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Honesty has nothing to do with it

June 27, 2013

My post about leaving the Church, specifically my claim that advising someone to leave the Church is always an evil act, has generated some thoughtful questions. I can respond to a few of them.

The Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen gentium (1964) 14 states: “Whosoever, therefore, knowing that the Catholic Church was made necessary by Christ, would refuse to enter or to remain in it, could not be saved” (my emphasis). No other qualifications (such as “being honest” about not remaining in the Church) attenuate this crucial assertion regarding, of all things, eternal salvation.

To leave the Church as above (no matter how: honestly, angrily, casually, whatever) precludes salvation and is therefore an evil act. To advise someone to do something that (no matter how it’s done: honestly, angrily, casually, whatever) is evil, is itself an evil act. So, to advise a Catholic to leave the Church is to do an evil act. If such advice is given by a priest, it’s “evil-er” (based on the status of the actor); if such advice is given to the especially vulnerable, it’s “evil-er” (based on the status of the victim), but no matter who does it to whom, it’s an evil act.

One may, in accord with standard moral theology, grant that many people who leave the Church do not know that it is necessary for salvation and so do not (in that respect) fall within the purview of LG 14; others might be so emotionally and/or psychologically malformed (even by experiences within the faith community!) as to not perform their action(s) with sufficient freedom, and thus might be excused leaving the Church. But these and other factors go only to assessing personal culpability for one’s evil action; they do not rehabilitate the evil action itself.

Likewise with advising people to leave the Church (for the sake of “honesty”, or “to reform the institution”, or “to show solidarity with X-Y-Z”, or to save on taxes, etc.), people rendering such advice might not adequately understand the evilness of their advice or enjoy sufficient interior freedom themselves in offering it—thus, they might not be fully responsible for their advice, but their advice does not therefore become good. It is still advice toward performing an objectively evil act, and such advice can never be good. Ever.

To expand on one point made in my original post, precisely in light of the gravely evil character of advice to leave the Church, one should be slow to interpret comments, especially from some Catholics known for their orthodoxy, about someone’s “honesty” in leaving the Church as if such remarks constituted advice to leave the Church. For starters, the word “honesty” can be used a lot of different ways, and we should, I think, be slow to impose one possible interpretation on another’s words if that interpretation changes the import of the other’s words from, say, “act honestly” to “do evil honestly”. That’s nonsense: Was any one more honest than Satan when he screamed at God “Non serviam!”

Bottom line: if you’ve left the Church, come back, go to Confession, and get about your life. If you’ve advised people to leave the Church, stop it, go to Confession, and get about your life.

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