“Ask a Priest: Is It Sinful to Disagree With a Church Teaching?”

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Q: Is mere disagreement with official Church teachings as laid out in the Catechism a major sin in and of itself? – A.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: The answer depends on a lot of factors.

There are various levels of teaching within the Catechism. Some are dogmatic. These are divinely revealed truths proclaimed as such by the infallible teaching authority of the Church, and binding on all the faithful without exception.

Some teachings are more precisely called doctrine. These are things that can be derived from Revelation and are taught by the magisterium (the teaching authority of the Church).

Church law, in Canon 752, says that Catholics are to give “religious submission of the intellect and will … to a doctrine which the Supreme Pontiff or the college of bishops declares concerning faith or morals when they exercise the authentic magisterium, even if they do not intend to proclaim it by definitive act.”

Then there are prudential and disciplinary rules, such as those regulating marriage between a Catholic and a non-Catholic.

It’s one thing to disagree with a disciplinary rule; it’s another to disagree with dogma or doctrine. Disagreeing openly with dogma or doctrine can be gravely sinful.

The level of “mere disagreement” can also vary.

Disagreement can take the form of a shrug of the shoulders (“Why does the Church do things that way?”).

Or it can take the form of a mental reservation, such as the case of a serious theologian who privately and sincerely struggles with a teaching.

Or it can take the form of someone whose “disagreement” morphs into public dissent, such as a Catholic who openly supports abortion.

Ideally, we need to believe all the key teachings of the Church and to give a respectful assent to other things such as disciplinary norms.

For even on disciplinary rules, the Church is exercising an authority given by Christ. “Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 18:18).

Now, none of the above excludes debate over certain topics — for instance, rules about the age of confirmation or what kind of music is appropriate at Mass. But this needs to be done respectfully and in the right context.

(For further reading, see Teaching With Authority.)

What is to be avoided is a cafeteria approach to the faith, whereby we pick and choose the teachings that suit our taste. The deposit of faith isn’t a salad bar.


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One Comment
  1. The deposit of FAITH is not a salad bar. I LIKE THAT, Father.

    CHURCH is ‘ONE, HOLY, APOSTOLIC (truth of FAITH handed down from the first 12) The faithful to GOD are
    ‘one body’ IN CHRIST.

    And that ONE BODY IN CHRIST … does include ALL THOSE who are Baptized in THE NAME OF the Father,
    Son, Holy Spirit. Most Christian faith ‘practices’ are in agreement with the DOGMATIC teachings of faith:
    One God, seen in 3 ‘persons,’ Father, Son, Holy Spirit. That the 2nd person of the trinity was born ‘of flesh’
    and yes… MOST agree that the FLESH he was born from was Mary. (opinions differ on the special grace
    of Mary) But most Christians do set up a nativity that shows Mary, Joseph, and Jesus the Christ. There is understanding of The OLD TESTAMENT giving way to THE NEW TESTAMENT of the Bible and a NEW
    COVENANT with God THROUGH CHRIST…. and that morality is found in those 10 Commandments.

    To those who are not FULLY ALIGNED WITH church law of the Catholic Church…only for reason of
    not fully learning of its practices… they are still PART OF THE UNIVERSAL (catholic) church. We ARE ONE BODY and so we pray for those of other faith practices… that they grow in moral virtue. (12 fruits of the
    Spirit of Christ)
    so we PRAY FOR ALL.

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