Magisterium and Me.

In one his comments on my Catholic Teaching page, Ignatius / Benedict writes that

“I think you’ll be happy in the Anglican denomination where this sort of reasoning evades the Truth.”

I’m sorry to disappoint you, IB, but you will not get rid of me that easily.  I am a cradle Catholic, “gebore en gerore” (born and bred, as expressed in Afrikaans), and could no more renounce my faith than I could my language – or my orientation.

One year I accompanied my then partner to Christmas Midnight Mass in the cathedral parish of St Mary’s, Johannesburg, a place rich in sympbolism and significance at that time of anti -apartheid struggle – and came away empty.   My present partner here in the UK is also a high church Anglican, and I have frequently accompanied him to services – which again I find shallow and empty.  Only in the Catholic Mass do I find true richness.

What draws me to the Catholic Church, beyond mere habit and familiarity, is precisely that it is not just “Catholic” (i.e. institutional), but also “catholic” (literally, universal).  The Gospels are clearly inclusive, and so, in principle, is the Catholic Church – inclusive across geographic boundaries, across language and ethnicity, and across two millenia of history.

An important part of that is the Magisterium.  2000 years of scholarship and of spirituality must surely include within it much great wisdom, which must be respected and treasured.  I am particularly grateful for those giffts from which I have personally benefited: the wisdom in Ignatian spirituality, the teaching apostolate of the Dominicans and the missionary zeal of so many.   I take the value of the Magisterium very seriously indeed, as teaching authority.  I also take pride in the history of the church in its struggle against oppression, in South Africa and elsewhere.  The Catholic Church took the first steps to defy the apartheid laws and admit people to its schools without regard to ethnic background; spoke out in pastoral letters against the sheer iniquity of apartheid laws;  gave succour and support to political detainees and their families; intervened as peacemakers in vicious ethnic violence in the killing fields of Natal before the 1994 election; and worked as peace monitors and electoral educators in the build up to that historic election. I am proud to say that I myself was a part of the work of the church Peace & Justice activities at the time, which is why I am so disappointed that the Church’s insistence on siding with the oppressed does not extend to sympathy and understanding for those sexual minorities whose  oppression arises from the Church’s own actions.

Furthermore,  given the antiquity of tradition, I also recognise that alongside the treasures, lies a great deal of dross.  It is undeniable that the Magisterium has frequently been plain wrong, and will doubtless be found so again.  This is why I approach the Magisterium as I do any other teaching authority – with a critical eye.  There are of course some items which we are told we must take as infallible truth:  but these are remarkably few.   The plain truth is that the Vatican likes to present itself as an undisputed authority, in certain circulmstances where it has no right  to do so at all, and to attempt to extinguish valid objection by simple diktat or censorship – also known as “creeping infallibility”.  This I resist.

Yesterday I posted a light-hearted, humourous piece suggesting how the monastic tradition, copying manuscripts from earlier copies, had distorted  a core rule of the tradition from “celebrate” to ” celibate“.  This was simple humourous fun, but carries a serious message: over 20 centuries of transmission, what is today presented as core truths of Magisterium is a highly selective, filtered view.  This is why, in evaluating the Magisterium, we need to look not only at what the Vatican tells us is the message thereof, but also at what historians can tell us of how that message has developed over the centuries.

On matters of sexuality at least, there are some serious discrepancies.

On all of this, more later.

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