Thursday, May 06, 2010

May the Laity be Critical of it's Pastor, Bishop, Pope, Church?

Here is a recap of the talk I gave Wednesday night in Allentown, PA, for the local Legatus chapter.

The Catechism teaches us that scandal is a serious sin

2284 Scandal is an attitude or behavior which leads another to do evil. The person who gives scandal becomes his neighbor's tempter. He damages virtue and integrity; he may even draw his brother into spiritual death. Scandal is a grave offense if by deed or omission another is deliberately led into a grave offense.


2285 Scandal takes on a particular gravity by reason of the authority of those who cause it or the weakness of those who are scandalized. It prompted our Lord to utter this curse: "Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened round his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea." Scandal is grave when given by those who by nature or office are obliged to teach and educate others. Jesus reproaches the scribes and Pharisees on this account: he likens them to wolves in sheep's clothing.
 
When scandal occurs IN the Church, what is the proper response of the faithful?  Besides being scandalized when clergy misbehave, the laity have the right and often the obligation to say and do something. Mere complaining is not productive and imprudent unrestricted criticism could lead to open dissent and eventual schism or apostasy.
 
Catholicism is a religion of the great BOTH ... AND (et ...et) as Pope B16 told us whereas other faith traditions have adopted the EITHER ... OR (aut ... aut) proposition. Hence, it is not a question of EITHER speak out OR keep quiet, instead, it is a matter of making distinctions then prudently taking action (to speak or to remain silent). As Catholics, we can BOTH say something when necessary AND we can also shut up when appropriate.
 
On matters of faith and morals, the official teaching of the Church as elucidated by the Magisterium requires that we ACCEPT. We are to give an ASSENT of Faith to all defined dogmas.  Rejecting any dogma is DISSENT and it is a serious offense and grave sin. Revelation is the disclosure of supernatural truths by God to man and which are necessary for our salvation. Unlike Science which learns empirical truth by observation and philosophy which discovers rational truth by deductive and inductive reasoning, theology on the other hand, knows religious truth by divine revelation. "From God's lips to our ears" so to speak.
 
Consequently, no scientist can DISSENT from the equation 2+2=4 or that water is H2O. Likewise, no theologian and no believer can deny the divinity of Christ, the Real Presence, the Virgin Birth, the Immaculate Conception, et al.   It is not academic freedom for Catholic colleges to pay professors who deny Magisterial teachings.
 
We can DISAGREE on non doctrinal issues, however. The prudential judgments of Popes, Bishops, Priests are not infallible.  However, disagreement is not synonymous with DISOBEDIENCE.  I disagreed occasionally with my dad but his authority was still valid and in force. My assent or lack thereof has no bearing on the veracity of the issue at hand. My compliance was demanded as my father had authority over me and my brothers. Likewise, as a pastor, some of my decisions and policies were not always met with unanimous agreement but my prudential judgment, though fallible, was still authoritative and I had to consider the common good of the entire parish and not just my own or a few others preferences. Bishops often make prudential judgments their priests, deacons, religious and laity disagree about but must obey and respect since he is the lawful shepherd. I do not have to agree nor like every rule I follow, but as long as it is not a sinful or immoral command, I must comply. Only pride can tempt me to make my will the only one I respect.
 
Jesus warns us in Matthew's Gospel (ch. 7) to NOT JUDGE lest we ourselves be judged. He goes on the say we must remove the wooden plank from our own eye before we seek to get the splinter out of our neighbor's eye.  Christ also admonished us "The scribes and the Pharisees have taken their seat on the chair of Moses. Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example."  No hint of mutiny there.
 
While Catholicism is noted for not being a democracy neither is it a despotic dictatorship.  The pope has full, immediate, universal and supreme authority to GOVERN the Church. His infallibility only extends to his teachings on faith and morals. The PRUDENTIAL JUDGEMENTS  of the clergy and hierarchy are fair game for polite discussion and debate.
 
