Should dissenting Catholics be encouraged to leave the Church?

I’m starting this thread because a discussion on a “social justice” thread about gay marriage has spun off this sub-topic, and I expect the moderators to announce any time now that it’s gotten off topic.

I am myself in agreement with Catholic teaching on sexuality (women’s ordination, as many here know, is much more difficult for me), but I oppose strenuously the claim made by many here that people who are dissenters (like Fr. James Alison, whose theological work I respect immensely) are acting in bad faith and should just leave the Church. I will repost my typology for discussing how different people relate to Church teaching on controversial issues, and then my latest response to the poster “Zoltan Cobalt.”

There are three propositions relevant here, to which one may assign varying degrees of probability.

  1. The Catholic Church is the true Church (i.e., all Christians ought to be in communion with Rome and Rome will never teach an error such that faithful Christians would have to break communion with Rome in order to remain faithful)

  2. The Catholic Church teaches X, in such a way that if it ceased to teach X it would be admitting that proposition 1 was false.

  3. X is false.

If one ranks the probabilities in the order I listed above–if one is more certain that Catholicism as a whole is true than that X is the permanent, unalterable teaching of the Church or that X is false–then one should remain Catholic. But even if one gives 2 or 3 a higher probability than 1, or 3 a higher probability than 2, one should remain Catholic. The only point at which it would be dishonest to remain Catholic would be if one were more certain of both 2 and 3 than of 1. that would mean that, functionally, one no longer believed 1.

It’s a bit different for someone like myself looking in from the outside, but in terms of whether there is any insuperable obstacle to becoming Catholic the same principle applies.
The “X” that bothers me most is the doctrine that women are incapable of being ordained.
But even then, it is a very close call for me whether 2 or 3 is more probable, and I definitely give 1 a higher probability than either.

This framework gives us six possible attitudes to Catholic doctrine, arranged in three pairs from most orthodox to downright heretical.

123 or 213 would be the normal order for an orthodox, fairly contented Catholic. In both you are relatively confident that the Church is true and that the Church teaches the doctrine in question, over against any questions you may have about the doctrine considered in itself. You might, if left to your own devices, disbelieve X, or on the other hand X may seem obviously true. But as long as you are more certain of 1 than of 2 and of 2 than of 3, it doesn’t make a lot of difference to your peace of mind or your relation to the Church.

The difference between 123 and 213 has to do with the hierarchy of truths. If you hold 213 on a doctrine you are so sure that it’s an intrinsic part of Church teaching that if the Church changed you would no longer believe the Church. Clearly on some things–like the resurrection of Jesus, or the Trinity, or the Incarnation, and probably also the Real Presence and other basic sacramental doctrines, as well as some basic moral doctrines–213 is the proper order. That is to say, some things are higher on the hierarchy of truths than the claims about the Church represented by “1.” But if you put 1 higher than 2 (either 123 or 132), then you are so confident in the Church (or relatively uncertain about whether the Church has permanently committed itself to this particular thing) that you would remain Catholic even if, to your surprise and shock, 2 turned out to be false with regard to X.

Another way of putting it, then, is that the more doctrines with regard to which you hold 123 or 132, the higher up (relatively) you put trust in the Church itself, compared to belief in specific doctrines. In an extreme case, you might say that 123 holds for all doctrines–that you believe even in Jesus only on the basis of the authority of the Church. (Augustine is, of course, often quoted to support this, though I question whether he meant it as strongly as that. And if he did, he was flatly wrong.) I think that’s a very distorted way to hold the hierarchy of truths.

But on the other hand, if you hold 213 for pretty much all doctrines, then you are going to be perpentually nervous and on edge, because if the Church ceases to teach what you think it teaches, then you might lose your faith in the Church altogether. “Traditionalist” Catholics tend to hold 213 for a lot of doctrines, while other “conservative” Catholics (the ones who get accused of “worshiping the Pope”) hold 123 for most doctrines.

On women’s ordination, for instance, I have a traditionalist friend who says that if the Church changed her position on this, he wouldn’t be able to believe in the Church any more. That’s a statement of 213.

