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Seattle Catholic is not affiliated with the Archdiocese of Seattle
Seattle Catholic
A Journal of Catholic News and Views
20 Aug 2002
"Keep the Faith, Change the Church"
   by Francis X. Altiere



This is the chirpy little slogan that the lay Catholic group "Voice of the Faithful" have chosen as their motto. What is an honest, believing Roman Catholic to think of this? We have all been dismayed by the horrors of the priestly molestation scandal — priests abusing members of their flocks in sinful homosexual affairs while their bishops obfuscate and move them from parish to parish. This sort of corruption must be rooted out, and every abuse must be punished. But, there is always a universe of difference between an abuse and the thing abused. One must be very careful before callously embarking on a mission to "shape structural change within the Church," as the Voice mission statement proposes to do. This clamorous group has certainly earned the distinction of being called "Voice." We shall investigate whether or not it can honestly be called "Faithful."

The major point that should be borne in mind when evaluating the goal of this group is that within the space of six little words — "Keep the faith, Change the Church" — they completely undermine the very essence of the Catholic faith. Is it possible to change the Church founded by Jesus Christ without undermining the Catholic faith upon which it stands? In the Nicene Creed, we profess to believe "one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church." The Church, and the doctrines associated with her, itself constitutes an article of faith. The primacy of the Roman pontiff, the infallibility of the Church, the sacramental role of the ordained priesthood: these are all aspects of the Church, but they are also doctrines of the Faith. One destroys the Faith (as Satan has always tried to do) if one tries to "change" these doctrines. Voice, then, has no grounds on which to suggest that we can or should "change the Church" while at the same time "keeping the faith." There are implicit in the mission of Voice denials of Church-related doctrines that amount to a rejection of the very Catholic faith that these "lay activists" claim to defend. The scandalous behavior of some of our shepherds has been shameful, but it is absolutely nauseating that pseudo-Catholic dissidents are taking advantage of this tragedy to forward their own agenda. They base their questionable new doctrines on a spurious reading of the Second Vatican Council, while ignoring completely the clear infallible pronouncements of two thousand years of Christianity. If the members of Voice wish to remain "faithful," they would be well-advised to consider that a person who rejects even one solemn doctrine of the Catholic faith is not a Catholic at all. In the very simple words of the Baltimore Catechism, "if any Catholic denies only one article of faith, though he believes all the rest, he ceases to be a Catholic, and is cut off from the Church" (Explanation to Q. 129; 1945 edition, p. 142). In case the people at VOTF do not care for the Baltimore Catechism, we shall let our Lord speak for Himself: "if he will not hear the Church, let him be to thee as the heathen and publican" (Matt. 18:17). It is therefore critically important that faithful Catholics separate the emotional hyperbole pedaled by Voice from the orthodox teachings of the Catholic faith. Our Lord Himself predicted that people would twist His doctrines, when He warned, "many false prophets shall rise and shall seduce many" (Matt. 24:11). The time has come to expose the errors of the false prophets who call themselves the Voice of the Faithful.

The Catholic Church Cannot Change

Heretics have always denied the divine origin of the Catholic Church. Thus it was that Martin Luther and other early Protestants wanted to reform the Church herself and not just the abuses of her pastors. "Catholic" dissenters today want to do the same thing. But, nothing could be more arrogant than this, for "unless the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it" (Ps. 126:1). Our Lord has already built Himself a house — this "house of God, which is the Church," as St. Paul phrases it (I Tim. 3:15). It is the height of blasphemy to suggest that the Lord Christ failed in establishing His Church or, per impossible, that He established it so poorly that sinful shepherds would manage to corrupt the very essence of the Church. Jesus Christ, however, has given us His assurance that even Satan himself could never corrupt the fiber of the Church. "Thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it" (Matt. 16:18)! While it is true that all of us poor sons of Adam (our priests, bishops, and popes included) are in constant need of renewal ourselves, it is in no way true that the Church — the Mystical Body of Christ! — could ever be in need of "change." The divine essence of the Catholic Church was fixed by our Lord, never to be changed at the whim of man. Who will assert the impiety that Jesus Christ, who is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow, would ever found a Church that is in constant need of change? The Catholic Church is indefectible, which "means that the Church can never change any of the doctrines that our Lord taught, nor ever cease to exist" (Explanation of the Baltimore Catechism, Q. 126; 1945 edition, p. 140). There was a time when even Catholic schoolchildren knew this basic truth. Now, however, the grownups in VOTF refuse to accept it.

