Theology: October 2008 Archives

In early September I drew our attention to the work of an English bishop trying to renew the exercise of faith and reason in his diocese. Dominic Baster's October 29th interview with Bishop Patrick O'Donoghue of Lancaster was published on and it would be good to read it.

In this interview with ZENIT, Bishop O'Donoghue explains what led him to write the document, why he thinks Vatican II has been misinterpreted, and how authentic Catholic renewal can be achieved.


Q: Why did you feel it was necessary to produce such a comprehensive critique on the Church in England and Wales now?


Bishop O'Donoghue: Similar to the rest of the Catholic Church, the Diocese of Lancaster has had successes in its implementation of the decisions of the Second Vatican Council, but also a variety of problems. These I frankly lay out in my document so we can at last talk about them openly and honestly.


For too long, bishops and people have been inhibited about openly admitting the sickness in the Church, and wider society, caused by misinterpretations of the Council, and the corresponding widespread dissent. If we fail in our duty of presenting the truths of the faith, it is not only the Church that suffers, but also wider society.


However, I can see signs that this reticence to speak out about the misinterpretation of the Council is changing under the leadership of Pope Benedict XVI, with more bishops -- particularly in the United States -- going public about the need to heal the wounds in the Church.


Q: Why do you think Vatican II has been misinterpreted by so many?


Bishop O'Donoghue: What we have witnessed in Western societies since the end of the Second World War is the development of mass education on a scale unprecedented in human history -- resulting in economic growth, scientific and technological advances, and the cultural and social enrichment of billions of people's lives.


However, every human endeavor has a dark side, due to original sin and concupiscence. In the case of education, we can see its distortion through the widespread dissemination of radical skepticism, positivism, utilitarianism and relativism. Taken together, these intellectual trends have resulted in a fragmented society that marginalizes God, with many people mistakenly thinking they can live happy and productive lives without him.


One of the great truths recognized by the Second Vatican Council is that the Church is part of human history and culture. Therefore, it shouldn't surprise us that the shadows cast by the distortion of education, and corresponding societal changes, have also touched members of the Church. As Pope Benedict XVI puts it, even in the Church we find hedonism, selfishness and egocentric behavior.


The Second Vatican Council tends to be misinterpreted most by Catholics who have had a university education -- that is, by those most exposed to the intellectual and moral spirit of the age. These well-educated Catholics have gone on to occupy influential positions in education, the media, politics, and even the Church, where they have been able to spread their so-called loyal dissent, causing confusion and discord in the whole church.


This failure of leadership has exacerbated the even greater problem of the mass departure from the Church of the working-class and poor. For example, the relentless diatribe in the popular media against Christianity has undermined the confidence of the ordinary faithful in the Church.


I strongly support Catholics receiving a university education, but we have to ensure that they also have a firm grounding in the fullness of the faith from an early age in our homes, schools and parishes, and that they are equipped to challenge the erroneous thinking of their contemporaries.


Q: One of the questions you address is whether we have forgotten what it is to be Catholic. What do you say to those whose response to this crisis in Catholic identity is to reject change altogether?


Bishop O'Donoghue: The Jewish Christians in the early Church didn't want to embrace the dietary and ritual changes that were implicit in Jesus' Gospel. If they had succeeded in their opposition to Sts. Peter and Paul, the Church would not have spread like wildfire throughout the Roman world, and beyond.


The strength and vitality of Catholicism -- which is a sign of the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit -- is that it can change and adapt to its surrounding culture, while at the same time maintaining what is essential and definitive about its identity, that originates from the will of God. As Cardinal Henri de Lubac passionately believed, the Catholic genius is to balance necessary change with eternal continuity.


Q: You describe the liturgy as "the wellspring of the life of the Church" and "the authentic starting point of all renewal." How should we balance continuity and change in the liturgy in ordinary Catholic parishes?


Bishop O'Donoghue: "Sacrosanctum Concilium" [The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy] remains a sound, measured guide to how we cultivate an authentic liturgical life in our parishes. Paragraph 23 deals with the challenge of balancing the retention of "sound tradition" with openness to "legitimate progress."


Applying this principle to the Mass, the Council fathers directed that the use of Latin must be preserved in the Latin-rite Church, balanced with the use of the vernacular.