132 and 312 are the “faithful dissenter” positions, when applied to something that the Magisterium proposes as true. People who hold one of these two positions on a doctrine are more confident that the Church is true in general than that the Church actually teaches the doctrine in question. Thus, they dissent from a particular official stance not just because they think it’s false but also because they don’t think it is, in fact, the permanent teaching of the Church. The difference between them is that the 132 dissenter would submit to the Church if convinced that X was really a teaching of the Church. The 312 dissenter would not. So 132 has a better claim to be a “faithful dissenter” than 312.

321 and 231, finally, are the positions that really do seem incompatible with being a faithful Catholic. If you are sure that the Church teaches something and that it is false–more sure of both of these things than of the truth of the Church in general–then yes, under those circumstances it does seem dishonest to go on being a Catholic.

The only difference between them would be the possible path back to reconciliation with the Church. For 321, this would be more likely to involve being convinced that the Church really didn’t teach the thing in question. For 231, it would be more likely to involve being convinced that the thing was in fact true. So, for instance, there are 321 dissenters who have what most of us on this forum would consider seriously mistaken views of Church teaching. They don’t actually reject what the Church teaches but what they think it teaches. There are others who may reject things that many on this forum believe, but regarding which there is real debate among Catholics.

This is a response to Zoltan Cobalt’s post on the “Why is the Catholic Church so obsessed with the gay issue?” thread. I had raised my standard examples of apparently mistaken Church condemnations, Exsurge Domine’s condemnation of Luther’s rejection of the burning of heretics and the condemnation of Quesnel for saying that everyone should read Scripture. To this Zoltan responded:

That is not the historian’s job. That you put it this way shows how corrupting your way of thinking is. You are demanding that a historian massage the evidence to make it fit your ideology.

The theological explanation is simple: infallibility does not cover everything Popes say, and obviously doesn’t cover these two statements. There is no conflict here that I can see with official Church teaching, if that teaching is understood in a fairly “minimal” way. That’s the problem–you guys (i.e., conservative Catholics on the Internet with a yen for excommunicating people) want to make big expansive claims for just how much Church teaching really is infallible, and you run smack up against the historical evidence when you try to do that.

All I said was* why join a club if you don’t like the rules?*

And you don’t think it’s blasphemous to compare the Church to a club?

That just isn’t how the Church works. The irony is that your approach here is fundamentally Protestant. The only context in which your remark makes sense is one in which there are a bunch of legitimate churches and you choose the one whose “rules” you like. Yet you seem to see yourself as the defender of Catholic orthodoxy:shrug:

Quite frankly, those who reject Church teachings and speak out against them have essentially “left the Church” and need no encouragement. I know a lot of former Catholics who took Vatican II as “official” encouragement to leave.

I don’t know anyone like that. I do know people who have left because of what they see as the conservative backlash in recent years.

It is right and proper, today, to question anything that “sounds” like Church teaching…but ain’t. It is also right and proper to question AUTHENTIC Church teaching to gain a better understanding. But once understood, it is not right and proper to reject authentic teachings as some of Jesus’ disciples did when they said: “…these are hard teachings. How can anyone follow them?”…and walked away.

Of course. My point concerns the difficulty of discerning “authentic teachings,” and the fact that this can’t simply be done by noting which things Church authorities say in a very stern and official way.

Wow…murderers of souls. That’s a little heavy for just defending my Faith.:knight1:

“Just defending my faith,” he says, as he happily drives people away from that very Faith. . .

It isn’t “your faith.” You don’t own it. It’s the faith of Christ and the Apostles. It’s the faith of the poor, the doubting, the despairing. It’s a faith that has routinely been betrayed by its most zealous “defenders.”

That’s nothing to be proud of…

I was teasing. Most of the RCIA directors I’ve dealt with seemed capable of taking me in stride.

But, you know, Edwin…I simply cannot lay my finger on the part that says: “Now, if any of the faithful do not agree, reject or expect the Church to change its mind…well its OK.”

Nor would you. First of all because that’s not what I said. And secondly because I was not citing this document as one that supports my position. It is a document that gives me great difficulties. I think that there are places where Ratzinger has spoken much more sympathetically of people who struggle with various teachings of the Church than he was going to do there. But more to the point, some of the views he holds would have been considered horrifying in the past.

