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A question of authority

posted by awelborn

Amid all the specifics of the “Catholic vote” issue this past election season and the various statements of bishops and other clergy, the more general issue undergirding the whole discussion is quite simply, that of authority.
The question of teaching authority is one of the most vexing elements of Catholicism. The Church claims the authority to teach in Christ’s name on earth, but then, in modern times at least, explicitly points to different levels of authoritative claims and teachings.
(I say “in modern times” because I really do not know how the concept of “hierarchy of truths” was understood among theologians in the pre-Vatican II era or how or if it was expressed to believers.)
So this year, the issue raises is raised in this way: some bishops speak strongly on the relationship between a vote for an abortion-rights advocating politician; others remain silent. One bishop says an abortion-rights advocating Veep-elect should think long and hard before receiving Communion in his diocese, another says he does not want to alienate people.
Now, on this latter point, I think close readings – or even not-so-close readings – could conclude that these last two bishops are not completely at odds.
But the question remains. This is not a new question either. As I said, it is one embedded in the mystery of the Church’s authority, but one brought much more to the forefront in the past half-century as the Church has disposed of elements once taught as essential, as pastors and teachers on the ground regularly ignore or explicitly dismiss various elements of Catholic teaching, and – in this current example – bishops give wildly varied answers on matter of how a Catholic takes his or her faith into the process of constructing civil socieity.
This is not, I hope you can tell, an appeal to return to some easy days gone by of widespread perfect assent to clearly-articulated teaching.  I don’t think such a time ever existed. No, it’s a question that follows many the catechist, preacher or pastor around, one that when asked, sounds like this:
“The bishops don’t even agree with each other? Why should I accept anything they say as true?”



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Stephen B

posted November 18, 2008 at 12:06 pm


For what it’s worth, I think that Americans have a deep interest in process. To the extent that this is true, a better understanding of things like Newman’s theory on the development of Christian doctrine may be of some use. If folks understand that there is a definite process by which things come out they may trust in it more. Of course there is a role for the Holy Spirit that cannot be easily explained, but allowing for some semblance of “due process” may help the authoritative teaching gain more force. I will admit, though, that I come at this from a law background and the law’s emphasis on due process.



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Mike

posted November 18, 2008 at 12:09 pm


Amy-
I agree. Episcopal authority suffers because of the lack of agreement among the Bishops.
But the lack of agreement among Bishops, and the sometimes extreme differences between neighboring parishes, also provides cover (for Catholics) for relativism.
The deterioration in Episcopal authority has a cancerous effect “from the top down.”
Mike



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Yosemite Sam

posted November 18, 2008 at 12:18 pm


It’s not really a surprise that bishops differ on many prudential issues given the various backgrounds they themselves bring. On questions concerning abortion, euthanasia, et al., it is difficult, if not impossible, to evaluate all of the considerations brought to bear on a particular “vote” by each voter. There is a complexity to the thought process that people take with them to the voting booth (and elsewhere) that doesn’t all come down to one single issue, important as that issue may be. This election was especially relevant here because neither candidate was “pure” with respect to the “life issues.”
Although the Catechism is very explicit with respect to the obligations of those in power, e.g., they must operate within the limits of the moral order (CCC #1923) or they must respect the fundamental rights of the human person (CCC #2237), or they must honor the family (CCC #2211), etc., in practice, as we all know, all of these operate quite differently in actuality. Furthermore, as the CCC #2442 states, pastors cannot intervene directly in the political order; they must leave this to the laity.
So it’s no wonder that there is no consistency in the application of Church teaching here. Even when the bishops preach strictly according to Church teaching, the laity are free to “interpret” all of this according to their own understandings of Church teaching as well as their own informed consciences. If a bishop reads the “signs of the times” differently and declines to exhort the laity to a more severe application of Church teaching, then the results will be different.
I think it’s a bit jejune to qualify one’s adherence to Church teaching on the basis that the “bishops don’t agree with each other.” Bishops disagreeing has gone on forever. It’s not an excuse not to follow Church teaching and it’s not a reason to dismiss all bishops.
The Church has given the laity a wide berth since Vatican II to inform themselves, to make up their own minds (informed by Church teaching), and then to apply that teaching in the public arena. So if the laity want to exercise all of this freedom and influence, they have to take some of the responsibility for themselves.
I don’t disagree with much, if anything that you have said. But do you do much catechesis of young people and adults? Have you ever tried to translate this into the real world of a classroom, in which “bishops disagree on voting for Obama” can quickly get translated into, “It doesn’t matter what I believe about Jesus”?



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Lourdes

posted November 18, 2008 at 12:18 pm


As you say, this is not a new development. Many bishops went over to the side of Arianism in the early days of the Church. Only St. John Fisher stood up to Henry VIII out of all of the bishops of England. Interestingly, quite often it is the sensus fidei (sp.?) that can prod bishops back in the proper direction. It takes time, but there does seem to be a groundswell of active orthodox Catholics who are no longer willing to tolerate sloppy teaching by the hierarchy.



