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It is characteristic of our society in the West, and symptomatic of what is wrong with it that a group of ‘prominent Catholics’ in San Francisco should have taken out an expensive advertisement in a newspaper to criticise their Archbishop for reiterating Catholic teaching. Even the inimitable satirist, Bruvver Eccles, had trouble making an extremely funny post as weird as the original. The Archbishop’s reiteration of Catholic teaching on matters such as same-sex marriage and women and the ministry seems to have upset a set of wealthy Californians who, having funded pro-abortion candidates for years unhindered by the diocese, have clearly decided it is time that the Pope wised up and listened to the ‘prominent people’ of the diocese rather than all that old stuff the Church has taught from the beginning.

It would be tempting to respond in kind and call for them to be disciplined, but, of course, so wide are they of the mark about the Church that that will not happened, and many less prominent people will be upset that it has not; how, they will wonder, can people do this sort of thing with no consequences? The consequences are there and will be for them until they repent. The Church does not need to follow the example of outraged liberals who cannot bear to hear any view other than their own in the public sphere. It teaches the truth, its people need to hear more of that, some of us think, but even if every ‘prominent person’ in the entire world said that the teaching of the Church was wrong, it would prove nothing we don’t already know, and it would change nothing: fallen mankind seeks to place its wisdom in front of God’s, and that is as destructive now as when our first parents listened to the serpent.

It may well be that many badly-catechised cradle Catholics do not understand the teachings of the Church, and are correspondingly outraged when they realise that they do not support the secular ‘wisdom’ of the age. It is, no doubt, kind of them to offer their poorly-formed consciences as guides to the successor of St Peter, but they might be better off finding a church which agrees with them in the first place; there are, after all, enough to choose from.

Authority in the Church inheres in the Magisterium. The Pope, as head of the College of Bishops and successor of St Peter, ‘possesses supreme, full, immediate, and universal ordinary power in the Church’. When the College of Bishops is united with the Popes, then their pronouncements, even if not declared to be so, have the force of infallibility (CCC 891); without the Pope, the College’s pronouncements have no authority (CCC 883). Their first job is to preach the Gospel of Christ to all men (CCC 888) and if the ‘prominent people’ of San Francisco reject that, it is no surprise – the rich and powerful have always had more trouble with repentance than the poor and lowly, although all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.

What the Pope and Bishops say when united commands ‘religious assent’ from the faithful (CCC 892), and if the latter cannot agree with it, then they should seek the Sacrament of reconciliation and they should pray, because they have sworn to believe all that the Church teaches. This is hard in our society, perhaps harder than ever before as the relativistic spirit of an age of zero deference to authority nowhere prepares our stubborn and sinful natures for obedience. But that is a cross we have to carry, and if it is the only way of breaking our hearts, which are hard as stone, to receive the Word of the Lord, then so be it.

The ‘prominent Catholics’ of San Francisco would benefit from less time proclaiming their position, and more time in prayer and study of the faith once received.