I was at Byzantine Vespers the other night, and it was the feast of St. Athanasius. The liturgy praised how he defeated “men of evil minds,” and that really struck me.
There’s a popular notion since Vatican II that Catholics can “privately disagree with” the Church, and that’s not the same thing as heresy. This particularly comes up across the otherwise spectrum of ideologies in regard to divorce and birth control.
Tortured dissent, which is supposed to be *tortured*, is not the same thing as plain old dissent, which is why it’s “tortured.” Further, the “I can disagree with the Church privately” thing doesn’t seem to hold water in people who are *talking* about their disagreements with the Church.
Even on theological matters, I generally find that “disagreements with the Church” tend to be to justify some personal sin the person wants to excuse. I always use the example of the great “Reformers”–Luther was after sex, Calvin was after money, and Zwingli was after food–not that there weren’t plenty of priests, bishops and Popes int those days after the same things, but if you compare those three to the great Counter-Reformers, it’s no contest. Peter of Alcantara lived in a cave for 30 years. Francis Borgia gave up all the wealth of the Borgia dynasty to be a Jesuit. Francis Xavier traveled the world, making disciples of all nations, and condemning the priests sitting back at the universities instead of evangelizing. Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross and Ignatius are obvious. Put those people up against Luther, Calvin, Zwingli and Henry VIII or even Elizabeth I. . . .
Anyway, prior to the 1960s, it was considered a pretty big deal that Catholics ought to conform to the Church’s teachings in mind, body and spirit. Prior to Vatican II, priests were required to preach on a rotation of specific doctrinal topics throughout he year (including contraception twice a year). Before Protestantism, it was understood that one had to adhere to a set of Christological principles to even be considered Christian. Now people insist that Mormons and JWs, who adhere to some of those very heresies, are “Christians.” Many Protestant denominations adhere to teachings on Christ that are condemned by the early Ecumenical Councils, and many day-to-day Catholics have practical beliefs that are objectively heretical–especially beliefs that have been filtered down to them by “spirit of Vatican II” clerics, religious and theologians.
When the great Dietrich von Hildebrand was converting, he told the priest, “I agree with the Church’s teachings on everything except birth control. That one just strikes me as totally irrational, and I cannot support it.” The priest told him, “Then you cannot be a Catholic. It’s all or nothing.” DvH replied, “Then I say with St. Augustine, ‘I believe in order to understand.'” He went on to be one of the greatest philosophical exponents on the Church’s teachings on sexuality and birth control, to the point that Bl. John Paul II credited him as one of the major inspirations for _The Theology of the Body_.
Bottom line: if you think you can get along with “privately dissenting” against the Church’s teachings, then think again. You’re gambling with your immortal soul. The Church’s teachings are a guaranteed path to Heaven. Jesus *may* give one a pass for sincerely disagreeing with the Church on some infallible teaching, based upon personal sincerity, invincible ignorance and all that, but it’s not worth the gamble. If you know what the Church teaches, you’ve gotta obey it or go to Confession. Period.