On Feb. 29 and March 1 readers of Op-Ed Page were treated to the amazing spectacle of two utterly divergent Catholic viewpoints regarding the nature of Catholic Church teachings in a pluralistic society ("Lack of Dialogue Fosters Church Dissent," by Sister Susan Maloney and "The Church Must Speak in One Voice," by Father Romanus Cessario). Unfortunately, both articles dealt with the issues at a rather superficial level.
Father Cessario, in particular, presents a point of view that fails to engage deeper issues. For example, while it is clear that many American Catholics and others are sometimes puzzled by the "authoritative" teachings of the church and by a church which teaches "so authoritatively," Cessario simply ignores the problem of authority itself, its various meanings and possible applications in a democratic setting. Instead, he draws upon a schoolboy's reading of St. Thomas Aquinas to enlist arguments in support of his a priori acceptance of a given model of authority, a model that he never explains.
This is regrettable particularly because people who do listen to what the Catholic Church teaches might appreciate a discussion of the issue of authority. The nature of authority and acquiescence to it has become perhaps the fundamental point of puzzlement for Catholics and even non-Catholics who are affected by Catholic teachings. If indeed theological discourse is to take place on the Op-Ed Page, then one would hope for a more adequate discussion than that offered by Cessario.