Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Father J. Bryan Hehir: A Corroding and Ambiguous Pluralism Which Leads to Dissolution, Destruction and the Loss of Identity

As reported here, Father J. Bryan Hehir, Secretary for Healthcare and Social Services, has argued that, “We [Catholics] could, on the basis of living in a pluralistic society, remain silent on the contraception question in the public policy area while upholding the Church’s teaching internally.” Father Hehir further argued that such an approach is consistent with Catholic tradition because, “Catholic tradition doesn’t always try to translate internal policy into public policy.”

While it is true that a legitimate pluralism exists within the Church, one which, for example, includes diverse rites and spiritualities as well as theologies which reflect the one faith, a pluralism which leaves room for diverse world views, the sort of pluralism advanced by Fr. Hehir, is dangerous because it can occasion relativism. In the Church, such a pluralism has no place. As Pope John XXIII taught, “..there is no other truth than the one truth she [the Church] treasures…there can be no ‘truths’ in contradiction of it.” (Ad Petri Cathedram, AAS 51 (1959) 513, PE, 263.70). The Synod of Bishops, Second Extraordinary Assembly, recognized this truth when it said that, “The pluralism of fundamentally opposed positions” does not build up the Church but “instead leads to dissolution, destruction and the loss of identity.” (Synod of Bishops, Second Extraordinary Assembly, 1985, Final “Relatio”, 2.C.2, EV 9 (1983-1985) 1764-65, OR, 16 Dec. 1985, 7.).

In his wonderful book entitled “A Crisis of Truth: The Attack on Faith, Morality, and Mission in the Catholic Church,” Ralph Martin explains that, “Pastoral leaders today often fail to exercise their responsibility effectively because they have inadequate models for leadership and employ inadequate criteria to judge their own work and the work of others.

Pastoral passivity is often justified as an appropriate posture for leaders of a ‘pluralist’ Church. Indeed, pluralism in the Church can be a very good thing. The life of the Church is enriched by a certain kind of diversity in cultural expression, pastoral approach, and even theological and philosophical expression of the faith. Yet pluralism is legitimate only if it involves diverse expressions of the one faith as definitively interpreted by the teaching authority of the Church over the centuries.

Today, calls for ‘pluralism’ are often pleas to abandon the one faith. Many of those who work for the ‘pluralistic’ Church of the future, in contrast to the ‘monolithic’ Church of the past, are actually working for the destruction of the Church and any meaningful measure of unity of faith. Pope Paul VI called this kind of indiscriminate pluralism, the kind that lacks any clear criteria, ‘corroding and ambiguous.’ It is indeed at work in the Church today.

Often an uncritical pluralism is combined with a conception of the pastoral leader as someone who is a ‘unifier.’ Of course, those responsible for families, parishes, and other segments of God’s people need to work to unify their people. But they should not achieve unity at just any price. The unity appropriate to God’s people is a unity based on a common adherence to Christian truth and the person of Christ. Saying ‘yes’ to the teaching of the Church in areas of faith and morals is to say ‘no’ to those who undermine and challenge them. Unity is based on truth. Yet many pastoral leaders today are presiding over a ‘unity’ which contains contradictory elements, a ‘unity’ which includes both acceptance and rejection of Christ, His Word, and the teaching of the Church. To tolerate the corruption of Christian truth in the name of unity or pluralism is to make a mockery of the genuine function and role of pastoral authority. It is, in fact, to preside over that corroding of Christian faith which Paul VI warned about.

Sometimes such corroding pluralism is tolerated because of a muddled or vague understanding of the wheat and the tares parable and other scripture passages that talk of problems within the Church. In this connection it is frequently said that: ‘The Catholic Church is a church of sinners, a broad church that includes everybody; it is not a sect.’ Besides often incorporating an imprecise and often incoherent use of the sociological categories of ‘church’ and ‘sect,’ such formulations are, more seriously, based on a misinterpretation of such scripture passages. The point of such passages is often to describe actual or future situations that can never be remedied simply by human effort, but can ultimately only be fully resolved by an action of God himself. The point of such passages though is not to counsel the advocacy of a lukewarm, passive, indifferent vision of Church life, in which the corruption of Christian truth and God’s people is benignly presided over.

Such false applications of the parable have been common previously in Church history to justify a distorted approach to Church life, and St. Augustine addressed this situation squarely:

‘In answer to these persons I would say, first of all, that in reading the testimonies of Sacred Scripture which indicate that there is presently, or foretell that there will be in the future, a mingling of good and evil persons in the Church, anyone who understands these testimonies in such a way that he supposes the diligence and severity of discipline ought to be relaxed altogether and be omitted is not taught by those same writings but is deceived by his own conjecture. The fact that Moses, the servant of God, bore most patiently that mixture of good and evil among the chosen people did not prevent him from punishing many, even with the sword….In our times, when the sword has ceased to be visible in the discipline of the Church, what must be done is pointed out by degradations and excommunications.’” (A Crisis of Truth, citing St. Augustine, “Faith and Works,” 1737a).

The Council of Trent teaches definitively that the Gospel is the source of all saving truth and authentic moral teaching. As Catholics we are not called to “remain silent” about the Gospel in the name of “pluralism.” We are called, as Dei Verbum of the Second Vatican Council reminds us, “..to hold fast to the traditions” which we “have learned either by word of mouth or by letter (cf. 2 Thes 2:15), and to fight in defense of the faith handed on once and for all (cf. Jude 1:3)…” (Dei Verbum, No. 8).


Ellen Wironken said...

You're right. Silence in the Church on contraception would imply that it is possible to hold "another truth" in contradiction to what the Church teaches regarding contraception. And we are indeed called to reject such a pluralism and to fight in defense of the faith.

Fr. Hehir says something else interesting in the passage cited. He refers to the "contraception question." In other words, for Fr. Hehir, the Church's teaching on contraception is in question.

But it is not. The teaching is infallible. Pope Paul VI, in Humanae Vitae, was merely restating what the Church had always taught through her ordinary Magisterium.

The Church's teaching should not be framed as something which is questionable.

Carl said...

In his response to Joe Sacerdo's latest post, Charles Pierce over at the Boston Globe brushes off any constructive criticism of his confused article writing, "Quod scripsi scripsit." What I have written I have written.

Like Pontius Pilate he washes his hands of truth and allows Jesus to be crucified again.

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