The Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Archbishop Gerhard L. Müller, addressed the Pontifical Academy of Life on 22 February 2013. It was the annual meeting in Rome. Müller’s talk didn’t shatter too many windows by unearthing new problems, nor did it break new ground in the Church’s teaching. Müller gives a brief assessment of the situation and that we have gone off the tracks in some ways. He does, however, shed light on the fact that we need to take more seriously our moral and faith formation and to put in the time doing the hard work to know the issues and how to respond to them according the parameters of the Catholic Faith. Too often we are afraid to do the hard work. And that’s the ministry of the Prefect: to illumine and offer a corrective. Archbishop Müller did challenge, to a degree, the theological professorial establishment, even if the talk may be seen a bit anemic.
Some points from Archbishop Müller’s text:
- Council teaches: “The root reason for human dignity lies in man’s call to communion with God. From the very circumstance of his origin, man is already invited to converse with God. For man would not exist were he not created by God’s love and constantly preserved by it; and he cannot live fully according to truth unless he freely acknowledges that love and devotes himself to his Creator” (Gaudium et spes, n. 19).
- the teaching about the uniquely personal nature of procreation and the sexual act is marked by a compelling and beautiful simplicity.
- At the heart of our bioethical and moral teaching is the conviction that the Natural Moral Law is engraved on the heart and soul of each and every human being. It is human reason, therefore, which ordains man to do good and to avoid evil.
- Human dignity takes on new, vibrant dimensions when man understands himself as possessing “an eternal vocation…called to share in the Trinitarian love of the living God” (n. 8). Human sexuality cannot be divorced from faith, rather faith helps us discover its true meaning and beauty.
- Attributed to Cardinal Bernardin, the “seamless garment” image was used to great effect to root the Church’s response to various moral issues – from nuclear proliferation to poverty – within the overarching teaching on the sanctity of human life, from natural conception to natural death. Unfortunately, however, it is also true that the image of the “seamless garment” has been used by some theologians and Catholic politicians, in an intellectually dishonest manner, to allow or at least to justify turning a blind eye to instances of abortion, contraception, or public funding for embryonic stem cell research, as long as these were simultaneously accompanied by opposition to the death penalty or promotion of economic development for the poor – issues which are also part of the fabric of Catholic moral teaching.
- Often this abuse of the “seamless garment” theory stems from a natural tendency on the part of some in the Church to look for “common ground” with the surrounding culture; that is to say, to emphasize in their teaching and preaching those elements of Catholic doctrine that are acceptable to the non-Catholic ambient culture; for example, social justice, human rights, and other similar issues. This is understandable and sometimes it is an appropriate pastoral strategy. But what also must be taken into account is the difference which exists between those elements of Catholic teaching that may be attractive to the surrounding culture and those elements which are profoundly counter-cultural and which Catholics themselves need to hear proclaimed by their pastors.
- There is a beautiful coherence to the Church’s moral teaching, but that coherence can only be demonstrated, and its truth apprehended, when the moral teaching of the Church is taught in its entirety and lived out integrally.
- The prophetic teaching of Humanae vitae both on human dignity and on the intrinsic meaning of the sexual act is so important that without it we cannot engage our faithful–to say nothing of the larger society–in a coherent discussion of the problems and moral evil presented by techniques of artificial fertilization, preimplantation diagnosis, cryogenic freezing of embryos and “embryo reduction”, human cloning and the therapeutic use of stem cells.
- the image of the “seamless garment” reminds us that faith, worship, and life are interwoven.