The first big conflict in the Church was over whether to admit Gentiles to baptism, without binding them to practice all the laws of Moses, and whether Jewish Christians could then associate with them as brothers and sisters in Christ. On this issue two very prominent church leaders, St. Peter and St. Paul found themselves in disagreement. As Paul tells us in his letter to the Galatians, “when Kephas (Peter) came to Antioch I opposed him to his face because he clearly was wrong” (Galatians 2:11). Even though they disagreed on such a crucial matter, these two saints have been forever linked together to such an extent that we celebrate their feast on the same day, June 29.
Recently the New York Times reported that theologian Hans Kung and Pope Benedict XVI met together in the pope’s apartments and afterward had dinner. Hans Kung has publicly differed with Church policies for over forty years but has always insisted that he remains fully a Catholic. Perhaps the dinner recently shared by these two men provides a sign that Catholics can have disagreements on many issues and yet remain brothers and sisters in faith.
While it’s important to inform yourself on the Church’s teachings and to understand the reasons which ground them, I don’t believe that blind obedience is a responsible way to live as a Christian in the world today. The Church needs Catholics who are educated in their faith and able to think critically and test their judgments against the school of human experience.
You ask: at what point does my disagreement with the Church’s teachings become a break with the Church itself? Perhaps it’s important to focus not only on the points of disagreement but the points of agreement. Where are the places where you find yourself in agreement with the Church? What do you receive from the Church? What do you give to the Church, through your membership and participation in its life? What are the ties that bind? In particular, I’d ask the following:
1. Is the Church a place where I discover the presence of Christ?
2. Is the Church, both in my local parish setting and in its universal form, a place where I experience community?
3. In and through my participation in the Church does Christ challenge me to conversion, that is to follow him and become ever more deeply his disciple?
If those three things aren’t happening, then it’s important to find a place where they do, because then your experience of being part of a living community of faith will help to form and shape your questions about particular Church teachings in a way that will keep your relationship with Christ at the center of your faith and life.