As far as the theological virtue of faith is concerned, one must also note that it depends on obedience rather than unrestrained freedom of opinion. According to the definition of the new Catechism of the Catholic Church, faith is an "assent to the whole truth that God has revealed" (150). This assent — this submission of the intellect — is a far cry from the "faith" of those who reinterpret perennial doctrines according to their own fancies. The deposit of faith, the body of doctrines passed on in the Church from Christ through the Apostles and their successors, never changes. It would be foolish indeed to suggest that the teachings that the Church received from Christ will ever change, when Christ has said of His teachings, "heaven and earth shall pass away: but my word shall not pass away" (Mark 13:31). The Church may issue solemn proclamations (like the definition of the Immaculate Conception in the bull Ineffabilis Deus of 1854) to make the doctrines of faith more explicit, but the deposit of faith as such never changes. In defining doctrine, there are three things the Church can never do: 1) abolish existing doctrines; 2) invent new doctrines; and, 3) interpret existing doctrines in a sense contrary to that in which they were once understood. A lay Catholic seeking to "keep the faith" will pray that God helps to deepen his understanding of Catholic theology, but he will never seek to interpret formal doctrines in a novel and unprecedented way! "Stand fast and hold the traditions which you have learned" (II Thes. 2:14).

It may be well and good to state the Catholic position that the Church can never change, but, some people might object, the Catholic Church has changed before. After all, Mass used to be said in Latin, there was a time when cardinals did not wear red habits, and Renaissance popes sold indulgences. These things have changed (some for better, some for worse), so does this not prove that the Catholic Church can change and that she must change to keep up with the times? In fact, just the opposite is true. This objection reflects a failure to understood what is meant by the assertion that the essential nature of the Church was fixed by Christ and can never be changed. To understand this concept, one must appreciate the difference between accidental change and substantial change. A person might change his clothes (accidental change), but he himself remains the same (substantial continuity). The hierarchical structure of the Catholic Church is intrinsic to her very nature, and to tamper with this is to alter substantially the Church Christ intended. It is heresy plain and simple to suggest that the Church is capable of undergoing substantial change, a change in her very nature. The activists at VOTF are not the first dissenters to suggest that the Church should change her inner nature. The Modernists of the early twentieth century (whose beliefs St. Pius X denounced as a "synthesis of all heresies") asserted that "the organic constitution of the Church is not immutable." This notion was flatly and solemnly rejected as an error contrary to the Catholic faith (cf. Lamentabili Sane, no. 53).

Lay Governance of the Church?

