Part V: Catholic moral theologians
The Catholic Church in Canada is under serious strain, this for two reasons: an accommodation to irreligion among many of the faithful and the growth of dissent among theologians. This last aspect forms the subject of Part V of this series.
Dissent and sexuality
Dissent among Catholic theologians in the Western world is most pronounced in the area of sexual and family morality. In other words, the branch of theology most affected is that called “moral theology.” Pro-life supporters will not be surprised. This, after all, is the area of constant change and confusion in society at large which has been their own battlefield. This is the subject that has preoccupied people, law and the media over a period of 25 years expressed in an incredible flood of articles, reports, books, surveys, opinion polls, movies, radio and TV programmes. This, too, more than any other general category, generated most heat and least light for United Church and Anglican synods (See parts I and II). Finally, this is the area referred to when people speak of the “permissive society,” that intellectual and moral hemorrhage which began in the sixties and from which society still suffers today, that is, society in the affluent world of North America and Western Europe.
One may not be surprised that the battle for truth is being fought about family and sexual morality at the secular level, yet still be surprised that there is a battle within the Catholic Church. After all, until the early 1960’s, the idea of a group of Catholic theologians formally and publicly dissenting from Church teaching was unthinkable. Today it is no longer so.
One consequence of public dissent has been uncertainty on the part of the hierarchy. In the face of outright hostility from secularists, compliance of laity with permissiveness, and vocal dissent by a number of their own “professionals,” the moral theologians (as well as some clergy), many bishops have preferred to remain silent, often out of simple necessity, not knowing what to do.
If many Catholic pro-life supporters have been puzzled as to why their cause has received only lukewarm support from many clergy, the answer is to be found here. Beginning with the Pope Paul VI encyclical Humanae Vitae (On human life), which condemned contraception, a struggle about the place of dissent and the role of theologians in interpreting doctrine burst into the open.
By Church doctrine and tradition it is the bishop who is the official “teacher” of faith and morals in a diocese. His is the highest office in the Church, an office willed and established by Jesus and endowed with special guidance from the Holy Spirit. Theologians are basically advisors only, no matter how learned they may be, or how necessary they are. If they teach precisely as Catholic theologians, they derive their mandate to do so from their Bishop. By the same token, the Pope, Bishop of Rome, is the chief teacher of the universal Church. This teaching is expressed in various forms one of which is an encyclical, a circular letter addressed to the whole church or, sometimes, to the whole world.
An encyclical is said to be part of the “ordinary” and “authoritative” teaching role of the Pope (as distinguished from extraordinary, infallible declarations, which are a rarity.) It is said to be “authoritative” in the sense that it belongs to an office established by Christ, promised the assistance of the Holy Spirit, and so possessing the right to require the assent and obedience of the faithful. This was explained by Pope Pius XII in his 1950 encyclical Humani generis, as follows:
“Nor should it be thought that what is propounded in encyclicals does not of itself (per se) demand assent, since the pontiffs do not exercise the supreme power of their magisterium in them. For these things are taught by the ordinary magisterium, to which that word also applies, “He who hears you, hears me”; and quite often what is propounded and inculcated in encyclicals already belongs to Catholic doctrine on other grounds. But if the supreme pontiffs purposely pass judgment on a matter until then under dispute, it is clear to all that the matter, according to the mind and will of the same pontiffs, can no longer be considered a subject of free discussion among theologians.”
In 1968 Humanae Vitae (HV) certainly was a case of a pope passing judgment on a matter under discussion (which had gone on during the previous six years). Meanwhile, the second Vatican Council, in section 25 of the document known as the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (in Latin, Lumen Gentium – Light of Humanity, from the first sentence, Christ is the light of humanity) had reiterated the need for “religious submission of will and mind” to authoritative teaching.
