Saturday, June 25, 2011

St. Cecilia's Parish in Boston: Promoting legalism and false compassion

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that were valid in times past can be inappropriate today, and so they regard the Church's contested moral teachings as outdated rules that the Church should change."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."

St. Cecilia's Parish in Boston, home of the "Rainbow Ministry" which refuses to call people to holiness, has an article written by Kathy Coffey in its latest bulletin.  Ms. Coffey, who obviously suffers from the same legalism described by Dr. Grisez above, also views received Catholic teaching as "mere rules."  The article is entitled "No more time to waste: Challenges for the Church."  Ms. Coffey writes, "Where would I like to see the Catholic Church move next?  In a radical direction, meaning 'back to its roots'....Unfortunately, many now know Catholics only by what they oppose: same-sex marriage, women's ordination, abortion, etc.  In the future, let's be known by what we advocate.  Let's focus on the positive.." 

Ms. Coffey insists, "Given the challenges the human race will face in the next century, Christians can't waste time judging, carping, and condemning.  Let's get on with the task of being Christ to a hungry, hurting world." 

What Ms. Coffey fails to understand is that it is our duty as Catholics to remind others of Gospel truths and to expose those who are promoting sin or error. Often we will find ourselves being criticized (even by other Catholics, whose commitment toward Catholic teaching is, at best, questionable) for doing so.  We will be accused of "judging" and "condemning." This should never deter us. When such people accuse us of "negativity," [or even as "threatening peace and order"], we should recall the words of Dr. Dietrich von Hildebrand: "..the rejection of evil and of sin is a response which is purely positive and morally called for, and it possesses a high moral value. One cannot truly love God, without hating the devil. One cannot really love the truth, without hating error. One cannot find the truth and grasp it clearly as such, without seeing through errors. Knowledge of truth is inseparably linked with knowledge of error, with the unmasking of error. All talk about the superiority of 'yes' over 'no,' about the 'negativity' of rejecting that which should be rejected, is so much idle chatter." (The Cult of the 'Positive').

Indeed, as John Cardinal Newman said in his Grammar of Assent, "I would maintain that fear of error is simply necessary to the genuine love of truth." In his Introduction to the Devout Life, that precious and popular work, St. Francis de Sales, a Doctor of the Church, says that, "If the declared enemies of God and of the Church ought to be blamed and censured with all possible vigor, charity obliges us to cry wolf when the wolf slips into the midst of the flock and in every way and place we may meet him."

Pope John XXIII said essentially the same thing: " long as we are journeying in exile over this earth, our peace and happiness will be imperfect. For such peace is not completely untroubled and serene; it is active, not calm and motionless. In short, this is a peace that is ever at war. It wars with every sort of error, including that which falsely wears the face of truth; it struggles against the enticements of vice, against those enemies of the soul, of whatever description, who can weaken, blemish, or destroy our innocence or Catholic faith." (Ad Petri Cathedram No. 93).

Simply put, Kathy Coffey is wrong.  She is not a Pope.  She is not a saint.  She may honestly believe that it is her God-given role to "correct" the wisdom of the Church and her saints.  But sane people will know better.


Ann Duclos said...

Coffey sees God's Commandments as "mere rules" because she is losing her faith in the Church founded by Christ. But loss of faith in His Mystical Body is loss of faith in Him.

naturgesetz said...

I think the spin you put on Ann Coffey is a bit of a stretch. What she writes that "rules are
necessary—but they aren’t all that we’re
about.” She doesn't use the word "mere" nor does she reject any moral teaching. The saints she cites do not condone sin.

Michael Cole said...

The level of hatred and rhetorical violence I've witnessed from parishioners of St. Cecilia's is a profound disappointment. Referring to orthodox Catholics as haters and bigots is a mark of evil. It is evidence of both intolerance and the demonic. To hate fellow Catholics for defending the Church's authentic teaching in the area of sexual morality is just indefensible. The lack of charity is sad.

Paul Anthony Melanson said...

You are missing the point. Ms. Coffey refers to received Catholic teaching as "rules." This is inapppropriate. Received teaching is more than a set of "rules." Therefore, her use of the word here is not fitting.

Ms. Coffey says that we should go back to our "roots." She writes, "For efficient operation, rules are necessary - but they aren't all that we're about..At the very beginning gushed forth a wellspring of compassionate life so dramatic that centuries haven't quenched it. Let's hear the call of Jesus again - to love the 'other,'..."

But this is to imply that the Church is not "loving the other" because it's caught up in "rules."
Again, received Catholic teaching is far more than a set of rules. And what exactly does Ms. Coffey mean by "compassion" and "love."

The Catechism of the Catholic Church published by the Vatican in 1994 teaches clearly that homosexuality is contrary to nature and that homosexual acts are among the 'sins gravely contrary to chastity.' (CCC, 2396). This Catechism teaches that homosexual acts are 'intrinsically disordered,' 'contrary to the natural law,' and that 'under no circumstances can they be approved.' (CCC, 2357)....Now while it is true that everything must be done to help sinners, this cannot include helping them to sin or to remain in sin. Because of human frailty, every sinner deserves both pity and compassion. However, vice and sin must be excluded from this compassion. This because sin can never be the proper object of compassion. (Summa Theologica, II-II, q. 30, a.1, ad 1).

It is a false compassion which supplies the sinner with the means to remain attached to sin. Such 'compassion' provides an assistance (whether material or moral) which actually enables the sinner to remain firmly attached to his evil ways. By contrast, true compassion leads the sinner away from vice and back to virtue. As Thomas Aquinas explains:

"We love sinners out of charity, not so as to will what they will, or to rejoice in what gives them joy, but so as to make them will what we will, and rejoice in what rejoices us. Hence it is written: 'They shall be turned to thee, and thou shalt not be turned to them.'" (St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, II-II, q. 25, a.6, ad 4, citing Jeremiah 15:19).

St. Thomas Aquinas teaches us that the sentiment of compassion only becomes a virtue when it is guided by reason, since "it is essential to human virtue that the movements of the soul should be regulated by reason." (Summa Theologica, II-II, q. 30, c.3). Without such regulation, compassion is merely a passion. A false compassion is a compassion not regulated and tempered by reason and is, therefore, a potentially dangerous inclination. This because it is subject to favoring not only that which is good but also that which is evil (Summa Theologica, II-II, q. 30, a.1, ad 3).

An authentic compassion always stems from charity. True compassion is an effect of charity (Summa Theologica, II-II, q. 30, a.3, ad 3). But it must be remembered that the object of this virtue is God, whose love extends to His creatures. (Summa Theologica, II-II, q. 25, a.3). Therefore, the virtue of compassion seeks to bring God to the one who suffers so that he may thereby participate in the infinite love of God. As St. Augustine explains:

"'Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.' Now, you love yourself suitably when you love God better than yourself. What, then, you aim at in yourself you must aim at in your neighbor, namely, that he may love God with a perfect affection." (St. Augustine, Of the Morals of the Catholic Church, No. 49

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