Recently in Theology Category

In these days after the Solemnity of the Ascension, it's proper to reflect on the Church that our Lord left behind.

In the 1985 interview book "The Ratzinger Report", Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI) said this to interviewer Vittorio Messori:

...the Church is not ours but his. Hence the 'reform', the 'renewals'... cannot exhaust themselves in a zealous activity on our part to erect new, sophisticated structures.... Saints, in fact, reformed the Church in depth, not by working up plans for new structures, but by reforming themselves. What the Church needs in order to respond to the needs of man in every age is holiness, not management.

The Cardinal was speaking about ecclesiologies -- theories of what the Church is -- that had lost their balance in the 1960s and 1970s. Some Catholics, he said, had in practice adopted a concept of the Church that was like the American "free church" concept. This refers to the pattern we see as far back in America as the Pilgrims: a fellowship of believers who spurned the idea of an institutional Catholic Church founded by the will of Christ, and also spurned the state-churches that arose from the Protestant Reformation, which those Pilgrims also considered oppressive. They founded their own communities to follow their spiritual lives according to their convictions.

To think of the Church as a creation of ours makes it a human construct, subject to democratic processes and group dynamics, and dependent on our human skills of management.

This is different from how we Catholics believe. We think of the Church as the communio sanctorum, a phrase with multiple meanings.

The Church is the fellowship of the saints, in which "saints" refers to all the baptized, the people made holy ("saints") by the grace of Christ given in baptism. This fellowship extends not only throughout the world but also through time, and includes those who have died in fellowship with Christ, and who are still one community with us even as they await their glorification which will be full at the end of the world.

And the Church even includes the Holy One himself, Christ the Lord risen and glorious who has ascended to the Father and is present body and soul before Him. The Church is the Body of Christ, present in Heaven through Him, and present in the world and in history through His people.

Because Christ is the Head of the Church, He makes the Church into the communio sanctorum in its other meaning: the sharing of holy things. It is the sharing of the sacraments -- Baptism, Confirmation, the Eucharist, Confession, Ordination, Marriage, Anointing -- the holy things through which Christ uses material goods, words, and gestures to confer grace and spiritual life on us. To be fully in the Church is to share the sacraments, the greatest of which is the Eucharist which contains the living Jesus Christ himself, given to us hidden under the forms of bread and wine.

I've just finished translating the late Fr. Jean Galot, SJ's article on the role of private apparitions in the life of the Church and in salvation history. It has a good section with principles of discernment and an explanation of why Church approval of an apparition is never an infallible judgment. An excerpt:

Often apparitions have been received with a passionate enthusiasm, and have made crowds of faithful rush to the place where they have occurred. In effect, many expect to find a confirmation of their faith in those who "see". This favorable prejudice could easily encourage a credulity that does not really seek to test the signs of authenticity of the phenomenon.

Others, in contrast, assume in regard to apparitions an attitude of scepticism that closes them to any judicious examination of the facts stated. Sometimes this scepticism touches their faith itself, because it is from a lack of faith that some reject all sensible manifestations of the supernatural. In other cases scepticism is simply that of the believer who wants to hold to the faith as given and feels repugnance in the face of something that seems to introduce elements of vision.

Ed Peters has put together another response to the Legionaries of Christ / Regnum Christi (LC/RC) crisis, which is well worth reading. You can check it out here. Since I'm likely to be asked for a response, here's a line-by-line:

I think that Fr. Alvaro Corcuera's apparent claim that he knows nothing about Maciel's behavior, except that Maciel sired a daughter, is utterly unbelievable. I have nothing else to say about this kind of stone-walling. I will simply re-endorse Dr. Germain Grisez's and Mr. George Weigel's proposals for direct intervention by the Holy See.

Out of Christian charity I will assume Fr. Alvaro is telling the truth. The Holy See should intervene anyway. Directly.

The situation is so muddled that I cannot see how the LC/RC can fix it without outside help and expertise. Of course I'm just one canonist out of thousands in the Church. But given how the LC/RC have maintained Fr. Maciel's innocence for years, the severity of the allegations against him - both proven and unproven, and other structural problems within the movement, how the initial response has been bungled, it will be difficult for the LC/RC to regain the trust of orthodox Catholics without assurances that Rome has performed a thorough housecleaning of the movement.

Apologists for the LC/RC are already stating that Fr. Alvaro and the LC/RC are following Rome's instructions. And Rome has stated it has no immediate plans to step in, but would do so if requested by the Legion. So it might be best is the Legion simply go through the official step of asking Rome to step in directly.

Moving on Peters's rebuttal of the "reform-from-within" assertion and the "carry-on-the-charism" assertion:

Assertion 1. Because the Legion and Regnum Christi have within their ranks many obviously good and faithful Catholics, they should be allowed to try a reform from within. Response: the presence of good and faithful Catholics within an organization, particularly when the organization (in terms of Church history, if nothing else) is so young, says almost nothing about whether the organization itself is sound and/or salvageable.

