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Published in The Pittsburgh Catholic December 10, 1993

The Teaching Authority of Anna Quindlen
Imagine—bishops of the Catholic Church thinking they can speak for Catholics.
Syndicated columnist Anna Quindlen took the American bishops to task for doing this, and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette editors chose her defiant column (“Authentic Catholics”) for the op-ed pages of their Nov. 19 edition.
Ms. Quindlen was furious about a recent American bishops’ statement on Catholics for a Free Choice (CFFC), an abortion-advocacy group.  In their statement, the bishops had made it clear that CFFC is not an “authentic Catholic organization.”
In her rage, however, Ms. Quindlen left many large questions unanswered.  Let’s begin with the most obvious: Does she think anyone can authoritatively speak for the Catholic Church?
Ms. Quindlen, of course, has already answered the question, and her answer is implicit in her column. If the bishops are not to teach what constitutes the faith, then Ms. Quindlen gladly does it herself.
The Catholic faith has always rested solidly on true doctrine interpreted from the teachings of Christ by authentic authority.  But Ms. Quindlen champions the idea that no such doctrine or authority exists: “No one can define true doctrine in the Catholic Church.”
She, in effect, proclaims “everyone’s judgment is equal on this.” But, in saying this, she has just defined doctrine.
Now that Ms. Quindlen has established herself as the spokesperson for dissident Catholics, we can await her instruction on what does constitute the Catholic faith. She seems to agree with the editors of Newsweek, who define the Catholic faith by opinion polls.

But the demands of truth don’t depend on individual or even majority opinions. Simon Peter wanted Jesus to consider his opinion when Jesus prophesied the crucifixion. “Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.”
Jesus did not choose to have a “meaningful dialogue” with Peter.  He used harsher language than the bishops dare: “Get behind me, Satan. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”
Jesus did not follow popular demand. He obeyed the will of His Father. Can the Church He established as His visible body on earth do less?
But Ms. Quindlen, a self-professed Catholic writer, does not indicate that the Church is anything more than a human institution.  She does not speak of Jesus, or scripture, or truth.  Nor does she answer how the bishops or any Catholic group can reconcile the intentional killing of a child with the teaching of Christ. Instead, she states mystifyingly that “the word Catholic is a description”—and then remains mute on what it describes.
The word Catholic does describe—and define. It designates Catholic belief, thought© and action. Like all definitions, it circumscribes.  And some things, including certain dissenting opinions, are just not within those circumscribed boundaries.
In the past, some bishops made the grave error of overlooking sexual abuse among clergy.  The bishops now seem to be dealing with this problem more strenuously. I don’t suppose that Ms. Quindlen would be happy with, say, a dissident group Catholics for Free Pedophilia---but if such a group formed, the bishops would be obliged, according to her logic, to include it in the fold, no changes necessary.
This kind of inclusion overlooks the necessity of conversion in order to enter the kingdom through the narrow gate and the straight road. It overlooks the fact that Jesus’ acts of mercy were followed with the command to change: “Go and sin no more.” In Ms. Quindlen’s eyes, it seems, the bishops are no longer shepherds, but maitre d’s who should change the Church to accommodate all who demand service.
Wishing for something doesn’t mean it’s true.  According to Ms. Quindlen, Catholicism has somehow mysteriously and happily metamorphosed into congregationalism.  She is saying something that simply isn’t so.

© Rosemary Hugo  Fielding 2011

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