The members of Voice of the Faithful seem to be obsessed with the Second Vatican Council; in particular, they claim their mission is sanctioned by the document Lumen Gentium. In light of the above, however, it is clear that Church teaching, while it occasionally is made more explicit, is never actually changed. Dissenters who love to appeal to Vatican II forget that most of our understanding of the doctrine of the Church ("ecclesiology" is the word theologians have coined) actually comes from before the Council. Perhaps, members of Voice of the Faithful are unaware that the Catholic Church was founded in 33 AD and not in 1965. Consequently, Voice completely ignores the very important definitions of the Church contained in the weightiest pronouncements of the last century and a half — most importantly, the encyclical Mystici Corporis of Pope Pius XII (1943) and the constitution Pastor Aeternus of the First Vatican Council (1870). Needless to say, definitions of the Church from the time of the Council of Trent in the sixteenth century do not occupy any place in the thought of Voice of the Faithful. Although the ahistorical myopia of Voice is staggering, this is hardly the most noteworthy aspect of their pseudo-ecclesiology. It may be unfortunate to refer only to Vatican II, but it is downright diabolical to use it as selectively — and erroneously — as do the spokesmen who claim to be the voice of the faithful. Perhaps these dissenters are unaware that in 1964 Pope Paul VI personally intervened to append a nota praevia to Lumen Gentium for the express purpose of reaffirming the traditional conception of the Church in view of certain ambiguities in the conciliar text. These self-appointed reformers must also have missed this very striking passage from the document to which they appeal: "the laity should promptly accept in Christian obedience what is decided by the pastors who, as teachers and rulers of the Church, represent Christ" (Lumen Gentium, 37). This is really very confusing, since the Voice website states one of the group's goals as changing ecclesiastical structures until "the faithful can actively participate in the governance and guidance of the Catholic Church." Unfortunately, their pet Vatican II has said just the opposite, leaving them without a leg to stand on. Notice: it is the clergy who are the "rulers" and "teachers" and the laity who must give their "obedience." Vatican II did indeed teach that the laity are to share in the hierarchy's mission of spreading the Gospel, but always under the direction of the hierarchy, who alone have been consecrated as official teachers. As the Council's document on the pastoral office of bishops states, "Let bishops, therefore, make every effort to have the faithful actively support and promote works of evangelization and the apostolate" (Christus Dominus, 6). The faithful have a role in spreading the true faith ("promoting" and "supporting" without actually "ruling"), but they themselves are not responsible for defining doctrines of faith and morals. The magisterium — the teaching authority of the Church — is exercised by the hierarchy, and preeminently by the pope. Hence the traditional distinction between the Ecclesia docens (the "teaching Church," the hierarchy) and the Ecclesia credens (the "believing Church," the faithful). The notion that "the Church learning and the Church teaching collaborate in such a way in defining truths that it only remains for the Church teaching to sanction the opinions of the Church learning" was formally condemned as a heresy by Pope St. Pius X in 1907 (syllabus Lamentabili Sane, no. 6). As we have noted above, a person who embraces a single heresy is no longer a Catholic. Before the dissenters at VOTF claim the power to reinterpret doctrines they should recall the words spoken by our Lord to the disciples, "he that heareth you heareth me" (Lk. 10:16). It is time for VOTF to put aside its pride and stop being a Voice, so that it may learn to hear.

Now, to be precise, the obedience that the laity owe to the hierarchy is not unqualified. "We ought to obey God rather than men," was the advice of St. Peter (Acts 5:29). As St. Thomas Aquinas formulated it, "if the faith were endangered, a subject ought to rebuke his prelate even publicly" (Summa Theologiae, II-II, Q. 33, a. 4, ad 2). This must unfortunately be the case today when some priests and even bishops openly question official Church teaching on birth control, abortion, and homosexuality. The laity have a duty to preserve the faith undiluted by modernist clergy. But, the Voice of the Faithful are not promoting a legitimate rebuke; they are actively opposing the faith that the Church has passed on. The VOTF mission statement explicitly admits to the goal of changing the essential internal constitution of the Church. These are hardly people who can claim that their rebukes are designed to preserve the purity of the traditional doctrines of the Catholic faith. St. Thomas adds in the same section of the Summa, "a subject is not competent to administer to his prelate the correction which is an act of justice through the coercive nature of punishment" (II-II, Q. 33, a. 4).

These lay activists, eager to upset the divine constitution of the Holy Catholic Church (by which our Lord placed the Apostles and their successors over the faithful), claim for themselves prerogatives of authority that are out of place — and, indeed, heretical. They completely ignore the authentic Catholic doctrine on ecclesiastical authority, so well summarized by Pius XII: "that those who exercise sacred power in this Body are its chief members must be maintained uncompromisingly" (Mystici Corporis, 17). Although VOTF claim to "keep the faith," their concomitant desire to "change the Church" reveals that they in fact do not "uncompromisingly maintain" the Catholic faith. The pontiff continues in this encyclical to observe, "it is through them [the hierarchy], by commission of the Divine Redeemer Himself, that Christ's apostolate as Teacher, King, and Priest is to endure" (ibid.). Now, these lay activists will surely object to this teaching on the grounds that the faithful are "a chosen generation, a kingly priesthood, a holy nation" (I Pet. 2:9). If they make this claim, however, they act like Protestants, taking scriptural passages out of context and trying to interpret them on their own. The Second Vatican Council actually explained the sense in which this notion of the royal priesthood must be understood. Lumen Gentium itself notes that "the common priesthood of the faithful" (acquired by baptism and confirmation) and the "ministerial or hierarchical priesthood" (acquired by holy orders) "differ from one another in essence and not only in degree" (10). Priest and layman are thus essentially, intrinsically different. When our Lord told St. Peter to "feed my lambs" three times immediately before His Ascension (cf. John 21:15-17), He established the intrinsic difference between the "sheep" in the Church and the "shepherds" who rule the flock. Lay Catholics must become comfortable once again with the idea that the sheep and the shepherds are ontologically different. Whatever importance modern American society attaches to self-government, Catholics must recall that the Church simply is not a democracy.

