Friday Forum: Light on hypocrisy

Matt Yurkanin

Matt Yurkanin

By The Daily Illini

As a teacher of Catholicism, I desire a better public understanding of my subject so that discussion of its beliefs is informed and knowledgeable. Sadly, Jon Monteith’s column, “Blatant Hypocrisy,” on Tuesday was neither. For the past four years, I have taught “Introduction to Catholicism” (RLST 127) here at the University as well as an advanced course called “Modern Catholic Thought.” I consider myself moderately knowledgeable about the Catholic Church.

Mr. Monteith expresses obvious displeasure with the Catholic protesters outside the presidential debate and the Kerry rally in St. Louis. His reaction arises, I think, from an incomprehension of the protesters’ methods and demeanor. He undoubtedly thought that because there were many men who were wearing clerical collars, they must have been priests. Catholic deacons and unordained seminarians often wear the same garb. He found their praying ineffective and beside the point while the protesters, if you asked them, would surely say their prayers were the most effective action they took that day.

More profound is the failure to understand Catholic beliefs regarding the war in Iraq, the death penalty and abortion. Mr. Monteith supposes that “the Catholic Church firmly opposes the current situation” in Iraq. But the Catholic Church has no official position on the war that compels the consciences of Catholics. Even the Pope’s personal opposition to the war is just that – personal. He has never even pretended to pronounce an official Catholic position – and for good reason. The Church does not have the competence to make such judgments. It teaches the principles of Just War Theory – as articulated first by St. Augustine – but the judgment about whether a particular conflict is justifiable is in the hands of government, not the Church.

Much of the same can be said of the death penalty. On this matter, there is more widespread agreement among competent thinkers within the Church, but still, opposition to the death penalty is not a matter of faith for Catholics. It might become so in the future, but at present, that is not the case. John Paul II has lobbied hard for the abolition of the death penalty but has also agreed that in some extreme cases, it might be necessary to protect society from an aggressor.

The matter is quite otherwise with abortion. The Catholic Church does not decide on this matter by taking polls. What percentage of Catholics believe or don’t believe in abortion is irrelevant. And it should be irrelevant because morality for a Catholic is based on reality, not on majority. The reality of an innocent human being inside the womb is the foundation of Catholic opposition to abortion. Since the earliest times, Christian writings indicate that Christians opposed abortion because it was considered the moral equivalent of murder. No knowledgeable and faithful Catholic can endorse a direct abortion.

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The reason these protesters were there was because Sen. John Kerry professes to be a Catholic. President Bush does not. They were appealing to one of their own co-religionists to live up to his profession of faith; i.e. not to be hypocritical. Wasn’t that Mr. Monteith’s concern too?

Kenneth J. Howell, Ph.D.

University employee