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skeeton

posted November 18, 2008 at 12:41 pm


I would also say that this problem of bishops not being in perfect harmony with one another has become a much more visible problem in the last decade or so because of the ready availability of information.
With the advent of the internet, Joe Catholic has a much easier time surveying the opinions/teachings of various bishops – through their articles, speeches, YouTube videos, pastoral letters, etc. – and this inevitably leads to comparing the teachings of multiple ordinaries. This constant pitting of bishop v. bishop has not only increased the confusion among the faithful – what do I believe when Bishop A says that abortion is paramount but Bishop B says it is but one issue among many? – but it has also led the faithful to “shop” for episcopal teachings that more closely fit their already held beliefs, similar to the way that the faithful “shop” for a new parish when they move to a new town. Rather than attend their local parish (as technically they should), the faithful seek a parish that they prefer and become intentional parishioners.
Much in the same way, the faithful publicize and adhere to the episcopal teachings that happen to agree with their already held perspective, even though the bishop in question may be 1,000s of miles away, have no juridicial authority over the faithful holding up his teaching, and may not be in complete harmony with the person’s local ordinary.
This is not to say that internet is at the root of this problem facing the bishops. However, I think it’s fair to say that the bishops have not given adequate attention to the internet and how it impacts their ability to govern locally. The faithful have many questions about teaching – is my bishop out of step? what authority does a bishops conference have? does it overrule my local bishop? why isn’t the Vatican saying something about this?! – and the bishops have yet to figure out that this problem is impacting their ability to teach effectively.



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Jim

posted November 18, 2008 at 12:52 pm


I don’t believe the bishops are about to back away from the notion of the primacy of a well-informed conscience, so……………….they should concentrate on their special role in the process of informing those consciences. This is not something they should pay attention to only in October of election years…………….it is a daily responsibility.
They are, of course, human, and unlikely to point the finger at themselves. However, 40 years of half-hearted, feel-good, content-free catechesis is coming home to roost.
So now they find themselves writing long, theologically nuanced open letters to a flock that lacks, for the most part, the basics of the faith. It is frustrating for the bishops, for sure…..understandably so. No wonder some of them have now just taken to yelling at those who don’t vote as they want them to vote…….even threatening (or seeming to threaten) to deny Communion to the non-compliant.
But it shouldn’t be a surprise.
And they won’t fix it with a more artfully worded letter.



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Momof3

posted November 18, 2008 at 1:01 pm


I think your point that the two bishops are not that far apart is more to the point. Their disagreement is one of discipline. Then the question becomes, does the Church have the right to discipline the laity? Yes, but by keeping them from the Eucharist?
If a priest, who has made a committment/covenant with and to God and the Church decides he is going to ordain a priestess, then I believe the Church has every right to excommunicate him. He is no longer Catholic by virtue of his defiance. He is excommunicated. I think the issue revolves around the Eucharist. If these people are doing something so wrong, and I believe they are, then they should be excommunicated, not kept from the Eucharist.
This is happening for one reason only, because our catechesis is non-existent. As I said on another thread, we are sacramentalized not evangelized. And withholding communion only exacerbates the divide between the two. The Eucharist isn’t a talisman and it isn’t a ‘chit’ with which one gets to heaven. Unfortunately, too many Catholics believe that it is and treat it like that. Gotta go to Mass and make my obligation (after the Liturgy of the Word), get communion and keep on walking out of the Church. Just the language…’make my obligation’ and behavior…’come after the readings and leave after receiving communion’ says it all.
When someone says, ‘Even the Bishops don’t agree so why should I listen to them’, there is an opportunity for a teaching moment. It isn’t a question of not agreeing on the intrinsic evil of abortion…they agree, the Church has had the same teaching for virtually all its existence. The question is does the Church have the right to discipline, (Yes..what you bind in on earth is bound in heaven) and if it is yes, then what should be the prescribed discipline. How does one chooses to inform their conscience? To direct their life…compartmentalize it or live out their faith? What does it mean to be Catholic? These are the questions around which to have a discussion with these people.
I married a divorced, protestant who had been married to a fallen away Catholic who wanted a divorce. I couldn’t go to communion for years, not until the annulment was completed. We were married in an Episcopal Church (when it was a church) because we both wanted to be married before God, we believe marriage is a covenant. Was I in the same state of sin as Pelosi? In my opinion, and in the end that of the Church, I wasn’t in sin at all. These politicians are not Catholic anymore, they should be excommunicated. HOWEVER, people ought to know that excommunication is reversible. We are right back to catechesis.



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Clayton

posted November 18, 2008 at 1:09 pm


I wonder how much of this confusion is unique to the era of mass communications in which we live. Did lay people really know what bishops outside their own diocese were teaching before the age of radio, telephone, television, and Internet?
The variations in teaching and/or pastoral application have likely always been around, but seldom has it been in such plain view.
So, also, has the tendency of human nature to want to play off one authority against another, in order to achieve some desired outcome. Ever seen kids in a playground observing the way other parents treat their kids?