Yet, even FRATERNAL CORRECTION must be done properly. Discreetly, privately and CHARITABLY.  While St. Catherine of Sienna is best known for her successful persuasion of Pope Gregory to end the Babylonian Captivity and leave the papal palace at Avignon to return to Rome (after 70 years of the papacy being in France), she nevertheless did not advocate unrestricted criticism of church leaders.  Jesus spoke to her in one of her mystical trances:
 
"It is my intention that [church leaders; priests & bishops] be held in due reverence, not for what they are in themselves, but for my sake, because of the authority I have given them ... Because of their virtue and because of their sacramental dignity you ought to love them. And you ought to hate the sins of those who live evil lives ... But you may not for all that set ourselves up as their judges; this is not my will because they are my Christs, and you ought to love and reverence the authority I have given them ... You ought to despise and hate the ministers’ sins and try to dress them in the clothes of charity and holy prayer and wash away their filth with your tears ... When they are less than that you ought to pray for them. But you are not to judge them. Leave the judging to me."
 
Once, a Waldensian lived near Saint Francis of Assisi.  He challenged the founder of the Order of Friars Minor on his love of the priesthood even when local clergy were not doing or being their best.  The heretic asked the Saint about the parish priest nearby who was known to be a prolific sinner.
 
"I don't know whether these hands are stained as the other man says they are. But I do know that even if they are, that in no way lessens the power and effectiveness of the sacraments of God... That is why I kiss these hands out of respect for what they perform and out of respect for Him who gave His authority to them."  The Waldensian left in utter silence.
 
Quite different from today when every wart and blemish of the clergy is publicized on the front pages of the newspaper.
 
At the same time, however, some crimes can only be stopped when their existence is exposed. One must prudently and charitably decide how to inform proper authorities to allow them to initiate in depth and extensive investigation while at all times protecting the reputation of the innocent and remembering the right of due process for every accused, who, by the way, are to be presumed INNOCENT until proven guilty in a court of law.
 
St. Thomas Aquinas in his Summa Theologica said:
 
"When there is an imminent danger for the Faith, Prelates must be questioned, even publicly, by their subjects."
 
Pope Leo XIII:
 
"when circumstances make it necessary, it is not prelates alone who have to watch over the integrity of the faith."
 
Fraternal correction, then, is sometimes obligatory, be it from a peer, a superior or a subordinate.
 
The People of God DESERVE orthodox teaching and preaching as well as valid, licit and reverent sacraments. When they are denied these, they have a right to complain to higher authorities, who ought to listen and remedy the situation. BAD theology + BAD liturgy = BAD morality.  You won't have to look far when liturgical abuses and theological dissent are creeping into a parish or diocese. The misbehavior of the clergy will soon follow, if not already present.  Deacons, Priests and Bishops alike are ordained to serve the spiritual needs of their people.  Giving them half-baked catechesis and banal, pedestrian liturgies are serious abuses. Committing or covering up sexual misconduct is of course the most heinous of clerical crimes but none so worse as the victimization of children.
 
When credible allegations are made, now we have full investigations but are other abuses treated as swiftly?  In a culture where the court of public opinion is adjudicated in the media and by the press, many Catholics are tempted to go the route of public exposure.
 
Cover-up and denial are not solutions but further crimes. At the same time, however, we must preserve dignity and justice and charity, especially the innocent, be they victims or be they the falsely accused.  The Code of Canon Law has a system which some overlooked or bypassed and now the civil law is seen as the last hope. In days gone by, discretion was used to protect the reputation of the victims and their families by avoiding sensational media coverage. Sadly, some guilty offenders and/or their superiors who tried to sweep the dirt under the rug, used the same method to keep a lid on the whole disgusting matter. But that was not the norm nor the rule.  Many times a priest or bishop who had demonstrated some moral weaknesses would be sent away to an isolated monastery. Not for a five week Hollywood rehab treatment, but in perpitude. Cloistered and in total silence, the repentant sinner made amends by spending the rest of his natural life in prayer and penance. Things changed when psychiatrists told bishops that medical science could cure every mental ailment with therapy and/or medication. 
 
Convinced the panacea was found, some naive superiors believed what they were told by the 'experts'.  When proven wrong, however, why aren't the ones who gave clean bills of health to some repeat or serial abusers being sued for malpractice or for millions of dollars? Yes, sometimes bishops were given BAD or INSUFFICIENT or perhaps NO advice on alleged child abusers. The same continues in some places where the clergy are not assaulting children but they are preaching heresy, teaching heterodoxy or engaging in liturgical abuses. 
 