Within 24 hours of the publication of HV in Rome, on July 29, 1968, 82 priest-theologians (plus 90 other Catholics) publicly dissociated themselves from the encyclical. This protest was organized by Father Charles Curran, moral theologian at the Catholic University in Washington. Among those who signed were Richard McCormick, Curran’s former teacher Bernard Haering, Daniel Maguire, Joseph Komonchak, John Milhaven and in Canada, Gregory Baum. Since then a number of them have abandoned the priesthood; among the above mentioned, Maguire, Milhaven and Baum.
Steps taken to remove Father Curran from his university position as Catholic theologian of morality were unsuccessful.
Over 600 fellow theologians lent their weight to the argument that dissent from HV was not grounds for dismissal. Apparently they agreed with Curran who had adopted the term “dissent” deliberately in order to make it a legitimate and respectable feature of Catholic life. (see introduction to Curran’s book Contraception Authority and Dissent, 1979.) Because the American bishops, who control this national Catholic university, were themselves divided about the propriety of such action, Curran stayed where he was.
In Canada the bishops felt the heat in September 1968. Following the appearance of the encyclical an outcry from laity – mostly centred around Catholic institutes of higher learning – led them to devote a week in Winnipeg devising a way to “soften” this Papal stand denounced by many as “rigid” and “unacceptable.” The Bishops did soften the papal encyclical but if they entertained the hope of ending the dispute with their final statement they were to be bitterly disappointed. Also their call to “those who have been commissioned by the Church to teach in her name…to refrain from public opposition: was to fall on deaf ears. (See footnote at end of article)
The initial public disagreement from the 1968 encyclical proved to be a catalyst for further dissent. A handful of the original protestors have since changed their minds, acknowledging themselves to have been wrong. But aside from them, other academic moral theologians have widened their dissent from the Church’s teaching on contraceptives to just about every aspect of sexual morality.
This was accompanied by what had started before 1968, namely a seemingly endless series of reports and discussions about abolishing mandatory celibacy for priests, the “exodus” of priests and nuns, admitting the divorced and remarried to the sacraments (approved by a majority of the 60 Quebec French-speaking theologians who attended the annual meeting of their society in August 1972); and forecasts of married priests (In 1967 Gregory Baum gave the Church five years). These were the headlines of the day concerning the Catholic Church.
In the midst of all this noise which followed Humanae Vitae some moral theologians began a search for new ways of arriving at a consensus. One of these ways is today called “proportionalism.” It deserves a few words, if for no other reason than to set it apart from what might be called willful resentment against unpalatable teaching. As “proportionalism” also distances itself from traditional teaching, it is a form of dissent, yet clearly a different kind.
As pointed out by moral theologian Philip Keane, standard Catholic moral teaching is based on the natural law tradition. It holds that there is an objective moral order; that circumstances or intentions cannot make an objectively immoral act moral; that this objective moral order can be known by the human person by reason (even without the aid of faith); that this knowledge can be known and taught universally; and that the human person will often fail to live up to the proper standards – with or without fault – but that this failure does not change the objective moral order. Meanwhile, a sensitive community will want to exercise a tradition of care and compassion to all sinners but especially towards the nonculpable, something which has a long tradition in the Catholic view of life (“condemn the sin, but not the sinner”; “Judge not, that you not be judged,” Lk. 6.37)
Over the last 15 years, Keane points out, a number of theologians coming from different intellectual backgrounds, have tried to answer the question “How do we know the objective moral order?” They claim that the “we” (how do we, human beings, know?), requires a more exact analysis of the human person and human actions than the natural-law-tradition provides. Such an analysis, it is said, can rely today on the findings of the social sciences such as psychology and sociology, which were unknown before the twentieth century. They help explain how all learning is “processive” (We know the truth but never perfectly, because our knowledge is always unfolding itself, always discovering, growing – or diminishing.)
The question for the above mentioned theologians is: “How much about the person and his or her action must be taken into account in order to grasp adequately the moral object of an act?” In attempting an answer, they try to distinguish the circumstances and intentions of the person about to act, the so-called premoral situation, and then use proportionate reasoning to understand the totality of the act performed, whether it was morally right or wrong.
