Friday, November 17, 2006

Response to Commonweal Editorial

As President of the Confraternity of Catholic Clergy (a 31 year old national association of 600 priests and deacons) and as a pastor and a diocesan priest ordained for more than 18 years, I personally and professionally repudiate the premise contained in a November 3, 2006 Commonweal editorial (Tomorrow's Priests). I entered the seminary in 1976 after graduating from eighth grade (parochial school) and continued from high school seminary to college seminary to major seminary until ordination in 1988. During those twelve years of seminary, I saw and heard a lot. Likewise, in the subsequent eighteen years of priesthood, mostly in parish ministry with a brief stint in Tribunal and Hospital Chaplaincy ministry, my experience is certainly not insignificant.

First, the assertion that two major groups exist(ed) in the seminary (either doctrinally orthodox to Rome or pastorally open to collaboration with the people) is inaccurate at best and deceptive at worst. During the later years of the pontificate of Pope Paul VI when I entered High School Seminary, there was a general malaise prolific in many minor and major seminaries. Faculty members who had hoped the reforms of Vatican II would have led to further and more revolutionary changes (priestly celibacy, women's ordination, etc.) were hoping that P6's successor would open the doors and not just the windows (as did J23). Faith and morals were considered 'fluid' and 'malleable' in that they could and needed to adapt to the times, or so this group thought. Immutable doctrines and absolute moral laws were relics of the past, they maintained. Many of these theological and liturgical 'hippies' were the ones who ran the seminaries and therefore sought to remake the mold used to form the contemporary priest.

Collaboration with the laity was not their real agenda anymore than was subsidiarity. True, this group was unmistakably prone to dissent from Magisterial teaching (as evidenced by their enthusiastic embrace of Charles Curran and his dissent from Humanae Vitae) and were certainly not concerned or preoccupied with loyalty to Rome. Yet, they were not the populist saviors they purported to be. Recall in Church History when Martin Luther inaugurated the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century. He convinced Bishops, priests and laity to rebel against Papal authority with the simultaneous rebellion of the kings, princes, and barons against the secular Imperial authority. Once the Pope and the Emperor were out of the way, however, those in power made sure the dominoes stopped falling. The Peasant's Revolt was mercilessly crushed by the aristocracy with the full support and encouragement of Luther and other clerics. The poor peasants only followed logic when they saw the episcopacy revolt against the papacy and saw the aristocracy revolt against the monarchy. They were unaware of the fact that revolutionaries often depose authority so as to replace it with their own brand. Likewise, some of the extreme radicals of the post-Vatican II church sought to sever their doctrinal and disciplinary obedience to Rome but to keep intact their own fascist control over their subordinates.

Prior to the papacy of JP2, the other group in the seminary was indeed loyal to the Magisterium and obedient to the Roman Pontiff. Sarcastically labeled as 'traditionalist' or 'rigid,' those of us who wished to be faithful to the hierarchical structure intended and founded by Christ when He personally established the Church with Saint Peter, were in the minority and had no influence whatsoever. Those who rejected infallible doctrines and absolute moral laws, embraced and promoted dynamic doctrines that adapted themselves to become more appealing to non-Catholics. They also embraced an amorphous morality which would open the doors to contraception, fornication, homosexuality, pornography, corruption, graft, etc., since there were no more ethical absolutes. Many of the problems and scandals inside the seminary and afterwards in the parishes after some of these guys got ordained can be traced to BAD theology and BAD morality. Both were sustained, sadly, by BAD liturgy (lex credendi, lex agendi, lex orandi). The raping of the Catholic worship resulted in the intentional loss of reverence, sacredness, sacrifice and worship of the divine. Liturgical aberrations and abuses promoted the dissident theology and adulterated morality by glorifying man over God. Human nature was deified while divinity was dethroned. Concupiscence was no longer the effect of Original Sin, but a natural inclination which needed to be understood and nurtured. The only official deviancy was the old regime and the few new recruits who sought to restore Peter to his chair which had been stolen from under his seat.

It is a false dichotomy to say one had to choose between loyalty to Rome and collaboration with the people. Ironically, it is the people who are often more Catholic than their clergy at times. Like the days of the Soviet Union, Communists claimed to represent and cooperate with the people (proletariat) after they had overthrown the bourgeoisie. The reality was that the new order had no intention of sharing authority with the people and in fact sought to control and manipulate the masses. Anyone who disagreed was sent to a Gulag or simply eliminated. Dissent from party policy was dealt with severity and swiftness. The Kremlin and the KGB did not share power nor did they tolerate unconditional adherence to their rule.

Similarly, the ecclesiastical radicals bragged about their disdain for the Pope, the Vatican and the Magisterium. Academic freedom and liberty of conscience were their mantras. Yet, if someone under their authority dared to disagree or worse yet, disobey the disobedient, then the fascist side of them emerged. While there was no equivalent Peasants' Revolt, we did have in the seminary those who refused to be disloyal to Rome. It was not the people in the pews who faithfully went to church for Mass and confessions who demanded that their parishes remove statues, communion rails or whitewash their sanctuaries. The liturgical Nazis imposed iconoclasm on many parishes and they even deported Christ by removing Tabernacles and placing them in obscure, small, and covert 'Eucharistic chapels' instead of the main worship space.