We clergy have to do a better job of fraternal correction of our peers and likewise for the bishops and their colleagues.  The faithful need to speak up and speak out but all of us need to do so with charity and discretion. Since we are fallible human beings, our facts may not always be 100% accurate OR our conclusions may be erroneous. Thus, the presumption of innocence must be maintained while fair and adequate investigations are made.
 
Fraternal correction is not exploitation. It is not judgmental and it is not obligatory. When done properly, however, the accused is given a chance to explain himself and if the answer is unsatisfactory, the recourse is to higher authorities. While there may be some who are jaded in their confidence in the ecclesiastical tribunal system, it has been around for two millennia and is based on Roman Law which goes back almost another thousand years. Unlike English Common Law and American jurisprudence which rely on persuading juries, Roman Law seeks to establish facts and to ascertain the truth more than the protection of individual rights and privileges. When used properly and fully, the innocent can be protected and the guilty punished.
 
Bottom line is that all the baptized have a right to express their concerns to their spiritual leaders especially if someone of that same genre is deficient or defective in his ministerial duties. Publicity should be the last resort when it appears that justice is being denied. Sadly, the devil is able to filter and buffer information needed for superiors to act appropriately.
 
This same methodology can be applied to laity in the public arena, notably politicians. Fraternal correction from their peers must be tried. Urging and pressure from the electorate is another source of powerful influence. When all else fails, clergy need to admonish and warn politicians they risk being denied the sacraments if they continue to deny the unborn their right to life.
 
At the same time, we must have confidence in the promise made by Christ that the gates of hell shall never prevail over Holy Mother Church.
 

12 comments:

Joe of St. Thérèse said...

Agreed, all things in charity

Anonymous said...

Well said, Father! Although I wonder if your argument can apply to some of the Vatican II reforms, like the New Mass? I find it odd that some Protestants (Anglo-Catholics for one) feel comfortable using our Missal. The Tridentine Mass, I think, is a much better representation of our Catholic faith and identity.

Padre Giovanni Trigilio said...

I eagerly await the final printing of the 2002 Roman Missal (replacing the 1970) which will correct many of the translation mistakes and bring the English edition in full conformity to the Latin. When celebrated properly and reverently, the Ordinary Form is edifying. The beauty of the Extraordinary Form stands on its own but I have also seen and experienced in Rome, at EWTN and at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, the full glory of the Novus Ordo done well. Sadly, in many parishes and cathedrals, it has not been the case. I for one am glad Pope B16 gave us full and equal access to both forms of the Roman Rite despite what abberations and abuses have been illicitly done by individuals who have no sense of the sacred.

nannon31 said...

We will repel very intelligent people from converting if we do not
clarify how one responds to mistakes in the ordinary magisterium. In Romanus Pontifex of 1453 by Pope Nicholas V, if you go to the middle of the fourth large paragraph, you will see that the Pope gave Portugal the right to enslave any new native groups who resisted conversion. No Catholic dissented and it propelled Portugal further into the slave trade which Paul III tried to stop in 1537 in a bull which at first attached excommunication to those continuing to follow a series of Popes who confirmed Romanus Pontifex. Spain objected and the excommunications were withdrawn and thus slavery continued by Portugal.
In 1520, Pope Leo X defended "burning heretics at the stake" in Ex Surge Domine rejecting in article 33, Luther's objection to such as "against the Catholic Faith". No Catholic dissented from Leo and such lack of dissent darkened the image of the church.
The bulk of our converts are the less well read but is that a good thing per se. God wants us to be truthful and there are problems with uncritical obedience historically. To deny that is not to be truthful.

Padre Giovanni Trigilio said...

BOTH the Ordinary and the Extraordinary Magisteria are infallible. Only the prudential judgments of the Roman Pontiff are open for discussion. However, unless there is immediate, proportionate and grave evil probable, then no human authority can countermand papal authority. Bishops can be removed and transferred by the Roman Pontiff but no bishop, synod or ecumenical council is equal or superior to the Vicar of Christ. Some may internally disagree but only sinful commands can be disobeyed.

nannon31 said...