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annette

posted November 18, 2008 at 1:18 pm


My husband teaches 8th grade CCD. He is struggling to teach them about the teaching authority of the Church, apostolic succession, and informing their consciences as well as myriad other very important subjects because he knows that this will probably be the LAST time these 14-year-olds learn anything about their religion. When the Deacon stepped in last Sunday and inquired of the class “exactly why are you here, honestly?” the majority of the answers were “because my mom makes me” and a few “because I want a quinceanera”. One young woman (whose father is another CCD teacher) actually challenged the Deacon on “why do we have all this ritual, why can’t I pray to God my own way”…etc. This actually was a good teaching opportunity by the Deacon and my husband (who thanked the young woman after class for bringing up the subject). It’s shocking how little these children know about their religion. On the other hand next year our parish will institute a specific 2 year program towards confirmation (the current is one year and my husband, being very traditional is, in my humble opinion, trying to cram way too much into their little 14-year-old minds). Our Bishop (Kevin Farrell) is WONDERFUL and truly a blessing for the Diocese of Dallas. We could not be happier; however, I think that priests in general are too afraid of turning off the money taps to really instruct about catholic teachings from the ambo. We do have a very traditional Filipino priest who gives wonderful teaching homilies. We are very careful to thank him afterwards and tell him how much we enjoy them.



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TSO

posted November 18, 2008 at 1:31 pm


“The bishops don’t even agree with each other? Why should I accept anything they say as true?”
The question indeed. I think it’s exacerbated in this time when information is so easily acquired. With the Internet, it seems people choose their favorite bishops when before we wouldn’t have known many of them outside our diocese.
Plus there’s always a political element, and watching sausage being made isn’t pleasant. I wonder how much the “Letters from Rome” published in the New Yorker (I think) during Vatican II paved the way for the coming zeitgeist of dissent. I wonder if people heard that the bishops were in much different camps, so that became the focus rather the resulting documents.



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Mike

posted November 18, 2008 at 2:15 pm


Skeeton is entirely correct. Disagreement creates a “shopping” environment.
Catholics “shop” for Bishops and priests who can provide cover for their beliefs and preferences. Why? Because they can.
Until such shopping is made difficult, it will go on.
If the bishops want to stop it, they must speak with one voice—consistently—and they must require more consistency from the parishes.
If this does not occur, the Bishops must be willing to reap what they have sown.



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Thomas

posted November 18, 2008 at 2:25 pm


Lourdes comment that “this is not a new development” is, I think, very important to keep in mind. It is important to point this out to folks who may be naive and with little sense of history. Christians should, of course, have a deep sense of history; however, that is often lacking nowadays.



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Rich Leonardi

posted November 18, 2008 at 2:50 pm


“The bishops don’t even agree with each other? Why should I accept anything they say as true?”
The problem worsens when you add pastors and DREs into the mix. It will be solved over time by the appointment of the sort of house-cleaning, magisterially aligned bishops we’ve seen in the past fifteen years or so. It’s up to the rest of us to maintain our domestic churches in the meantime.



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Mike

posted November 18, 2008 at 3:01 pm


Rich is quite right that pastors and DREs significantly worsen the problem. One cannot think of this as being a problem that exists only among Bishops. Ordinary Catholics are more likely to encounter the problem much more locally, in their own parishes.
I HOPE he’s right about the solution, and its timing. I would hope that we could receive a “sign” that the newer Bishops will change things.



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elmo

posted November 18, 2008 at 3:03 pm


It doesn’t help when the archbishop of D.C. misled the nation’s bishops on the wording of a letter from then Cardinal Ratzinger in 2004 saying that denial of communion to such politicians who continue to support abortion and euthanasia is mandatory. McCarrick softened the cardinal’s stance. As a result of this lie, the bishops voted to allow each bishop to make his own decision about whether to allow such politicians to receive communion. Message to Joe and Mary Catholic: Nobody obeys the pope, not even the bishops, so why should the laity obey anyone?



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Rick

posted November 18, 2008 at 3:05 pm


Disagreement creates a “shopping” environment.
Doesn’t disagreement among bishops on an issue mean that individual Catholics are in fact free to “shop”?
My understanding is that doctrine is to be held definitively when the Pope declares it ex cathedra, or when it is unanimously taught by the bishops in union with the Pope.
If the bishops are divided on a position, and the Pope has not solemnly ruled, wouldn’t it be presumptuous for individual bishops to declare that the disputed teaching is to be held definitively by the faithful in their care?



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Marcel LeJeune

posted November 18, 2008 at 3:09 pm


Amy – if we had the answer, I think the Bishops would have it as well. The problem is huge and the responses above have been accurate. It is a problem that includes:
-differences in how to pastorally apply the agreed-upon principles.
-poor, if that good, catechesis.
-some bishops who don’t want to make waves with their flocks.
-bureaucrats and managers, not pastors, being made bishops.
-fear of driving the marginal Catholics further away from the church vs. clearly teaching the truth.
All of these and more are a part of the problems we face now. How to fix it? Well, if we were being radical here is what I would do in a “test” diocese:
1 – Introduce the plan via homilies, articles, pastoral letters, etc. for at least 1 year prior to the kick-off.
2 – Stop all children’s catechesis for 1 year.
3 – Only do adult catechesis for that 1 year.
4 – Form adults in their obligation to teach the faith to their children.
5 – Start family-based catechesis after the 1 year trial using good resources and continued adult formation.
I know their are problems with this plan and holes as well. But, what we are doing now isn’t working and we have the formation process upside-down as it is. I recommend this because once an adult Catholic is well-formed in prayer, and knowledge of the faith, this kind of crisis would work itself out.