If the ultra-reformers (those who feel V2 did not go far enough) were truly collaborative, they would not be the ones who bully and harass the elderly woman who chooses to kneel for Communion. Paradoxically, the same bullies are too timid to refuse Communion to politicians who openly support abortion. Bishops who remained silent when local 'theologians' publicly espoused heterodox teaching or even overtly dissented from Humanae Vitae or Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, or who refused to enforce Ex Corde Ecclesiae by requiring and monitoring the mandate needed to teach theology, are often the very same ones who quickly and with ferocity impose sanctions (such as suspension or interdict) on those who dare question their prudential judgments. Disagree with the Pope, even from the pulpit or in the classroom, and nothing was done. Disagree or question a diocesan policy, however, and incur the wrath of Khan. Authentic collaboration are the bishops, priests and deacons who listen to and respond to the spiritual needs of the parishioners who SUPPORT and who ATTEND the local church.

If many post-Vatican II clergy need to be re-educated it was not because they were poor students while in the seminary. Some just got bad or poor education because they were not given the unadulterated truth. There was no Catechism prior to 1992. I was ordained in 1988. We had the Code of Canon Law since 1983 but even that was criticized in class, as in the case of mandating first confession before first communion (#777 and 915). The Documents of Vatican II were not taught but the ' spirit of Vatican II' was invoked all over the place. Thankfully, some of us went underground and learned the truth by secretly reading Denziger's Enchiridion Symbolorum, the Summa Theologica, and attending annual seminarian conferences sponsored by none other than Opus Dei.

What was not taught in the seminary besides orthodox doctrine and morality was business management. The corporate model of ecclesiology was never explained or taught but extensively used as many of us discovered once we were ordained. The hierarchical institution model was always ridiculed but the servant, herald, mystical communion or community of disciples while promoted to one degree or another, did not reflect the reality outside the seminary, however. Many priests who find themselves discouraged, disenchanted or even demoralized are so because they do not feel, see themselves or are treated as spiritual fathers of a local family of faith. Instead, they are often employees of the corporation. Pastors spend more time doing fundraising, attending committee meetings, and reading and completing diocesan paperwork than they do celebrating the sacraments. Often, we are treated like branch managers of the company and the bishop is the senior vice president, surrounded by his board of directors in the chancery office. Policies to protect assets, and increase revenue and reduce expenditures are certainly prudent and required by good stewardship. Sadly, these often become the high priority while the teaching of orthodox doctrine and the reverent celebration of the sacraments are put on the back burner if at all.

When parishioners ask for devotions like Divine Mercy, Eucharistic Adoration, Public Rosary, Novenas, Processions and the like, often the so-called 'collaborators' ignore or insult them. When parishioners utilize their legal option to receive Communion on the tongue or to confess anonymously, their legitimate choice is denied. When someone is known to be a member of Opus Dei, Familia or Regnum Christi, they are often prevented and prohibited in some dioceses from joining Parish Council. So much for collaboration. Often, parish council members are 'elected' like Stalin and others were in the former USSR, i.e., no other candidate was allowed OR the party merely told you who were elected before any vote took place.

Seminarians do not need administrative or managerial skills or training. They need orthodox theological and sound philosophical education within the context of solid spiritual formation founded on prayer and proper celebration of the sacraments, especially the Holy Mass. Instead of running parishes and dioceses like businesses and corporations, we need to return to the familial model. Pastors and Bishops should be paternal and not middle or upper management. Many of us clergy long for the day when competent and qualified deacons and laity can handle most if not all of the mundane business of the parish, like budgets, committee meetings, fundraising, employee relations, labor disputes, diocesan bureaucratic paperwork, et al. I would rather spend time teaching the faith and ministering to the sick rather than worrying about salaries, benefits, insurance, decreasing offertory income, rising expenditures, etc. Here is where real collaboration can take place. Unlike Trusteeism which turned the parish over to the lay trustees who could hire and fire the pastor and other clergy, real lay collaboration is using the gifts and talents of the parishioners, especially those who have accounting, financial and managerial training and experience. The pastor still represents the authority of the local bishop but the division of labor is such that he is assisted by the wisdom and experience of the laity who help him with their expertise. Tampering with doctrine, morals or the sacred liturgy is not the prerogative of either the pastor or the parishioners.

