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Are You a Catholic Conservative or Progressive?

"I use the terms progressive and conservative, when referring strictly to political views, but not when referring to the Catholic faith, which is above them. The Church must not be put into a box."

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In my work of forming lay Catholic leaders for civil society, I am often asked whether my Catholic apostolate or myself as a Catholic are conservative or progressive. But I reject the premise that there are two types of Catholics.

I am not writing here about the multiple Charisms the Holy Spirit blesses the Church with, represented in various religious orders and lay-led movements, associations, etc. I am also not talking about our individuality and the gifts, talents and charisms which God gives us.

No, this piece is about that false premise that there are two ideological "camps" within one Catholic Church. While I don't deny that unfortunately polarization exists in the Church. Mine is precisely an invitation to reject it, and to reject the idea that there are two genuine ideological paths in Catholicism.

Conservative or progressive are labels which are a better fit for speaking of politics. And the Church precedes all political parties, and ideologies. Being Catholic is a lot more than politics. Being Catholic is being in relationship with a person and accepting everything this person has presented as Truth. Our allegiance to Christ and the Catholic faith should come before our allegiance elsewhere.

I think the real question people should ask is whether as Catholics we are faithful to the Magisterium or not. There are not two, a Catholic conservative and a Catholic progressive, religions. There’s only one Catholic faith!

While we each have individual political views and positions, and there are both, areas where our faith grants us prudential judgment to differ between one another, and areas where we CANNOT differ, if we truly are Catholic, we must accept ALL Catholic teaching! Catholicism is not a democracy, or a buffet line.

If we are faithful, we then inform our political and all other decisions based on one set of teachings, (Found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church), and do not pick and choose only the ones we like. But often, political decisions are difficult, because in politics there are never political parties or candidates that perfectly represent the values of the Gospel, that perfectly reflect Catholic values.

Still, we must make decisions, considering a Catholic hierarchy of values which places the defense of the dignity of the human person as the first consideration, and very often must opt for the lesser evil. This is Catholic teaching!

Yes, we must live integrated Catholic lives, and bring our faith and conscience into our political decisions, absolutely! This discernment will inevitably place us, individually, in the political spectrum in our local context. But let us not taint the Catholic faith itself by adding manipulative adjectives to it.

Now that we are in an election year in the US, I encourage you to reject the conjectures conservative or progressive when referring to your Catholic faith.

I use the terms progressive and conservative, when referring strictly to political views, but not when referring to the Catholic faith, which is above them. The Church must not be put into a box. In my politics, I may be a conservative. In my faith, I am a Catholic, no adjective needed here.

Ultimately, using progressive or conservative when referring to the Catholic faith misleads some into believing that there are different sets of beliefs we can choose to adhere to while remaining Catholic, as if the Church was a sort of ideologically pluralistic society. This is dangerously untrue.

We belong to one, holy Catholic and apostolic Church. We accept all its teachings. Don’t ask me if I am a conservative or progressive Catholic. Ask me if I adhere to all the teachings of the Church. The answer is yes. I am a Catholic.

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