Thursday, June 07, 2012
Charles Curran and the National Catholic Reporter: The Church should not be certain of her teaching
Upset that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has issued a notification criticizing Sister Margaret Farley's book on sexual ethics entitled "Just Love," Charles Curran, writing for the National Catholic Reporter online, complains, "There is a long list of Catholic moral theologians whose works on sexual ethics in a similar vein have been condemned or censured by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in the course of the last 40 years. Pope John Paul II wrote his 1993 encyclical, Vertiatis splendor, because of the discrepancy between the official teaching of the church on moral matters and the teaching of some moral theologians even in seminaries. According to the pope, the church is 'facing what is certainly a genuine crisis, which is no longer a matter of limited and occasional dissent, but of an overall and systematic calling into question of traditional moral doctrine.' All have to recognize there is such a real crisis in the church today. But the crisis is not just a crisis in moral theology; it involves a crisis in the church as a whole and in our very understanding of the Catholic church.."
Curran then argues that, "..the danger for authority in the Church is to claim too great a certitude for its teaching and proposals.." See here.
It is most ironic that Curran chose to cite a passage from Pope John Paul II's Encyclical Letter Veritatis Splendor (The Splendor of Truth). This because Pope John Paul II reminds his readers toward the conclusion of the first chapter of this Encyclical that the Church has been entrusted with a more-than-human authority. John Paul says that this more-than-human authority "is apparent from the living tradition." Then he confirms this by citing a key passage from Dei Verbum, the Second Vatican Council's Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, which says that, "...the task of authentically interpreting the word of God, whether written or handed on, has been entrusted exclusively to the living teaching office of the Church, whose authority is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ. This teaching office is not above the word of God, but serves it, teaching only what has been handed on, listening to it devoutly, guarding it scrupulously and explaining it faithfully in accord with a divine commission and with the help of the Holy Spirit.." (No. 10).
The Church has a more-than-human authority. She has a divine commission to teach and guard what has been handed on, what has been received through Revelation. And she accomplishes this task with "the help of the Holy Spirit." So when Curran objects that, "the primary authority in the Church is the Holy Spirit, who speaks in very diverse ways," he is not being honest. Jesus has invested in the Magisterium of His Church, the Holy Father and the Bishops united with him, the more-than-human authority to speak in His name on everything which pertains to faith and morals (Matthew 16: 17-19). And this task of interpreting the word of God is carried out with the assistance of the Holy Spirit. Yes the Holy Spirit speaks in very diverse ways. But the task of authentically interpreting the word of God is not carried out in diverse ways. It is carried out exclusively by the Church's teaching office.
Curran has his own crisis to deal with. Influenced by our secular culture and its rejection of anything which has the character of coming from above, he has succumbed to a skepticism of authority. In a Keynote Address entitled Good Shepherd: Living Christ's Own Pastoral Authority, which was delivered at the 10th Annual Symposium on the Spirituality and Identity of the Diocesan Priest on March 18, 2011, Bishop Samuel J. Aquila had some important things to say about the role of Bishops. His Excellency noted that:
"Perhaps most difficult for us who lead in the Church today, due to the influence of the secular world with its rejection of God and the authority of God, along with a real skepticism of authority, is the exercise of the office of governance. Benedict XVI reminds us as bishops and priests again to turn to Jesus Christ to learn how to exercise this authority. No one is really able to feed Christ's flock, unless he lives in profound and true obedience to Christ and the Church, and the docility of the people towards their priests depends on the docility of the priests towards Christ; for this reason the personal and constant encounter with the Lord, profound knowledge of him and the conformation of the individual will to Christ's will is always at the root of the pastoral ministry. (General Audience, May 26, 2010).
Jesus at times was direct in calling people to conversion – to change their way of acting and thinking. This directness makes many of us uncomfortable today. We should follow his example and language, even if we do not use his precise words. His language is good to contemplate and definitely should challenge us to look at how we correct the faithful, including priests and bishops, and speak the truth especially with those who say they are with Christ and the Church but do not accept the teaching of Jesus and the Church.
