21st Century or 12th Century? Vatican II or Vatican I? Gaudium et Spes or Benedict’s “church of the little flock’?

'Opening of Vatican II"In 2011 the Episcopal Commission for Doctrine of the CCCB published two pastoral letters (to young people on chastity and to young people with same-sex attraction), or to be more correct, two parts of the same pastoral letter. The source and intent of both letters is the same and can be found in the two parts of Pope Benedict’s book on Jesus, his exhortation Verbum Domini, and in the ”Verbum Domini” conference at Regis College, Toronto and especially the address by Archbishop Terry Prendergast SJ and the constant presence of Fr. Tom Rosica CSB. And that intent is to proclaim that Critical Scriptural Scholarship is not for priest-obeying, bishop-ring-kissing, envelope-filling, Father knows best Catholics. Gaudium et Spes is all about the Church and nothing to do with the world and don’t believe anything scientific and other research has and is discovering about homosexuality and same-sex attraction. Or if you like Father Still Knows Best.

A basic teaching, offered my First Form class in 1953 by a then, Jesuit scholastic, “Being Catholic does not mean putting your brain in park” does not appear to have played any role in the writing of either
The “Pastoral Letter to Young People on Chastity” or the “Pastoral Letter to Young People with Same-Sex Attraction”.

At the end of the second paragraph in the “Same-Sex” pastoral the bishops state:

This Letter does not address the debate about the origins or causes of homosexuality or same-sex attraction. The Catechism of the Catholic Church recognizes that “its psychological genesis remains largely unexplained”.

It is really good to know that a partial, out of context, quote from the Catechism (n.2357) allows concerned Catholics, homosexual Catholics, the parents and friends of homosexual Catholics, the social workers, the doctors and researchers toiling away, to put aside all that scientific and psychological stuff and get back to the patriarchal, cultural mores of a middle eastern society some 3,000 years ago.

The 1948 encyclical, “Divino Afflante Spiritu” brought the official Catholic Church to critical scriptural scholarship a little late and out of breath and dependant for so much on our Protestant brothers and sisters. We may have recovered our breath, revised our timeline but many in the curia and episcopacy, then and now, have never really been comfortable with the Protestants, once again, getting it right. It is rather like Bill Murray playing Martin Luther in a theological version of Groundhog Day.

Let me offer a single example, from here in Ontario, of what I mean. Since I began teaching in Catholic schools in Ontario in 1974, I have never seen a Religious Education curriculum in which, on at least one occasion in twelve or thirteen years Catholic schooling, a student has to read and study one of the four gospels. It doesn’t happen. We do not support scriptural scholarship. In Catholic institutions “Father Knows Best” has never left the TV screens. Compare this with the rigorous scholarship-based study of the scriptures that are part of English public secondary school examinations.

For a little while after Vatican II critical scriptural scholarship had some influence in education, but never, never, never pastorally. I suspect that more than 95% of homilies I have heard in Canada have offered literal understandings of the scriptures.

We are talking of a highly Catholic Fall-Redemption-theology supportive critical scripture scholarship. This scholarship invites readers of the scriptures to understand the intentions of the original authors, the process that led from storytelling to written word, the types of writing present within the same books, the sources of various texts and their earlier uses in liturgical settings and so on. For years and still today this scholarship has been used to support the Fall-Redemption theology of the Catholic Church and to invite members of the community to believe without “putting their brain in park”.

Based on Benedict’s Jesus books, and events like Regis’ Verbum Domini Symposium this scholarship is to be replaced by Knights of Columbus and Salt and Light piety. Better pious followers than thinking Catholics (See: James R. Schaefer : Tensions between Adult Growth and Church Authority in Adult Religious Learning : Can It Happen? By the same author)

At the same time as Divino Afflante Spiritu was published other research was going on (Teilhard de Chardin SJ was my introduction this to this area of theology) that has led to more and more information coming to light about creation and evolution. This was another area that for the longest time was looked at askance by Catholics and I cannot help but wonder if Darwin’s Protestant lineage had a part to play in this.

