Saturday, October 18, 2014

Blessed Paul VI

Pope Paul VI will be beatified Sunday at the Vatican.
While he is perhaps best known for his decisive 1968 encyclical on the regulation of birth, Humanae Vitae, he will also be remembered as a man of extraordinary gifts who was burdened by the tumult the Church faced during his 15-year papacy.

His election as Pope Paul VI in 1963 required of him to bring the Second Vatican Council to a conclusion and oversee its implementation. Having taken the name Paul to signify the Church’s mission to evangelize the whole world, he made nine overseas journeys, beginning with the Holy Land.
Unhappily his pontificate was marked by a series of crises. Both heterodox and traditionalist Catholics considered him feeble and vacillating, though for differing reasons, and he was tormented to the point of once saying that “the smoke of Satan” had entered the Church. It was this phrase which caught my attention to the point of research for a book on the Church in the U.S. since Vatican II.

As the story unfolds in the book, a number of traditionalists questioned Vatican II’s authority, especially its decrees on liturgy, ecumenism and religious liberty, prominent among them the Society of St. Pius X, founded by the French Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, who was suspended from office for ordaining priests and consecrating bishops without canonical authority.

It was a time of swift change in the Church, and Paul VI was to oversee the internationalization of the Curia, an increase in size of the College of Cardinals, the elimination of the Index of Forbidden Books, reform of the procedures of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, eradication of frills of the triple tiara and the coronation ceremony,  and the establishment of permanent Vatican Secretariats for the Laity, the Family, Christian Unity, Non-Christians and Unbelievers.
Paul continued Pope St. John XXIII’s ecumenical initiative, establishing the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity.Vatican II also declared the Church’s acceptance of religious liberty and her coming to terms with the modern democratic state — although the full implications of this has remained unresolved.
The crux of my book centers on the gravest crises of Paul’s papacy, caused by those who were set on going beyond the Council documents. In the late 1960s, a global cultural revolution mounted an assault on all forms of authority. Paul VI was sympathetic to the nouvelle theologie that ruled the Council — ressourcement, a return to the Church’s scriptural and patristic roots, led by Henri De Lubac, Jean Danielou, Louis Bouyer, Joseph Ratzinger and Hans Urs Von Balthasar.

However, he was persistently pressed by a second new theological approach, called “aggiornamento” (“updating”) — represented by Hans K√ľng — that took the demands of modern culture as its principal issue.

The Council defined episcopal “collegiality” such that bishops had apostolic authority in their own right, but Paul VI’s intervention guaranteed that such authority respected papal infallibility. Of all the changes wrought by the Council, none were more dramatic and far-reaching than those affecting the liturgy, as I Take up in my fourth chapter. The conciliar decree Sacrosanctum Concilium exemplified a theology that had been emerging for a century — speaking of the Liturgy it in mystical terms, as a foretaste of the New Jerusalem, as a glimpse of heaven itself.
As is not well-known by all Catholics, Vatican II did not mandate a change from Latin to the vernacular. The Council decreed that this might be appropriate in some parts of the liturgy. Newer styles of music were encouraged, but Gregorian chant was still to have “pride of place.” However, as we know, for reasons I discuss at length, both Latin and Gregorian chant all but disappeared after the Council. Mass was celebrated facing the people; many of the prayers of the “old Mass” were revised or eliminated; permanent altars were often replaced by wooden tables, as the Mass as a communal meal was emphasized over the Mass as a sacrifice.

Responsibility for implementing liturgical reform was given to the Italian Archbishop Annibale Bugnini, who vindicated unlawful experimentation. After all the changes had been made, Paul VI indicated his displeasure with Archbishop Bugnini by in effect exiling him from Rome. Sadly, little was done to roll back the changes.
In some ways, the most severe crisis of faith in following the Council was experienced in priestly and religious life. For many priests and religious, renunciation of the world for the sake of the kingdom of God seemed oppressive. Thus many gave up their vocations, and many of those who remained were distressed. Religious discipline declined sharply, and vocations waned.
Moral theology also underwent a state of crisis during Paul VI’s pontificate. During the Council, there was substantial agitation for the Church to allow some kinds of artificial contraception, and Paul VI intervened to take the issue off the Council floor, appointing a special commission to study it.
As recounted in The Smoke of Satan in the Temple of God, the very fact that the commission was called caused many to assume that Church authorities themselves were ambiguous, and traditional teaching was therefore likely to change — an expectation that was confirmed when a majority of the commission recommended acceptance of contraception.
I was then that the Holy Spirit came to the Holy Father’s assistance, as Paul VI reaffirmed traditional teaching in his 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae, though it must be said that, perhaps fearing an exodus from the Church, he appeared loath to mandate acceptance of his encyclical. Several national bishops’ conferences appeared to dissociate themselves from it, and when Cardinal Patrick O’Boyle of Washington suspended a number of priests who had rejected it, he was required by the Holy See to reinstate them.

