Thursday, June 02, 2005

The scandal of dissenting and disobedient priests

In a conversation with another Catholic, they had praise for a priest who they believe acted "charitably" because he disregarded canon law and knowingly gave Holy Communion to someone who was not canonically disposed to receive it.

I disagree that such sinful disregard for canon law and ecclesiasical authority is compatible with charity.

Obedience of faith is very much a part of Christian soteriology, according the dogmas of Catholicism. The papal Bull Unam Sanctum, states: "every human creature ... by necessity for salvation are entirely subject to the Roman Pontiff."

If this dogma is bothersome to dissident priests, then I suggest they take a sabbatical from their ministry and pray upon it. If after much reflection and prayer, they cannot give their assent of faith to this dogma, then there are many non-Catholic ecclesial communities they might be more comfortable with. In my opinion, they ought to either live in accord with the oath of office they freely made before God with all their hearts, or be honest with their superiors and admit they cannot live it, and request to simply step down from their office. Now, that would be an act of charity to us all.

What the priest should have done was seek dispensation from lawful authorities. He didn't. So instead he chose to violate canon law giving himself dispensation, as if he had the authority to do so. He committed scandal, not an act of charity.

One can rationalize their sins all day long with the cover story of "charity," elevating one's own conscience as more authoritative than the collective conscience of the Church. I know some who advocate abortion with the same reasoning.

What is astonishing, is that Catholics, especially priests, view Catholicism as though it taught that charity was compatible with willful disobedience to ecclesiastical and Divine law.

The apostles, saints, doctors, and popes of the Church have never taught such a thing. They instead consistently link obedience in all things lawful to charity and holiness. Observe...

St. Catherine of Sienna, Doctor of the Church:
"For divine obedience never prevents us from obedience to the Holy Father: nay, the more perfect the one, the more perfect is the other. And we ought always to be subject to his commands and obedient unto death. However indiscreet obedience to him might seem, and however it should deprive us of mental peace and consolation, we ought to obey; and I consider that to do the opposite is a great imperfection, and deceit of the devil." (Letter to Brother Antonio of Nizza)

Ven. John Henry Cardinal Newman:
"I say with Cardinal Bellarmine whether the Pope be infallible or not in any pronouncement, anyhow he is to be obeyed. No good can come from disobedience. His facts and his warnings may be all wrong; his deliberations may have been biassed. He may have been misled. Imperiousness and craft, tyranny and cruelty, may be patent in the conduct of his advisers and instruments. But when he speaks formally and authoritatively he speaks as our Lord would have him speak, and all those imperfections and sins of individuals are overruled for that result which our Lord intends (just as the action of the wicked and of enemies to the Church are overruled) and therefore the Pope's word stands, and a blessing goes with obedience to it, and no blessing with disobedience." [John Henry Newman "'The Oratory, Novr. 10, 1867", The Genius of Newman (1914), by Wilfrid Ward, Vol II, Ch. 26,]

First Vatican Council, Session 4 (18 July 1870):

Wherefore we teach and declare that, by divine ordinance, the Roman Church possesses a pre-eminence of ordinary power over every other hurch, and that this jurisdictional power of the Roman Pontiff is both episcopal and immediate. Both clergy and faithful, of whatever rite and dignity, both singly and collectively, are bound to submit to this power by the duty of hierarchical subordination and true obedience, and this not only in matters concerning faith and morals, but also in those which regard the discipline and government of the Church throughout the world.

St. Pius X:
"... however great their learning, they must be lacking in holiness, for there can be no holiness in dissension from the Pope." (Pope St. Pius X, allocution of 18 November, 1912, AAS vol. 4 (1912), 693-695. Selection from p. 695)
John Paul II:

"It is sometimes reported that a large number of Catholics today do not adhere to the teaching of the Catholic Church on a number of questions, notably sexual and conjugal morality, divorce and remarriage. Some are reported as not accepting the clear position on abortion. It has to be noted that there is a tendency on the part of some Catholics to be selective in their adherence to the Church’s moral teaching. It is sometimes claimed that dissent from the magisterium is totally compatible with being a “good Catholic,” and poses no obstacle to the reception of the Sacraments. This is a grave error that challenges the teaching of the Bishops in the United States and elsewhere.” (Pope John Paul II in his speech to the Bishops in 1987)

Finally, let me quote from Pope Benedict XVI, from his instruction to theologians while he was still prefect of the CDF, an instruction approved and promulgated by Pope John Paul II. This seems applicable to dissident priests who have the gall to presume the Holy Spirit is working in them more so than in their lawful superiors, and as such thinking their conscience is a much more trustworthy guide to the truth than the collective conscience of the authentic teaching authority of the Catholic Church appointed by God over him...

Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Instruction on the ecclesial vocation of theologian:

Never forgetting that he is also a member of the People of God, the theologian must foster respect for them and be committed to offering them a teaching which in no way does harm to the doctrine of the faith. (par. 11) ... the theologian is officially charged with the task of presenting and illustrating the doctrine of the faith in its integrity and with full accuracy. (par. 22)

... the response called for is that of the religious submission of will and intellect. This kind of response cannot be simply exterior or disciplinary but must be understood within the logic of faith and under the impulse of obedience to the faith. (par. 23)

... the Magisterium can intervene in questions under discussion ... The willingness to submit loyally to the teaching of the Magisterium on matters per se not irreformable must be the rule.... it could happen that some Magisterial documents might not be free from all deficiencies.... But it would be contrary to the truth, if, proceeding from some particular cases, one were to conclude that the Church's Magisterium can be habitually mistaken in its prudential judgments, or that it does not enjoy divine assistance in the integral exercise of its mission. (par. 24)

... Even if the doctrine of the faith is not in question, the theologian will not present his own opinions or divergent hypotheses as though they were non-arguable conclusions. Respect for the truth as well as for the People of God requires this discretion (cf. Rom 14:1-15; 1 Cor 8; 10: 23-33 ) . For the same reasons, the theologian will refrain from giving untimely public expression to them. (par. 27)... The preceding considerations have a particular application to the case of the theologian who might have serious difficulties, for reasons which appear to him wellfounded, in accepting a non-irreformable magisterial teaching.... conscience does not constitute an autonomous and exclusive authority for deciding the truth of a doctrine. (par. 28)

... In any case there should never be a diminishment of that fundamental openness loyally to accept the teaching of the Magisterium as is fitting for every believer by reason of the obedience of faith. (par. 29)

... If, despite a loyal effort on the theologian's part, the difficulties persist, the theologian has the duty to make known to the Magisterial authorities the problems raised by the teaching in itself, in the arguments proposed to justify it, or even in the manner in which it is presented. He should do this in an evangelical spirit and with a profound desire to resolve the difficulties. His objections could then contribute to real progress and provide a stimulus to the Magisterium to propose the teaching of the Church in greater depth and with a clearer presentation of the arguments. In cases like these, the theologian should avoid turning to the "mass media", but have recourse to the responsible authority, for it is not by seeking to exert the pressure of public opinion that one contributes to the clarification of doctrinal issues and renders servite to the truth. (par. 30)... a loyal spirit, animated by love for the Church, such a situation can certainly prove a difficult trial. It can be a call to suffer for the truth, in silence and prayer, but with the certainty, that if the truth really is at stake, it will ultimately prevail. (par. 31)

... In opposition to and in competition with the authentic magisterium, there thus arises a kind of "parallel magisterium" of theologians.... it can cause great spiritual harm by opposing itself to the Magisterium of the Pastors. Indeed, when dissent succeeds in extending its influence to the point of shaping; a common opinion, it tends to become the rule of conduct. This cannot but seriously trouble the People of God and lead to contempt for true authority. (par 34)

The freedom of the act of faith cannot justify a right to dissent. (par 36).... the theologian who is not disposed to think with the Church ("sentire cum Ecclesia") contradicts the commitment he freely and knowingly accepted to teach in the name of the Church. (par 37)

... Finally, argumentation appealing to the obligation to follow one's own conscience cannot legitimate dissent. ... because while the theologian, like every believer, must follow his conscience, he is also obliged to form it.... Setting up a supreme magisterium of conscience in opposition to the magisterium of the Church means adopting a principle of free examination incompatible with the economy of Revelation and its transmission in the Church and thus also with a correct understanding of theology and the role of the theologian

.... Polling public opinion to determine the proper thing to think or do, opposing the Magisterium by exerting the pressure of public opinion, making the excuse of a "consensus" among theologians, maintaining that the theologian is the prophetical spokesman of a "base" or autonomous community which would be the source of all truth, all this indicates a grave loss of the sense of truth and of the sense of the Church.

...The acts of assent and submission to the Word entrusted to the Church under the guidance of the Magisterium are directed ultimately to Him and lead us into the realm of true freedom.


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