Tuesday, February 16, 2010

"...temptations that can slowly yet effectively turn us away from God and the moral teachings of the Catholic Church.."

In his recently released Pastoral Letter on the Sacrament of Penance, which may be found here, Bishop Robert J. McManus writes, "It is well-known that in the last forty years, there has been a precipitous decline in the number of Catholics who regularly receive the Sacrament of Penance. A recent survey of American Catholics revealed some startling and sobering statistics. One statistic that was particularly unsettling was that 45% of Catholics who attend Mass weekly never receive the Sacrament of Penance. The reasons for the virtual disappearance from the lives of the majority of Catholics of the regular practice of going to confession are, no doubt, varied. Yet, an explanation of this disconcerting pastoral situation has to include to a significant degree a loss of the sense of sin among among contemporary Catholics..." What the Bishop neglects to mention is that this "disconcerting pastoral situation" is largely the result of theologians and pastors who succumbed to legalism.

Dr. Germain Grisez, in a talk entitled "Legalism, Moral Truth and Pastoral Practice" given at a 1990 symposium held in Philadelphia, had this to say:

"Theologians and pastors who dissent from received Catholic teaching think they are rejecting legalism because they set aside what they think are mere rules in favor of what they feel are more reasonable standards. Their views are thoroughly imbued with legalism, however. For dissenters think of valid moral norms as rules formulated to protect relevant values. Some even make their legalism explicit by denying that there is any necessary connection between moral goodness (which they restrict to the transcendental level of a love with no specific content) and right action (which they isolate at the categorical level of inner-worldly behavior). But whether their legalism is explicit or not, all the dissenters hold that specific moral norms admit exceptions whenever, all things considered, making an exception seems the best - or least bad - thing to do. Most dissenters also think that specific moral norms that were valid in times past can be inappropriate today, and so they regard the Church's contested moral teachings as outdated rules that the Church should change."

Dr. Grisez reminded his listeners at the Philadelphia symposium that, "During the twentieth century, pastoral treatment of repetitious sins through weakness - especially masturbation, homosexual behavior, premarital sex play and contraception within marriage - grew increasingly mild. Pastors correctly recognized that weakness and immaturity can lessen such sins’ malice. Thinking legalistically, they did not pay enough attention to the sins’ inherent badness and harmfulness, and they developed the idea that people can freely choose to do something that they regard as a grave matter without committing a mortal sin. This idea presupposes that in making choices people are not responsible precisely for choosing what they choose. That presupposition makes sense within a legalistic framework, because lawgivers can take into account mitigating factors and limit legal culpability. But it makes no sense for morality correctly understood, because moral responsibility in itself is not something attached to moral acts but simply is moral agents’ self-determination in making free choices. Repetitious sinners through weakness also were handicapped by their own legalism. Not seeing the inherent badness of their sins, they felt that they were only violating inscrutable rules. When temptation grew strong, they had little motive to resist, especially because they could easily go to confession and have the violation fixed. Beginning on Saturday they were holy; by Friday they were again sinners. This cyclic sanctity robbed many people’s lives of Christian dynamism and contributed to the dry rot in the Church that became manifest in the 1960s, when the waves of sexual permissiveness battered her."

Dr. Grisez then went on to explain that, "Pastors free of legalism will teach the faithful how sin makes moral requirements seem to be alien impositions, help them see through this illusion, and encourage them to look forward to and experience the freedom of God’s children, who rejoice in the fruit of the Spirit and no longer experience the constraint of law..They will explain that while one sometimes must choose contrary to positive laws and cannot always meet their requirements, one always can choose in truth and abide in love. They will acknowledge the paradox of freedom - that we seem unable to resist freely choosing to sin - the paradox that Saint Paul neatly formulates: ‘I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate’ (Romans 7:15). But they also will proclaim the liberating power of grace, and help the faithful learn by experience that when one comes to understand the inherent evil of sin and intrinsic beauty of goodness, enjoys the support of a community of faith whose members bear one another’s burdens, begs God for His help, and confidently expects it, then the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead raises him from his sins, and he discovers that with the Spirit’s grace one can consistently resist sin and choose life."