Moreover, it is an absolute myth that the Catholic hierarchy have oppressed good laymen for 2,000 years. Many dissenters, like those of Voice of the Faithful who try to usurp the authority of the pope and bishops, promote the myth that laymen were second-class citizens until the progressive theology of the post-Vatican II era emerged. This view is utterly insulting to the thousands of heroic and saintly laymen who lived prior to the 1960s. While there has been an unfortunate clericalism in the Church at certain points in her history (whose modern incarnation is reflected in the impulse to protect criminal priests rather than their victims), this phenomenon has been much exaggerated by so-called progressives. There is a fine book — Secular Saints by Joan Carroll Cruz (TAN Books and Publishers, 1989) — that tells the story of 250 of the saintly laymen who lived lives of holiness in conformity with their position in the Church. Although the Church has always greatly praised the virginity observed by clergy and members of religious orders, it is false that she has denigrated the sanctity of married laypeople. In 1215 (long before the "modern renewal"!) the Fourth Lateran Council taught, "not only virgins and those practicing chastity, but also those united in marriage, through the right faith and through works pleasing to God, can merit eternal salvation" (profession Firmiter Credimus, canon 1). The Church has always taught that lay people achieve sanctity in their particular station in life, each of which has its own unique duties and opportunities: ruler, citizen, parent, child, employer, worker, master, pupil. Great Catholic monarchs, laymen like St. Louis IX of France and St. Margaret of Scotland, defended the true faith against the enemies of the Church — a service for which the hierarchy were very grateful. These medieval laymen were hardly oppressed; they were much better models of "active Catholics" than the milquetoast Catholic politicians of today who do not even acknowledge their Church's position on abortion. It seems that the Church was fair to lay Catholics long ago, but that lay Catholics are not so fair to the Church today! Laity and clergy both contribute to the life of the Church, simply in different capacities. "In one body we have many members, but all the members have not the same office" (Rom. 12:4). In the very apt expression of St. Paul, "If the whole body were the eye, where would be the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where would be the smelling?" (I Cor. 12:17). The people at VOTF must not know very much about biology!

The Catholic Priesthood

The scandal that has generated all this controversy began with the actions of a handful of sexually predatory priests. Not surprisingly, much of the debate among those who wish to change the Church centers around the proper way to reform the priesthood. What we have said above about the immutable essence of the Church and the constancy of Catholic dogma applies equally to the priesthood: it is impossible to alter the very nature of the priesthood. Surely something must be done to prevent the abuses that have recently come to light, but tampering with the sacrificial priesthood and the sacrament of holy orders is not a viable solution. One possible solution of a non-heretical nature is for the bishops actually to enforce the 1961 directive of Pope John XXIII that homosexuals not be ordained. Heterodox activists, ignoring the fact that most of the "pedophilia" in this scandal involved gay relations between priests and teenage males, have not been eager to broach this possibility. Instead, they have urged the Church to reexamine the "face of the priesthood" and to reconsider Catholic teaching on sexual morality. This last suggestion is somewhat counter intuitional, in view of the fact that it was the leniency of bishops and seminary rectors in this very area that contributed to the problem in the first place. The suggestion, of a decidedly unorthodox nature, upon which we shall now channel our attention, however, is the notion that the priesthood should be opened to women.

