Monday, December 20, 2004

Dissenting Bishops and Catholics

by Steve Ray on December 20, 2004


(A friend’s comments below)

Fargo Bishop addresses the roots of dissent among Catholics in pastoral letter

FARGO, NORTH DAKOTA, USA, Dec. 17, 2004 (CNA) – In a pastoral letter to be released on Saturday, Most Rev. Samuel J. Aquila, Bishop of Fargo, addresses the roots of dissent among Catholics, highlighted during the recent elections in the U.S., and picks out five main areas of concern.

In his letter, entitled “”You Will Know the Truth and the Truth Will Set You Free” A Pastoral Letter on Deepening our Understanding of the Truths of the Catholic Faith,” Bishop Aquila notes that many Catholics “are more influenced by the secular culture in which we live than by the teachings of Jesus Christ,” and stated that many Catholics have “an inadequate understanding of the Catholic faith.”

He suggests that though there are exceptions, catechetical formation for the last 30 years has failed to hand on the faith. He says it was clear during the media discussion of Catholic teachings and voting during the elections that “many of the faithful have not read the Catechism, the encyclicals of Pope John Paul II, or the documents of Vatican II.”

Accepting Church teaching

The first area of concern is that many people who call themselves Catholic “even reject the principle that we must accept what the Church believes and teaches, and think they can pick and choose what to believe,” writes the bishop.

“We must never forget that certain Church teachings,” – those revealed in Scripture and Apostolic Tradition and upheld by the Magisterium – “can never change,” he said, “regardless of whether or not people accept them or are faithful to them.”

Only Jesus Christ sets us free

Noting that secular culture exposes Catholics to “a variety of ideas that are incompatible with the truths of faith,” and that “Christians are by no means immune to these influences but adopt elements of them without recognizing their incompatibility with Christian faith,” the bishop stresses that “we must become more deeply convinced that we can find the truth that sets us free only in Jesus Christ.”

These secularist influences have a produced a culture of death where abortion and euthanasia are regarded by many as a “right,” promoted by the media and publicly funded, he notes.

He notes that if we make moral decisions according to the culture of death “we form our character in a way that is incompatible with the authentic fulfillment that God so much wants us to receive,” and that we must learn how to choose correctly.

Understanding conscience correctly

Bishop Aquila points to the crisis in the understanding of conscience, saying that “Catholics sometimes say they are following their conscience when they choose to do something-for example, tell a lie, use contraception, have or recommend abortion, defraud someone, conceive a child through in vitro fertilization-that the Church teaches to be intrinsically evil.”

“Our conscience-our last and best judgment about what morality concretely requires-can be mistaken,” he says. “Pastors must clarify what conscience is, show the faithful how to recognize an erroneous conscience, and help them form their conscience properly.”

He notes that the guidance given the faithful by some members of the clergy to “Just follow your conscience,” is misleading without proper explanation “because it suggests that people are responsibly following their conscience when they knowingly replace Christ’s teaching with the world’s opinions.”

Appreciating the dignity of human life

The bishop states that the dignity of human life is not sufficiently appreciated by Catholics who “all too often regard abortion and euthanasia primarily as political issues on which they can legitimately take a position at odds with the teachings of Christ and his Church. “

“Practices like abortion and euthanasia are morally abhorrent even when they are called “rights” and given the protection of law. They remain abhorrent even when such a law is agreed upon by a majority of persons,” he says.

He also points out that the “tendency among some Catholics to equate all issues of life such that, for example, capital punishment and war are considered to have the same moral significance as abortion and euthanasia,” are “misguided.”

Faith is not private

“We must deepen our understanding of what it means to live out our faith in the world,” writes Bishop Aquila. He points out that Catholics who say they are personally opposed to abortion “but defend the alleged right to abortion and even approve when others choose it”… separate their personal conviction about fundamental truths from their public life.”

“Whether they are culpable or not, such persons cooperate in a grave evil by their support of abortion,” he writes and affirms that “Catholic politicians who vote specifically to fund abortions do not merely cooperate with a grave evil but are principal agents in a grave evil.”

“All too often,” he states, “Catholic public officials and voters are more deeply committed to their political agendas than they are to the teaching of Christ.”

In concluding Bishop Aquila points to other serious areas of confusion that need to be addressed: “the assumption that salvation is universal and automatic no matter what one says or does; the failure to celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation on a regular basis and to be properly disposed before receiving Holy Communion; the failure to appreciate the truth, dignity, and meaning of human sexuality; the failure to understand the apostolic authority of bishops; and pastoral practices in dioceses which go beyond legitimate diversity.”

My friend comments: I think the Bishop Aquila’s summary is dead on the money, and I’m glad to see you presented it in full on your blog.  I must confess that I find it puzzling and even more than a little aggravating that this is the first time I’ve heard a Bishop speak out so precisely and extensively on these vital issues.  His press release does little more than confirm what I’ve known since I was an undergrad student 20 years ago.  Why does this come as any kind of revelation to anyone?  The real question remains:  now that Catholicism has been so watered down and drained in Europe and North America in the last 30-40 years (not only in the public forum but in Catholics themselves), how do the Bishops plan to re-build it in the hearts and minds of the faithful?  In other words, now that we are all on the same page about the problem of catechesis (which includes not only Catholic schools, universities, and seminaries but also the often empty “Touched By An Angel” homilies and liturgical abuses of many a parish priest, and the toleration of and indifference to it by their Bishops), what are we going to do about it? 

Thanks for letting me vent.  It is refreshing to hear someone in a position of authority to publicly acknowledge everything I’ve wanted to say for the last 2 decades; but it’s simultaneously disheartening to see it took so long.  I mean no disrespect to the Bishops individually or collectively.  But I definitely echo the sentiments of one writer who once said, “what we need are prophets; what we have are administrators.”  Let us pray those in authority take the proverbial ball and run like hell with it! 

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