This brings us back to the consequences of theories which disagree with accepted standards. Do they or do they not contribute to confusing the public?
One of the participants in “proportionalism,” moral theologian Richard McCormick, denies any responsibility for causing such confusion. In a 1983 article he charged that if there is any blame, it should be “placed at the desks of those who misrepresent” what he and his fellow “theologians are saying” (These theologians he often represents as being “many,” or “the majority”; also as “responsible”).
Presumably on the premise that attack is the best defence, McCormick then claimed that:
“there is solidly based evidence that Catholics have adopted certain permissive attitudes because (among many other cultural factors) of the Church’s apparent intransigence and unwillingness to dialogue in any meaningful way on sexual matters…” 2 The view that it is the Church which is confusing the faithful by being too rigid is, of course, not a new one, although it is rarely stated in so bold a form.
Philip Keane agrees with McCormick that many observers do misunderstand their efforts. Still, he is not as certain as McCormick that this is a question of misrepresentation by people of ill-will. Thus he lists six concerns which he feels must be resolved or otherwise the “proportionalist” approaches (there is too much diversity to call it a “school”) will be rejected.
There is, says Father Keane, concern that proportionalism “denies the existence of intrinsic moral evil;” that it does not allow for the teaching of concrete universal moral norms; that it leads to consequentialism or utilitarianism; that it is too subjective or individualistic (and) too little concerned about the community; that the notion of premoral evil is too vague; and that “we as a people are not wise enough or mature enough to use the approach.” Keane counters each of these with what he believes to be the correct interpretation, but adds that “if satisfactory answers to these concerns cannot be found, the pastoral objections (of the Magisterium) will become more decisive.”
About the fact of present-day dissent there is no dispute. In 1981 a Canadian scholar, Prof. William Zion, not Catholic, looking at it from his point of view, described it as follows:
“One of the interesting developments in the Catholic church since Vatican III has been the emergence of anew moral theology . . . The reaction of Pope Paul’s encyclical on contraception has led many either to open dissent or to a revision of the foundations or moral theology itself. Such revisionism has been formulated by Janssens in Belgium, Fuchs in Rom, Knauer and Schueller in Germany, and Rich McCromick in the United States.
“It … sought … to build a casuistry whereby absolutes were denied existence at the level of material norms. Each moral judgment was to be made contextually. Increasingly, the thought of McCormick has been receiving attention for its clarity, philosophical sophistication, and the possibility of producing a flexible and objective casuistry which would allow exceptions to the Church’s norms on contraception, lying, abortion and sterilization. (italics mine)
Zion confirms what has been described above. Let it be said that McCormick would certainly want to disagree with the statement that is his purpose to build a casuistry whereby absolutes are denied. As noted, he and others claim to be seeking new ways of arriving at a new consensus. Yet, here is another example of someone who observes that the net result of the new theology is the opposite of consensus.
The development of plural “theologies” was not unforeseen. Charles Curran, for example, in a 1973 article in which he attacked the old standards, stated the following:
“The conclusions of this study show that Catholic moral theology as a monolithic theological system does not exist any longer; there exist now and will increasingly exist different Catholic moral theologies as well as different opinions on particular moral questions. The implications of this are enormous both for the theology and for the life of the church.” (italics mine)
As proof of what he called :growing pluralism,” Curran, a mere five years after HV, noted differences on “ contraception, direct sterilization, masturbation for seminal analysis, artificial insemination with the husbands seed and even with a donors seed (and) the application of the principle of the double effect to solve conflict situations.” (today in 1986, as we know, the list also includes abortion, homosexuality, euthanasia, marriage and embryology.)
Curran felt that these developments were “in the very best of the Catholic theological tradition.” He even described it as a modern equivalent to Thomas Aquinas’ accomplishment in the 13th century of claiming Greek thought for Christian theology. (“Catholic theology must do for its time what Thomas did for his”). But while Curran in 193, and still today speaks of “theologies” in the plural, the 1981 Canadian commentator quoted above speaks of a new theology in the singular, one which is revising and replacing the old one.