I really feel odd about pointing out Church history to a PhD in church history but…check your notes on the Council of Trent.

What you should feel “odd” about (i.e., you should stop doing it) is vaguely telling people to “check their notes” instead of saying “in Session V [or whatever] the Council said X, which contradicts what you just said in this specific way.” You seem rather allergic to doing this for some reason. I have encountered this tactic over and over again on this and other forums. Some people really like to try to get the other guy to do their work for them. (Indeed, it’s quite possible that I’ve slipped into this myself at times, though I try to avoid it.) I’m not falling for it.

Bringing it up to today…The U.S. bishops have conceded that Catholic teaching has accepted the principle that the state has the right to take the life of a person guilty of an extremely serious crime.

If there is no other way to defend society, yes. But the Church does not urge the state to treat heresy as a serious crime.

Did it ever occur to anyone that Luther was trying to save his own skin…? There was a good chance his actions could have led him before the High Inquisitor.

Do you mean Prierias? Or is this just a colorful way of speaking without specific content?

No wonder he condemned the death penalty for heretics.

Oh, I think it’s an entirely legitimate observation that he had himself among others in mind, and I’m sure that’s exactly what Eck and the Pope thought (Eck was widely believed to be the real author of most of Exsurge Domine–or rather the one who determined to use the “condemn a bunch of propositions without context” format and the one who selected the propositions). But as a practical measure this wasn’t likely to help him, since it just added one more reason for him to be condemned. I mean, the Pope wasn’t going to say, “since you, heretic, don’t think heretics should be burned, we won’t burn you.” Any ruler who was going to be persuaded by Luther that heretics should be burned would also be persuaded that Luther wasn’t a heretic.

But all of this is beside the point. What matters is that it clearly was against the will of the Spirit for heretics to be burned. The burning of heretics is one of the greatest disgraces in the history of the Church, and Leo’s condemnation of Luther’s righteous criticism of this abominable practice is a scandal.

Burning at the stake…I don’t think so. England was doing worse to Catholics and priests long after the inquisition died down.

If you mean the Spanish Inquisition, it did have most of its victims in the first 50 years or so according to Kamen, so before the mid-sixteenth century (whereas the worst persecution of Catholics happened in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries). The Roman Inquisition just got going then, though, although it didn’t have anywhere near as high a body count. The last person executed for heresy that I know of was killed in Spain in 1826. The last Catholics to be executed in England for religious reasons were killed in the early 1680s in connection with the so-called “Popish Plot.”

I’m not sure whether or not I agree that hanging, drawing, and quartering is worse than being burned alive. It does seem ickier somehow, although they would both of course be awful.

But specifically I was speaking of burning. That particular form of punishment has, in fact, been used more by Christians than by Muslims and more by Catholics than by Protestants.

Even in this country…Salem Mass.

The Salem trials were one outbreak of craziness, whereas Europe had outbreak after outbreak for decades in both Protestant and Catholic territories. And Salem didn’t burn anyone that I know of–they hung them, and I think in some cases pressed them to death (as was also done to some Catholics in England).

Heck, Muslims burned a Jordanian pilot alive just last February. We haven’t beheaded or burned anyone in centuries…:shrug:

But historically, my statement holds. While there have been a few cases of burning being used by Muslims in the past, it has not been common, and the fact that ISIS uses this method is one of the points on which it has been condemned by mainstream Islamic scholars.

And as you keep saying, the Church’s teaching doesn’t change. So how is “we haven’t done it in centuries” relevant? :stuck_out_tongue:

I was responding to your absurd conjecture in a similar manner. But the more I think about it…a law banning heresy would not be objectionable.

Those two sentences are incompatible. If you would not, in fact, object to such a law, then my conjecture was not absurd at all. It was a reasonable case to put, and it has achieved its desired effect–demonstrating that you are in principle a defender of intolerance.

I should say at this point, for those lurkers you are rightly concerned about, that your views are by no means representative of Catholicism.


This post is more to address your 123 scenarios.

