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Is Catholicism a Faith of Compromise? - November 2017

posted Nov 25, 2017, 9:26 AM by RSO The Fenwick Review
By Seamus Brennan '20

On October 4, the Rev. Michael C. McFarland, S.J. Center hosted Dr. Julie Hanlon Rubio, professor of Christian Ethics at Saint Louis University, for her lecture entitled “Dare We Hope for Common Ground?” – an hour-long talk aimed at finding a solution to ease the contentious political tensions among Catholics in 2017 America. Rubio acknowledged the intense disunity among those she labels as “orthodox” and “progressive” Catholics – especially since the 2016 election cycle and pertaining to controversial social topics like abortion, same-sex marriage, and transgenderism – and suggested that although it is difficult to compromise on such issues, coming together on “middle” or less controversial matters can eventually pave the way for compromise on the more divisive ones. Rubio’s thesis stems from her suggestion that Catholics need not seek to “recreate the Kingdom of Heaven on earth” or demand that traditional Catholic social teachings ought to be reflected in public policy, but that the political sphere ought to exist independently from the teachings of Christ; thus, Rubio contends, in order to maximize diplomatic efficiency and promote harmony and respect among all Americans, it is both acceptable and encouraged for Catholics to set aside key Church doctrine as it relates to public policy.

Rubio’s argument is certainly compelling to a certain extent: as she suggests, when two opposing parties come together to find common ground on a mutually agreeable issue, progress can in fact be made on a larger scale. However, these kinds of interactions have their own time and place. Rubio’s suggestion that Catholics and other people faith must abandon certain truths and dogmas while engaging in political discourse in order to alleviate tension among political sectors ultimately promotes leniency and discourages belief in an absolute or objective truth. If Catholic doctrine asserts that the unborn must always be protected, that marriage is a sacred union between one man and one woman, and that gender is not malleable, et cetera, is it truly reasonable to expect Catholics to surrender these infallible truths for the good of the “middle ground,” and thereby favor the secular over the divine merely for the sake of political compromise? The unchanging truths of the Church are not relative to time, culture, or political tensions, and although conflict and disagreement as they pertain to these issues are inevitable on a societal scale, devotion to Christ’s message should not take a backseat to efforts to reach a partisan consensus.

Freedom of conscience is absolute and ought not be held hostage by the need to compromise. When it comes to life and death, moral truth or moral falsehood, we have a duty never to compromise.

Take 2016 Democrat vice presidential candidate Tim Kaine, for instance. Kaine has consistently and unabashedly cited his Catholic faith as what led him to pursue a career in public service. Throughout the 2016 primary election cycle, Kaine touted his Jesuit education and time as a missionary in Honduras as being definitive experiences for him and his career: “My faith is central to everything I do,” he has said repeatedly. Despite his self-proclaimed devout Catholic faith, Kaine touted his Jesuit education and time as a missionary in Honduras as being definitive experiences for him and his career: “My faith is central to everything I do,” he has said repeatedly. Despite his self-proclaimed devout Catholic faith, Kaine has adopted a position on abortion that is not only highly controversial among Catholic voters and directly contrary to Church doctrine, but it is also logically inconsistent and brings to light the very flaws and inextricable tension of Rubio’s argument. "I have a traditional Catholic personal position [on abortion], but I am very strongly supportive that women should make these decisions and government shouldn't intrude […] I'm a strong supporter of Roe v. Wade and women being able to make these decisions. In government, we have enough things to worry about. We don't need to make people's reproductive decisions for them," he said in an interview with CNN last fall. In other words, Kaine has insisted that he is personally pro-life, but publicly pro-choice. Here, he seems to be practicing political compromise and supporting a “middle” position similar to that outlined in Rubio’s lecture. His statement prompts an important question: Why does Kaine oppose abortion in his “private” life? If Kaine truly upholds the “traditional Catholic position” on abortion, as he contends he does, he would believe that all human life is inherently sacred, and all human beings have an intrinsic right to live – regardless of whether or not that human being has been born or other extraneous circumstances. One who advocates for the “traditional Catholic position” on abortion must also acknowledge that abortion is morally equivalent to murder. Murder is reprehensible. Period. If one truly believes that abortion is morally equivalent to murder, how can Rubio expect Catholics (and pro-lifers of all stripes) to compromise on the subject?

By prioritizing political compromise, we as Catholics give up our ability to express our freedom of conscience and ability to believe in something absolutely. While Rubio claims that personal and political spheres must exist independently of one another, it is in dividing the personal and the political that we forfeit our beliefs, the doctrine of the Church, and our call to do God’s will. In a political and social era as polarizing, divisive, and perhaps even uncertain as our own, we must ask ourselves: should our faith be one of compromise or one of dutiful resilience? Should our faith be one of cultural and political relativism or one of passionate faith and a robust belief in God and His message to us? The Church survives and prospers not because of diplomatic compromise but because of the timeless teachings of God and the authentic passion of Her followers. Where compromise prospers, authenticity of faith perishes. As Rubio stated in her lecture, debate is a positive, healthy way to sustain differences of opinion and belief. But rather than giving in to compromise for the sake of compromise, we as Catholics have a duty to spread God’s message and the infallible truths of the Church. The Church both as an institution and as a worldwide community ultimately relies upon our lack of compromise. It is more important now than ever to hold firmly to this truth.