Is Catholicism becoming a Sect?

The Atlantic has an interesting interview with Richard Sparks, a Chicago priest and bioethicist, who worries that conservative factions in the Church might be leading us out of the public sphere by insisting on being allowed to storm into the private.The background:

Emily Herx was a popular literature teacher at St. Vincent de Paul School in Fort Wayne, Indiana, until she used her medical leave for in vitro fertilization. Herx lost her job and says a church official called her a "grave, immoral sinner." When she appealed to Fort Wayne Bishop Kevin Rhoades, he told her IVF was "an intrinsic evil, which means that no circumstances can justify it." The federal government saw things a bit differently. Herx filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and won -- paving the way for a civil lawsuit.

Some questions after the jump...

Sparks: But with all of these questions, what's right in God's eyes and what's right in terms of civil law wouldn't necessarily be identical.Atlantic: Do you mean the laws of the United States aren't always in line with the Catholic worldview?Not exactly. Here's an example. There are some sexual activities, like anal sex, that used to be considered criminal by civil law and no longer are. Does that mean the majority of people in the state of Georgia think those activities are moral? Maybe not. But the way you'd have to police those activities would be like the Gestapo. It would mean looking into people's bedroom windows with cameras. And we don't want to get into that.Or look at capital punishment. There's a concern that people of color seem to end up on death row more often than white people. That may be because the system is prejudiced against them. So if we can't apply capital punishment fairly, should we apply it at all? Many would say no.If a woman had a spontaneous miscarriage and was living a raucous life, we wouldn't say she'd committed murder. It's partly a question of what's right and wrong. But it's also a question of how we would enforce such a law. What would the implications be of implementing it?In the Emily Herx case, the school did take an official stance against what she was doing and actively enforce it.That's right. And it seems to me the issues going on here are less about IVF and more about how that Catholic school handled someone on the borderline. The question would be, was this handled well pastorally? Was this handled well legally? Some people would say probably not.The school might argue that it has the right to uphold its own values in any way it chooses.Certainly. If you're going to work for a church, or for the Boy Scouts of America, any organization that has values, it's one thing to say that if you don't uphold them they don't want you as a leader. But when they get around to policing people's sexual lives, what is that organization doing?Let's try a few of these. If you have married couples using contraception, does St. Vincent check their medical cabinets? They wouldn't think of doing that. If some people aren't paying their taxes fairly, does the Church fire them? I don't think anyone ever does. What if they're pro-capital punishment? No.Similarly, if you hire a gay teacher who doesn't have a partner, is that okay? What if he does have one? Should he get fired? What if he doesn't have partner, but once in a while he goes to gay bars? Should he get fired then? If there's a Jewish teacher who doesn't believe in Jesus, can she be thrown out? For that matter, what about a Tea Party Republican who doesn't seem to care much about the poor? Do we fire that person from a Catholic faculty?The Catholic Church has always been a kind of universal church. Catholic means broad-minded and sympathetic. But now we're starting to act more like a sect. My worry is that applying these kinds of purity tests can lead to witch hunts.

Eric Bugyis teaches Religious Studies at the University of Washington Tacoma.

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