Padre Trigilio,
You are at odds with Ludwig Ott. I refer you to Ludwig Ott in the Intro to the Fundamentals of the Catholic Faith...last paragraph of section 8. The ordinary magisterium only is infallible when it is proven to be also the universal ordinary magisterium (a smaller subset). That is why Pope Leo X was using the ordinary magisterium when he defended "burning at the stake" in Ex Surge Domine but his view did not become universal within the history of the Church and is rejected by Vatican II who voided the idea of coercion in matters of spiritual belief.

Padre Giovanni Trigilio said...

When Pope Benedict was still Cardinal Ratzinger, he wrote in 1990 as head of the CDF, INSTRUCTION ON THE ECCLESIAL VOCATION OF THE THEOLOGIAN (Donum Veritatis). That letter explains the levels of teaching authority in the church. Extraordinary Magisterium is either a EX CATHEDRA papal decree (like the Immaculate Conception or the Assumption) or it is the Decrees of an Ecumenical Council (after being ratified and promulgated by the Roman Pontiff). Ordinary Magisterium is the consistent teaching of the Popes and the college of bishops in union with the Roman Pontiff.

Paragraph #23 does use the terms 'ordinary' and 'universal' with regards to the Magisterium. These doctrines are to be given an ASSENT OF FAITH and are considered infallibly true.

It also speaks of NON-DEFINITIVE teachings of the Ordinary Magisterium which require a RELIGIOUS SUBMISSION OF MIND AND WILL of the faithful (c.f. Humani Generis of Pius XII and V2 Lumen Gentium #25)

The 1983 Code of Canon Law had an addendum included in #750 which along with c. 752 makes it clear that there are NON-INFALLIBLE teachings of the authentic Magisterium, and these are clearly espoused as NON-DEFINITIVE, yet they demand OBSEQUIUM, submission of intellect and will.

My point, and I think it is corroborated by Canon Law, Donum Veritatis and even the 1992 Catechism, is that the Ordinary Magisterium is infallible even though it does not give a teaching considered divinely revealed, it is still a DEFININTIVE teaching and is therefore infallible.

Only the NON-DEFINITIVE teachings of the Ordinary Magisterium are considered non-infallible, YET they warrant a religious submission of mind and will.

Some Catholics erroneously believe that ONLY the Extraordinary Magisterium is infallible. That would limit infallible teachings to EX CATHEDRA papal decrees and solemn decrees of an Ecumenical Council (approved by the Pope).

ORDINATIO SACERDOTALIS comes from the Ordinary Magisterium as it is NOT an ex cathedra pronouncement, yet, the CDF and the late Pope JP2 made it clear that the teaching contained in that document (that only baptized males can be validly ordained) is INFALLIBLE teaching.

The other point I want to make is that the faithful are NOT free to dissent from non-infallible (and non-definitive) teachings. While not an assent of faith, these teachings demand a relgious submission of mind and will.

One may only 'dissent' from theological opinions as they are not taught definitively.

I do agree there are some non-infallible teachings of the Ordinary Magisterium but they are NON-DEFINITIVE yet require a submission of intellect and will. There are also infallible teachings of the Ordinary Magisterium which are definitive and demand an assent of faith.

I have no problem saying that BOTH the Extraordinary and the Ordinary Magisteria are infallible since both can and do issue infallible decrees. The Ordinary Magisterium can by choice issue a non-definitive and non-infallible teaching which does not take away the infallibility in general of that Magisterium. Do we not say the Pope is infallible? Yes, when he speaks on matters of faith and morals as universal teacher, etc. But we can use the phrase, can we not? So, too, we can say the Ordinary Magisterium is infallible even though it does not always EXERCISE that infallibility.

nannon31 said...

