If you had asked me as a young Baptist boy to explain the difference between Protestants and Catholics, I would have said that Catholics were the Christians who “have to do what the Pope tells them to do.” Now I’m an old Baptist and realize how naive I was. (I’m more likely to agree with the Pope on social doctrine than do many American Catholics I know.)
I’m still unclear, though, on where Catholics draw the line of demarcation between complete freedom of conscience and deference to magisterial authority. After all, if a Catholic can support abortion and still receive communion, what is off-limits?
One area that I had assumed was clearly in the optional category was papal social teaching. But several years ago, M.J. Andrew made a persuasive argument that the social encyclical Caritas in Veritate was binding on all Catholics: