Apologize and Don't Be Sorry!

A site dedicated to thinking through the common objections to the Catholic Faith as well as questions of a general religious nature.

Location: Prague, Oklahoma, United States

Just your basic 21st century priest trying to bring the Gospel to everyone who will give it a fair hearing.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Dear Father Tharp:
I don’t agree with the Church’s teachings on some subjects. My children trust me to tell them the truth. I have been told that if I teach the children things that are contrary to the Church’s teachings I may be excommunicated. I love the Church but will not allow my children to be misled. What will happen?

Name Withheld
Kiowa, KS

At the outset, I have to admit some difficulty in responding to your question due to its vagueness. Many Catholics confuse the Church’s dogma and doctrine with her practice and discipline. While the Church’s dogma and doctrine must be adhered to and is irreformable, her disciplines, as history demonstrates, can and have changed. For the sake of this article, I am going to assume that you are not referring to the Church’s discipline, but rather her doctrine.

Your question reminds me of a story that Scott Hahn tells about himself and his conversion to the Catholic Faith. As a Presbyterian, he took for granted the notion that teaching authority came from the Bible alone. However, he was surprised to find that the Bible didn’t support his view. Rather, St. Paul wrote in I Timothy that the Church, not the Bible, is “ the pillar and bulwark of the truth” (I Tim. 3:15).

Certainly, one who obstinately denies, or who maintains obstinate doubt regarding, the Church’s teaching is guilty of the offense of heresy and therefore can be punished with excommunication. The penalty of excommunication underscores two points: the seriousness of the assent of Faith and the desire for the return of the offender through conversion of heart and mind. This sort of action already was present in the early Church. St. Paul makes reference to it in his first Letter to the Corinthians (cf. I Cor. 5:1-4).

Contrary to our society’s general posture about matters of the Faith, we can’t do it our way. We didn’t create the Faith; we received it from the hands of our parents, our pastors, our bishops, ultimately from the hands of the Apostles. If we receive all this from the hands of the Apostles, then we are confident that we have received our Faith from Jesus. Like yourself, the Church is a loving parent. She is our mother concerned for the welfare of the children, born to her in the waters of Baptism. “It is in the Church, in communion with all the baptized, that the Christian fulfills his vocation. From the Church he receives the Word of God containing the teachings of ‘the law of Christ.’ From the Church he receives the grace of the sacraments that sustains him on the "way." From the Church he learns the example of holiness and recognizes its model and source in the all-holy Virgin Mary; he discerns it in the authentic witness of those who live it; he discovers it in the spiritual tradition and long history of the saints who have gone before him and whom the liturgy celebrates in the rhythms of the sanctoral cycle” (CCC#2030). It is simply not possible to hand on the fullness of the Faith when we make ourselves the final arbiter of the Truth.

It is contradictory to claim that you both love the Church and distrust her teaching authority. In the end, just as we pay attention to the advice and assistance of doctors to maintain our physical health, we must adhere to the Church’s Magisterium for they are given the charism, via the Holy Spirit, to hand on faithfully and fully the truth Christ wants us to receive so that we might be saved. You owe it to yourself and to your children to learn what the Church teaches, examine her reasoning, and associate yourself with this work of spreading the Faith, beginning in your home, in the model of the Holy Family.


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