Saturday, October 09, 2010

Does the Constitution on the Church lack credibility for Father J. Bryan Hehir?

Father J. Bryan Hehir of the Boston Archdiocese believes the Catholic Church has lost credibility because a small percentage of her priests have engaged in sexual abuse.  His solution?  In an interview which may be found here,  the dissident priest whose "social justice conference" has raised many eyebrows, asks, "..what do we do to regain credibility" and then proceeds to answer his own question: " view is, as a kind of simple principle, that we've got to treat adults as adults in the Church. We now have in the United States the most educated laity the Catholic Church has confronted in 2,000 years of history. You can't have a situation where men and women are in charge of their lives, treated as adults in corporations, universities, and politics, and are not treated as adults inside the Church....

The question of how to mobilize discussion among the leadership comes partly from laity who understand what a significant strategic role they are now in. A hundred years ago, this discussion would have been inconceivable in American Catholicism--that you would have this kind of room, at this kind of university, on this kind of topic. I'm not calling for revolution. I don't think that works in the Catholic Church. I do think that there's a range of definable, discussible issues on which the laity need to say at the parish level and every other level, we simply won't accept anything except adult conversation."

The idea that the laity are not treated as adults within the Church is both insulting and wrong.  Vatican II, in its Decree on the Mission Activity of the Church (Ad Gentes), has this to say: "The Church has not been really founded and is not yet fully alive, nor is it a perfect sign of Christ among men, unless there is a laity worthy of the name working along with the hierarchy.  For the Gospel cannot be deeply grounded in the abilities, life and work of any people without the active presence of laymen.  Therefore, even at the very founding of a chrch, great attention is to be paid to establishing a mature, Christian laity.  For the lay faithful fully belong at one and the same time both to the People of God and to civil society...They also belong to Christ, because they were regenerated in the Church by faith and by Baptism, so that they are Christ's in newness of life and work (cf. 1 Cor 15: 23), in order that in Christ, all things may be made subject to God, and finally God will be all in all (cf. 1 Cor 15: 28)." (Ad Gentes, No. 21).

What exactly is Fr. Hehir talking about when he speaks of "adult conversation"?  What he means - what he is really proposing - is indeed a revolution in the Church.  Which is why he says, "A hundred years ago, this discussion [the push for a "democratic church" where the laity vote for Bishops and decide Church teaching by majority consensus - which is what VOTF means by "structural change"] would have been inconceivable in American Catholicism."

Why would it have been inconceivable?  Because the push for such "structural change" is really a push for apostasy from the Mystical Body of Christ.  The laity of 100 years ago were too strong in faith (fortes in fide) to be propagandized into revolution.  Now that the Church has been undermined from within and so many of the "educated laity" are really poorly educated as to what the Church actually teaches, they are more malleable.

The same Vatican II which called for a "mature Christian laity" also teaches that, "Bishops, teaching in communion with the Roman Pontiff, are to be respected by all as witnesses to divine and Catholic truth.  In matters of faith and morals, the bishops speak in the name of Christ and the faithful are to accept their teaching and adhere to it with a religious assent.  This religious submission of mind and will must be shown in a special way to the authentic magisterium of the Roman Pontiff, even when he is not speaking ex cathedra.." (Lumen Gentium, No. 25).

What Father Hehir is really advocating is a sort of ersatz "magisterium" where the laity express their demands to the Church's hierarchy and a majority vote in the Church overrides the hierarchy.  This is euphemistically referred to as "adult conversation."  Pope John Paul II warned in his Encyclical Letter Veritatis Splendor (The Splendor of Truth) that, "While exchanges and conflicts of opinion may constitute normal expressions of public life in a representative democracy, moral teaching certainly cannot depend upon respect for a process: indeed, it is no way established by following the rules and deliberative procedures typical of a democracy.  Dissent, in the form of carefully orchestrated protests and polemics carried on in the media, is opposed to ecclesial communion and to a correct understanding of the hierarchical constitution of the People of God." (No. 113).

The Church is hierarchical in nature.  This is what so angers the proponents of revolution in the Church.  And Father Hehir is no exception.  But the Fathers of Vatican II speak clearly:

"..the task of authentically interpreting the word of God, whether written or handed on,  has been entrusted exclusively to the living teaching office of the Church, whose authority is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ. This teaching office is not above the word of God, but serves it, teaching only what has been handed on, listening to it devoutly, guarding it scrupulously and explaining it faithfully in accord with a divine commission and with the help of the Holy Spirit, it draws from this one deposit of faith everything which it presents for belief as divinely revealed." (Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation (Dei Verbum), No. 10).

Related reading here.

And here.

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