The fundamental dividing line between Catholic Christianity and Protestant Christianity is that among Catholics, the Magisterium of the Pope and bishops gets to define who is Catholic.
In Protestant Christianity the individual Christian makes up their own definition of what a Christian is and whether they should be considered Christian or not.
The problem on Tumblr is that you have an ongoing conflict between normal Catholics who embrace the teachings laid out by the Magisterium, and they are accused of being “trads” or traditional, and you have another group of Tumblr Catholics who have decided to become “self-defining” as in no authority is going to tell them what it means to be Catholic.
In other words, the “self-defining” group have actually become Protestant Christians, but are mentally and psychologically unable to accept their new membership in their self-defining Protestant denomination. Perhaps we should call them Catholic Protestants, or Protestant Catholics. The less volatile term might be “self-definers.”
Self-definers are not only confused about how the Catholic thing works, they also spread weird rationalizations and theologies for why their confusion should become every else’s confusion about Catholic identity. But I will explain later that it is precisely their confusion which still gives them the technical right to at least say they are Catholic in name.
This is the Tumblr version of “Warm Bodies” but instead of a zombie guy walking around and not dealing with, or refusing to see that he is, indeed, a zombie, you have Catholics who call themselves Catholic but no longer live in a Catholic structure of thought which is harmonious, or congruous with, the Catholic doctrines of the Catholic Magisterium, which oh by the way is in charge of the Catholic Church.
It reminds me of the spiritual schizophrenia that played out in the drama of the Australian priest, Fr. Greg Reynolds. He also said that he was Catholic, and yet refused to believe Catholic doctrine because he self-defined for himself a new religion with his new set of beliefs that suited him. After repeated attempts to treat his delusion, and get him to see that he was no longer Catholic, Pope Francis finally had to declare a public excommunication and then the local Catholic archbishop told him he had to pack up and move out of his church.
Reality does not get more real than that. Reynolds is like, “I AM a Catholic and I am running this Catholic parish!” And people around him are like, “Noo, sorry, you don’t believe Catholic doctrine anymore.”
And finally he basically gets an eviction notice to move out and go find a job somewhere else and he is still insisting, “I AM a Catholic!” But if that was the case, why were his suitcases sitting on a curb waiting for someone to come pick him up and physically take him to somewhere else? Hello?
Priests and nuns, in high schools and colleges, tell their adoring students all the time “We are not going to listen to the Pope and bishops. Screw them. We get to do whatever we want. We are the new generation; we are the revolution; we are the spiritual occupy movement who will bring the Catholic clergy to their knees; we will not obey!”
So, nuns and priests who seem smart and teach in Catholic college can’t be wrong, can they? And sometimes, they are really cool lesbians and gays, or Marxists, or radical Saul Alinsky wannabes.
Yes, actually, they can be wrong. So if I live in New York and I want to hate or reject celibate males running the Catholic Church, that is fine. But that does not change the reality that Francis is Pope, Timothy Dolan is archbishop, and along with all the other bishops, they get to define who is Catholic and who is not Catholic. And Timothy Dolan has sent more than one man or one woman packing from their place of lodging or place of employment because he did not feel that the person was a team player.
But getting to your question, let’s look at some Canon Law.
Can. 205 Those baptized are fully in the communion of the Catholic Church on this earth who are joined with Christ in its visible structure by the bonds of the profession of faith, the sacraments, and ecclesiastical governance.
So, once you are baptized a Catholic, you are always baptized. You cannot reverse your baptism and become unbaptized. However, you do not lose your free will. At any time of your choosing, you may leave the Catholic Church. You are still baptized, but of your own choice, you may sever or break your ties of communion with the Church.
The principal ways that you remain baptized but sever your ties to the Catholic Church are by the formal confession of heresy, apostasy, or schism.
Can. 1364 §1. Without prejudice to the prescript of can. 194, §1, n. 2, an apostate from the faith, a heretic, or a schismatic incurs a latae sententiae excommunication.
An apostate no longer confesses the divinity and message of Jesus Christ. A heretic accepts the message of Jesus Christ but not as it is confessed in the Catholic Church. Finally, a schismatic accepts the Catholic Faith but refuses to obey the Pope or keep fellowship with the other members of the Catholic Church who are in communion with the Pope.
The crimes of apostasy, heresy, and schism, it is generally understood, must be informed and educated decisions that are willful and obstinate. For instance, Canon Law says about heresy:
Can. 750 §1. A person must believe with divine and Catholic faith all those things contained in the word of God, written or handed on, that is, in the one deposit of faith entrusted to the Church, and at the same time proposed as divinely revealed either by the solemn magisterium of the Church or by its ordinary and universal magisterium which is manifested by the common adherence of the Christian faithful under the leadership of the sacred magisterium; therefore all are bound to avoid any doctrines whatsoever contrary to them.
