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Bethany Blankley Headshot

Understanding the Catholic Conundrum

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The two vice-presidential candidates, Joe Biden and Paul Ryan, accurately represent the division with Roman Catholicism in America today. Both profess to be Catholic and both have completely opposite views about how to live out their belief. One supports abortion and same-sex marriage, going against the teachings of his church (Biden), and the other opposes abortion and same-sex marriage, supporting the teachings of his church (Ryan).

This is significant in light of the fact that there are 68 million Catholic Church members in America and that the Roman Catholic Church is the largest single religious denomination in the country, comprising 25 percent of the population.

The Catholic Church is organized through the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops whose 454 bishops communicate to their 195 arch/dioceses. These dioceses are comprised of 17,600 parishes led by nearly 39,000 priests, and ministered to by more than 4,000 brothers and 54,000 sisters, and more than 3,700 graduate-level seminarians.

The Catholic Church's role in American public life is vast and influential. The Economist calculates that the Church's operating budget is close to $170 billion, when considering healthcare costs, parish disbursements, education and charitable institutions. Of these, there are 60 healthcare systems, slightly more than 600 Catholic hospitals, which comprise the nation's largest group of nonprofit systems; more than 200 Catholic colleges and universities educating millions of students and employing approximately 150,000 teachers; and Catholic Charities, which is one of the largest voluntary social service networks in the United States.

Likewise, the Catholic vote has been evenly divided among Republicans and Democrats, with the exception of moderates who have historically leaned Democratic.

What does it mean to be Catholic? One argument says all that is required to be Catholic is to be baptized. Another argument says that an authentic faith is reflected by one's desire to follow Catholic teachings, which among other things, emphasizes celibacy, abstinence from sexual intercourse outside of marriage, opposes abortion, contraception, euthanasia and same-sex marriage, and upholds the hierarchal structure of the Church's authority, which rests in the authority of scripture, the bishops and the Pope.

However, according to a 2011 Guttmacher Institute survey, 98 percent of sexually experienced Catholic women have used birth control and Catholic women have an abortion rate at 29 percent higher than their Protestant counterparts. According to a recent Public Religion Research Institute survey, a majority of white Catholics (56 percent) and Hispanic Catholics (53 percent) support same-sex marriage. And increasingly, both lay people and sisters have rejected the bishops' authority.

How can this be? The answer is obvious: secularism and defiance of the teachings of the church. Secularism is a doctrine that rejects the religious consideration of a particular faith; it is an overarching ideology that has universal applications. Defiance is simply defined as open resistance and bold disobedience. Disobedience is defined as failure or refusal to obey rules or someone in authority.

For those who disagree with the Church's position on various social issues, they choose not to follow them and then pick and choose what they believe is right. Then these same people argue that the Church is intolerant because it affirms dogma or holds objective moral norms with which they disagree. But every worldview, secular or religious, holds to its own absolute truth that excludes alternatives.

For Catholics and other Christians, the defiance of disobedience is striking. Often people do not ask God what his will is for their life -- instead, they tell God what it ought to be. However, no one can believe in God and defy him too. Belief in God means reliance, not defiance.

The differences that Biden and Ryan represent of their fellow Catholics' beliefs haven't gone unnoticed. As Pope Benedict XVI warned a few years ago, serpentine secularism has seeped into the Catholic Church. And Archbishop Charles Chaput recently said that Biden's separation of faith from public life is the "latest outrageous example" of the false division between personal Catholic belief and political action. "We believe in the separation of Church and State," he said, "but that is not the same thing as a separation between faith and politics. Faith is what we believe; politics is how we act. We are hypocrites if we fail to act in accord with our beliefs."

Chaput's reference to the term hypocrisy is generous. People who reject what the Roman Catholic Church teaches should be called what they are -- not good Catholics. For it was Jesus who asked, "Why do you call me, 'Lord, Lord,' and do not do what I say?" (Luke 6:46). He also warned, "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven" (Matthew 7:21).

Secularism confuses what Catholicism is -- because many people call themselves Catholics but do not obey Christ's or the Bible's teachings. They are like football players who run out onto the field, don't play by the rules, and cry "discrimination!" to the refs when they are thrown out of the game.

The problem is that faith is not a game; and what is at stake is far more important than a touch down.