After the Pope’s death, his former confessor eulogized, “If he was not a saint before he became pope, he became one while in office,” citing the Holy Father’s many sufferings, which he had endured with “abandonment to divine Providence.” After years of research into the papacy of Baptista Montini, I wholeheatedly agree, and await with hope coverage of the event.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Not So Fast....

A principle used in Catholic moral and pastoral theology of which many Catholics have never even heard of, the “law of gradualness,” has gone viral this week emanating from the Synod on the Family. The law is a principle by which people should be heartened to grow closer to God and his plan for us gradually, rather than hoping to go from an initial conversion to holiness in a single step. We see this in Sacred Scripture in 1 Cor. 3:1-3, 2 Cor. 10:6, and Heb. 5:12-14. Has the idea of the law of gradualness been abused? Looking at its invocation of late, one sees that it is prone to abuse. For example, at the Synod of Bishops on the Family in 1980, bishops called for an interpretation of this law that would permit contracepting married couples to receive absolution and Holy Communion on condition of a firm purpose to gradually stop contracepting. St. John Paul II’s rejected it in his apostolic exhortation Familiaris Consortio, rejected this proposal:

[Married people] cannot however look on the law as merely an ideal to be achieved in the future: they must consider it as a command of Christ the Lord to overcome difficulties with constancy. And so what is known as ‘the law of gradualness’ or step-by-step advance cannot be identified with ‘gradualness of the law,’ as if there were different degrees or forms of precept in God’s law for different individuals and situations.
In God’s plan, all husbands and wives are called in marriage to holiness, and this lofty vocation is fulfilled to the extent that the human person is able to respond to God’s command with serene confidence in God’s grace and in his or her own will.
On the same lines, it is part of the Church’s pedagogy that husbands and wives should first of all recognize clearly the teaching of Humanae vitae as indicating the norm for the exercise of their sexuality, and that they should endeavor to establish the conditions necessary for observing that norm [No.34].

At the present Synod in its Relatio post disceptationem (summary what various bishops proposed in discussions) some Bishops seem to be proposing that Catholics who have divorced and entered a subsequent, civil marriage (while the previous spouse is still alive and without an annulment and convalidation) should in some cases be allowed to receive absolution and holy Communion if they intend gradually to bring their situation in line with God’s law.

 A closer reading of Familiaris Consortio is needed by those who are on record as holding the aforementioned interpretation of the law. It appears more to reflect the “gradualness of law” that JPII warned against, according to which a decisive break with sin is not obligatory before receiving absolution and Holy Communion, and in which a different standard of what constitutes sin would be applied to some than is applied to others. Other bishops opposed this—but, as it is not a magisterial document, it does nothing to change Church teaching. The fathers will produce a document at the end of the present Synod, which will be discussed in the approaching year. The discussion will then be repeated at the approaching Synod of Bishops on the Family in 2015; Francis will then decide what is to be done with the Synod’s recommendations.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Bishops Bishoping!

As the nation’s courts increasingly strike down popularly-supported state bans on marriage between men who have sex with men, and women who have sex with women, bishops increasingly are “bishoping”, to coin a term I use often in my book; i.e., they are at long last defending the faith against the onslaught always sure to come from the secular culture.

Diocesan Catholic schools in Cincinnati and Oakland, Calif., are weathering criticism for contracts that require teachers not only to witness to the faith in the classroom, but also in how they live their lives in the public square.
Condemnation of Catholic-school contracts that ask teachers to not controvert the Church in public have received dramatized coverage from the secular media in California and Ohio, where a slight number of teachers are opposing the contractual language.
A a teacher in a Catholic school it is heartening to see the dioceses in question standing their ground, emphasizing the dynamic role teachers play in transmitting Catholic teaching and values to their students.
“We have to faithfully represent what Christ and the Church stand for,” Oakland Bishop Michael Barber stated May last. Bishop Barber thus made the language of the annual teaching contracts in his diocese more specific, clarifying that teachers should not publicly defy Church’s teaching on controversial issues such as abortion and marriage. It is also hopeful to see that all but three of the 1,400 school employees have signed the contract. Oakland’s Catholic schools serve nearly 20,000 students.

“Morality clauses” are nothing new in Catholic-school employment policies. The Bishop of Oakland rightly explains that “All teachers are expected to join in the Church’s educational ministry, teaching and modeling the values and ethical standards of Christ and the Catholic Church.” As is usually the case, the change was met with some hostility. Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, a Catholic with a daughter with a homosexual orientation, branded the contract as “Inquisition-style” tactics. Also as is the norm these days. She was joined by homosexual-rights activists, holing a press conference in front of Oakland’s cathedral.

 “My desire is simply to make explicit in the contract the importance of being a public witness to the values and practices that are an integral part of the Catholic faith. I am not interested in examining a teacher’s private life,” Bishop Barber is on record as having written. He further warned, however, that the means of social communication, such as Facebook and Twitter, are indeed “public manifestations,” and opposing Church teaching here has “consequences on a teacher’s ability to fulfill his or her ministry as a role model in a Catholic school.” Good for you, Eminence.