Not to be overly cynical, but there are some “Catholics,” probably 321 and 231 in your hypothesis, that aren’t interested being convinced on any Church position. They don’t have some intellectually sound objection. They just have some emotional, tantrum, ad populum view and they aren’t going to be “reconciled” any time soon with apologetics. It will require, perhaps, profound grace or a moving emotional experience in life that reorients them – for this to happen may require a miracle or something close to it. In the meanwhile, for those people to “remain” in the Church does seem scandalous. I think there is a very fair argument to be made that the Church is better off if such objectors are visibly outside the Church. Because they otherwise give the false witness that it’s “okay” to believe such things and remain in good standing.

For your other questionable scenarios, I think #3 might be better qualified if the person thinks X is false BUT X is not a dogmatic matter of faith or morals. Because if one recognizes the Church’s protection from error on dogmatic teaching of faith or morals, then the only way to remain in good standing while disagreeing with such a teaching would be to generate a sound theological argument for why the Church’s position is actually NOT a matter of faith or morals.

I am going to get brave on this one. I have followed the teachings of the Catholic Church, made some mistakes, but am on the ok tract. I watched some you tube videos with a Priest- Ascension , was the name I believe. We are to walk along with all of those who do not follow the rules. I get confused on some of the rules because there are good people out there who do not follow all the rules. We are not to judge. There has been arguments about this. My children learned in Catholic school to do what Jesus would do. We are all made in God’s image. Most of my friends that I could call upon in an emergency do not go to Church. Some are Christian, and some are good people who live a moral life and have beliefs they keep private. We have deep respect for each other and saying God Bless is not uncommon. What would Jesus do? I believe He would be walking with us. The answer to this will be answered, not my man, but by God, the Holy Spirit, and Jesus.

If you believe that, are you not subject to automatic excommunication from the Catholic Church? What you are claiming was condemned as a serious error by Exsurge Domine (#33) and after the condemnation of this error we read:
"We have found that these errors or theses are not Catholic, as mentioned above, and are not to be taught, as such; but rather are against the doctrine and tradition of the Catholic Church, and against the true interpretation of the sacred Scriptures received from the Church. Now Augustine maintained that her authority had to be accepted so completely that he stated he would not have believed the Gospel unless the authority of the Catholic Church had vouched for it. For, according to these errors, or any one or several of them, it clearly follows that the Church which is guided by the Holy Spirit is in error and has always erred. This is against what Christ at his ascension promised to his disciples (as is read in the holy Gospel of Matthew): “I will be with you to the consummation of the world”; it is against the determinations of the holy Fathers, or the express ordinances and canons of the councils and the supreme pontiffs. Failure to comply with these canons, according to the testimony of Cyprian, will be the fuel and cause of all heresy and schism.

With the advice and consent of these our venerable brothers, with mature deliberation on each and every one of the above theses, and by the authority of almighty God, the blessed Apostles Peter and Paul, and our own authority, we condemn, reprobate, and reject completely each of these theses or errors as either heretical, scandalous, false, offensive to pious ears or seductive of simple minds, and against Catholic truth. By listing them, we decree and declare that all the faithful of both sexes must regard them as condemned, reprobated, and rejected….We restrain all in the virtue of holy obedience and under the penalty of an automatic major excommunication…"


How can a simple Catholic whose heart is with the Trinity understand all of this?:gopray::gopray:

Before this thread gets too far along, I think an important clarification to make so there is not confusion for those who have come here thinking they will get actual Catholic answers…

According to CAF apologist Fr Grondin, “The Code of Canon Law currently does not recognize that someone can leave the Catholic Church. You might become a non-practicing member, but the Church’s laws consider anyone baptized Catholic to always be Catholic”.

So while many may leave the full practice of the faith, whether unfaithful, non practicing, not in full communion, not in good standing, or even those who are excommunicated, the Church still considers them to be Catholics. And this would be the case even if some on CAF object to such a person identifying as Catholic. Or even whether the person thinks of themselves as being a Catholic or not.

So a better way of phrasing it might be that those of us who dissent have been encouraged to leave the practice of the faith. Since as Fr Grondin explained the Church doesn’t recognize that someone can actually leave the Catholic Church and instead teaches OCAC.