Scope of Dissent
The above adds up to a crisis in leadership. The fact that there is a crisis does not have to be doubted. In recent years professionals have taken it for granted. A brief book notice in a 1983 edition of Theological Studies, for example, reviewing a work on Catholic teaching by J.Hanigan, what are they saying about sexual morality? Starts:
“Like many others, H. sees a crisis in sexual morality. The change is from a rather restricted concept of sexuality…to a quite liberal view, in which it becomes largely an aspect of social life and a source of pleasurable experience.”
What is the meaning and scope of this crisis? A little over a year ago, on May 17,1985, the following appeared in the Italian daily L’Avvenire:
“The dissent from Humanae Vitae, Paul VI’s encyclical condemning the use of contraceptives, and particularly the pill, as indeed from other principles of Catholic ethics, has changed its aspect. It is no longer clamorous, as in the seventies, but has entered the seminaries and the theological faculties.
“This is the view of the Italian theologian, Msgr. Carlo Caffarra, President of the Institute for Studies of Marriage and the Family of the Pontifical Lateran University. In an interview given to the monthly, 30 Giorni, concerning an inquiry into theological dissent Msgr. expressed himself thus:
“Thinking of a case of clamorous dissent in the seventies, the case of Humanae Vitae, I can affirm that contestation of a certain type has ceased, but there is a much graver phenomenon; there is taught in the seminaries and in the theological faculties the contrary of what Humane Vitae teaches. This is done either directly, or above all, by laying down general principles of ethics, from which it follows as a logical consequence that not only what is taught by Humanae Vitae and Familiaris consortio is false, but also many other fundamental points of the Church’s ethical teaching.”
“The dissent from Humanae Vitae, Paul VI’s encyclical condemning the use of contraceptives, and particularly the pill, as indeed from other principles of Catholic ethics, has changed its aspect. It is no longer clamorous, as in the seventies, but has entered the seminaries and the theological facilities.
“This is the view of the Italian theologian, Msgr. Carlo Caffara. President of the Institute for Studies of Marriage and the Family of the Pontifical Lateran University. In an interview given to the monthly, 30 Gerona, concerning an inquiry into theological dissent Msgr. Expressed himself thus:
“Thinking of a case of clamorous dissent in the seventies, the case of Humanae Vitae, I can affirm that contestation of a certain type has ceased, but there is a much graver phenomenon: there is taught in the seminaries and in the theological faculties the contrary of what Humanae Vitae teaches. This is done either directly, or above all, by laying down general principles of ethics, from which it follows as a logical consequence that not only what is taught by Humanae Vitae and Familiaris Consorito is false, but also many other fundamental points of the Church’s ethical teaching.”
(Familiaris Consortio is the apostolic letter on the family issued by Pope John Paul II in 1983).
Some people are not surprised: they were aware of it long before 1985. After all Dulles and McComick explained in 1979,following the earlier advice of Raymond Brown that the battle about the term Magisterium was not likely to be won by the theologians, he was “ not wedded” to it. “ what is important is not the word; it is the idea beneath it,” he observed.
It is in this sense that Msgr. Caffara could continue:
“Two Parallel magisteria (teaching authorities) exist from now on in the Catholic Church: one is that of the General Councils and the Popes, the other is that of the theologians. It is not necessary that these latter dissent publicly, noisily. They can normally and daily construct their parallel magisterium.”
The crisis in moral theology has come to a head with the Vatican’s request of Fr. Curran in the fall of 1985 that he recognize that his quest for new standards must be counted a failure and should be withdrawn. In making this request the Vatican has run, once again, into massive resistance from Curran’s fellow theologians. If nothing else, it shows clearly how widespread the disaffection from Catholic teaching among the “professionals” has advanced, as noted above, it is very difficult now to distinguish the scholarly search for a new consensus from dissent inspired by pressure to conform to the present permissive culture.
