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In the latest Catholic Herald our good friend Francis Phillips tackles the thorny question of how the Church should react when Catholic politicians in powerful places (in this case, the current VP, Joe Biden, and the likely next one, Tim Kaine) say or do things which create scandal in the minds of the faithful – such as blessing a gay marriage or endorsing abortion: the Church does not support either of these things. The obvious response is that these men have a right to advocate what they do – ‘it’s a free country’ after all. That is perfectly true, and as an ardent defender of the right to free speech (not only on ideological grounds, but also on the grounds that I have always been sure that I’d be one of the first to be silenced), I would never suggest that they should not have the right to do and say what they want. Of course, you might respond, ‘but what if they were acting illegally?’ My response would be twofold: if anyone knows a way of preventing people doing illegal acts, let us all know; and we have a thing called the Law, which provides appropriate penalties for those committing them. Thus, as in any balanced society, rights come with responsibilities, and actions have consequences. You have the right to say and do what you want, but the responsibility to do so within the Law; go beyond that and there will be consequences.

We might, perhaps, expect the same set of principles to apply in the Church. Of course, Scripture advises us against getting the secular authorities involved in disputes between Christians (a sensible precaution even now, but an essential one when the New Testament was being written), and states that we should take the matter up, first with the individual, and should that fail, we should go via the Church. Francis quotes Cardinal Burke’s sensible words on the issue of what to do about those who take a stand against the teaching of the Church. They should, he suggests, be told

“to make their public actions consistent with the moral law taught by the Church; otherwise it would no longer be possible for them to receive Holy Communion.”

But this has been something no Bishops’ conference has been willing to do. This raises a question not considered by the writers of Scripture – what do you do when you take it to the Church and get no reaction?

It might, of course, be the case that a ‘private word’ has been had with the erring politicians; it might equally be the case that there is some good reason (unfathomable to the rest of us mere mortals) why nothing is said or done to indicate disapproval. But it is hard to escape the conclusion that the failure to take any action is, itself, a further cause of scandal to ‘we the people’. But it might, perhaps be said that ‘we the people’ don’t really care and we’re happy to let our politicians go with the zeitgeist, perhaps even in the hope that Tim Kaine has that it will help bring the Church into the modern era. So much the worse for ‘we the people’. The Church did not invent its dogmatic teaching, it defined it from what it has received from the Apostles, and if every Catholic in the world agreed that Jesus was just a very good man but not the Son of God, that would not alter the fact He is the Son of God. The same is true of popular views on issues where they conflict with Church teaching.