Just thought an important point to interject to make sure no one was confused on what the Catholic Church actually says about this. Carry on…

This was absolutely beautiful. Besides the fact that of course reconciliation is always possible, indeed still in the end only God knows the heart. mind and soul. God bless.

The burning of heretics relates to matters of jurisprudence and pastoral decisions: the methods the Church chooses in exerting herself in society. It isn’t anymore related to dogma than decisions relating to how to organize the territories of dioceses, how long a priest should be in seminary, how much money should be devoted to X mission, etc.

Of course, even if I think that is an effective explanation, it is a painfully abrupt one for a subject as unsettling to the conscience as the burning of heretics, so let’s go a little deeper.

It isn’t sufficient to look at this retrospectively. We have to go back in time and put ourselves into the boots of the men and women that live in post-Reformation Europe. This was not an age like our own. As contemporary human beings, we know nothing of the joy & stability these people felt in their highly uniformed societies. As 21st century human beings, we are accustomed & habituated to the cacophony of various beliefs swarming our ears, such that it would be just as terrifying for us to go to 1400s Europe as it would be for a man of the 1400s to go to our time. When a king belonged to X religion, it was expected that the entire population also belonged to X religion. Religion, State, and society were so closely & organically interwoven with each other that it was almost impossible to look at them separately. Everybody lived & believed in a certain way, and for most people - except perhaps the highly educated - it was impossible to be any different. Yes, you had men like Isaac Newton who did not believe in the Trinity - but for 99+% of the population, beliefs were so deeply integrated into the world around them that it was almost impossible to escape them.

If we consider the world from this lens, heresy was not merely a personal religious conviction, and why would it be? It was a disruption of the entire order of human community: society, Church, and State. It created rifts between neighbors, on how to live, on how to act, on how to serve. We also have to remember that Catholics and Protestants killed public heretics not private heretics; i.e. people that openly proselytized their beliefs and refused to back down even in the face of death. It was because of how heresy created tangible revolution & insurrection that the State got involved in punishing them. i.e. heresy wasn’t seen as functionally different from highway robbery or murder or arson.

But you already know all of this. The point I’m trying to make is: Protestants, Catholics, as well as Catholic Popes, were human beings, and they responded as 14th-15th-16th men and women were expected to respond when faced with something that caused grave social disruption & insurrections within the world they knew, and the world they knew was a far, far, far more serene place than the world of contemporary man. If they erred in how they responded to public proselyting of heresy, it was an error relating to prudence. I think, if anything, the judgment of God towards how they behaved is actually more lax than the judgements of 21st century men that look back on it. Chaos is our orthodoxy, and it is something we are no doubt ready & willing to kill for as well.

They should be clearly discouraged from taking communion.

But their wish to remain inthe Church, despite disagreement, is a working of Holy Spirit. This is their chance for coming to terms with Church and salvation.


My deep conviction is that traditional preindustrial societies had no other way of imposing social order than by maintaining religious uniformity

Contarini and others, I allow a lot leeway on this forum, as you well know. But this thread is already teetering dangerously on the edge of violating forum rules in more than a few areas.
I’ll let it go, but if someone complains about it and comes to the attention of upper management, I’ll have to close it.
So keep me bored today. It’s Friday. :wink:

I think, whether you are Catholic or non-Catholic, or not quite Catholic yet but will be, as I think you will be Contarini, it is expected that one or all Church teachings will be painful to accept, at least at first.

I’m a 29-year-old man, which is still young compared to most people on this forum, but I’m old enough to have realized that getting people persuaded to a certain world view involves far more than a verbal diatribe. There are deeply embedded values & principles within us that, if they are in conflict with Church teaching, will cause us enormous pain and prevent us from entering into Her, where we will find joy. Things that we simply can’t accept, and “can’t” here is actually an appropriate word.