In April 1986, 19 professors of Curran’s theology department (including well-known figures such as George Higgins, Avery Dulles, Tracy Ellis), as well as the entire psychology department, signed a statement declaring that this removal from the chair of Catholic moral theology “would seriously harm the university as a centre of theological research and education.” The annual convention of the Catholic Theological Society in July 1986 adopted a similar resolution by a vote of 171 to 14 (with four abstentions). Supporters who have put their signatures on a document protesting the action of the Vatican are said to number in the thousands. Most of these see – or prefer to see – the issue in terms of academic freedom versus outside control. (Compare the end of Part III of this series – in the June issue).
The argument for absolute freedom of teaching has been used on many other occasions. For example, in 1973 Father John Kelly, then president of St. Michael’s College, University of Toronto, expressed the same sentiments in noting that:
“the teaching of heresy in a Catholic University need not necessarily be sufficient justification for the firing of tenured staff.”
“Things are taught at St. Michael’s (he went on to say) “which are inconsistent with true Christianity. But Catholicism has built-in place of honour…”
If the view that heresy can have a place in a Catholic university of broad scope and many faculties can be expressed publicly, then surely it won’t come as a surprise that some defend the teaching of dissenting opinions in places exclusively devoted to the study of the Catholic faith such as Catholic Faculties of Theologies and Seminaries.
Curran admits to dissent but not to heresy. His chief point is, once again, that dissent in faith and morals is legitimate. In the pursuit of creating an alternative theology his concern is not in first place with the freedom to teach (though that plays a part, as of necessity it must). His chief concern is the concern of “authoritative teaching” which, as explained, must be obeyed and to which Catholics must assent. He clams that except for infallible teaching, the theologians have the freedom to dissent from all other teaching, they can do so not merely privately but publicly, and teach this wherever the opportunity presents itself. In other words, he denies that there is such a thing as the “ordinary magisterium” whose authoritative teaching is binding. Instead, he sees the theologians exercising their own Magisterium. That explains why in 1973 he spoke of a plurality of moral theologies and why he thought the implications “enormous both for theology and for the life of the Church.”
Pope John Paul’s views are clear. Addressing a recent congress of moral theologians in Rome (March 1986) he repeated what he had said at the time of his visit to the Catholic University in Washington in 1979, namely that the faithful have a “fundamental right…to receive the doctrine of the Church” rather than the opinions of the theological schools. “If one listened to certain people, he stated
“it would seem we could no longer recognize the indestructible absoluteness of any moral value…In the field of theology, this relativism turns into distrust of the wisdom of God…To appeal to a “faith of the Church” in order to oppose the moral Magisterium of the Church is equivalent to denying the Catholic concept of Revelation…”
Cardinal Ratzinger, in his April 1986 address at St. Michael’s College (Varsity Arena), Toronto, observed that:
“One hears a great deal today about the abuse of power within the church. Almost reflexively there comes to mind the abuse committed by those in authority, and this is certainly possible. But little is said about another abuse of authority, namely, the abuse of the authority which the teacher has. The abuse is committed whenever that teacher exploits his students by using a position which the church gave him in the first place to encourage them to accept positions which are opposed to the teachings of the church.”
There are, of course, orthodox teachers in every institution, graduate as well as undergraduate. Yet in most schools today these teach side by side with dissenters. Students have no way of knowing who is who, certainly not on the undergraduate level and often not even in post-basic programmes. Being students and not teachers they are not qualified to refute or even recognize spurious, doubtful or incomplete arguments. Many of them are not even aware that there is a problem.
In Canada dissent from the Church’s teaching among moral theologians seems as widespread as in the U.S.A. The range and depth of dissent varies with the individual, though the general rule seems to be that once the initial step has been taken on a particular issue such as on Humane Vitae, dissent on other issues comes easily.
