As a priest, without modifier liberal/conservative or orthodox/heterodox, I, too must counsel those who seek my pastoral advice. Moreover, I must be satisfied that the advice and teaching I relate is sound. It cannot be what I think or feel is right. In providing this ministry, I must think with the Church, and explain, as best I can, what she teaches with mercy and tenderness, surely, but also with clarity. To be “truly diverse” is not the question about what is needed for God’s people. What is truly needed is objective and moral truth that is not mine or yours but God’s which can be known and conveyed with prayer, with discernment, and with union with the Church in thinking with rather than against her. I will not call someone else sexist, homophobic, or corrupt knowing that I, too, am a sinner who seeks fidelity for me and for others and God’s mercy and forgiveness. But I must not be paralyzed in failing to convey what the Church teaches and why it teaches when my responsibilities as priest, teacher, and disciple are exercised. This is the challenge of discipleship that is not open to some but to all in occasions appropriate to their calling as followers of Jesus Christ. However, if “progressives” conclude that they do not need the Roman Catholic Church to be Catholic and seek my response to what they have concluded, I will accept the summons and argue respectfully why the Church considers such conclusions erroneous.
If I may be so bold as to offer advice to lawyers, I think there has been a loss of the distinction between dissenting from the Church and struggling with a Church teaching. It is common for a Catholic to struggle with one or more of the Church teachings. Each of us will find at least one teaching of the Church that is difficult to fully appreciate or understand. It doesn’t seem intuitive. The easy thing to do at this point is to become a dissenter. We decide that we will disagree with the Church and reject this teaching. We then spend our time trying to bolster our arguments for why we are right and the Church is wrong. Doesn’t that seem a bit arrogant? After all, as Catholics we believe the Church is the One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic Church, founded by Christ, and protected by the Holy Spirit from error in matters of faith and morals. To say we are right and the Church is wrong in matters of faith and morals is in effect to say we are smarter than the Holy Spirit.
The more difficult path, but the one we are called to take, is to embrace the struggle we have with a given teaching. We must pray about it. We must study it. We must reflect on it. We must not reject it! With God’s grace the teaching will grow clearer. This often doesn’t happen easily or quickly. Believe me. I have struggled and still struggle to accept several teachings. It is definitely an exercise in humility. However, I can also say that honest, faithful study with a truly open mind and heart always leads me to the wisdom of the Church. Therefore, rather than expending energy to defend dissent, it is much more valuable to seek to think with the Church. Sentire cum Eccesia.