Padre Trigilio,
Thank you for your earnestness in the matter.
You write: "I do agree there are some non-infallible teachings of the Ordinary Magisterium but they are NON-DEFINITIVE yet require a submission of intellect and will."
Lumen Gentium 25's religious submission of mind and will as you may know was questioned at the Council by several Bishops as being incomplete...not untrue...incomplete since for example, it in my view would have meant in 1521 (a year after Ex Surge Domine) that a Catholic had to believe in burning at the stake for heresy while the same torturous treatment is condemned in section 80 of Splendor of the Truth by John Paul II and in Vatican II. Religious submission of mind and will as an absolute with no exceptions then can be a bad thing at certain historical junctures.

The Theological Commission at the Council did not disagree with the Bishops but did not change the passage but rather referred them to the Moral Theology tomes where exceptions to that submission were allowed prior to the Council and are discussed as for example in "Christian Moral Principles" (1995)by Germain Grisez (very conservative on most things) page 854 (volume one of "The Way of the Lord Jesus") which post dates the Council and allows for the theoretic dissent also regarding the non infallible if the person proceeds through prayer, study, counsel etc which moral theology tomes prior to the Council also noted.
In short history would have been better if Catholics conscientiously objected to the burning at the stake of heretics which was affirmed in Ex Surge Domine yet to do so would have placed them on the side of Luther on that one issue. Luther in effect agreed centuries beforehand with section 80 of Splendor of the Truth. Ergo Leo X stood opposite both Luther and John Paul II as to burning heretics at the stake. Yet had a Catholic agreed with Luther (and John Paul II) at that time, the Catholic would have been in danger of being burned himself since Leo X had within the ordinary papal magisterium said that the position of Luther was against the Catholic Faith.
Thank you for your work on this matter though. It is rare to see such thoroughness on most blogs.

Padre Giovanni Trigilio said...

I respectfully point out that Martin Luther was not on the same page as Pope JP2. In his 1525 "Against the Rioting Peasants" wrote:

'The peasants have taken upon themselves the burden of three terrible sins against God and man; by this they have merited death in body and soul... they have become faithless, perjured, disobedient, rebellious, murderers, robbers, and blasphemers, whom even a heathen ruler has the right and authority to punish ... anyone who is killed fighting on the side of the rulers may be a true martyr in the eyes of God.'

The Peasants thought Luther would have supported their rebellion from the aristocracy since he led the rebellion of the clergy (bishops and priests) from Rome (Pope). He did in fact support the nobility's (German barons and princes) rebellion against the Holy Roman Emperor (allied with the Pope) but the peasants were not as fortunate.

While he may not have advocated burning heretics at the stake, he did promote the suppression of the peasants by the aristocrats and even encouraged the upper class to wipe out all dissent among the lower class.

nannon31 said...

Padre Trigilio,
Yes I am aware of that aspect of Luther in regard to the peasants too but my point was just on the burning heretics issue. I'm sure he departed from section 80 on slavery for example. No one in those days was downright gentle. Thanks again for the earnest work.

Hestor said...

What about the teachings on the death penalty. Are we to adhere to the canons produced at the Council of Trent (not to mention the hundreds of years of teaching that support it) or JP II's personalism in Evangelium Vitae?

I think the point here is, that sometimes popes do depart from their predecessors teachings but not always for the better.

Padre Giovanni Trigilio said...

POPE JP2 did not deny what the consistent teaching of the Church that the state has the right to execute certain criminals, he merely pointed out that it is not an absolute right. It must conform to principals of moral law, especially PRUDENCE and JUSTICE. All he said (and so does the Catechism) is that in our current culture and time, it does not seem necessary, prudent nor generally morally appropriate to impose the death penalty. He (and the CCC) do not deny the right of the state to use the death penalty, he just clarified when it is allowed.

As Supreme Pontiff, he has the moral authority to teach on such matters, but since he did not speak DEFINITIVELY and not infallibly, even [then] Cardinal Ratzinger pointed out that Catholics could in good conscience have a different opinion on the appropriateness of individual applications of the death penalty or whether a particular war was just, but there is no latitude for unconditional condemnation of abortion and euthanasia. The Church's teaching on the intrinsic evil of abortion and euthanasia is infallible teaching. The APPLICATION of moral teaching and the prudential judgment on individual cases of capital punishment or particular military excursions is non-definitive and non-infallible. YET, we must RESPECT the Holy See's opinion and not presume ours is on equal par.

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