Important Disclaimer! This post is not about who is a "better" or "holier" person than another. As I have said countless times on this blog, only God can read and judge hearts and souls. This post seeks to address only what objectively constitutes the "fringe" of Catholicism vs. what constitutes the normative or mainstream.
A non-Catholic reader, Johanne, left an interesting comment during a recent discussion on this post.
[A]s a non-Catholic, I only know if someone SAYS they're a Catholic--I can't evaluate whether or not they are living out their faith. For all I know YOU are not a "real" Catholic. I don't mean in any way to imply that you're not, and it's not anyone's obligation to offer their credentials to me, or anyone else. I'm just sharing my bemusement when I hear religious folks claim that other members of their faith are not "real" members of their faith. At times I have described conversations I've been a part of on "The Bubble" to other Catholics and have been told you sound like members of a "fringe." I'm not saying they're accurate, I'm just saying it's confusing. I guess that's why there are so many religions and so many sects within those religions. People feel a need to find their niche.
The sentiments are nothing new; faithful Catholics hear this sort of thing a lot. Let's look at it: "Fringe" implies that we are on the margins of the Faith, and outside of the mainstream of Catholicism. Interestingly, many Catholics who identify me or the Catholics from this blog as "fringe" have the same thoughts about Pope Benedict XVI. They see him as being extremist, or out-of-touch, or stuck in the past. They have their own ideas about what Catholicism is or should be or must one day become.
And therein lies the problem. Most American Catholics are not operating within the Catholic paradigm!
The Catholic paradigm is hierarchical. We have a Magisterium*. In the Catholic religion, we have an earthly standard-bearer, a touchstone for orthodoxy, and a final authority: The pope. The pope is normative for our Catholic Faith, and he can never be on the fringe, but only in the center. The pope guards and protects the unbroken teachings from Christ, and hands them down, intact. Unlike Protestant denominations, doctrinal truth is not up for a vote, and the faithful cannot pick and choose what is or is not a part of the Faith.
But many American Catholics, unaware of this paradigm (or simply disliking it), live as practical Protestants. They refuse to submit to the authority of the pope, reject some or most of the Deposit of Faith, and then label as "extreme" those Catholics who accept the entire Faith. But that's the wrong perspective, of course. In fact, the further away one gets from embracing all the teachings of the Church, the closer he gets to the "fringe".
Here's a good illustration. At the great Easter Vigil -- the universal Church's most important liturgy of the year -- those being received into the fullness of the Catholic Church recite these words at the sacred altar of God:
“I believe and profess all that the holy Catholic Church teaches, believes and proclaims to be revealed by God.”
This remarkable statement is normative, mainstream Catholicism. It is the very basis of what makes us Catholic. A Catholic who speaks these words and means them is not on the "fringe" of Catholicism, but resides in her very center.
The question may arise, then, just what are the teachings of the Church? Thankfully, that's easy to know. Again, look to the pope. Look to the unchanging teachings of the Church, which have been handed on for 20 centuries. Look to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which Blessed John Paul the Great called a "sure norm for teaching the faith" and "a sure and authentic reference text." No one has to wonder what the Church teaches, as it's all there for everyone, including non-Christians, to see.
Church teaching is no mystery, and I'm guessing that even dissenting Catholics know the basics. Johanne, ask your Catholic friends what the Church teaches, officially, about homosexual "marriage". Ask them what the Church teaches about abortion, or about contraception. Ask them what the Church teaches about Christ's resurrection, or Mary's perpetual virginity. Chances are good that they already know what the Catholic Church teaches, even if they disagree.
And Johanne, please invite your Catholic friends to read this post. I'd be most interested to hear their reasons for classifying me and others here as "fringe". I truly am curious as to their evidence or thoughts on that. They will be treated respectfully, as you know!
Ultimately, I'd like them to know that faithful Catholics, like those you might find here in the Bubble, are not "fringe" or on the freakish edge of Catholicism; we're simply folks who strive, first and foremost, to be faithful and obedient (oh, that word!) to the Magisterium, living in the the heart of Christ's Church, where there is plenty of room for everyone.
*Magisterium: The teaching authority of the Catholic Church, comprised of the body of bishops in union with the pope.