Who speaks for the Church on issues of faith and morals? Your answer to that question is important because it is easy to be misled. There are so many who appear to do so or who portray themselves as doing so. Civil law allows just about anyone to use the term “Catholic” to describe themselves. Thus we have pro-abortion advocates like “Catholics for Choice” who reject the sacredness of human life, core to who we are as Catholics, yet who are accepted by much of the media as legitimately speaking for the Church.
There are newspapers, magazines, radio and television entities that label themselves Catholic. Do they speak for the church? There are personal blogs and other entries on the Internet that label themselves Catholic. Do they speak for the Church? There are all kinds of organizations and institutions that label themselves Catholic. Do they speak for the Church? Within each category there are conflicting opinions, motivations and credibility. Which of them speaks for the Church? Which ones should you view as reliable in seeking the truth and as sincerely caring about the salvation of your soul? Only one.
The Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches: “Since they are the authentic witnesses of the apostolic faith and are invested with the authority of Christ, the bishops in union with the Pope have the duty of proclaiming the Gospel faithfully and authoritatively to all. By means of a supernatural sense of faith, the people of God unfailingly adhere to the faith under the guidance of the living Magisterium of the Church.”. In the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church, the bishops are the authentic teachers on issues of faith and morals. (184) They do not act on their own authority but on that given to them by Christ who has called them to serve the Church as the Successors of the Apostles, and thus as defenders of the truth in our day.
During the recent debate about federal health care legislation we have an example of how important this question of “who speaks for the Church” is. Bishops in the United States have for many years strongly advocated for a reform of health care that assures access to care for all especially the poor and the vulnerable. We have always done so predicated on the underlying principle that abortion, the killing of innocent human life which is a grave moral evil, must not be funded by taxpayers. Protection of the unborn, trumps all passing issues. Without life there is no need for health care.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops was thoroughly immersed in the details of that legislation supported by well documented analysis by the Office of Legal Counsel. Cardinal George, our President, Cardinal DiNardo, chair of the Pro-Life Committee, and other bishops made clear that the proposed legislation would result in the public financing of abortion, and therefore could not be supported, to do so would be to support a grave moral evil.
However the Catholic Health Association declared that the bishops were wrong, endorsed the bill and encouraged Catholic legislators to vote for it. Who are the faithful to believe? It is the proper role of laity, including CHA, to speak out on the details of health care or other legislation about which there can be diverse viewpoints. But on the issue of faith and morals, there is one authentic voice. I would not risk the salvation of my soul by relying on the opinions of alternative teachings offices of the Church instituted not by Christ but by man. How about you?
As Catholics, all of us must contemplate modern day issues in the light of faith. To do so means seeking to learn what the authentic teaching of the Church is as proclaimed by those who are charged to speak for the Church on matters of faith and morals, “those vested with the authority of Christ”, the bishops in union with the Pope. This may be uncomfortable for some in our culture but it is who we are as the Roman Catholic Church. There is a lot of noise and clutter out there. Weeding through this clutter takes time and personal effort. But in doing so you will discover what the Church really teaches and why.