The idea that women should be ordained was around before this current scandal. It has been popular for years in some circles; this recent scandal is simply the dog's beating that has brought the fleas to the surface. We shall first of all show that it is in fact a matter of Catholic faith that only males can be ordained. Then, we shall demonstrate that all Catholics must accept this teaching, in case the above considerations have not been sufficient. Finally, we shall examine the reasons for this particular aspect of our Catholic faith.

Until the 1960s and '70s, it would have hardly crossed the mind of any sane, orthodox Catholic that the ordination of men alone would become a controversial topic. The attention that the magisterium has devoted to the issue in recent decades, however, shows that the traditional faith is no longer sufficient in some quarters of the Church. These magisterial pronouncements have been prompted, in part, by the decisions of several Protestant sects to ordain women to the "ministry." Even though the ordinations conducted in the Church of England are invalid to begin with (cf. the decision of Pope Leo XIII in Apostolicae Curae), Pope Paul VI decided to write to the Anglican archbishop of Canterbury in 1975 to remind him that female ordination was absolutely contrary to apostolic tradition and would place a further impediment along the road to reunion. The next year, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued the declaration Inter Insigniores, which states unequivocally, "the Catholic Church has never felt that priestly or episcopal ordination can be validly conferred on women" (1, emphasis added). Both the ancient Fathers of the Church and the learned doctors of scholastic theology taught that only men could be ordained, and until recently, "the question has not been raised again for the practice has enjoyed peaceful and universal acceptance" (ibid.). In more recent years, the current Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, has issued an even more pointed and emphatic decision on the subject — his 1994 apostolic letter Ordinatio Sacerdotalis. All Catholics should pay careful attention to the immutable doctrine articulated in this document: "the teaching that priestly ordination is to be reserved to men alone has been preserved by the constant and universal Tradition of the Church and firmly taught by the Magisterium in its more recent documents" (Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, 4). Moreover, the pope states, "I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women" (ibid.). And the Catechism of the Catholic Church, quoting the Code of Canon Law, states, "only a baptized man validly receives sacred ordination" (1577; cf. CIC, can. 1024). The official position of the Catholic Church could hardly be clearer.

There are, however, some who profess to be Catholic and who claim that this decision is not binding on them. (Recall the warning of the Apostle Paul about people who "will not endure sound doctrine but, according to their own desires, they will heap to themselves teachers having itching ears," II Tim. 4:3.) Although we have already outlined above the fact that Catholics must accept all doctrines of the Church, we shall use this specific case to illustrate the assent that the faithful owe to Church teachings. The First Vatican Council, in its definition of the personal infallibility of the pope, stated that infallible ex cathedra "definitions of the Roman pontiff are irreformable of themselves, and not in virtue of the consent of the Church" (Vatican I, Session IV, Const. Ecclesiae Christi, ch. 4, 9). What papal definitions are considered to be ex cathedra? For a decision to be considered infallible in virtue of the papal prerogative the following conditions must be met: 1) it must be clear that the pope is using his authority as Vicar of Christ 2) to teach on some matter of faith or morals; 3) the pope must make it clear that he wishes to definitively settle some point of doctrine; and, 4) the pope must make it clear that he intends to bind the entire Church by his decision (cf. Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, Book IV, Part 2, ch. 2, 8; also, "Infallibility" in The Catholic Encyclopedia). Those who favor women's ordination, needless to say, do not much care for Ordinatio Sacerdotalis. Does this document meet any of the conditions required for the exercise of papal infallibility? The substance of the papal definition occurs in section four of this letter, in which: 1) John Paul specifically notes that he is issuing this letter "in virtue of my ministry of confirming the brethren (cf. Luke 22:32)" — that is, he intends to issue this pronouncement in his capacity of Peter's successor. 2) The subject of this letter is clearly doctrinal for, as the pope notes, it is "a matter which pertains to the Church's divine constitution itself." 3) The pope clearly intended Ordinatio Sacerdotalis to definitively settle this point of doctrine "in order that all doubt may be removed regarding a matter of great importance." 4) Finally, he made it clear that he intended to bind the entire Church when he wrote, "this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church's faithful."