Here is where I think Peters needs to make a distinction. Those making the "reform from within" suggestion (like myself) are not a unified camp. Some maintain the LC/RC should be permitted to reform from within, without any direct outside intervention. Very unlikely to work, as proven by the fact Fr. Maciel got away with his misdeeds for so long. And even if it were possible, there's still the problem of restoring the RC/LC's credibility.

Like Peters, I believe the LC/RC's current structure is deeply flawed, and have for some time, according to criteria developed with Fr. Frank Morrisey - one of the Church's foremost canonical experts on religious law and structures of institutes of consecrated life - and cult expert Michael Langone. You can read a summary of the criteria here. (Please note: I am not claiming that all of these criteria apply to the LC/RC, but those that do need to be rooted out if the LC/RC is to reform.)

Having said that, given that the majority of LC/RC members are orthodox Catholics faithful to Rome, I believe a "reform from within" is possible if the Holy See intervenes directly and appoints someone credible from outside the LC/RC to do a thorough investigation of LC/RC practices, and oversee their reform. It needs to be someone known for prayer and orthodoxy, experienced in religious life, and highly respected within the Church. For example, Cardinal Francis George from Chicago or Archbishop Seán O'Malley from Boston. Of course this assumes LC/RC members cooperate - not only in letter, but in spirit - with the reform.

Such a reform must begin with a sincere apology to Fr. Maciel's victims, followed by restitution. Also, no more excuses suggesting Fr. Maciel's innocence, or trying to dampen the severity of his sins. Of course the structural weaknesses that allowed Fr. Maciel to get away with his double-life for so long must also be fixed. Good faith only gets one so far. Peters identifies the question many canonists are asking, namely whether there are structural problems to the Legion, expressing them as only he can, when he states in response to the second assertion:

There is, I think, at least as much reason to wonder whether Maciel set up an institute in order to assure himself of ample access to sexual targets and unaccountable funds, or whether he suffered from some warped psycho-emotional condition that enabled him to compartmentalize pious devotional practices and sexual predation for decades on end...

Here is where I take a somewhat harder line than Peters. I don't wonder. In fact, I'm pretty sure Fr. Maciel set up the LC/RC to, as I put it in the following interview, acquire, maintain and protect his access to victims.

I won't comment on funds, except to say well-placed sources within and outside the LC/RC told me that Fr. Maciel was frequently given thousands of dollars in cash without any questions being asked. I haven't looked into the issue deeply enough to give it much thought; it's entirely possible the financial irregularities came after, as a by-product of the sexual irregularities. Of course, none of the above excludes the possibility Fr. Maciel also had a serious psychological condition.

But I've skipped ahead a bit. Here's how Peters begins his response to the second assertion:

Assertion 2. Maciel's canonical crime spree was a grave personal failing, but it does not negate the L/RC 'charism', and they should be allowed to continue their work. Response: This argument misses the key question, namely, whether in fact Maciel ever bequeathed an authentic charism to the L/RC...

This, then, is what separates our positions at the moment. If one believes the LC/RC lack a true charism, then Peters is right in suggesting Rome may have to shut down the movement completely and reconstitute it. (Without a true charism, there is nothing to reform.)

On the other hand, if one believes the LC/RC possess a true charism from Christ, but that it has become seriously clouded by Fr. Maciel's sexual vice, then it may still be possible to rescue the charism. Of course it will still require delicate surgery on Rome's part. It's possible the movement is so far gone that the necessary reform is no longer possible. The LC/RC will have to show they are capable of true reform.

Peters then says (skipping over the part I had quoted earlier, out-of-sequence):

I do not know whether the L/RC can (following a complete leadership replacement!) reform itself from within, although I am almost certain that they cannot;

A complete leadership change may be the only thing that can save the LC/RC at this point. Certainly this is how I feel, humanly speaking, although the Holy Spirit could intervene in a way that canonists haven't imagined. But, assuming most of the current leadership was honestly in dark about Fr. Maciel's double-life, this speaks to a weakness in LC/RC formation that so many clergy suspected so little for so long. This is not to say they were bad people or terrible priests - only that they appear to lack a certain skill-set needed to exercise prudent governance over a large religious institute.

This is not uncommon among young institutes of consecrated life where one is dealing with leadership known for its holiness (let alone living a double-life). I've experienced this at least twice in my career as a canon lawyer. A young institute and its young superior come up with some grandiose ideas, or overlook the obvious. An older priest, with several years of priestly experience before joining the institute, jumps in points out what's being overlooked, or otherwise brings some common sense to the discussion. Older priests can help guide a young superior of a young institute through sensitive pastoral issues, temper and focus the zeal of younger newly-ordained priests, and put bishops as ease knowing there is someone with experience keeping an eye on the new institute.