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skeeton

posted November 18, 2008 at 3:18 pm


Rick,
That ex cathedra rule certainly applies for universal teaching, but a bishop is the chief catechist and former of consciences in his own diocese. Obedience to proper authority should play a role in this debate for Catholics. Due to the shopping phenomenon made easier by Google, however, most folks will ignore their own bishop if there’s one within earshot that says something more to the hearers liking. As long as one’s own bishop isn’t an outright heretic, shouldn’t we as the faithful respect and follow his teachings (while we simultaneously try to persuade him to be more forthright / orthodox in his pronouncements)?



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Rick

posted November 18, 2008 at 3:58 pm


skeeton,
shouldn’t we as the faithful respect and follow his teachings
Respect? Certainly. But the faithful have rights as well, and I do not believe they are required, on pain of sin, to hold disputed positions favored by their Ordinary, but not taught definitively.



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Lurker

posted November 18, 2008 at 4:10 pm


I wonder if we just know so much more than we did back 40 or 50 years ago.
Someone was speaking on television about the cabinets of various presidents before the boom of cable news (and later the internet) and said that with 3 networks, there was a homogenous message to the public about a president’s work.
Now we have lots of opinions, discoveries, investigations and, yes, truths.
I suppose the same can be said for the Church. I agree, Amy. We may never had a real “assent to a clearly-articulated” truth. But at least we didn’t know we didn’t have it!



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Mike

posted November 18, 2008 at 4:22 pm


Let me add a few things to Marcel’s list.
1. On certain prescribed issues (like abortion), the parishes must provide only information that has been approved by the Bishop. This would eliminate dissemination to parishioners of “off the reservation” sources, like Fr. McBrien’s column and even erroneous views held by the pastors themselves.
2. Pastors must not use their weekly bulletin columns as op-ed space to question Church authority, to address controversial Church teachings or to advocate for (or even discuss) “change” in Church teaching.
I know this sounds very draconian, but in my experience there are hundreds of Andrew Greeleys out there who stir the pot on a weekly basis in their weekly bulletin columns. That is a very prominent source of confusion.
Church teaching must be better “distributed.” In the age of technology, it’s very doable.



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kdpfam

posted November 18, 2008 at 4:33 pm


Skeeton:
“As long as one’s bishop . . . ?” Absolutely not. That it what is totally cool about being Catholic. Regardless of how many Judas’ occupy various dioceses and archdioceses, we as Catholic’s always can turn to the Magisterial teachings of Holy Mother the Church. First, one is morally obligated NOT to obey the “proper authority” when the teaching is wrong or causes confusion. Second, the CCC teaches and the Code of Canon Law provides the laity with the RIGHT to correct those in authority under certain circumstances. Finally, this is not about being nice or not being nice. Peoples souls, and in the case of babies still in there mother’s womb, their lives, are at stake.



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Momof3

posted November 18, 2008 at 4:45 pm


I agree with Marcel, but how do you get the adults to the formation classes? We can barely get them all to the opening of CCD or even Children are Special Masses for their own kids…which are mandatory.. but not enforced (haha).
We have a wonderful program here in our diocese not to mention classes the diocese has had for a long time…it is like pulling teeth. And the program here, Education for Parish Service is struggling to stay alive.
Evangelization is the answer, more even than catechesis. Once you come to faith in Christ, develop a relationship of trust with Him, a hunger is created that is hard to keep fed and suddenly the ‘Church’ isn’t just this earthly institution made of up people you don’t like. Our catechesis is not geared to fostering that kind of faith and even those resources that try, can’t make up for the lack of faith among the ranks of parishoners.
I have taught 8th grade, I’ve taught 4th and 5th. Every year is like starting over again because 1 out of 20 in a class never go to Mass or go less than twice a month. They don’t understand why anyone cares.
I still think this is where the line in the sand has to be drawn…first you have to get the adults in…and based upon experience at parishes here, hold a class on Marriage, divorce and annulment in the Church…a crowd always develops because if one isn’t on the outs because of divorce and remarriage someone you know is.



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Rick

posted November 18, 2008 at 5:13 pm


In short, the answer to Amy’s question is:
The Bishops are in fact unanimous in affirming the core tenets of our Faith. It is precisely these unanimously affirmed teachings that are to be definitively held.
A good catechist might spend time examining these beliefs that the bishops affirm in common, noting how striking and countercultural they are: These would include the truths of the Creed; the evil of abortion and human dignity of the unborn; the preferential option for the poor; a preferential option against capital punishment, etc.
Sometimes bishops do disagree about what our faith demands in concrete circumstances. These areas of disagreement are news fodder and so magnified by the press, but this shouldn’t be troubling. Catholic doctrine develops over time. When an issue is disputed, individual Catholics are free to accept the position they judge most reasonable.



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Clayton

posted November 18, 2008 at 5:25 pm


Maybe this is so obvious that it doesn’t need to be said, but all of the solutions mentioned above will fail if the recipient of the teaching — the laypeople — lack the proper disposition.
No amount of catechesis will make a difference if a basic posture of ongoing interior conversion is missing.
Bishops and priests can’t micromanage consciences, nor should they have to. Somehow (with the Holy Spirit, of course) they need to find ways to form the faithful in the interior disposition of honestly informing and examining their consciences.
Preaching about conversion is very important, as well as a related commitment to make the sacrament of reconciliation readily available. That’s a definite challenge in a Church with a declining number of priests and an increasing number of parishioners. Making the sacrament available one hour per week (52 hours a year) doesn’t allow each parishioner to meet the minimum requirement of yearly confession.