In the light of this, I have recommended to my parishes that Latin should play a regular part in the celebration of the Mass, such as the Gloria, the Credo, Sanctus, Pater Noster, and Agnus Dei. If only this sense of balance had been observed over the past 40 years, we would have avoided the banality, trivialization and secularization of the liturgy that has been all too common in the modern Church.


I think it true to say that in our almost frantic search to create meaningful liturgy that speaks to modern men and women, we fell into the trap on occasions of superficiality and novelty. What we need to do now is to understand more deeply man's search for meaning, which will include the need for the sacred, and the apprehension of the transcendent.


Q: While urging Catholics to remain committed to the work of ecumenism, you acknowledge that it sometimes leads to an "urge to gloss over significant differences" between Christians. What should be the practical goal of authentic ecumenism?


Bishop O'Donoghue: It's time we admitted that a wrong type of ecumenism has put a brake on the Catholic Church's freedom to engage in evangelization and mission in society. It's as if our fear of offending other Christians has inhibited us from confidently proclaiming the distinctive and defining truths of Catholicism.


However, the Council father's insight that Christian communities outside the Catholic Church contain elements of sanctification and truth -- see "Lumen Gentium," No. 15, and "Unitatis Redintegratio," No. 3 -- provides us with the agenda for authentic ecumenism.


Those elements of the Catholic Church that we have in common with non-Catholic churches and ecclesial communities should be the focus of our dialogue, to the mutual enrichment and deeper understanding of both parties. In this way we will be able to explain the full Catholic understanding of doctrine, highlight any distortions that have occurred, and come to a deeper appreciation of the truth ourselves.


Our goal should always be to strengthen the imperfect communion that already exists in the hope that non-Catholics will come to see and come to seek the fullness of truth.



The centuries of Catholic life reveal a variety of "violations" of the Eucharist, Holy Communion, the real Presence of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. These violations include heretical writings, sermons, plays, burnings, descration of the sacred Host, etc. Now we are dealing with technology's assistance in abusing the eucharistic Lord.


A problem we face is invinsible ignorance and flagrant behavior meant to shock and discourage the faithful. One of the disappointing things is the lack of media coverage on this topic and how relatively few Catholics standing up for their confessed faith in Jesus Christ. Of 65 million Catholics in the USA, how many are protesting this act of sacrilege? By protesting I don't mean shaking their fingers and heads and saying, "That's terrible!" but actually saying and doing something in a public way with friends, colleagues, etc. to make it clear that abusing something as sacred as the Communion is not to be tolerated.


In an era when religious sensitivity has lots of currency, even to an extreme, why isn't this  a matter significant discussion and reaction from the Christians of all stripes? Here I take issue with a point in the article below: I don't see this act getting people mobilized to correct an abuse. Even though the other ecclesial communities who have some belief in Communion should stand up and demonstrate. Where are they??? Why aren't the Catholics as vocal as the Jews and Muslims are when they experience a preceived abuse of their theology? Think of the Danish cartoons that got Muslims excited.


Elizabeth Ela writes a piece for which is helpful. AND write to YouTube at the email address noted below to register your complaint.


adoration.jpgPeople can find a video of almost anything on YouTube: babies' first steps, Saturday Night Live skits, news clips, concerts and now - to the shock of Catholics everywhere - desecration of the Eucharist.


YouTube has long been a destination for Catholics seeking video clips of Masses, apologetics lectures or devotions, but now Catholic outrage is growing as the site has become home to a string of videos depicting acts of Eucharistic desecration, including flushing a host down the toilet, putting one in a blender, feeding one to animals, shooting one with a nail gun and more. "I don't know what to say," said a stunned Msgr. C. Eugene Morris, professor of sacramental theology at Kenrick Glennon Seminary in St. Louis, when told about the videos. "I am outraged that YouTube is tacitly supporting this and giving this behavior an audience."


The most prominent series of videos come from one YouTube user who claims to steal a consecrated host every day and desecrate each one in a different way. His videos began two months ago with the user saying into a webcam that he denied the Holy Spirit, then splitting a host in half and eating it with disrespect.


