Here are his questions:
- Do Roman Catholics consider Protestant ministers like myself valid ministers? More particularly, if a good friend becomes Roman Catholic, are they now confessionally required to believe that I was never called of God to be a minister?
- Why is so much of my dialog with Catholics frustrated with “cafeteria Catholicism?” Catholics will tell me that I must accept the church’s teaching on subject X, but if I point out that they also must accept the church’s teaching on subject Y, I often hear, “Don’t put words in my mouth. That’s not what I believe.” With all due respect, since when did the beliefs of an individual catholic matter? If a Protestant demonstrates that the church has infallibly taught Y, isn’t that the end of the discussion for the catholic?
- What would be the church’s view on someone who is convinced the Catholic faith is true, but who is unable or chooses not to openly convert to Catholicism at this time? Is such a person committing a sin?
- Exactly what is meant when a non-Catholic goes forward at communion to be blessed, but not partake? What if such a person- like myself- openly disagrees with some of the church’s teaching and is not seeking reception into the church?
- What is the church’s view of leadership and submission in marriage? Would the church teach that a wife should join the church over the objections of her Christian, but Protestant, spouse? If so, how does this fit into the church’s teaching on marriage?
My thoughts were stimulated by the questions but, as usual, I went in a slightly different direction. I sent him a note which I'll post here as the most efficient way to share my musings. I'd appreciate your thoughts.
I was fascinated by the questions you asked and the (remarkable) consistency of the answers. (That's what you get for moderating comments -- everyone speaks up thoroughly instead of building on what has gone before. It's illuminating.) Since I am nothing like a theologian, I was not particularly competent to give answers. But as a consultant and a business coach, questions are my business. And the answers you get always depend on the questions you ask. Your questions were, legitimately, about the Catholic Church's view on particular things. That's the right approach because, as you've noticed, if you ask individual Catholics what their particular opinion is, you'll get a wide and unhelpful range of answers. But there's a way that answers to those questions, good as they may be, might not really address the particular issue at hand.
There is a difference between Catholic and Evangelical mindset. (I'm going to speak in wide generalities for the sake of making a point. Please graciously impute more nuance than I'm articulating.
N.B. - A bit about my background: Raised Catholic, spent 15 years with late husband and family as Presbyterian, began considering return to Catholic Church around 2001, then did so about a year after his death (Easter, 2004). Long-time participant in interdenominational intentional Christian community, so I'm coming from a background of respect and familiarity with key commonalities and differences among denominations.])
In my view, most orthodox Christians share a temptation toward legalism, stemming from the human desire to avoid uncertainty and construct as much solid footing for ourselves as possible. If we learn something from God, we tend to want to extrapolate it to (1) others, and (2) situations that appear similar.
This plays out differently in Evangelicals and Catholics. For Protestants, doctrine and practice issues are determined at the level of congregation, presbytery, synod, reformed-branch-of-original-denomination and the like, often adapting (healthily or not) to cultural or situation-specific understandings. Therefore, it's not unexpected that we might find, for example, formal acceptance of finely-tuned analyses of the precise mechanisms of grace, salvation and predestination; establishment of unswerving primacy of one scriptural principle (i.e. wifely submission in marriage) to others (charity to the poor, say); or pastoral practices, beyond those found in scripture, that would foster a sense of community (such as prohibitions against drinking or dancing).
This desire for certainty seems to work itself out different in Catholics. It doesn't happen as much at the institutional level. Despite sometime appearances, the Catholic Church does not make "policy pronouncements" about issues unless it has been necessary at some point in history to do so, either because of a pressing leading of the Holy Spirit or in order to counter an error that is widespread and dangerous enough that it needs to be addressed. So we find the Church being very specific about, for instance, the truth that Jesus was fully God and fully man from the very beginning, or the fact that it is solely by God's grace and not our merit that we are saved. (See CCC para. 2009.) But it is not specific about the exact method by which that grace is made available to us because there isn't a clear understanding that's been given to the Church as a whole by the Holy Spirit. Respected and honored Catholic theologians have often expressed disagreeing ideas on important topics, and frequently either is held as acceptable for a Catholic to believe.
But, we have this desire for solid ground. So individual Catholics, in my experience, might experience more of a temptation to individualized scrupulosity. They may hairsplit about the things the Church has, in fact, already said. They may ask their parish priest exactly how high their temperature must be in order for them to be too sick to go to Mass. They may be critical of couples who choose to limit their family size, even if done so within the guidelines acceptable to the Church. They may lose sight of the fact that all prayer, devotion to saints, even frequent participation in the sacraments are only vehicles God uses to increase our union with him rather than ends in themselves.
Well, Michael, that is turning into quite a treatise from someone who is spectacularly unqualified to so do. But there is a point to this.
A number of the questions you asked really have the answer, "It depends." For instance, you brought up the situation of a woman whose husband discourages her conversion to the Catholic Church. I have a friend who is as Catholic as you can possibly be without being fully received into the church, but out of charity toward her (solidly Christian) husband who would have a strong antipathy toward her converting and leaving the church life that they have shared as a family, she is waiting and asking God to work in the situation. In my opinion, my friend is firmly in the middle of God's will for her life. However, another situation might call for another action. There are objective things that are right and wrong and will never change. But there are sometimes pastoral-application issues in which wisdom and counsel can be brought to bear. It's one reason that the ordained priesthood, the confessional, and the tradition of spiritual directors can be enrichments to Catholic life.
So, although there are non-negotiables that we need to accept as Catholics, there are many questions on which there are numerous acceptable answers. One of the questions facing a prospective Catholic is: "Can I accept the fact that there will be people in full communion with this Church who decidedly disagree with me on this?". When I was returning to the Church there were a number of issues I decided to wait and consider from inside the house rather than do it while I was lurking in the front garden, so to speak. The real presence of Jesus in the sacraments - yes, I was right there. The competence of God to preserve the Church as a whole from serious error - yes, I was there. An exact understanding of how I could draw near to Jesus by drawing near to Mary - well, that was going to take some time. But it wasn't necessary, and I was able to trust that there was a non-heretical understanding that I would enter into sooner or later. But I had to humbly accept that perhaps some of these people who I thought might be a little "off the deep end" might be further along in an understanding of the truth than I was.