by Francis Tuson

I have recently been doing a fair amount of reading and research in the areas of Ignatian spirituality, Catholic morality, human sexuality, and Catholic Social Teaching. I have been repeatedly struck by the truth I have come across in many passages. I have been moved frequently with calls to love, mercy, acceptance, charity, openness, and a non-judgmental attitude toward other people.

When viewing recent publicized exchanges between so-called ‘orthodox’ and ‘progressive’ Catholics online, I am extremely pained at the lack of love and charity on both sides of the table. The issues that are currently being fiercely debated – often to the extent that they degenerate into vicious personal attacks and name calling – are hardly areas that define Catholicism.

No matter how drastically one’s views differ, it is always important to remember that one’s opponents, although possibly wrong, are still human beings deserving of respect and dignity. The disengaged, partial anonymity of social media makes this more and more difficult. It is especially difficult to remain civil when discussing contentious issues. When we perceive that our ideologies are under attack, we naturally tend to become defensive.

While I often disagree with the methods and language that many ‘progressive’ Catholics use, as a general rule, I agree with them. The uncomfortable fact is that the ‘orthodox’ Catholics engaging in these arguments try to counter: ‘Love your neighbor’; ‘Have mercy on the sinners’; and ‘judge not lest you be judged’; with: ‘It is a corporal work of mercy to admonish the sinner’; ‘I love them enough to let them know their behavior is taking them to hell’. They also like to quote Church leaders for whom change is such an alien concept, that they choose to ignore Vatican II completely.

These trite, pedantic little slogans and fallbacks require no depth of thought or engagement with the subject matter. They are used to justify the continued prioritization of ideology over humanity.

On the other hand, it is often difficult not to viciously ridicule those whose ideologies not only differ drastically from ours, but are plainly absurd to anyone even remotely reflective and discerning. I, for example, am often guilty of this when I absentmindedly ‘like’ humorous Facebook posts expressing disdain for President Donald Trump and his regime. I find myself often reducing contentious public figures (like President Zuma, President Trump, or Cardinal Sarah) to bizarre caricatures of people, and through this unhealthy habit, lose much of the basic human respect I should retain for them.

Someone for whom I have the utmost admiration for in this regard, is Jesuit Father James Martin. Following the publication of his recent book Building a Bridge, Fr Martin was subject to vicious, personal, and gratuitous attacks on many social media platforms. His response, every step of the way, has been dignified, loving, and charitable: gently refuting specious accusations; urging his attackers to read his book (before making obscene accusations and judgments); and encouraging them to contemplate the issues in the light and love of the Gospel.

We should all, whatever our views are, remember that despite our differences, we are all deeply loved by God, and because of this, all worthy of respect.