Let me return to the example of Fr. Andre Guindon of the St. Paul’s University in Ottawa, mentioned earlier in Part IV of this series with respect to his views on homosexuality (July/August issue). His book The Sexual Language was reviewed in the Canadian quarterly Studies in Religion in 1982. The reviewer admires the work but notes that:
“Guindon’s conclusions are widely at variance with his church’s official teaching…”
After noting Guindon’s “polemic…against the code moralists of the Vatican” on the one hand and against (mindless, modern “sexologists” on the other, and describing Guindon’s approach as “lively and engaging with a candor and enthusiasm rarely evident in moral theology,” he goes on to say that:
“The most curious aspect of Guindon’s work is its ambiguity whereby it maybe interpreted in two ways at almost every crucial point…”
As an example the author notes that:
“Guindon comes out strongly against the morality of married people having children if they are not able to care for them and his moral approval of contraception in his critique of Paul VI’s Humanae Vitae is one of the strongest yet written. Nonetheless Gunidon vigorously upholds fecundity and attacks the contraceptive mentality…”
After a number of other observations, he concludes:
“One wonders where the ambiguities end and where the real Andre Guindon stands. Certainly his enthusiasm for sexuality and for the beautiful young people whom he guides make him a very different kind of priest from those of former years.”
Let me add that it is in the short passage in his book where he speaks of abortion, Fr. Guindon condemns it without reservation.
Catholics active in the pro-life movement have known that over the last 15 years they have not only not received support from the academics who teach or advise on moral theology but that not infrequently these professionals have counter-witnessed and counter-acted the work they are doing just as they are contradicting traditional Christian teaching.
Naturally, some dissenters are more aggressive than others. One person may disagree on issues one, two and three; another on issues one, four and five. They may also differ among themselves. For example, McMormick disagrees with Humane Vitae in general but nevertheless holds that contraception and direct sterilization are disvalues (never to be sought in their own right.) Curran holds that HV is wrong, that the Pope who published it was in error, and that contraception should be accepted without further question. Gregory Gaum agrees with Curran but then adds that he regards contraception “as a moral duty” (as he did in a 1974 letter circulated to all federal New Democratic Party MP’s and others.)
In real life these distinctions tend to become “academic,” even among theologians. In Canada theologians are on record at on time or another to have offered the following opinions: that to be wholly faithful the Humane Vitae is an extremist position; that HV is to blame for an increase in abortions; that masturbation is perfectly all right; that there has been a significant shift in the Church’s understanding of marriage and sexuality; that if a man and women are really in love, you cannot have too restricted a view even of premarital sex; that love and sex must be judged by internal attitudes, not by legal formulas imposed from without; that there is no biblical evidence against homosexuality; that one cannot expect homosexuals to be celibate because by nature they are promiscuous; that homosexuality is a viable Christian option under certain circumstances; that there is no proof that life begins at conception; that abortion can be a valid choice; that the Church must change her teaching on abortion; that there is no black and white anymore, because everything is grey; that the Church’s moral teaching is no longer part of the essential message of Christianity; that the ordinary magisterium provides no certainty because it is capable of being radically changed; that nothing is as sin provided it is done out of love; that there is no distinctive Christian ethic and tat the Church contributes nothing to the formation of conscience.
The above opinions are from ethics or moral theology teachers at St. Paul’s University, Ottawa; the three Catholic units of Toronto School of Theology; St. Jerome’s College in Kitchener; St. Joseph’s College and Newman Theological College in Edmonton. These opinions I have come across in the normal pursuit of someone working on pro-life issues without attempting in the slightest to direct a systematic search. As is obvious, the list ignores entire regions such as Quebec and the Maritimes and a number of Catholic colleges for the simple reason that I have no information about them.
