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The Catholic Position

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[Publisher’s Note: Joe Sobran’s depiction of the perpetual rage of anti-Catholicism is as apt today as it was when he penned this column in 2002. Today marks the 10th anniversary of his passing. May he rest in peace.] Subtracting Christianity: Essays on American Culture and Society — A few weeks ago I tried, in my feeble way, to express why I fell in love with the Catholic Church. I received many gracious and grateful responses from others who felt the same way, some of them converts like me. Inevitably, there were also a few jeers, directed not so much against me as against the Church. Some dredged up old scandals of wicked popes, or supposedly shocking utterances of Catholic saints, or mere clichés of traditional anti-Catholic

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[Publisher’s Note: Joe Sobran’s depiction of the perpetual rage of anti-Catholicism is as apt today as it was when he penned this column in 2002. Today marks the 10th anniversary of his passing. May he rest in peace.]

Subtracting Christianity: Essays on American Culture and Society — A few weeks ago I tried, in my feeble way, to express why I fell in love with the Catholic Church. I received many gracious and grateful responses from others who felt the same way, some of them converts like me.

Inevitably, there were also a few jeers, directed not so much against me as against the Church. Some dredged up old scandals of wicked popes, or supposedly shocking utterances of Catholic saints, or mere clichés of traditional anti-Catholic polemics. Most of these were meant to embarrass, not to persuade; the usual ahistorical nuggets.

What is startling is the perpetual passion of anti-Catholicism. You’d think that by now people who reject Catholicism would calmly ignore its teachings as old and irrelevant superstitions. After all, the Church has none of her old political power, adherence is now totally voluntary, and she has enough trouble getting her own children to listen to her.

But Catholicism still has a strange moral authority, and many people are unable to achieve a calm and assured disbelief. They are still driven to discredit the Church — perhaps for the same reason so many of us believe in her.

Catholicism offers a complete and comprehensive morality, one which most of us still recognize as the faith of our fathers. Bit by bit, the world, including other churches, has abandoned much of this morality; the Church continues to teach it, even when some of her own priests scandalously violate it.

A few generations ago, nearly all Christians shared the same sexual morality. They abhorred artificial birth control, for example. Many state laws banning the sale of contraceptive devices in this country were passed by Protestant majorities while Catholics were politically weak.

Gradually, however, Protestants ceased to oppose contraception, and Catholicism almost alone continued to condemn it. What had long been a consensus became censured as a “Catholic position.” We now see the same process well under way with abortion and homosexuality.

If cannibalism ever becomes popular, and the rest of the world, led by its progressive-minded intellectuals, decides that anthropophagy is a basic Constitutional right, opposing cannibalism will become a “Catholic position” too. Catholics will once more be accused of wanting to “impose” their “views” on everyone else (even when they are far too weak to do so), and the reformers will cry, “Let’s keep government out of the kitchen!”

I don’t defend the Church’s morality because I am a Catholic. I became and remain a Catholic because the Church maintains a consistent morality — while the rest of the world keeps veering off into moral fads. My conviction that she is right is only strengthened by the world’s strident demand that she change along with it, as if it were a sort of moral duty to change one’s principles, like underwear, with reasonable frequency.

“The world” includes many nominal Catholics who side with the secular world against their own Church. These are the Catholics you are most likely to see in the major media. They deny the Church’s authority to keep teaching what she has always taught, yet they can’t rest until she approves their pet vices — contraception, sodomy, same-sex marriage, and all the rest.

Notice that the proposed reforms usually have to do with sex. When the Church refuses to change, she is accused of being “obsessed” with sex, when it’s really her critics who are obsessed with it. Catholic morality recognizes seven deadly sins, of which lust is only one; but this happens to be the one the modern world can’t stop thinking about. Nobody demands that the Church “change its outdated teachings against sloth.”

At any rate, the Church can’t change. She can no more change her teaching about lust than her equally emphatic teachings about pride, gluttony, and sloth, because God has made the world as it is and no human will can repeal its moral order. These aren’t the Pope’s personal opinions; they are objective truths.

Powerless, hardly able to keep her own flock in line, and betrayed by many of her shepherds, the Church is still treated as a threat. All she really threatens is the false comfort of the dormant conscience; but this is enough to make bitter enemies.

After all, her Founder warned her not to expect gratitude from men for trying to save their souls. She is the mother of Western civilization, and to this day, all too often, she is blamed for everything and thanked for nothing.

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“The Catholic Position” was published originally by Griffin Internet Syndicate on April 4, 2002. It is one of the 117 columns in the anthology of Mr. Sobran’s writings: Subtracting Christianity: Essays on American Culture and Society (FGF Books, 2015). You may link to this article at websites and social media.

Joseph Sobran
Joe Sobran received his B.A. in English from Eastern Michigan University and pursued graduate studies in English, specializing in Shakespeare. From 1969 to 1970 he taught English on a fellowship and lectured on Shakespeare. In 1972, he went to work for National Review magazine, beginning what would be a 21-year stint, including 18 years as senior editor.

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