§2. Each and every thing which is proposed definitively by the magisterium of the Church concerning the doctrine of faith and morals, that is, each and every thing which is required to safeguard reverently and to expound faithfully the same deposit of faith, is also to be firmly embraced and retained; therefore, one who rejects those propositions which are to be held definitively is opposed to the doctrine of the Catholic Church.
Can. 751 Heresy is the obstinate denial or obstinate doubt after the reception of baptism of some truth which is to be believed by divine and Catholic faith; apostasy is the total repudiation of the Christian faith; schism is the refusal of submission to the Supreme Pontiff or of communion with the members of the Church subject to him.
Can. 752 Although not an assent of faith, a religious submission of the intellect and will must be given to a doctrine which the Supreme Pontiff or the college of bishops declares concerning faith or morals when they exercise the authentic magisterium, even if they do not intend to proclaim it by definitive act; therefore, the Christian faithful are to take care to avoid those things which do not agree with it.
If someone commits a formal act of defection from the Catholic Church either by embracing apostasy, heresy, or schism, then they would be still be baptized, but they would not be in the membership of the Church. Does formal defection occur often?
No. All of my joking and sarcasm aside, it is very rare to see a Catholic lose their membership in the Church.
The reason is that most Catholics who embrace error do so out of ignorance, or misinformation, or emotional and mental turmoil that can not be dispelled with ordinary means. An example is a person who is scandalized by clergy sexual abuse of minors. Another example is a person who is angered because she heard preaching against the Iraq war and her son served in Iraq. Another example would be those Catholics who are very angered at illegal immigration and see Catholic parishes taking in and caring for the undocumented.
There are a number of times where a person’s outlook in other areas of their life affects their relationship to the Church. And it does not have to be negative. It could be a positive experience of feeling more at home in a Protestant church. A person who is Catholic may visit an Evangelical church and be delighted with the preaching, the hospitality, and the missionary outreach of the congregation.
A feminist Catholic may feel that she wants to join a community where the pastor is a woman and where women administer many church positions. A gay Catholic may wish to attend a church where gay couples are married, and openly display their affection as couples during the services, and see gay couples with adopted children as well. Blacks and Latinos have also felt uncomfortable in predominantly white parishes and may wish to be in a congregation where their racial and cultural identity is celebrated.
These are all examples of people leaving the Catholic Church. But they do not really fit into the definition of “formal defection from the Church.” Even though those people do not consider themselves Catholic, the Church might still consider them Catholic because they did not reject the Catholic Church, so much as they chose another church which agreed with their comfort level.
In the case of Tumblr Catholics, their dabbling in theology and history which is shoddy at best coupled with just being young people with young hormones and little life experience would explain why they insist on thinking Protestant, or even New Age or Unitarian, yet still calling themselves Catholic. They are technically Catholic, but if their mind and heart are elsewhere, their membership is a damaged one.
So, now getting back to your question and answering directly: can someone be in favor of abortion, or abortion choice, and in favor of gay sex, and still call themselves a Catholic? Yes, they can. They can be called Catholic, but they are not very informed Catholics if they do not work to remove the blindness that keeps them from growing in the truth.
If a Catholic is sincerely confused and going through doubts in their faith, it is permitted for them to receive Communion although they are not accepting the teachings concerning abortion and gay sex. Once they have been informed and still refuse to align their beliefs to that of the Saints and Apostolic Tradition, there may need to be discernment as to whether they will still be invited to Communion at Mass. But telling someone not to receive Communion is a grave matter and should only be handled in a one to one setting.
God bless and take care, Fr. Angel
Actually, please permit me to respectfully interject, the line that should be drawn here is between socio-political conservatives and socio-political liberals who happen to also practice the Christian faith. In recent decades, religion and politics seem to have become inextricably interwoven in this manner, adding a new series of moral alliances that crosses between Catholicism and Protestantism.
In other words, I know plenty of pro-choice Catholics, and I also know plenty of Protestants who believe that homosexuality and abortions are sins. I am not one such Protestant, but such individuals do exist in great numbers. They also exist in groups such as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, who are, in keeping with the pattern that I indicate, usually socio-politically conservative.
