Referring to Michael Novak's article, "The Pope Will Lead the Way Into the 20th Century" (Op-Ed Page, Sept. 8), I would like to suggest that what makes most Catholics who disagree with the Pope on many issues (e.g., birth control, optional or required celibacy for priests, consecrating women to the priesthood, sexual morality, etc.) stay in the church is their belief in and their need for the sacraments, especially the Eucharist.
Novak is right in saying that there has always been dissent among Catholics. So why then does he bemoan that fact now? Catholic theologians don't even agree about "natural law" or about when or how often Popes in the past have spoken "ex cathedra." When I took instructions in Catholicism before my formal conversion, the priest told me that as a well-educated person I had a moral obligation to acquaint myself with and understand the "official" teachings of the church (whatever they might be at the moment; they do change!) but ultimately I must answer to my own conscience.
Because of limitations of space, I am sure, Novak doesn't distinguish between church law and God's law. Issues like priestly celibacy and the ordination of women are church laws, "accidents" of the church, which can be changed without affecting the essence of Catholicism. Belief in the presence of Christ in the Eucharist (though in what sense Christ is present is a thorny, controversial issue), in the sacraments, is the essence of Catholicism. Moral teachings are somewhat in between.