Papal interviews are dangerous business for the clear teaching of faith and morals, even for conveying matters of prudential judgment. Let’s be clear: papal interviews, books written by popes and theologians are not magisterial teaching nor are they covered by the grace of infallibility. The method of ensuring truth is communicated is sometime conveyed by saying what it is not; we say it is a negative gift in the sense because infallibility keeps the Roman Pontiff from teaching error on matters of faith and morals. Infallibility, moreover, is attached to the Office of the Roman Pontiff, not to the person of the office. Seen from the perspective of a gift, of a grace, infallibility is conceived as a protective gift, not a creative one; it does not introduce new revelation or new teaching. Hence, interviews are not binding nor can they change the teaching of the Church. The news media picked up on a statement made by Pope Francis on Thursday, February 18, 2016, on the plane as he was going back to Rome where an off-the-cuff remark with regard to the use of a condom could be used to prevent the Zika virus that is a tremendous problem for pregnant women.
The current papacy is at times a bit too casual in communicating the faith because the aftermath causes great confusion in an era that gives too much credence to the print and cyber media. Just because news outlets carry “something” the pope said doesn’t mean it is true, accurate or faithful to the teaching of the Catholic Church. But the media does carry the fact that the pope is suggesting that the use of condoms to protect from the AIDS virus or the Zika virus, it does not mean that one should follow his suggestion, or think Church teaching has changed. Nonetheless, even the Catholic media gets the doctrine of the faith wrong: we need to use our reason, friends.
When we are unclear or too causal in what we say about delicate and complex moral issues, especially on matters of sexual morality, we cause harm and possible scandal. Knee-jerk reactions from so-called traditional Catholics are unhelpful, too. We do not need unprocessed opinions of people who shout: heretic at every moment an opinion from a pope is tweeted. There is such a thing as objective Truth. As Blessed John Henry Newman said, I did not leave my mind at the door. I am sure no pope, bishop, priest, deacon, sister or lay person would deliberately lead the sheep away from Jesus who is “The Way, the truth, and the Life.”
According to Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, the spokesman, Pope Francis spoke of “the possibility of taking recourse to contraception or condoms in cases of emergency or special situations. He is not saying that this possibility is accepted without discernment, indeed, he said clearly that it can be considered in cases of special urgency.”
A reasonable set of questions surface: who decides cases of emergency, what are cases of special urgency, for how long, with what impact, who is charged with discerning, what is required of the faithful?
In 2010 Pope Benedict XVI raised similar concerns when he made a comments on condoms in his book, The Light of the World. You may recall that His Holiness “spoke about the use of condoms in the case of risk of contagion by AIDS.” The journalists went to town and asserted points that the pope did not say or intend. As a result, the Holy See’s office on faith and morals stepped in to clarify. The Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith said, “A number of erroneous interpretations have emerged” that have “caused confusion concerning the position of the Catholic Church regarding certain questions of sexual morality. The idea that anyone could deduce from the words of Benedict XVI that it is somehow legitimate, in certain situations, to use condoms to avoid an unwanted pregnancy is completely arbitrary and is in no way justified either by his words or in his thought.” The CDF further reminded us: “An action which is objectively evil, even if a lesser evil, can never be licitly willed.”
Let me reiterate: interviews given by the hierarchy, like the one given by Pope Francis on the use of contraception, cannot change Church doctrine. The 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae, Blessed Pope Paul VI taught that the Church’s long-standing and definitive teaching that artificial contraception (e.g., condom use) is “intrinsically wrong.”
And for the record, it is held by reasonable and well-formed theologians that Pope Paul VI never said the nuns in the Congo could use contraception to protect themselves against rape. There has been a very significant error on the part of the media and certain theologians of aligning the Pope with teaching something contrary to the faith. According to Dominican Father Brian Mullady, “Pope Paul VI never taught that nuns threatened with rape could use contraception. This was an anonymous opinion stated by some member of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith which went viral at the time. It was never a formal teaching of any Pope but caused much discussion among moralists and is the only example of anyone recommending such an action.” YET, by the Pope’s silence on the issue he may have altered the practice and teaching of the Church in favor of a less than accurate and pastoral datum. UPDATE: You may want to read John Allen’s piece on this matter at CRUX.