This is also an issue of theological fundamentalism vs theological liberalism, which also crosses Catholic and Protestant lines: that is, in the belief in the holy scriptures as uncontested fact, vs. a series of guidelines written in a finite and subjective socio-cultural and historical epoch. People who believe in a fundamental, literal interpretation of the Bible are more likely to take liturgy about abortion and homosexuality (among other social issues) written literally over a millennium ago as equally applicable in the present. People who do not ascribe to a fundamentalist stance are less likely to think this reasoning sound.
Please understand that I am making no moral judgments of any stance in these issues; only correcting your assertion in the first paragraph of your answer. Perhaps, as you later suggest, you do not consider exceptions to conservative Catholicism to be “truly” Catholic, which seems to me more harmful to the solidarity and spiritual supportiveness of the Church than good, but the fact of the matter is that such individuals DO personally identify as Catholic. Contrariwise, with respect to the social issues discussed, there are many Protestants who would fully endorse your definition of a “Catholic stance” on abortion and homosexuality—but they still identify themselves as Protestants. I hope that this makes sense. :)
I’m sorry, but as a Christian I cannot in good conscience read these posts and condone what I feel to be (unintentionally) misleading information.
Respectfully, thank you for permitting me to add this amendment, which you are of course free to disregard. I feel that you are drawing false lines of identification, however, between Catholicism and Protestantism, when in fact the endorsement of abortion and homosexuality in both the Catholic and Protestant churches is exceptionally varied in nature.
This is interesting, but it is irrelevant to the discussion of the more basic question, “Who is a Catholic?”, as opposed to “Who is a Protestant?”
And moving along in your post, I guess it’s good that you know pro-choice Catholics and pro-choice Protestants, but the basic question of what is the “Catholic truth” is still not being addressed.
As far as you correcting the assertion in my first paragraph, I don’t think you did that so much as repeat, again, why you as a Protestant approach the question of Catholic identity from a Protestant outlook.
Actually, the assertions you seek to correct are not mine, but those of the Catholic Magisterium of past popes, bishops, and Church Councils in regards to how to properly arrive at what is official Catholic doctrine.
In doing so, you simply reverted to a Protestant methodology, which is to divert away from an authoritative locus, a Magisterium, and instead see the “experts” in Scripture and theology.
Catholics, however, do not divert away from the pronouncements of the Popes and bishops who hand on an unbroken Tradition, but rather turn and face that leadership based on the Catholic belief that those shepherds alone have a divine commission to interpret and pronounce on the essentials of faith. The scholars of Scripture and theology certainly have a voice to contribute, but they are not and cannot be the court of last appeal for a Catholic.
In Catholicism, those experts are supposed to humbly serve, and explain, how Catholic dogma is found in the sources of God’s revelation. What do those experts do in Protestantism? They give scholarly opinion with which to debate ad nauseam on which doctrine remains and which doctrine is submitted to revision or dismissal, until one group of Protestants simply agrees to disagree with another group of Protestants.
I understand that such debates, division, and contention based on who is the “smarty pants” might be attractive for a certain group of Catholics, but it is not and never has been how a Catholic arrives at the identity of “being” Catholic.
Unfortunately, the simplistic definitions you gave of theological fundamentalism vs. theological liberalism (the “liberalism” being a more “sound” reasoning) do present a moral judgment on your part, although you wanted to appear as an impartial observer.
In effect, those stereotypes seek to explain differences among Protestant scholars and Protestant denominations, who look to formulate church teaching based on the profundity of scholarship and Scriptural/theological sophistication.
But for Catholics, those who follow the Magisterium cannot be simply dismissed as afflicted with “fundamentalism.” It would be intellectually dishonest.
In conclusion, let me be clear on this. I may not have seemed comforting and supportive enough of dissenting Catholics. But this is because in the search for Catholic unity, the goal is not a false irenicism or spiritual supportiveness of every group and every position that is contrary. The goal is to submit to the truth of Catholic Faith as it has been handed on and authoritatively taught by a Magisterium which is in sync with its own Tradition. When there is obstinacy and pride among those who wish to redefine and self-define their own Catholicism apart from the Church’s Magisterium, then yes, the Church’s leadership may, and actually must, withdraw from such groups and individuals “solidarity and spiritual supportiveness” because they have abandoned Catholic values and convictions which are non-negotiable.
If you had been able to cite even one, authoritative source of Catholic Teaching which corrected my outlook, I could see you accusing me of giving misleading information and drawing “false lines” of identification.
I would simply point out that I cited the most authoritative code in the Church, which in turn cites from Vatican II Council, which in turn cites from the dogmatic Councils of Vatican I and Trent. I am confident that I presented to Catholics, information about Catholic identity, taken from Catholic sources. God bless, Fr. Angel