Although the apostolic letter Ordinatio Sacerdotalis fulfilled the conditions required for an exercise of papal infallibility, there are still some supposed Catholics who persist in defending the notion of female ordination. They claim, for whatever reason, that this document does not actually satisfy the high conditions needed for an ex cathedra proclamation. Even if this were the case, however, Catholics would still owe obedience to this teaching, because even regular pronouncements of the "ordinary magisterium" (as opposed to the "solemn magisterium" involved in extraordinary pronouncements of papal infallibility) warrant a religious assent from the Catholic faithful. This is especially the case when, as in the case of female ordination, the teaching has such clear continuity with previous Church teachings on the matter. That even non-extraordinary pronouncements deserve this assent is the express teaching of the Catholic Church: "If the Supreme Pontiffs in their official documents purposely pass judgment on a matter up to that time under dispute, it is obvious that that matter, according to the mind and will of the Pontiffs, cannot be any longer considered a question open to discussion among theologians" (Pius XII, Humani Generis, 20). Therefore, even if one had reason to doubt the infallible character of Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, one would still have to assent to its teaching according to the criterion indicated above. There are absolutely no grounds on which the teaching John Paul II lays down on this matter can be questioned. No one who holds the contrary position can remain a Catholic in good standing.

Now that we have seen that a faithful Catholic must accept the clear teaching of the Church on this matter, it will be beneficial to consider why the sacrament of orders is reserved to baptized males. As Paul VI indicated in his letter to the archbishop of Canterbury, the Church holds that it is not admissible to ordain women to the priesthood, for very fundamental reasons. These reasons include: the example recorded in the Sacred Scriptures of Christ choosing his Apostles only from among men; the constant practice of the Church, which has imitated Christ in choosing only men; and her living teaching authority which has consistently held that the exclusion of women from the priesthood is in accordance with God's plan for his Church (letter of November 30, 1975).

The Apostles, chosen by our Lord as the first priests, were all men (cf. Mark 3:14-19; Luke 6:12-16; I Tim. 3:1-13; II Tim. 1:6; Tit. 1:5-9). Some people have claimed that, in choosing only men, our Lord was simply the victim of the misogyny unfortunately typical of His age, but, as the Holy Father has pointed out, "in calling only men as his Apostles, Christ acted in a completely free and sovereign manner" (Mulieris Dignitatem, 26). Jesus did break many social conventions of His day; He was crucified by the Jews who were scandalized at His teachings and His claims. He did, in fact, break many social conventions with regard to women in particular (cf. John 4:27; Luke 7:39; etc.), and yet He emphatically did not call them to the priesthood. If He desired to call women as Apostles, He had nothing to lose, as He knew He would be murdered anyway. To claim that our Lord was bound by the cultural norms of His age is to ignore the fact that God freely willed the temporal circumstances of His Incarnation: if God desired to call women to the apostolate, He could have postponed His Incarnation until such a time as that would have been possible. That the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity became man at the time and in the place that He did was not a fluke; it was divine Providence. Or do people think the divine travel agent could only book a flight to first-century Palestine? Those who agitate for female ordination should also recall that even the most perfect woman ever (who was also the most perfect person ever, after Christ) — the Immaculate Virgin Mary — was not chosen as an Apostle.

Another part of the confusion about the male priesthood, and the decision of Protestants to ordain women, stems from a failure to understand the crucial differences between the priesthood of the Catholic Church and the ministry in the separated denominations. Although the decision of some Protestant groups to ordain women is itself unbiblical (cf. I Cor. 14:34), it is in keeping with Protestant theology and its rejection of the sacrifice of the Mass. A Protestant minister or elder has preaching as his (or her) fundamental job. A priest, however, is one who offers a victim in sacrifice — in this case, in the holy sacrifice of the Mass. The Catholic priest, then, is not just a "minister" or "presider." He is truly an alter Christus — another Christ — who receives a share in Christ's priestly power at his ordination. All the people called by God to the priesthood of the Old Covenant were men (e.g. Melchisedech, Aaron), and Christ freely willed to come to earth as a man. In the early centuries of Christianity, sects that ordained women (e.g. the Quintillians) were always recognized as heretical. And although various pagan cults in the time of Christ had priestesses, such a concept has always been anathema to temple Judaism and orthodox Christianity. To be in persona Christi, the priest must be a man as Christ was a man.