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Marcel LeJeune

posted November 18, 2008 at 6:27 pm


Catechesis isn’t just classes. It is a process of forming the whole person, spiritually, intellectually, etc.
We have to get away from the idea that catechesis aims only at the head and does not include an evangelical dimension.
In addition to the speaking I do around the country, I teach a weekly class to college students. In this first semester, of a 6 semester class, I have upwards of 60 students or so attending weekly. I had them all fill out an evaluation of the class this week (last week is the final class of the semester). Out of these 60 students, we have had several non-Catholics who have entered RCIA and a unanimous evaluations of the sort that equate to – “you changed my life”, “I have grown closer to Christ”, etc.
Catechesis is a part of the work of evangelization and must have an evangelical dimension that seeks conversion in order to be defined as valid catechesis. Otherwise, what is the point?
The General Directory of Catechesis put out by the Vatican says:
“33. In order to express its vitality and to be efficacious, catechesis today needs to undertake the following challenges and directions:
– Above all it needs to present itself as a valid service to evangelization of the Church with an accent on missionary character;”
http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cclergy/documents/rc_con_ccatheduc_doc_17041998_directory-for-catechesis_en.html



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Mike

posted November 18, 2008 at 6:50 pm


Momof3 is right that evangelization is the ultimate answer here. On that issue, I encourage everyone to plug into Fr. Robert Barron’s Word on Fire, http://www.wordonfire.org. He is doing some great things in this area.
But it seems to me that shorter terms goals must also be set and achieved.
Catholics will never “sing from the same hymnal” in an absolute sense, but much can be done to ensure that Catholics are not confused, sometimes by their own pastors, about which hymnal to pick up.



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Jerry

posted November 18, 2008 at 7:16 pm


Amy, thanks for raising this very relevant question which has led to some very interesting discussion.
I am a recent convert , baptized 4 years ago at the tender age of 56, after 38 years of being the best sinner I could be, after having been raised in the fundamentalist Church of Christ, 3 times a week from being a toddler until age 18.
I since my initiation have been an RCIA team member and catechist. Our church is the one true and ancient church that Jesus established and I am so blessed to have finally found my way.
In my RCIA experience I work with life long Catholics (I dislike the term cradle). I am constantly amazed by the lack of knowledge most of them have about their faith. Simple stuff usually relating to the sacraments and the Mass. “Well, Fr. so and so in Podunk said this.” The Immaculate Conception ignorance, etc.
And this from the Church that has a very detailed and clear Catechism that details Church teachings and beliefs.
The problem, from my limited experience, is the Catechism is not taught. Isuues such as abortion, contaception are never discussed. We are never reminded of the need to go to Reconciliation. The flock is not being taught. Let’s not rock the boat. So most of the souls sitting in the pews are not only clueless, but are never reminded of what is expected from their faith. They make it to Mass, they’re on the road to sainthood!
I can only speak from my limited experience in one diocese, but our Bishop who is a good and Holy man, who really has very little influence on his Pastors and priests. They do their own thing. He’s really more of an intellectual, not an administrator and is certainly no Archbishop Chaput.
The problem is very well documented in an excellent book I recommend, “From Maintenance to Mission” subtitle ‘Evangelization and the Revitalization of the Parish’, by Fr. Robert S. Rivers, CSP.
The message is that most parishes are in the maintenance mode. Parish life revolves around baptizing the newborns, as they grow up run them through CCD, First Communion then Confirmation. Them marry them, vsit them in the hospital and later bury them with a nice funeral.
Evangelization scares them, because they don’t understand it.
And this in the Church Christ established and admonished us to spread the Word.



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Jim

posted November 18, 2008 at 7:19 pm


One reason a lot of people resist catechetical classes is the “quid pro quo” game that catechesis has become: you can’t get your child baptized until you complete this class; you can’t have your child receive the Eucharist until you’ve completed this class, etc. etc.
It does two things:
1) it turns the sacramental system into a game: how little can I do and get my child all the way through the system to a church wedding?
2) it devalues the efficacy of the sacraments. The sacraments do work! To bargain them for attendance at (usually lame) “classes” sends a message that it’s just a system to get you to church. There are a lot of teenagers who could use the graces of confirmation, but who don’t get the catechesis.
I’d suggest focusing on deepening spirituality and the vast treasure of Catholic spiritual sources, personal conversion and the sacramental system as a source of grace and growth. Let people show that they are ready for the sacraments. What good does it do to let people play games with the sacramental prerequisites, just to game the system?
And, of course, there’s the subject of catechizing through the homilies………a whole different kettle of fish.