The problem with the current LC/RC superiors is that none of them kept an eye on Fr. Maciel. This is not surprising. Abusers cannot bear close scrutiny, which would threaten their access to victims. Fr. Maciel reportedly handpicked his superiors. Not surprisingly, he often named young priests who lacked practical pastoral experience. Which is why most Catholics would feel more confident about a reform of the LC/RC if Rome stepped in directly.

and I do not know whether Maciel developed an authentic charism for clerical, religious, and lay life, but I have serious doubts that he did.

And now the question of charism. The reason orthodox Catholics have struggled so deeply with the crisis, in fact the reason there are such strong feelings of anger and betrayal, is that the LC/RC's good works have been visible to us for so long. But looking back in retrospect, so too have the institutional signs of Fr. Maciel's double-life. How does one reconcile such a stark contrast?

Normally, an institute's charism is tied to its founder and its good works. However, the two don't match in this case. Some argue that the LC/RC's founding charism was fraudulent from the start. Others argue that God used Fr. Maciel as His imperfect human instrument. In reflecting upon this dilemma, attempting to reconcile these questions in my own mind, I stumbled across the biography of Saint Rafael Guízar Valencia.

Saint Rafael was Fr. Maciel's uncle and the bishop who oversaw most of Fr. Maciel's seminary formation prior to dismissing his nephew from the seminary. Saint Rafael exemplified many of the Christian virtues LC/RC attempt to emulate as members of their movement. In fact, his life story reads like a blueprint for the LC/RC's good works, and LC/RC members in past have recognized his influence in the founding of their movement.

Perhaps - and this is highly speculative on my part - Saint Rafael is the true spiritual founder of the LC/RC movement, and the instrument used by God to transmit its charism. It's something for LC/RC members to pray about.

Dr. Octopus and the Last Things


Preface: Charlie, my 5.5-year-old son, is fascinated with "Spider-Man," though of course we won't let him see either of the movies (not because they're bad -- we own them both -- but because he's way too young.) The following is an actual conversation about "Spider-Man 2":

Charlie: Daddy, does Dr. Octopus die in the end?

Me: Yes, he does.

C: How come?

M: He drags his science experiment into the river so it won't blow up and hurt lots of people.

C: Why did he die?

M: Because that was the only way to stop the experiment.

C: I thought he was bad.

M: Yeah, but he turned good at the very end and decided to save all those people.

C: [thinks a moment] I guess Dr. Octopus had to spend a lot of time in inventory.

M: In what?

C: Inventory.

M: What are you talking about?

C: You know, the place where Jesus fixes you before you go to heaven.

M: Oh, you mean purgatory.

C: Yeah, purgatory.

M: Right, Dr. Octopus would probably have to go there.

"It is not only bishops, presbyters, deacons and even those who govern monasteries who are to be understood to be pastors; but also all the faithful who keep watch over the little ones of their house, are properly called pastors."
Homily 1.7 - Homilies of the Gospels
Book One
Advent to Lent

Theology being the study of God, do Muslims have any sort of theology given that they believe God is unknowable and inscrutable? Do they then, have only exegesis of the Koran and not actual theology?

Sola scriptura in the Bible?


Ken Shepherd is one of our frequent commenters, and I have appreciated his comments on these pages (especially on the Clowning for Christ discussion thread.) In response to RC's entry about the pope retiring, Ken says, "I'm just a Protestant with a strong penchant for sola scriptura."

Before I continue, I'll say that some of my best friends are Protestants, as are practically all of my relatives by blood and marriage. I don't mean to single you out, Ken, and I'll delete this post if this is embarrassing. But since I suspect you won't mind, I'll ask you this: where in the Bible do you find sola scriptura?

I tried to find it, and was unsuccessful; that's one reason I left Protestantism for Catholicism. You say, "Traditions are fine and good if they are based solidly on Scripture and are in accordance with the move of the Spirit in the Church." That leads to a few more questions, like...

1. How do you know what is scripture, and what isn't?
2. How does one determine an authentic "move of the Spirit," as opposed to a move of the devil masquerading as the Spirit?
3. Who can authoritatively answer questions #1 and #2?

Again, this isn't to attack you or anything. It's one of those perennial questions, and it's well worth discussing.

JanVanEyck-LastJudgment.jpgAfter spending a lot of time reading through the Navarre Gospels, I've decided to step back in time to the Old Testament. Specifically, I want to learn more about the prophets and the psalms. One thing that's always struck me about the latter is that they are impossible to reconcile with the squishy, saccharine God of the Suburbs. (Who is a false image, an idol deserving to be smashed.)