Most of the videos only have a few hundred views - relatively low for YouTube standards - although the latest installment, "Eucharistic Desecration #33: Nail Gun," has been watched over 1,000 times.


The user, who lists his first name as Dominique, has also posted a video of his receiving communion at an unidentified Catholic church and removing the host from his mouth in the church parking lot. Msgr. Morris said people need to "stand up" for their faith in cases like this. Some have taken up the challenge.


Thomas Serafin is president of the International Crusade for Holy Relics, an internet watchdog group of Catholic laymen. His group has been fighting online affronts to the Catholic Church, including the sale of the Eucharist and of relics of the saints online, for more than a decade. "YouTube has to be held accountable and stopped," Serafin said from Los Angeles. "If Catholics don't take a stand right now, they can expect such outrages to continue."


Serafin added: "The internet is, in many ways, a new world, and it is our duty to evangelize this world, but we have to speak up and be heard to do that."


YouTube's content policy technically restricts users from posting videos that contain hate speech or "shocking and disgusting" elements.


"We encourage free speech and defend everyone's right to express unpopular points of view," YouTube's Community Guidelines state. "But we don't permit hate speech (speech which attacks or demeans a group based on race or ethnic origin, religion, disability, gender, age, veteran status, and sexual orientation/gender identity)."


YouTube spokesperson Kathleen Fitzgerald asked for additional links to the desecration videos, but did not respond to a request for comment prior to the publication of this story.

However, YouTube defines hate speech as "content that promotes hatred against members of a protected group. For instance, racist or sexist content may be considered hate speech. Sometimes there is a fine line between what is and what is not considered hate speech. For instance, it is generally okay to criticize a nation, but not okay to make insulting generalizations about people of a particular nationality."


The guidelines add, "YouTube is not a shock site. Don't post gross-out videos of accidents, dead bodies or similar things intended to shock or disgust."


Users may "flag" offensive videos, which YouTube says will alert their reviewers to videos that may violate content guidelines. A video featuring the Eucharist desecrated with a knife was flagged by Headline Bistro staff but remains on YouTube.


"Here you have someone attacking another group, and there's no outcry," Msgr. Morris said. "We're not hurting anybody or attacking other's beliefs," he added, saying he would ask perpetrators of Eucharistic desecration, "Why are you so concerned about this? Why is it your business?"


One name still making the rounds in YouTube and bloggers' discussions on Eucharistic desecration is Paul Z. Myers, the University of Minnesota professor who asked his blog readers in July to "score" him "some consecrated communion wafers."


"If any of you would be willing to do what it takes to get me some, or even one, and mail it to me, I'll show you sacrilege, gladly, and with much fanfare," Myers wrote in response to the case of a University of Central Florida student who stole a consecrated host the previous month.


Myers later posted a picture of a host - which he claimed was consecrated and sent to him via mail - as well as pages from the Koran and atheist Richard Dawkins' "The God Delusion" in a trash can, underneath coffee grounds and a banana peel.


As for the current YouTube videos, Dominique cited Myers as inspiration for the video series. In terms of the response he's received for his own acts of Eucharistic desecration, Dominique said most reactions are "quite funny."


"The best I have are from moderate Catholics," he wrote in an email to Headline Bistro. "Catholics who really believe that a cracker can become somebody after a magic ritual don't get the point, but some moderate Catholics who see the wafer as a symbol of Jesus' flesh realize something. Sometimes they disagree with what I do, but they realize that some of their friends are quite insane and that something must be done about that."


Fr Eugene Morris.jpgMsgr. Morris refuted Dominique's portrayal of believing Catholics as "insane."

"If you don't believe in the mystery of Christ, then of course you don't understand the sublime mystery of the Eucharist," Morris said.


"We have confidence," he added, in what "(Christ) has said to us" in regards to the Eucharist. Morris also pointed out the many examples of men and women who died for their faith in the Eucharist over the past 2,000 years.


Serafin said people should call or write YouTube to demand that the videos be taken down. YouTube's public relations email address is


"Christ died on the cross for us," said Serafin. "The least we can do is defend him in cases like this."

About the author

Paul A. Zalonski is from New Haven, CT. He is a member of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, a Catholic ecclesial movement and an Oblate of Saint Benedict. Contact Paul at paulzalonski[at]



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