The Big Picture

The current scandal is indeed tragic and lamentable and worthy of attention, but it obscures the fact that the Catholic Church has been in a state of crisis for four decades. The current "crisis" is the tip of the iceberg, and the solutions proposed by activists like Voice of the Faithful — far from ameliorating the crisis — actually contribute to it. As the current pope has soberly assessed, "outright heresies in the dogmatic and moral fields have been disseminated, creating doubt, confusion, and rebellion" (L'Osservatore Romano, February 7, 1981). The crisis is much larger than an assortment of priests who violate their vows, although this sad fact cannot be ignored. The real crisis touches every aspect of Catholic life. It is a crisis of identify, for too many Catholics of recent years believe that all religions are basically equal. It is a crisis of worship, as a once glorious liturgy has been demolished, disfiguring the faith it expressed. It is a crisis of catechesis, as even first communicants are no longer taught to believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. It is a crisis of the family, as once generous and large Catholic families are contracepted into oblivion. This is the true crisis and it has been ravaging the Bride of Christ for decades! There was a certain euphoria in the 1960s, during which time, unfortunately, the Church let down her guard to the snares of the modern world. The highest authorities in the Church have acknowledged the dismal results. As Pope Paul VI mourned, "It was thought that after the Council the history of the Church would enter a sunny day. It entered instead a cloudy, stormy, dark, skeptical, and uncertain day" (allocution Resistite fortes in fide, June 29, 1972). In former days, the Church Militant adhered strongly to the precept, "be not conformed to this world" (Rom. 12:2). Now, however, heretics hold seats in Catholic universities, dissent is preached from the pulpit at some parishes, and the people no longer know their faith. This is the crisis we must address.

The sentiment felt by many lay Catholics — that their bishops have betrayed them — is certainly understandable, especially after this most recent tragedy in our Church. Rather than demand structural change in the Church, however, we should remember that justice belongs to God alone: "Woe to the pastors that destroy and tear the sheep of my pasture, saith the Lord" (Jer. 23:1). The Catholic Church is the Bride of Christ, the infallible interpreter of His doctrines and dispenser of His sacraments. The feeling of dismay generated by some of the Church's shepherds must never degenerate into contempt for the structure of the Church herself or into distaste for difficult, socially unpopular doctrines. There are still many priests and bishops who remain dedicated to the true faith and who fearlessly feed their flocks. They deserve our profound gratitude and admiration, not to mention obedience. The lay faithful who are legitimately upset with the other shepherds must not attempt to undermine the hierarchical constitution of the Church. "Strike the shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered" (Zach. 13:7). Not only is such an action thoroughly proscribed by the will of Christ for His Church, it is exactly the opposite remedy required for the modernist crisis.

Ultimately, we must rely on Christ, who has promised that His Church would weather the storms sent by the evil one. Holy Church has suffered through such trials before, and by the grace of her Founder, has emerged even stronger. The Church has survived the Arian heresy of the fourth century, the corruption of the late Middle Ages, the Protestant Revolt, the skepticism of the so-called Enlightenment — and she will eventually emerge victorious from these modern years of confusion. Ours must not be a worldy optimism but rather a truly Christian hope. Frustration is understandable, but dissent is not a solution to the modern crisis. Dissent is the modern crisis.

To effect legitimate change in the Church — that is, to root out the abuses, without changing the substance of the faith — we must above all pray and practice mortification for the welfare of the Mystical Body of Christ. We must pray for the pope, the bishops, and the priests. We must safeguard the purity of our faith, uncontaminated by the fashionable errors of the modern world. We must burn with a missionary spirit, expanding the Church and carrying the Gospel of Christ to our fellow man, for "there is no other name under heaven given to men, whereby we must be saved" (Acts 4:12). It is only self-sacrifice and firm commitment to the true faith that will bring reform; the "profane novelties" against which we are warned (cf. II Tim. 4:3-4) will bring only destruction. This is the sentiment to which the faithful must give voice.

St. Joseph, Patron of the Universal Church, pray for us!

Francis X. Altiere
Cambridge, MA
8/20/2002

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