February 29, 2024

Diverse group of people learning and studing together.

Question:

Sometimes when I’ve gotten into conversations with people about what the Catholic Church teaches, especially about issues like homosexuality and transgenderism, they tell me that the Church is hateful. How do I respond to the charge that the Catholic Church hates others?

Answer:

Unfortunately, this is an all-too-common experience in our culture today. For a variety of reasons, including significant polarization and a decreased level of sound thinking in public discourse, real conversations in which people are respected while ideas are critiqued don’t happen. Instead, we attack the person and ignore—or, more commonly, misunderstand and/or misrepresent—their positions.

More to the point of this question, we also replace real argument (in which ideas are exchanged, tested and critiqued) with labeling others and/or their positions with loaded terms like “hateful, bigoted, prejudicial” and so on, which, more often than not, do not apply to the argument at hand.

This important question provides a perfect example. It is indeed increasingly common for those who disagree with the Church’s stance on any number of issues to dismiss Catholics as hateful, bigoted, etc. But to say as much is both to completely ignore what the Catholic Church explicitly teaches, and to change the meaning of terms like hate, phobic and bigoted.

To the first point: the Catholic Church follows the teachings of God himself (as we find in both the Old and New Testaments, and especially in the words of Jesus in the Gospels) and says that we are called to love everyone, for everyone is created by God on purpose and out of boundless love. So if the Church’s teaching was literally that we are to hate certain people, we would be contradicting ourselves in an obvious and flagrant manner.

Now, it is true that the Catholic Church teaches that certain actions are sinful, i.e., that they are contrary to the way God created us. Therefore, when we commit these acts, we are limiting our true and ultimate happiness.

This gets to our second point: to say that certain actions are sinful is not to say that we hate the people who commit them. If someone were doing something that caused harm to themselves, to tell them as much is not an act of hate, but, to the contrary, is in fact an act of love.

Dr. Chris Burgwald holds a Doctorate in Sacred Theology from the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome.

Of course, it’s important that we are able to explain to others why certain actions are harmful to those who commit them; it’s not enough to just claim it … we need to defend the claim. Fortunately, we can rest assured that because we have been promised by Jesus that his Church will never teach error in her formal doctrines, these teachings are in fact true and therefore can be explained and defended. And we are blessed to be living in an age in which there are a vast array of resources available to us to help us better understand these teachings and help us explain them to others.

With all of this in mind, I’d propose responding to claims that the Church and/or her teachings are hateful by asking others to explain more what they mean. When others say that “Catholics hate such-and-such a group,” I find it effective to ask them what they mean by that, and to point out some of the things explained earlier, like the fact that to critique a harmful action is loving, not hateful.

It’s also important to strive to be both loving and patient in conversations like these, because that witness serves to corroborate our words.

Through the words of St. Peter as found in 1 Peter 3:15-16, God calls all of us to always be ready to give an explanation for our beliefs, and to do so with patience, gentleness and respect. Let us not return anger or misunderstanding in kind, but bear witness to the truth in love.