One has only to read Matthew 23 to hear the forceful language Jesus uses when speaking with the Pharisees and Scribes. He refers to them as ―hypocrites, blind guides, and white washed tombs and towards the end asks them the question, ―You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell? In our politically correct world this type of language would never be tolerated today, and yet the Gospel writers were not hesitant to pass on these exhortations of Jesus.
Furthermore, when Peter began to remonstrate with Jesus about going up to Jerusalem, he did not softly tell Peter, ―You do not understand. Rather Jesus spoke the vigorous words, ―Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me; for you are not on the side of God, but of men (Mt 16:23). Jesus speaks these words with force to the apostle he has chosen and the one whom he made first among the apostles. In love Jesus makes these direct statements to open the eyes of those whose hearts and minds are hardened. His straight talk, given in love for the person, desires the conversion and holiness of the person to the ways of God.
Jesus provides the Church and her leaders with the criteria for correcting a brother or sister. ―If your brother sins against you; go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector (Mt 18:16-17).
The steps in this passage are clear and Jesus is teaching us, but do we listen and follow his example? If this criteria had been followed with dissenting theologians, priests, religious and faithful in 1968 with the encyclical, Humanae Vitae, would we still be dealing with the problem today of those who dissent on contraception, abortion, same sex unions, euthanasia and so many other teachings of the Church?
One must honestly ask, how many times and years may a Catholic politician vote for the so called ―right to abortion, ―murder in the words of John Paul II in Evangelium Vitae (58), and still be able to receive Holy Communion? The continual reception of Holy Communion by those who so visibly contradict and promote a grave evil, even more than simply dissent, only creates grave scandal, undermines the teaching and governing authority of the Church and can be interpreted by the faithful as indifference to the teaching of Christ and the Church on the part of those who have the responsibility to govern. If we honestly pray with the Gospel we can see that hesitancy and non-accountability are not the way of Jesus Christ, but rather are a failure in the exercise of governance.
Bishops and priests, as an act of loving obedience to Christ, must return to a full exercise of the governing authority of Christ witnessed in the Gospel. If we do not exercise that authority, are hesitant to exercise it, or doubt it, then it only leads to the ―father of lies taking hold of the minds and hearts of the faithful, and their continuing to act in the ways of man and not the ways of God.
Pope Benedict XVI, in his conversation with Peter Seewald in the book Light of the World, made the following observation concerning the sexual abuse crisis among clergy, after speaking with the Archbishop of Dublin. In their conversation they spoke to a mentality prevalent after Vatican II. ―The prevailing mentality was that the Church must not be a Church of laws but, rather, a Church of love; she must not punish. Thus the awareness that punishment can be an act of love ceased to exist. This led to an odd darkening of the mind, even in very good people. Today we have to learn all over again that love for the sinner and love for the person who has been harmed are correctly balanced if I punish the sinner in the form that is possible and appropriate. In this respect there was in the past a change of mentality, in which the law and need for punishment were obscured. Ultimately this also narrowed the concept of love, which in fact is not just being nice or courteous, but is found in the truth (emphasis added). And another component of truth is that I must punish the one who has sinned against real love (Pages 25-26)." (Full Address here).
Take note of Bishop Aquila's warning to his brothers in the Episcopate: "If we do not exercise that authority [which Jesus has entrusted to the Church's Pastors], are hesitant to exercise it, or doubt it, then it only leads to the father of lies* taking hold of the minds and hearts of the faithful and their continuing to act in the ways of man and not the ways of God."
This is precisely what Curran wants. He wants the Church's Pastors to doubt the authority and the teaching entrusted to them.. This is why he insists that "the danger for authority in the Church is to claim too great a certitude for its teaching."
Is Charles Curran serving Christ or the father of lies?