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Mary Jane

posted November 18, 2008 at 8:44 pm


What we’re looking at now is the result of over 40 years of second-guessing Rome. I’ve been doing research that involved reviewing multiple years of a diocesan publication, ranging from 1940 through 1979.
The chaos and confusion of ideas that began in the late 1960s is amazing. It was as though everything was up for grabs and the articles in the publication I’ve reviewed reflect it. Pundits galore – clerical and lay. Old=bad; new=good. Time for everyone “to set himself free of old ideas.”
While some of that has quieted over the last several years, the effects are long-lasting with a hermaneutic of suspicion married to an exaltation of individual opinion. Remember the old bumper sticker, “Question Authority”? Combine that with “every man his own theologian” and that’s where we are now.
Yes, younger priests are different. At the same time, these are crucial times. Crucial politically and morally – and most importantly, crucial for the salvation of countless individual souls. So can we sit around and wait for “a better crop of bishops”? We need to work while it is still day for us.



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Blake Helgoth

posted November 18, 2008 at 11:37 pm


I think this beckons back to what Richard John Neuhaus said, “Catholics view the Church in terms of consumption rather than obligation” now days. Hardly anyone thinks of Christ Jesus teaching through the Church. They just think of an institution called the Church that is telling them what to believe and do, an institution that they are skeptical about simply because they think of it as an institution and Americans especially have become very skeptical of institutions. This, unfortunately, goes for many bishops as well.



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Daniel H. Conway

posted November 19, 2008 at 3:37 am


Two points:
In a teaching role, the point is idealistically described as between a pro-abortion vs. and anti-abortion candidate. In reality it was McCain (a Republican) vs. Obama (a Democrat). Supporting the anti-abortion candidate meant voting for McCain and the Republican Party. Few anti-abortion leaders could stomach saying this as bluntly. Most commentaries stated: Obama is the most pro-abortion candidate ever, we cannot support him, vote for the pro-life candidate. Without naming him or his party.
On another note: education interestingly is the least efficacious way to exact change in a group. Change comes through changing. And moving folks to change. Admonitions are even less effective than education in promoting change in a group. Prodding people along is the most effective way. Pushing, cajoling, encouraging-this promotes change. Education, teaching, particularly the use of words is the least effective way to get change to occur in groups and organizations. Now does getting one to vote a certain way count the same similarly? Don’t know, but the concept of an anti-abortion/pro-life movement would suggest more than just someone voting a particular way in a voting booth. How does one exact change in the population to promote this? I suggest the Deal Hudson strategies have been ineffective. Changing communities to support “life” issues will likely require far more than just the bishops singing the alleluia chorus on abortion pitch perfect at election time. It will require action and models of behavior-emissaries other than the “yapping” of the usual suspects.
Really, living life is about a “doing” not a “talking.” Why should these pro-life matters be different?



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Thomas

posted November 19, 2008 at 7:22 am


Being new to the Catholic Church, I’ve been surprised at the extent and prevalence of ‘private judgment’ or, at least, a judgment that does not look for counsel beyond one’s own time and space and am reminded of Newman’s “to be versed in history is to cease to be Protestant.”
As a Lutheran blog notes:

Athanasius is one of the greatest Church theologians. He challenged the emperor and the many followers of Arius. He held to the decision of Nicaea and defended the Nicene Creed. This was no simple task, because the Byzantine emperors were fickle: one would support the Creed, and then his successor would support Arius, and back and forth for a number of years (this is why he was banished and reappointed numerous times from his patriarch). Although the Creed upheld Christian orthodoxy in 325, many Christians, bishops, pastors, theologians, and churches sided with Arius. The confessional and orthodox pastors, bishops, and churches were in the minority.
In spite of this challenge, Athansius and others moved forward to teach and confess the Nicene Creed as the true exposition of the holy Scriptures. After numerous hardships, Athansius and his colleagues won the day as the Holy Spirit worked through men and women like him to confess the faith even when they were in the minority and ridiculed.
We take for granted today the orthodoxy we have with the Nicene Creed. Athanasius must be given much credit for spearheading the truths we now accept without much thought. Thank God, the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit, for giving Athanasius to the Church as a defender of the faith, a pastor who preached the Word and administered the Sacraments, and lead the patriarch (diocese) of Alexandria for many years.



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Blake Helgoth

posted November 19, 2008 at 8:09 am


Sorry, that’s Fr. Neuhaus.



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Liam

posted November 19, 2008 at 8:26 am


Blake
Fr Neuhaus’s mistake is to not see the connection between the reduction of the Church to obligation and the evolution of that to consumption. The reduction of discipleship to moralism that is the ever-present temptation in Christianity (and, to be fair, it has not only “traditional” flavors but “progressive” flavors in the guise of reducing to the Gospel to ethical precepts) is a huge part of the problem. Santification/theosis, in what NT Wright aptly calls the “epistemology of love” (note, I disagree with him on a number of important things, but that’s arises from a wonderfully expressed set of thoughts of his), is the much harder – and, counterintuitively, simpler – response to the often far-from-gentle invitation of Grace.



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Yosemite Sam

posted November 19, 2008 at 9:28 am


Momof3,
You write: “Evangelization is the answer, more even than catechesis. Once you come to faith in Christ, develop a relationship of trust with Him, a hunger is created that is hard to keep fed and suddenly the ‘Church’ isn’t just this earthly institution made of up people you don’t like. Our catechesis is not geared to fostering that kind of faith and even those resources that try, can’t make up for the lack of faith among the ranks of parishoners.”
I don’t understand your rationale. Evangelization is basically advertising. Yes, it can produce a “hunger,” but I’m sure you know that catechesis is formative and evangelization is not. Evangelization too often only stimulates an interest in Christ and neglects the Church or misstates the relationship between Christ and the Church. I’ve seen a lot of carelessly-done evangelization programs out there and many on the internet. But in any case, while evangelization is part of the process, I think it’s catechesis that is critical.