I think, in your case, the subject of women’s ordination still causes you more pain than what union with the Church would cause you joy. The cause for this pain isn’t coincidental, it is surely connected to your life somehow. By the way you were raised, or the experiences you had, or the conversations you had with your wife or somebody else. Where it stands right now, your pain exceeds your joy at the prospect of union.
But, women’s ordination is a matter of faith. You cannot ever present a fully orchestrated rational argument for why women are metaphysically incapable of receiving the mark of Holy Orders. It isn’t something observable or quantifiable. There is no metric you can use to show why this is. What we have is a Creator who created two distinct ways of expressing our humanity through our bodies: the feminine and the masculine. There are theological arguments and perhaps even some sociological arguments for why this is, but the day will never come where an easily-comprehensible explanation will be available for us that concretely states in red ink whether women can or can’t be ordained. Independent of any divine revelation, you might as well toss a coin in the air to decide whether women can be ordained, or whether men can be ordained, or whether only women can be ordained, or whether only men can be ordained. There is no amount of historical or academic digging that you can do that will provide you peace of mind on this issue. At least, not in the absolute sense. This struggle of yours is supernatural in nature, and concerns the soul and not exclusively the mind.

While I don’t want to suggest anyone leave the Catholic Church, I do think it is a valuable topic to discuss.

The way to discern authentic teachings is not easy, not really. Unless you are a firm believer of 123 (whatever the Church says goes - which I do not consider the best approach to anything you can’t be sure about), then it is your duty to engage mentally in whatever it is you are learning from the religion.

Just to put on perspective. I had trouble with those famous contraceptive teachings of the Church. It made no sense to me. Then I researched a bit (a lot, really), to understand the point of view of the Church.

If this Church is THE Church, then this teaching had to be right and I was wrong. Otherwise, if I found out that I was right, then there is something really wrong with this Church.

Long story short, I found out that nothing good really comes out from contraceptives - and all this “conservative” opinion was formed on my own, making use of academic research, my studies as a nurse, some basic biology, sociology, psychology and anthropology, plus - the Bible. Like, really, my sister is having serious health problems as result of years of taking the pill :shrug:

So, what I thought was a wrong teaching, turned out to be right.

In other teachings that make less sense to me, I either take a 123 position (trust the Church’s judgement) or research it on my own. If it doesn’t really bother me, I let 123 take over. If it DOES bother me, I research until I am back to trusting the Church OR until I am convinced this Church is not the true Church of Christ…

Now, some time after all this doubting, I trust the Church first before questioning her. So far, I have found no errors in the teachings, so I have more confidence in trusting the Church and the Pope (no matter how radical, traditional or liberal the stance - I trust them!). However, as soon as the Pope says anything “bizarre”, I go around trying to understand “why did he say that?” (his words may not be doctrine, but they do have their worth)

Dissenters, however, must feel called to the Church, or they’d leave. They do believe 1, but the 2 is at odds with the 3, which puts 1 in a difficult place. I don’t think they should leave (and this is a recently formed opinion!), but I do believe they must learn to reason - the only variable in this 123 problem is the 3. Only we can change, as the Church, infallible, and the teachings, True, can not and NEED not change.

If the Church is true, then we are the ones who need to change ourselves to fit in; not the other way around…

We haven’t beheaded or burned anyone in centuries…:shrug:

I actually loved this quote! It got me laughing so hard!! MAYBE WE SHOULD! :rotfl: (joking! seriously)

If the Church infallibly declares open season on heresy, I might actually jump out - Jesus told us to go and make disciples, not victims! :knight2:


Well, it’s a bit more nuanced than that. Individual Catholics have a juridic (i.e., legal) relationship with the Church that is permanent. Fr. Grondin’s answer was in the context of the Church’s marriage laws and, as he said, those laws currently apply to all those who have been baptized/received into the Catholic Church.

Nevertheless, looking at it from another perspective/context, people can be heretics/schismatic/apostates and so be outside the Catholic Church…“spiritually” or “practically”, you might say.

In days gone by, there was a distinction made between being a subject of the Church and being a member of the Church. Once a person is baptized/received, he’s permanently a subject of the Church but can cease to be a member. I think that distinction is both helpful and accurate.

To the question posed in the subject of the thread: I think everyone should be encouraged to be in the Church. If they do not subscribe to the minimum requirements of “membership” and do not wish to do so, they should be encouraged to cease presenting themselves as Catholic.


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