THE answer to the Zika virus spreading: do not have sex. No EVER dies from not having sexual intercourse. This stance, I believe, is reasonable and consistent with divine revelation and the consistent teaching of the Church matters of sex, life and human flourishing. The dignity of the person, the respect for the other, the notion and reality of self-gift in sexual intercourse in marriage what Jesus taught and lived and died for. Condom use to stop the spread of the virus is not good advice; neither is it good science.
So, as Catholics, we hold to the fact there is the grace of infallibility which only covers ex cathedra pronouncements on faith and moral, not interviews.
In the 10th grade Confirmation class that I teach the question of Conscience and its formation was the topic of conversation the other day. Most of the students knew nothing about conscience, why it was important to inform and to form and how it functions in making good decisions.
One of the things the ecclesial movement of Communion and Liberation has reminded me that ethics (conscience) never comes before the event of the Incarnation. Conscience is first built on the relationship one has with his or her God (Father, Son, Holy Spirit) lived within the companionship of the Church. More on this subject later.
This article published on LifeSiteNews highlights the Pope’s theologian, Dominican Father Wojciech Giertych, who is addressing the change, or not, of Catholic doctrine by local conferences of bishops, and he gets into the role of conscience. “Many people identify conscience with feelings…Feelings are secondary; conscience is a window to truth. … The conscience has to be formed to see the truth.” AND “You have to perceive the truth of the matter, by reason.” There is more in this article and so I ask that you read the article and think about the facts, not merely what you want to hear.
The practice of religion is falling according to the Pew Research Center on religion and public life. Experience tells us by looking at the Mass attendance and participation in religious education programs that many people no longer consider official religious practices essential to their life of “faith.” Sherry Weddell, as other researchers have said, has said that the fastest growing religious denomination is the USA are the “nones” –those people who check the box saying they are spiritual but not religious.
While Pew research is interesting, it does not cover the entire story of a person’s journey in faith. The caution I would propose is whether a person believes in the need of having a savior. Many people, I contend, don’t think they need to be saved. Their conception of salvation, heaven, sin, grace, sanctity is now very much a private affair, these people isolate themselves from other members of the Church. In the USA, as in other countries, the need and desire fora religious community is waning.
On one level I can see why people don’t want to be a part of a religious community: their priest/minister no longer really cares for them and their spiritual life, the priest/minister is a gossip, the priest/minister doesn’t preach well, know the ritual well, and the sacred music is poor, the priest/minister has little concern for the poor, the needy, sick, etc. The teaching of the faith is grossly watered down with no ideal to strive for and to live within (the journey of faith is flat).
In short, our pastoral ministers have become very narcissistic and self-serving. I know several priests who are in trouble in their ministry: they do not attend to their spiritual life, they do not read literature or spiritual topics, they are lazy and watch tons of TV. One can see why over the centuries many of the saints have proposed a new way of living, acting and working for the proclamation of the Good News of Jesus Christ and the administration of the sacraments. The Latin phrase comes comes to mind: the Church always needs reform. Our ecclesiastical reform movements have generated great beauty and intense of love for the Church and for humanity. We’ve had saints like Benedict, Ambrose, Augustine, Bernard, Dominic, Catherine of Siena, Francis, Angela Merici, Ignatius of Loyola, Charles Borromeo, John Paul II, Luigi Giussani and countless others who have pointed a new way.
But all the blame can’t be placed on the ministers. Our Christian Faith requires a personal engagement, a personal bringing together of faith, reason, and living concretely in the community of the family and the secular world. You have to show up, you have engage your heart, mind and body. You have to be willing to be honest, and to be with others and to allow our spiritual life to be changed by Christ Jesus.
The Pew report is here.
Pray for the Church and ALL her members.
René Noël Théophile Girard died today. Girard (1923-2015), the Andrew B. Hammond Professor of French Language, Literature and Civilization at Stanford, was arguably one of the best known French (American) intellectuals whose academic work was mainly in history, literary criticism, philosophy and anthropology. I was introduced to his work in my study of Liturgy viz. the role of sacred, an understanding of imitation, the use of language, an understanding of violence and sacrifice, the place of sacred myth, and the like. He was a formidable thinker.
Professor Girard was honored by several institutions of higher studies and various cultural groups, but I suspect an honor of deep appreciation was his election in 2005 into the French Academy. In French they say, he was an “Immortel Académie Française.”
Artur Rossman writes about René Girard here.
May God give rest and mercy to this man of learning and faith.