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Momof3

posted November 19, 2008 at 9:49 am


Marcel,
I for one would like your syllubus. Our parish uses a very thorough program but an hour and 15 min per week is no time at all and we have a specific mandate of what must be taught, from the Bishop.
It always feels like I am teaching to the test. There is no time for evangelization, we can barely get the points across that are in each lesson.
When I taught Sunday school in the UCC, I never felt like that because most of what we were teaching was that Jesus loves you. The lesson often followed the lectionary but always came straight from Scripture. How they were taught, the lessons to be learned became more advanced with the age of the group. This past week, my daughter asked me to take her kindergarten class for her. Last week they learned about Noah and that God always keeps His promises. This week was the Tower of Babel and the key phrase they are to learn is simplified from Deuteronomy, “You must love God with your whole heart”. What was uplifting for me was, that when I asked them if they could tell me what they learned last week, 8 out of the 10 of them hit it right on the head. They remembered the entire story, the rainbow and that God (Jesus)always keeps His promises. Jesus is very present to them…they bring his name up constantly. My eight grade CCD class couldn’t even remember the word ‘revelation’ from one week to the next.
For my money, our kids need to learn less about the Church and its sacraments and more about Jesus loves me. When the relationship grips them, their eyes will see the Church, the sacraments etc through faith and as a manifestation of Jesus’ love for all of us. Until then, it is just words and just and way to keep you in the institution.
I have no illusions that we are going to create hearts on fire among our young people in CCD, I am content to think one or two hearts are touched, because I recognize that this is a fallen world. However, I think the Church goes about catechesis backwards. Our older kids ought to read, B16’s Jesus of Nazareth! And if we want them to appreciate liturgical life, they ought to read “The Cloister Walk”. And all of it ought to then be tied to Scripture.
We need to be creative and use the Cathecism creatively. I am in a Systematic Theology class and the prof uses the Cathecism so well, that you can’t possibly not want to have one.



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Bender

posted November 19, 2008 at 11:10 am


You don’t have to accept what “the bishops” say.
“The bishops” are not your spiritual shepherd. Your “bishop” is. You only have to accept what he says, that is, you need be obedient to the bishop of your diocese, the leader of your “local church,” regardless of what the others say (except for the Bishop of Rome, who is supreme).



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Randy

posted November 19, 2008 at 11:43 am


My first impression is that bishops do agree about most things. Do you really expect them to agree on every voting issue. That would be scary if they did. They agree that abortion is wrong and it is a serious enough wrong that it should be given greater weight than pocketbook issues when voting. If you are looking for more agreement than that you should join a cult.
Catechists need to teach the concept of bishops teaching in unity with the pope. Two bishops doing this cannot disagree. If your bishop is teaching something not backed up by the pope and not in agreement with his fellow bishops then there is real doubt. He is still your leader and you need to respect that but also know that the teaching or the bishop might change.
Have you ever tried to translate this into the real world of a classroom, in which “bishops disagree on voting for Obama” can quickly get translated into, “It doesn’t matter what I believe about Jesus”?
As far as believing what you want about Jesus. You need to go back to infallibility. That is the rock that the faith is built on. Who you should vote for will never be in the catechism. So what? We have unity in essentials and we even know precisely what those essentials are. I have taught catechism but only in a protestant church. There I can see the problem. That is why protestants are so much more dogmatic about how to vote.



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Blake Helgoth

posted November 19, 2008 at 11:56 am


Liam,
Actually, I agree that reducing the Church to moralism leads to a consumption mentality. That, was not, however, Fr Neuhaus’s point. He was using ‘obligation’ in the sense of reverance for that which is greater than us. This sense of obligation in no way precludes grace. If one believe that the authority of the Church comes through Jesus Christ, then one has a deep sense of obligation wether one understands or agrees with what is taught or naught. That does not mean grace is not necessary to transform us in accord with that Truth. Jesus is clearly not just a great moral teacher, but the Way, the Truth and the Life. He became man to make men Gods! I do think your point is well taken in regard to the 50s and 60s. Much of Catholic theology was reduced to moralism and the theology of grace was largly absent. That lead to many of the problems we have today.



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Liam

posted November 19, 2008 at 1:29 pm


Blake
I think Fr N’s use of obligation was thus equivocal and unnecessary. Obligation/obedience have many shades of meaning, like perfection, and modernity has tended to emphasize the practical shades of meaning over the mystical ones. In our culture, the emphasis on the practical (and not in the sense of St Therese’s “little way”, mind you) is so relentless that I think we need to specifically disclaim the reduction to the practical, et cet.
As I’ve bleated before (sorry, Amy, for the repeat bleat here), I find the lovely words of Pope Clement XI’s Universal Prayer to be much more evocative of an epistemology of love undergirded by mutual self-sacrifice rather than “obligation” as the word tends to be narrowly understood in our culture:
“I want to do what You ask of me,
in the way You ask,
for as long as You ask,
because You ask.”
That’s the response of a lover.
Not the response of a soldier or underling.
Now, the lover and soldier and underling may all *obey* – and in the process all may loose everything – but the lover’s responsive motivation most clearly mirrors the Paschal Mystery.