The smug bumper sticker that says, "God is too big to fit into one religion" is true if they're talking about the anorexic, consumerist version of religion that passes for Christianity in far too many American churches. The God of the psalms is shown in his plenary nature, and is too big for an emaciated religion. The psalmist regards each aspect of the deity with love one moment, fear the next; he cries out for mercy because of his sinfulness in one psalm, then begs God for his enemies' destruction in another. The hearts of the lion and the lamb truly dwell within this eclectic collection of songs.

Good times in Philly

CL co-founder Steve Schultz and I had a good time today attending a symposium at his seminary in Philadelphia. The moral teaching of Pope John Paul was the theme, and it's fair to say the highlight...

Besetting sins


Everyone has a besetting sin, or at least everybody I know. For you non-Catholics and under-catechized Catholics out there, a besetting sin is the one that keeps cropping up in your spiritual life, no matter how hard you try to eradicate it. It can also keep you from growing in virtue, and quite often, it drives other forms of sins that might not even be related. For instance, if you gamble excessively, you might begin to steal to support your habit.

My besetting sin is sloth. Considering that I'm usually quite busy, what with work and three kids and a wife and the house and all, it surprised me to realize that. I often allow myself to be distracted by other things when I need to do something difficult, and the time I take away from my duties is spent on trivial things (as evidenced by the fact that I am typing this at my place of employment. Hey, consider it a coffee break.)

The small things I do might be harmless in themselves, but the results of my self-indulgence tend to snowball. If I stay up late because I've been piddling around, I can be more anger-prone the next day, or I might not be as productive at work. Sloth steals precious time that would be better spent praying or talking to my wife.

What's your besetting sin? Did someone else tell you about it, like a confessor or spiritual advisor? Or did you, like me, read something that made you realize what it is?

(How's that for something Catholic, John Francis?)

Children and venial sins

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Can children under the age of reason commit venial sins? From my external observation, I think they can. I can think of several cases where my daughter and older son have known what was the right thing to do, and deliberately chosen not to do it. Also, when my wife and I discipline them, I don't get the idea that we're disciplining mere jumbles of instincts and passions, but that their intellects and wills are thrown into the mix.

So while I have no trouble believing that small children can't commit mortal sins because they are incapable of full, rational choice, I would think they could commit venial sins. Anybody have an answer for me?

Hate the fussy, love the fusser

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My daughter, Anna, is three years old, and has the personality of an exceptionally curious, willful puppy. Last night, I had to reprimand her for disobeying -- a common occurence -- and she said through her tears, "Daddy, do you love me even when I'm fussy?"

Before I gave the standard reply ("I always love you, no matter what") my older son Charlie piped up: "Yes, he loves you, Anna, he just doesn't like the fussy!"

I don't want to read too much into a 4-year-old's comment, but it's delightful to see a small child grasp the idea that you can love people without approving of all of their actions. Yet how many adults argue that unless we approve of their vices, we are unloving bigots? Sometimes, kids really are wiser than adults, or at least they see things more clearly.

The Power of Dr. Joe


Grovel Week has arrived on PBS, and they're begging us for money to keep their Very Special Programs on the air. Lord knows we watch a lot of public broadcasting in our house, but it's limited to fare like Clifford the Big Red Dog. I don't feel guilty about watching their shows and not paying for them, because we gave at the office -- the tax office, that is. On average, tax-paying households "donate" $6.40 to the IRS every year for PBS funding, and in gratitude for your cooperation, the congenial folks at the IRS refrain from confiscating your home, freezing your bank accounts, or throwing you in jail.

Quick "Simpsons" moment:

Marge: What are you gonna spend your money on, kids?

Bart: There's a special down at the Tacomat: a hundred tacos for a hundred dollars. I'm gonna get that.

Lisa: I'm going to contribute my money to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Marge: Tacos? Public broadcasting? I will not have either of you waste your money.

To convince recalcitrant viewers to cough up more clams, PBS re-ran "The Power of Myth," a conversation between LBJ advisor Bill Moyers and Professor Joseph Campbell of Sarah Lawrence College. They filmed the six episodes of the series back in 1987, so this is probably a re-re-re-re-re-re-rerun at least....

"Mary, Exterminator of Heresies"


Over lunch today Professor Russell Hittinger gave a lecture at the conference about Pope Leo XIII (Gioacchino Pecci). He mentioned that before Leo XIII's papacy, his predecessor had issued the famous "Syllabus of Errors", a wide-ranging list of doctrinal errors Catholics were to shun, and Bp. Pecci had contributed to the document's draft. For better or worse, the Pope didn't adopt his suggestion for the document's title: "Mary, Exterminator of Heresies".

On hearing that, the folks at our table, including Fr. Sibley, exchanged the thumbs-up sign: we think it was a great title: it would sound good, say, in the name of a religious order, or even just a local church ("I go to Mass at Mary Exterminator of Heresies Parish")!

What? Who?

On life and living in communion with the Catholic Church.

Richard Chonak

John Schultz

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