Monday, February 12, 2007

As I have already mentioned in a previous post at this Blog, Fr. Thomas Williams, Dean of theology at Rome’s Regina Apostolorum University, has said that: "pastoral prudence and charity would suggest that a preacher refrain from making references to specific persons, regardless of whether the individual is present or not" and that, "Historically, the pulpit has often been effectively used to reprimand the common vices of the congregation, but it is an inappropriate venue for correcting the specific errors of an individual.."

Now, I have already shown how Blessed Clemens August von Galen, a Cardinal who opposed the Nazi regime during the Second World War, used his pulpit to criticize Hitler and the cruelty of the Nazis. Perhaps it is time to examine Fr. Williams argument against using the pulpit to correct the specific errors of an individual in the light of the Magisterial teaching of the Church.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 2489, teaches that, "Charity and respect for the truth should dictate the response to every request for information or communication. The good and safety of others, respect for privacy, and the common good are sufficient reasons for being silent about what ought not be known or for making use of a discreet language. The duty to avoid scandal often commands strict discretion. No one is bound to reveal the truth to someone who does not have the right to know it."

In other words, it would be an offense against truth and charity if a priest were to use his pulpit to publically castigate an individual for personal sins or errors. Again the Catechism:
"The secret of the sacrament of reconciliation is sacred, and cannot be violated under any pretext. ‘The sacramental seal is inviolable; therefore it is a crime for a confessor in any way to betray a penitent by word or in any other manner or for any reason.’" (No. 2490, citing Canon 983 of the Code of Canon Law).

Indeed, as the Catechism makes clear, "Everyone should observe an appropriate reserve concerning persons’ private lives" (No. 2492) and: "The right to the communication of the truth is not unconditional. Everyone must conform his life to the Gospel precept of fraternal love. This requires us in concrete situations to judge whether or not it is appropriate to reveal the truth to someone who asks for it" (No. 2488).

Indeed, there are times in which "prudence and charity would suggest that a preacher refrain from making references to specific persons.." But there are also times in which it is entirely appropriate to use the pulpit for correcting the specific errors of an individual. In the words of Blaise Pascal, "It is as much a crime to disturb the peace when truth prevails as it is a crime to keep the peace when truth is violated. There is therefore a time in which peace is justified and another time when it is not justifiable. For it is written that there is a time for peace and a time for war and it is the law of truth that distinguishes the two. But at no time is there a time for truth and a time for error, for it is written that God’s truth shall abide forever. That is why Christ has said that He has come to bring peace and at the same time that He has come to bring the sword. But He does not say that He has come to bring both the truth and the falsehood."

Was it appropriate for Deacon Tom McDonnell to use his pulpit to correct the errors of U.S. Representative Brian Higgins? In a word, yes. This because Representative Higgins’ support of abortion and related legislation represents a public, open and declared opposition to the teaching of the Catholic Church on the sanctity of every human life. We are not dealing here with private sins or errors which may not be addressed from a pulpit. For that would be inappropriate. But we are dealing here with a direct and public challenge to the teaching of Jesus Christ as made known by His Church:

"..God, the Lord of life, has conferred on men the surpassing ministry of safeguarding life in a manner which is worthy of man. Therefore, from the moment of its conception life must be guarded with the greatest care, while abortion and infanticide are unspeakable crimes." (Vatican II, Gaudium et Spes, No. 51).

"Since the first century the Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion. This teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable. Direct abortion, that is to say, abortion willed ether as an end or a means, is gravely contrary to the moral law..." (Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 2271).

In the same way that Blessed Cardinal Clemens August von Galen used his pulpit to refer to Hitler and other specific persons who were part of the Nazi regime and to correct their errors (for the sake of the common good), Deacon Tom McDonnell has used his pulpit to refer to a specific person, a politician who undermines the common good through his open and declared support of the culture of death in direct opposition to the teaching of Christ’s Church.

What tremendous courage! What charity!

God love you Deacon Tom.

Paul Anthony Melanson


Anonymous said...

Is Fr. Williams suggesting that Blessed Cardinal Galen was lacking in charity and prudence then?

We've had 34 years of watered-down teaching on abortion here in the United States. Where has it gotten us? It has given us 34 years of abortion on demand. And now a push for euthanasia and embryonic stem-cell research.

The "kid-gloves" approach has failed.....and miserably. Perhaps if Catholics like Fr. Williams spent as much energy fighting the culture of death as they did criticizing Catholics like Deacon Tom who are actually doing something, abortion would already be history.

It seems like the priests quoted in the NCR are more concerned over Rep. Higgins feelings being "hurt" than they are over the murder of innocent unborn children....


JayG said...

Deacon Tom did well, too bad he has to work so all alone. I'd be happy just to hear some sermons that condemn what is wrong without naming names - as these politicians and Catholics for Choice would condemn themselves by their own words.

Paul Anthony Melanson said...


This was well put

"Perhaps if Catholics like Fr. Williams spent as much energy fighting the culture of death as they did criticizing Catholics like Deacon Tom who are actually doing something, abortion would already be history."

Jay, I couldn't agree more. Homilies dealing with abortion are almost as rare as those dealing with the subject of Hell.

It would appear that our pro-life strategy needs a little fine-tuning. Of course, we could really strike a blow against the forces of darkness if we only spent more time in prayer and fasting.

Jesus reminded us that some demons can only be driven out this way.

Anonymous said...

By all means, let's not "offend" a man who supports murdering children in the womb. But let's castigate the saintly deacon who takes a stand against this moral evil.

Our society is demonic.

Anonymous said...

Is there really a significant "culture of life" within the Catholic Church in the United States?

If so, why aren't more Catholics supporting this deacon?

The Church in America seems to be apostasizing more and more from the faith.

Anonymous said...

Some Catholics are committed to the pro-life cause. More are not. I too get the impression that Church leaders are all jumping on the bandwagon in a mad rush to denounce deacon McDonnell because they are anxious to compromise with American secularism.

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