Contrary to Richard McCormick and supporters, I believe that these sentiments are directly responsible for the fact that today Catholic hospitals across the country make contraceptives readily available; that hospitals such as St. Michael’s and St. Joseph’s in Toronto permit direct sterilizations; that doctors in the family clinic of Hotel Dieu in Kingston do abortion referrals; that some marriage preparation courses such as the compulsory one at the Catholic Information Centre in Edmonton between the years of 1970-1980 teach the opposite on sexual ethics of what the Church wants them to teach; that teachers’ manuals offering a supposedly Catholic curriculum describe HV and other moral Church teaching as representing one opinion only, implying that dissent from this “opinion” is perfectly normal; that some religious education teachers hold that abortion is only one among many important issues and that opposition to it is merely the “Roman view;” and that finally, that other people have convinced themselves that homosexual activity is either legitimate, or if not, should be regarded only with compassion, while those who oppose the current drive for legalization under the guise of outlawing so-called “discrimination” against “sexual orientation,” are cruel, heartless and unchristian.
Let me make one final point. There are Catholics who interpret opposition to dissent as an undoubted sign of conspiratorial politics and evil intentions. Take, for example, Michael Higgins of St. Jerome’s College, Kitchener, in his opinion column in the Toronto Star (August 8, 1986). After a fair exposition of how conflicting interests and duties of bishops and theologians may cause tensions in the Church, he interprets these tensions as “surely a sign of its vitality and not the mark of the grave or the Antichrist.” Having thus set the issue on its head, he paints opponents of dissent in the following colours: right-wing zealots, who hound the so-called disloyal; informers, spies and secret denouncers; archconservative sowers of distrust who “sunder the ties of trust and love” to replace them with “fear and conformity”; and, finally, reincarnated “Integralists” who at the time of the modernist crisis (1900) supposedly “threatened the very integrity of Catholic truth” by entering upon a “witch hunt” from which nothing is to be gained “save ash and ruin.”
The nineteenth century’s greatest theologian, John Henry Newman, refers to this kind of argumentation as “poisoning the wells.” In addition, it is a prime example of historical revisionism with a vengeance very popular among people in the mid-sixties who were trying to impose their own interpretations of the second Vatican Council.
What about dissenting theologians? This is what the late Cardinal Medeiros of Boston had to say following the publication of the book of Human Sexuality by the Catholic Theological Society of America in 1977:
It is the responsibility of the teaching authority of the Church to listen to theologians and to judge whether their informed consensus is in harmony with the faith of the Church, and then to accept any fresh insights into the faith for the advancement of the Kingdom of God. And it is the responsibility of theologians to work within the Church – and not to speak to the Church from the independent platforms of the secular academic world, as if they were non-believers. The Church suffers greatly when Catholic theologians, claiming the right to speak independently of ecclesiastical supervision – seeming to reject the service of authority given to the Church of Christ – continue to present themselves as molders of Catholic opinion and as authentic counselors for Catholics in the formation of their judgments of conscience. When theological science thus takes on the forms of secularized scholarship. Catholic theologians who speak its language find themselves usurping the authority of the Church’s hierarchy as they become publicly identified with secularized efforts to legalize sexual aberrations and to make immorality look respectable. May the Holy Spirit enlighten those who inflict such pain and confusion on the Church, fragmenting it against the will of Christ. Today, the situation looks grim because it is grim, worse than people realize. Yet there is no room for despair. Catholic pro-life workers have the weight and strength of the Church’s teaching office on their side, supported by hundreds of theologians who do take to heart the words of the Vatican Council:
“Let special care be put into perfecting moral theology so that its scientific exposition, better nourished on the teaching of Sacred Scripture, may shed light on the dignity of the vocation of the faithful in Christ and on their obligation to bear fruit in charity for the life of the world.”
As for the future it is possible – as one philosopher observes – that a new argumentation from fittingness (doing things because it is fitting and appropriate to do) may carry Catholic moral theology from today’s transition period of tension and dissent to a new consensus in helping people to live out their Christian lives well in this complex world. Meanwhile what about institutions, which employ dissenting theologians? In my opinion, if they cannot rectify the situation internally, they should be restructured in order to close down sections over which the Church has lost control.
To be continued.