a period of six months. I look back on the night that I was confirmed into the Church as one of the happiest and most sacred moments of my life, and though the strength of my faith (and my weekly Mass attendance)  has seen several peaks and rather more lows in the intervening decade, I still consider myself a member of the Church, and I always intend to be.

Many people have made similar conversions to the Church, notably two of the current Republican presidential contenders, Newt Gingrich, and Rick Santorum. It is said that there is no zealot like a convert, and though I may be the exception to the rule, Gingrich and Santorum appear to prove it rather well with many of their public pronouncements. In many respects, both men are probably better and more observant Catholics than me, at least now (Gingrich), and I don’t presume to judge them at all. What I will do, however, is call them out when they claim to represent the only political party that will defend Catholic teachings and priorities. Because that is pure, grade A baloney.

Said Newt Gingrich of the ObamaCare requirement for employers operating in the public sphere, serving the public and employing people regardless of their religious affiliation, to offer health insurance that includes access to birth control:

“I frankly don’t care what deal he tries to cut; this is a man who is deeply committed. If he wins re-election, he will wage war on the Catholic Church the morning after he is re-elected.”

(Yes, I fear that the O RLY owl is going to be a frequent visitor to this blog).

Really, Newt? Wage war? I’m curious to see Obama’s glistening new clone army sitting in storage, waiting for Inauguration Day in January 2013 when they will be activated and unleashed to desecrate churches and force people into unwilling same-sex marriages across the land.

If I could talk with Mr. Gingrich and Mr. Santorum, I would say: the protection of life should not end at the moment of birth. I will never understand my Church’s current teaching on contraception – especially when male sexual enhancement drugs, in vitro fertilisation and other techniques that can result in the creation or destruction of a fertilised embryo are given a free pass, while contraception, the morning-after pill and stem cell research are not. But I can appreciate the consistency of the argument that all human life is precious, is worthy of respect, and that none should be taken unnecessarily. My own views on abortion are not yet fully developed, but I know that I would want it to be as rare as possible, and yet readily available at least under some limited circumstances (such as the survival of the mother, rape or incest, or in the case of catastrophic developmental anomalies). I understand your policies for caring for and protecting life while it is in the womb. But what effect would your policies have once these children are born? Is it important, as you so often say, that they are born into loving (married, heterosexual) families who are ready for a child, or does it not matter if they are unwanted and abused, or end up in the custody of the state until they reach eighteen years of age? It’s all very well advocating strongly for a new life until it reaches the nine month threshold, but what then?

And to the Bishops, I would say: why do you deny holy communion to politicians who advocate for general public access to abortion services (while not supporting the practice themselves), but welcome with open arms those who support the death penalty, fight measures to improve social justice, support the torture of enemy prisoners or beat the drum for pre-emptive wars around the globe? You diminish your public standing, your credibility and the importance of these other important Church teachings when you do so.

Andrew Sullivan makes a similar point in his excellent blog, with regard to the current enthusiasm in Republican circles to go to war with Iran:

“I’d also argue that pre-emptive war based on an enemy’s alleged intentions, when it publicy declares the opposite, or based on inherent evil or insanity is counter to just war theory. Certainly the rhetoric of Santorum and Gingrich on this subject is a profound attack on Catholic just-war teaching. But don’t expect the Bishops to make any fuss about that. War and torture seem trivial issues to them, compared with access to contraception or gay rights.”


Seriously, maybe I missed this in my RCIA classes. Will a Republican (since they are the ones who claim to have the direct hotline to God these days) please let me know which of these Church teachings it is okay to brazenly defy while still declaring myself a proud standard-bearer for the Church, and which are so inviolable that I would be literally declaring war on Catholicism if I dare to dissent? Thanks.

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