I fully support Bishop McManus. And I firmly believe that his Pastoral Letter is a step in the right direction. But His Excellency would do well to examine the pastoral problem of pastors who have embraced legalism and who view valid moral norms as mere rules which may be jettisoned when they become "inconvenient."


Rita Jeannine Melanson said...

In Veritatis Splendor, No. 96, Pope John Paul II reminded us that, "The Church's firmness in defending the universal and unchanging moral norms is not demeaning at all. Its only purpose is to serve man's true freedom. Because there can be no freedom apart from or in opposition to the truth, the categorical — unyielding and uncompromising — defence of the absolutely essential demands of man's personal dignity must be considered the way and the condition for the very existence of freedom."

John 8:32.

ACatholicinClinton said...

Very often I have gone to Confession only to have the priest tell me that I don't have to confess so often (I go about once a month). Is Bishop McManus going to speak to his priests about this problem? I go for the graces to help me avoid sinning venially in the future and especially to avoid mortal sin.

Why are priests trying to discourage me from going to Confession?

Michael Cole said...

The Bishop doesn't mind engaging in constructve criticism of the laity, asserting - and correctly so - that among the laity there has been, "a loss of the sense of sin." In the same spirit of fraternal correction, he should lay much (even most) of the responsibility for this pastoral situation on priests. But he says nothing.

Like everything else, the laity are assigned the full blame. Vocations crisis? It is because families aren't promoting vocations to their children; dwindling parish funds? It is because the laity aren't committed toward authentic stewardship; Emptying parishes? It is because the laity have become materialistic and hedonistic and have abandoned their faith.

All of these contain elements of truth. But we hear nothing about parishes emptying because of sex abuse scandals and the bad example set by certain priests, we hear nothing about vocations dwindling because orthodox candidates are turned away, we hear nothing about the fact that many Catholics stopped tithing because they have been scandalized by sexual abuse, dissent from Church teaching and liturgical terrorism.

No. The laity are to blame. No pharisaism there.

Anonymous said...


Ellen Wironken said...

Confessions Around the Clock in New York
Contact: Mario Bruschi, Cathedral of Saint Patrick Young Adults, 917-597-3453

NEW YORK, Feb. 12 /Christian Newswire/ -- The Cathedral of Saint Patrick Young Adults (CSPYA) and 51 churches of the Archdiocese of New York, are pleased to announce the 2nd Annual "24 Hours of Confessions" project for the 2010 Lenten Season.

"24 HOURS OF CONFESSION" is scheduled to take place between 7:00 A.M. on Friday, March 5th, 2010, through 7:00 A.M. on Saturday, March 6th, 2010, at 51 parishes throughout the Bronx, Manhattan, Dutchess, Staten Island, Orange, Rockland and Westchester counties.

His Excellency, Bishop Dominick Lagonegro, Vicar of Orange County, rallied 25 churches in his own county to hold additional confession times from 6pm-9pm on March 5th.

These participating parishes have extended their hours for hearing confessions, targeting those Catholics who have not yet found the time to receive the Holy Sacrament of Reconciliation. The participating parishes will be keeping their "confession doors" open for a total of more than 275 hours during this 24 hour period.

"In this Year of the Priest, the priests of the Archdiocese of New York are making a tremendous sacrifice to hear people's confessions, to counsel them, and to give them comfort. They are living the great example of St. John Vianney and St. Padre Pio, by bringing people back to Jesus Christ through this sacrament," says Mario Bruschi, Director of the Cathedral of Saint Patrick Young Adults. "Catholics need to know that confession is all about God's forgiveness and love and that the priest is there for them. That is why our goal for this project will be focused on reminding people about the importance of the priesthood and that confession can restore us when we sin."

For a full list of participating parishes, please visit www.cspya.org, and click on the "24 Hours of Confession" hyperlink on the homepage. You can also visit www.events4jc.org and click on the "24 Hours of Confession" event listing for March 5th, 2010.

For more information about this event or to speak with an event manager, please contact (845) 561-2264 or (917) 597-3453 or info@cspya.org.

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