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.
Screwtape’s letter to Bitterwench - C.S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters! Oft’ imitated. Never really rivaled. If you haven’t read this book yet…. what on your planet at you waiting for?!? US HERE...
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