Stupid for a TIME headline: “Poll: Catholic Beliefs At Odds With Vatican Doctrine”

I’m still laughing at this one, recently posted on the TIME magazine site:

“Poll: Catholic Beliefs At Odds With Vatican Doctrine”

Really? Whatever does that mean? That what the actual Catholic Church teaches—that is, her beliefs—is actually different from what the Vatican teaches? Huh. That would be strange, to say the least, since what the Catholic Church believes is, in fact, doctrinal, and it just happens to be the same stuff about faith and morals that the dread Vatican is supposed to be upholding, promoting, teaching, defending, clarifying, and such.

(Come to think of it, Dan Brown, how did the Catholic Church express and define doctrine before the Vatican was created centuries after the time of Christ?)

Yes, yes, I know. It’s supposed to means that what certain, special, and super-enlightened Catholics believe is in opposition to “Vatican doctrine,” which leaves us in a silly pickle: people who are supposedly defined by being “Catholic” are rejecting the very doctrines that, in fact, help identify and shape them as Catholic qua Catholic. Of course, you can be a baptized Catholic and say you believe adultery is wonderful, insist the Trinity is a bunch of metaphysical nonsense, and crow you have no interest in going to Mass—but that actually makes you a certain kind of Catholic: a bad Catholic.

And how do we know what constitutes being a good Catholic? Sure. In fact, there’s quite a paper trail on that, beginning with the Bible, followed by Councils and such, not to mention the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Specifics? For starters, belief in the Credo, being in a state of grace, attending Mass on Sunday, and giving proper assent to the teachings—that is, doctrine—of the Catholic Church.

How about a more accurate headline? Such as: “Poll: Bad Catholics At Odds With Vatican Doctrine”? 

Too judgmental? Hmmm. The truth can hurt. Unless you don’t believe in truth. In which case you might be a bad Catholic.

But that’s not all. The piece is typical MSM boilerplate, which is to say, it employs the same old vacuous labels and confuses categories. Typical. For instance:

As Pope Francis reaches out to Catholics around the world in an effort to reinvigorate the Church, the Vatican faces a wide ideological gap with popularly held beliefs in many countries, a new poll finds.

“Ideological gap”? Sounds painful. Maybe it is painful. But it’s pretty simple, really: since the days of Judas and the nights of gnostics, the Church has long been dealing with traitors, complainers, heretics, sophists, fools, con men, schismatics, and snakes. There is quite often a gap between what Joe Catholic likes or wants and what the Church teaches. When Joe Catholic demands that Jesus be a bodiless spirit who is freed from the contamination of dust and matter, he’s called Joe Docetist. When Joe Catholic denies the sacramental order, he becomes Joe Anabaptist. When Joe Catholic denies that abortion is evil and sex is meant for marriage, he becomes Joe Relativist/Secularist/Hedonist/Cafeteria Catholic. He might well, in other words, be a heretic, for heresy is “is the obstinate post-baptismal denial of some truth which must be believed with divine and catholic faith, or it is likewise an obstinate doubt concerning the same…” (CCC, 2089).

On issues like contraception, gay marriage, divorce and women’s admittance into the priesthood, the Church is at odds with a majority of Catholics in many countries across the world, the poll shows.

The Church is at odds? That’s a strange way to put it since the Church didn’t break away from decades, even centuries, of clear teaching on these and other matters. It’s not as if the Church is the new kid in town, assaulting the Western world’s precious and ancient traditions about all of these issues. But, as usual, the suggestion is that everything was great until “the Vatican” started imposing outrageous beliefs on poor, innocent Catholics who simply want to be just like everyone else and ignore what the Catholic Church really believes (nevermind the reasons for such beliefs; getting to that point is unheard of, really).

Over 90 percent of Catholics in countries including France, Brazil, Spain, Argentina, and Colombia favor the use of birth control, a position that opposes official Catholic doctrine. And more than 60 percent of Catholics in countries including France, Spain, Poland, Brazil, Argentina and the United States believe priests should be allowed to marry. 

First, the Catholic Church is against contraception; it is not against planning when you get pregnant. Secondly, the Church is not against married priests, as evidenced by, well, the many married Catholic priests out there. Rather, the Western Church is, on whole, for the discipline of unmarried priests; all of the Eastern and Western Churches are against priests getting married once they are ordained (in other words, Eastern priests who are married are wed prior to being ordained).

Finally, TIME so (ahem) helpfully summarizes all of this as follows: “As Pope Francis charts the course of the Church, he has solicited the opinion of Catholics and opened up the Church with more inclusive language but has yet to issue any fundamental changes in doctrine.”

“Has yet to issue…” It’s just a matter of time! Right, Arius? Correct, Marcion? How about it, Zwingli? Can I get an “Amen”, Hans Küng? Please. Bottom line: the Church is not a democracy. It is not a club. It is not run by polls. (Yes, it is sometimes led by clueless or corrupt, men and it is certainly filled with sinners. Absolutely!) So, trying to report on the Church as if is a democracy, a club, or a poll-driven political party is not helpful. Quite the contrary. Unless, of course, your goal is not to be helpful, but to manipulate and confuse. But that’s another rant for another day.

How about this headline: “Fact: TIME’s Reporting About Catholic Church At Odds With Reality”? 

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About Carl E. Olson 1207 Articles
Carl E. Olson is editor of Catholic World Report and Ignatius Insight. He is the author of Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?, Will Catholics Be "Left Behind"?, co-editor/contributor to Called To Be the Children of God, co-author of The Da Vinci Hoax (Ignatius), and author of the "Catholicism" and "Priest Prophet King" Study Guides for Bishop Robert Barron/Word on Fire. His recent books on Lent and Advent—Praying the Our Father in Lent (2021) and Prepare the Way of the Lord (2021)—are published by Catholic Truth Society. He is also a contributor to "Our Sunday Visitor" newspaper, "The Catholic Answer" magazine, "The Imaginative Conservative", "The Catholic Herald", "National Catholic Register", "Chronicles", and other publications. Follow him on Twitter @carleolson.