The following comes from Fr. Robert Barron at Strange Notions:
Recently, two prominent Catholic women—Kathleen Sebelius in an address to the graduates of Georgetown University’s public policy school, and Maureen Dowd in a column published in the New York Times—delivered strong statements about the Church’s role in civil society. Dowd’s column was more or less a screed, while Sebelius’s address was relatively measured in tone. Yet both were marked by some pretty fundamental misunderstandings, which have, sadly, become widespread.
Echoing an army of commentators from the last fifty years, Dowd exults in James Joyce’s characterization of the Catholic Church (drawn, it appears, from the pages of Finnegans Wake) as “here comes everybody.” The word “catholic” itself, she explains, means “all-embracing” and “inclusive,” hence it is desperately sad that the Church, which is meant to be broad-minded and welcoming, has become so constricting. Whether it is disciplining liberal nuns or harassing pro-choice Catholic commencement speakers, the Church has abandoned the better angels of its nature and become intolerant. She concludes, “Absolute intolerance is always a sign of uncertainty and panic. Why do you have to hunt down everyone unless you’re weak? But what is the quality of a belief that exists simply because it’s enforced?” Not only is this narrow-minded aggression un-Catholic, it’s downright unpatriotic. “This is America. We don’t hunt heresies here. We welcome them,” she writes.
The problem here is a fundamental confusion between inclusiveness in regard to people and inclusiveness in regard to ideas. The Church is indeed all-embracing in the measure that it wants to gather all people to itself. The Bernini colonnade that reaches out like welcoming arms in front of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome is meant to carry precisely this symbolic valence. But the Church has never had such an attitude toward all ideologies and points of view. It has recognized, from the beginning, that certain doctrines are repugnant to its own essential nature, or contradictory to the revelation upon which the Church is constructed. This is precisely why, for the past two millennia, theologians, bishops, Popes, and councils have consistently and strenuously battled heresies concerning central Catholic dogmas. They have understood that the adoption of these errors would fatally compromise the integrity of the Church.
Truth be told, any community must, if it is to survive, have a similar “intolerance.” The Abraham Lincoln Society would legitimately oppose the proposal that its members ignore Lincoln and concentrate on the study of Winston Churchill; the USGA would find repugnant the suggestion that Pebble Beach be turned into a collection of baseball diamonds; and the United States of America indeed aggressively excludes those committed to the eradication of fundamental American principles. The Catholic Church is not a Voltairean debating society; it is a community that stands for some very definite things, which implies, necessarily, that it sets its back against very definite things. A Church that simply “welcomed” heresies would, overnight, cease to be itself.