Reflections on the State of the Church, Conscience, Being Pastoral, Silent Apostasy and Heresy

07-17-2022Weekly Reflection

With respect to the state of the Church, former Archbishop of Bologna, Cardinal Carlo Caffarra said : “Only a blind man can deny that there's now in the Church great confusion.” Part of the reason for the confusion is the refusal of pastors to follow, speak clearly about, and teach the doctrine and moral teaching of the Catholic Church.

Pope Benedict in a homily in 2005 remarked: This power of teaching frightens many people in and outside the Church. They wonder whether freedom of conscience is threatened or whether it is a presumption opposed to freedom of thought. It is not like this. The power that Christ conferred upon Peter and his Successors is, in an absolute sense, a mandate to serve. The power of teaching in the Church involves a commitment to the service of obedience to the faith. The Pope is not an absolute monarch (emphasis added) whose thoughts and desires are law. On the contrary: the Pope's ministry is a guarantee of obedience to Christ and to his Word. He must not proclaim his own ideas, but rather constantly bind himself and the Church to obedience to God's Word, in the face of every attempt to adapt it or water it down, and every form of opportunism. (emphasis added)

All pastors and Catholics are bound by Scripture and Tradition (the handed-down-unwritten-teaching) in the Church as taught authoritatively by the Church. Pastors have no power or authority to overrule God, the natural order created by God, for example regarding sexuality, the nature of marriage, and gender. Pastors have no power or authority to overrule Divine Law. There can be no legitimate development of doctrine which contradicts authoritative teaching. The famous rule in this matter was stated by St. Vincent of Lerins. He said: …. whether I ,or anyone else, should wish to detect the frauds and avoid the snares of heretics as they rise, and to continue sound and complete in the Catholic faith, we must, the Lord helping, fortify our own belief in two ways; first, by the authority of the Divine Law, and then, by the Tradition of the Catholic Church….Moreover, in the Catholic Church itself, all possible care must be taken, that we hold that faith which has been believed everywhere, always, by all. (emphasis added) St. Vincent of Lerins, Commonitorium

With respect to conscience Cardinal Caffarra, a noted moral theologian, was asked, if a certain confusion doesn't originate in the conviction, rooted in so many pastors, that the conscience is a faculty that decides autonomously what is good and what is evil, and that ultimately the decisive word is up to the individual's conscience? He replied: At this point particularly enlightening is a passage from the Trattato sulla coscienza morale (Treatise on Moral Conscience) of Bd. (Blessed Antonio) Rosmini: "There's a light that is in man, and there's a light that is man. The light in man is the Law of Truth and Grace. The light that is man is the righteous conscience, as man becomes light, when taking part in the light of the Law of Truth through the consciousness of that confirmed light." Well, opposite to this concept of moral conscience there's the concept that places our own subjectivity as the irrevocable tribunal of the goodness or evil of our own choices. This is, for me, the decisive confrontation between the Church's vision of life (which is the one from Divine Revelation) and the concept of conscience typical of modernity. A Catholic conscience is formed according to the teachings of Christ and His Church and the goal is to have a correct conscience (not simply I think it’s correct, but actually correct) and a conscience that is certain. “I think” this is right/wrong alone does not define reality but “I think” in accord with objective norms does. Here objective-reality is the law of God written into human nature and stated in the Ten Commandments.

Pope Benedict also noted that the source of morality is not external rules or the human conscience, but the way God created us. Acting in accord with the way God created us is good; acting against the way God created us is evil. A person who acts against God’s order of creation harms himself and others. In other words the Church’s teaching on conscience is NOT that each person becomes a law and religion unto himself deciding good and evil. That abortion is wrong, is not simply Catholic teaching but part of the natural order or law which binds the entire human race. The Ten Commandments were first written into humanity before they were written on tablets of stone. This leads to the question of what is pastoral with respect to Catholics, especially politicians, who promote and campaign for abortion invoking God and claiming to be devout Catholics? Abortion is not simply one among many issues all on the same plane. Cardinal Wilton Gregory the Archbishop of Washington D.C. mentioned a host of other issues like the death penalty, racism, care for the poor and sick etc. in his statement on the overruling of Roe v. Wade. But all those latter issues presume a human life in being, while abortion eliminates human life at the source.

Pope Benedict pointed out: Not all moral issues have the same moral weight as abortion and euthanasia.