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Lurker

posted November 19, 2008 at 4:06 pm


Someone up there said a word about “enforcement”, I think.
This is another hitch in the system. There is no “enforcement”.
Right now we have Catholics receiving Communion who are in invalid marriages, living with someone of the opposite sex outside of marriage, have had an abortion, have missed Mass on many occasions and so forth. And on they march hand extended and grin on their lips. There are pro-abortion, pro-gay agenda, pro-in vitro ,etc Catholics en masse (no pun intended) at the rail.
And how does a priest not give them communion? A priest many years ago said, “There are some of you who are here who’ve been away for a while. So instead of trusting you to not take the host, I’ll not give it to anyone.” And he took the host himself, consumed it and told everyone else to pray.
He was later censured.
How do we enforce these policies? In an effective way, that is? And is that way a VISIBLE way?
Now with all that said of mostly badly formed or cradle Catholics…at the same time, we have oodles of candidates in the RCIA who are not taking Eucharist because they know it is a big decision and to do so requires a certain credal adherence.



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Marcel LeJeune

posted November 19, 2008 at 4:40 pm


Momof3 – I have taught adult catechesis for a long time, within the boundaries the bureaucrats in diocesan offices give. But, it doesn’t restrict me from evangelizing. I want to caution you against thinking that teaching outside of “God loves you” is not evangelistic. Last night in the final night of RCIA for a group of new Catholics, I taught about discipleship. It included witness, proclamation of the Gospel, objective teachings of the Church, the Catechism, and I challenged them again and again to live it out. Catechesis isn’t supposed to be an either/or (either doctrine or love – either subjective or objective – either experiential or content oriented). It should have it all. This makes it evangelistic.
To engage a group in this manner doesn’t come easy. It takes good, knowledgeable, and talented catechists. That is a problem in and of itself.
But, if we can form adult disciples of Christ the kids will come with them to the cross.



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Jim

posted November 20, 2008 at 8:59 am


Enforcement??!!!
Let the one who is in need of no enforcement lead the new enforcement commission.
Volunteers?
As I said earlier in this thread: I don’t believe the bishops are about to back away from the notion of the primacy of a well-informed conscience. So there will be no discipline through force or compulsion.



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Blake Helgoth

posted November 20, 2008 at 11:01 am


Matthew 18:15 …
I wonder if the Bishops have ever read Matthew 18:15 … Are’nt they endangering the salvation of the politicians as well?



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Jim

posted November 20, 2008 at 9:22 pm


So, Blake……after the bishops tell the politicians privately that they have oppressed the poor, what happens next?????



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TerryC

posted November 20, 2008 at 11:22 pm


The DRE and I discussed this specific problem just last night. To frame this up let me say that we are doing the USCCB’s Catholic Catechism for Adults as a formal study. Out of a parish of some 800 families we’ve got about 20 people split into two sessions. So much for being able to mount a parish Catechesis program for Adults.
Anyway in the intro of the book it goes through the development of Catachisms. What it very obvious is that, in the United States at least, the Baltimore Catechism was last published in the 1960s. The CCC was not published until 1997. Effectively a whole generation went without a specific guiding document of Catholic doctrine.
So what did catechist do during this period? As you all well know, teach a combination of dissidence and mushy WWJD theology. This basically has resulted in an entire generation of faithful who have no more catechetical foundation at all. Throw in mushy Scripture based homilies (don’t get me wrong, Scripture is wonderful, but relating the sermon on the mount to social issues, like feed the hungry is easy. It takes an strong faithful priest to relate the sermon on the mount to abortion or birth control or to the Catholic background culture these faithful never got in catechism class.)
Another problem in my mind is that too many priest in the post VII era spent their time studying sociology instead of theology. Take a look at some of the most radical liberal priests. Some are theologians, but most are sociologist like Fr. Andrew Greelry.



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Blake Helgoth

posted November 20, 2008 at 11:26 pm


Jim, after they tell them privately that they are scandalizing the faithful, then they should let them know that they are close to being cut off, excommunicated. The purpose, as it always has been, would be to get the excommunicated party to repent. But, since many of the bishops are voting for these people (it is rumored by some bishops that as high as 45% of the bishops voted for Obama / Biden) I doubt they think repentance is even necessary.



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Jim

posted November 21, 2008 at 9:19 am


“The DRE and I discussed this specific problem just last night. To frame this up let me say that we are doing the USCCB’s Catholic Catechism for Adults as a formal study. Out of a parish of some 800 families we’ve got about 20 people split into two sessions. So much for being able to mount a parish Catechesis program for Adults.”
The usual approach……………..absolute truth in great detail is offered up in a predigested format and people won’t come. Go figure.
Catechisms are – IMHO – for people whose faith is already fairly solid. They are a great way to deepen the faith and to begin a journey of understanding one’s faith. But I’ve never met anyone who came to his or her faith by reviewing a book of assertions composed by a committee of experts.
For uncatechized adults, I’d suggest some serious New Testament study, focusing on the Synoptic Gospels. It’s the original evangelization format.



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