Real faith communities are not places where the clergy have abdicated their authority to teach and govern and be mere sacrament dispensers. Real faith communities are FAMILIES of faith where the pastor is the spiritual FATHER. Collaboration and cooperation occur in the diverse apostolates of the parish, like teaching the faith to children and adults, keeping the church clean, planning and celebrating reverent liturgies that conform to the traditions of our church. Ironically, it is the other side which unilaterally imposes liturgical aberrations and illicit innovations upon the parishioners whether like it or not. This is not a battle between liberals and conservatives, progressives and traditionalists, pre-Vatican II and post-Vatican II. The issue is whether to abandon or entirely embrace the 'corporate business' model. Many of us choose to restore the ancient family model which was never democratic but always hierarchical yet always in an atmosphere of charity, justice and mercy. Since the wonderful reign of Pope John Paul II and his current successor Pope Benedict XVI, we have two exquisite role models and one marvelous vision. Many of the bishops these two have appointed are superb choices and in fact shepherd their diocese like a father leads his family. There are some, however, who still use a business model and prefer the role of executive to that of father. Disobedient children cannot be ignored nor encouraged in their folly, especially when it endangers the rest of the family. Redefining doctrine or reinventing sacred liturgy are not viable options. Sentire cum ecclesiae (think with the church) and ubi Petrus ibi ecclesia (where Peter is, there is the church) are our best roadmaps.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

USCCB Fall Meeting 2006

The Emperor Has No Clothes

Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz of Lincoln said the obvious this week at the annual Fall meeting of the American Bishops. Episcopal Conferences have no magisterial teaching authority unless it is a unanimous statement of the entire conference OR a majority of bishops approve a document AND it subsequently receives recognitio from the Holy See. This clarification came from Pope John Paul the Great in 1997's Apostolos Suos.

The Holy Father wrote that the true purpose of an episcopal conference "requires that an excessively bureaucratic development of offices and commissions operating between plenary Sessions be avoided." He went on to say that "commissions and offices exist to be of help to bishops and not to substitute for them." Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, explained this document at a Vatican press conference attended by several senior curial officials: "Episcopal conferences do not constitute per se a doctrinal instance which is binding and superior to the authority of each bishop who comprises them."

B16 said, "if doctrinal declarations emanating from a conference are approved unanimously by the bishops, they can be published in the name of the conference itself, and the faithful must adhere" to them. "If this unanimity is lacking, a qualified majority alone of the bishops of a conference cannot publish the eventual declaration as authentic magisterium of the same (body) ... unless such a document approved by a qualified majority obtains the 'recognitio' of the Holy See."

One major problem is that truth is not defined by consensus. When the majority of the world believed the earth was flat, that did not make it so. Likewise, wheen the USCCB issued a brochure a few years ago (2003) on marriage, the final document approved by the majority of bishops never once used the words "sin", "sinful" or "evil" to describe same-sex unions, homosexual 'marriages' or even homosexual activity. The only line in the entire piece that uses an ethical judgment is found in section six: "Christians must ... oppose as immoral both homosexual acts and unjust discrimination against homosexual persons."

The recent document "Married Love and the Gift of Life" is another example. The words "sin", "sinful" or "evil" never appear in the document. Only ONCE is found in the text: "contraception is objectively immoral" Cohabitation is not overtly condemned nor is fornication and invalid marriages are never mentioned at all.

“Happy Are Those Who Are Called to His Supper” lists sins which if not confessed prevent someone from receiving Holy Communion:

• Believing in or honoring as divine anyone or anything other than the God of the Holy Scriptures

• Swearing a false oath while invoking God as a witness

• Failing to worship God by missing Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation
without a serious reason, such as sickness or the absence of a priest

• Acting in serious disobedience against proper authority; dishonoring one’s parents by neglecting them in their need and infirmity

• Committing murder, including abortion and euthanasia; harboring deliberate hatred of others; sexual abuse of another, especially of a minor or vulnerable adult; physical or verbal abuse of others that causes grave physical or psychological harm

• Engaging in sexual activity outside the bonds of a valid marriage

• Stealing in a gravely injurious way, such as robbery, burglary, serious fraud, or other immoral business practices

• Speaking maliciously or slandering people in a way that seriously undermines their
good name

• Producing, marketing, or indulging in pornography

• Engaging in envy that leads one to wish grave harm to someone else

The bishops voted NOT to include artificial contraception even between married persons as another example of mortal sin which would prevent someone from worthily receive Holy Communion. Furthermore, the public scandal of a notorious supporter of abortion, especially a politician, casually coming forward and being given Holy Communion in a Catholic Church by an authorized minister, is avoided and not mentioned in the text. The official response to such situations by priests, deacons or extranordinary ministers of Holy Communion is NOT stated at all.

When consensus is sought, truth is often softened, diluted and influenced by popularity. As Bishop Bruskewitz reminded his brethren, these documents are not Magisterial and do not enjoy that level of teaching authority. The Catechism, however, is an official Magisterial document and the teachings contained in it are infallible (mostly ordinary magisterium with a few coming from the extraordinary magisterium). More episcopal statements are not needed, merely more emphasis and implementation of what is already contained in the Catechism, in the Code of Canon Law, in the Roman Missal and in the Natural Moral Law.

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