For example, if a Catholic were to be at odds with the Holy Father on the application of capital punishment or on the decision to wage war, he would not for that reason be considered unworthy to present himself to receive Holy Communion. While the Church exhorts civil authorities to seek peace, not war, and to not choose capital punishment, it may still be permissible to take up arms to repel an aggressor or to have recourse to capital punishment. There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia. Cardinal Gregory mentioned racism. How many remember that In April 1962, Archbishop Joseph Rummel of New Orleans not only denied Communion to three Catholics in his archdiocese; he went a step beyond and formally excommunicated the three, who vehemently opposed his efforts to desegregate Catholic schools. The denial of Communion and the penalty of excommunication are medicinal penalties to get the individual Catholic to confront the serious departure of their behavior from the Catholic Faith. Yet many, including the Pope, view the denial of Communion to pro-abortion politicians as not being pastoral. In an interview with Spanish-language TV network Univision, Pope Francis was asked about Pres. Biden's support for abortion despite being Catholic. "I leave it to his conscience and that he speaks to his bishop, his pastor, his parish priest about that inconsistency" the Pope reportedly said in an interview in Spanish. Assuming this report is accurate: Biden’s promotion of abortion is not simply an “inconsistency” Biden is promoting grave sin willingly and actively. A pastor should advise him to abandon sinful behavior and if he doesn’t he cannot receive Communion. Canon 915 of the Law of the Church provides: Those … obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to Holy Communion. (emphasis added) Promoting and facilitating abortions are grave sins, especially by politicians seeking to enshrine this in law and practice and now by Biden through executive order.

Pope Francis in a different interview repeated language that he used in the past that abortion was like hiring a “hitman” (sicario) to eliminate a life. Asked about U.S. bishops who wanted to refuse Biden the sacrament, the Pope told reporters during an airborne press conference in September that priests shouldn't be politicians and condemn their flock but should be pastors who accompany the faithful with tenderness and compassion. It cannot mean accompany them in grave sin or an erroneous judgment of conscience that promoting abortion is not grave sin. It’s fair to ask: is someone who “hires a hitman” to take human life, using the Pope’s analogy, a person worthy to receive Communion? Does the mere fact that the Catholic involved is a politician make the denial of Communion necessarily political rather than pastoral? Would there be the same angst by some clergy and pundits over the denial of Communion, if the politician were racist, promoting racism like the excommunicated politicians in Louisiana in the 1960’s? Hence it can be legitimately observed that there is incoherence between referring to abortion as “hiring a hitman” but the person hiring the hitman should not be denied Communion! It gives the impression that the papal remark is simply rhetoric and can be dismissed; or that there is no real pastoral concern about abortion or the spiritual condition of Catholics promoting grave evil. Being pastoral and charitable involves correcting the sinner and being concerned about the obstinate promotion of grave evil and the danger to the salvation of the person promoting that evil. The abortion-industry promotes the notion that life in the womb is of no inherent value and therefore can be killed with impunity. This violates Catholic teaching on the dignity of human person. So what’s to prevent the next step: infanticide, killing the old, the sick, the handicapped?

Going beyond the issue of abortion and turning to the crisis in the Church, Fr. Gerald Murray comments: The root problem in Western society – and the Church – comes down to this: degrees of unbelief in God and in his revelation. This unbelief ranges from atheism (theoretical and practical) to agnosticism (often the fruit of ignorance, laziness, or spiritual blindness) to pick-and-choose Catholicism. When we fail to adhere unreservedly to Christ and his teaching, we are left to our own devices – not a happy thought. (Cardinal) Sarah states: “If the tie between God and Christians is weakened, the Church becomes simply a human structure, one society among others. With that, the Church becomes trivial; she makes herself worldly and is corrupted to the point of losing her original nature. Indeed, without God we create a Church in our own image, for our little needs, likes, and dislikes. Fashion takes hold of the Church, and the illusion of sacredness become perishable, a sort of outdated medication.”

Clergy should especially heed this warning from the Lord via the Prophet Ezekiel 3: 17 “Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the people of Israel; so hear the word I speak and give them warning from me. 18 When I say to a wicked person, ‘You will surely die,’ and you do not warn them or speak out to dissuade them from their evil ways in order to save their life, that wicked person will die for their sin, and I will hold you accountable for their blood. 19 But if you do warn the wicked person and they do not turn from their wickedness or from their evil ways, they will die for their sin; but you will have saved yourself.