But the two current pastoral letters do not even venture into this territory. We will come back to is later.

The two pastoral letters published yesterday could have been written in 1942, the year I was born, almost anytime since and most certainly anytime from the end of the 17th century forward.

After the Council of Trent was unsuccessful in bringing the Reformation Churches back into the fold it changed tack. It redefined the Roman Catholic Church by focusing inward on itself and not only ignoring but demonizing anything outside of itself. Roman Catholicism was the “perfect society”, and Catholics would “save their immortal souls” by doing all the Catholic things(Mass, Rosary, Benediction, First Fridays, Novenas, Indulgences, Fish on Fridays, Pennies for the black babies etc etc). Outside the Catholic Church there was no salvation, or to put it bluntly if you were not a Catholic you could and were going to hell in a handcart.

Within this perfect society rules for Catholics were made by priests, bishops and popes, were imposed under pain of mortal sin, and had no relationship to anything that was going on in the other “non-Catholic” world. Roma locuta est, causa finita est. The role of the “ordinary” Catholic was to “pay, pray and obey”.

There was a brief “Catholic Spring” after Vatican II with Popes John XXIII and Paul VII but the advent of John Paul II and Benedict XVI has seen a restoration of the Tridentine monarchical papacy and feudal Catholicism.

Both pastoral letters present the same material(arguments?), repeated over and over using the same methodology that had been successful for some 300 years. Arguments are presented from the official church interpretation of scriptural texts(without any referencing of other more reputable critical scholarship) and such arguments are supported by quoting church documents.

This worked from Trent until Vatican II and this is the obedient, passive, literal, “church of the little flock” that Benedict and the current crop of middle-manager bishops crave.

These pastoral letters begin with a caveat that says that we are not going to look at the causes of homosexuality and we will stay with our understanding as it was determined at Trent. These pastoral letters will not use the term “gay” or “lesbian” because these may encourage positive self-esteem in such persons.

These pastoral letters acknowledge the goodness of creation but have serious questions about the goodness of homosexual persons who live out their homosexuality in physical/genital relationships.( It is interesting to note that is only in sexual issues that Catholic moral teaching uses “act morality” rather than some form of “fundamental option”)

These pastoral letters talk about the “complementarity of man and woman” that goes back to Thomas Aquinas and his idea of a woman as a misbegotten male.

These pastorals return to usage the notion of “salvation history” (the Church also reaffirms God’s plan for human sexuality) which is basically conservative Catholicism’s version of pre-destination just as the annulment gobblyedegook allows Catholic divorce without acknowledging that perhaps both Protestantism and that civil secular society got this one correct as well.

These pastorals make comments about sexual relations within the marriage covenant that are historically conditioned. They do so without acknowledgement that both the historic conditions and our knowledge and understanding of the human person and role of sexual relations have changed over the last 400 hundred years.

These pastorals repeat the non-modern-research based assertion that same-sex attraction “when oriented towards genital activity” is “objectively disordered”. The Church calls active homosexuals “objectively disordered” but in the same document calls for compassion, respect and sensitivity. This is perhaps an excerpt from the Klu Klux Clan Book of Etiquette.

We actually got almost half way through the pastoral letter on Same-Sex Attraction before being told that if we disagree with Catholic Church teaching on this topic we are obviously guilty of “a widespread moral relativism”. It is important for the branch-plant bishops to quote one of Head Office’s favourite phrases.

The Pastoral Guidelines are a joke. To sum them up. Listen if you must but just tell homosexuals to suck it up.

If you perhaps have some concerns for those in your pastoral care here are some thoughts, from the pastorals, to keep you on the straight and narrow:

We must counteract the false ideas of freedom (like democracy) promoted by secular society. My parantheses!

The moral relativism of our society

Help them avoid involvement in a “gay” culture

These pastorals are terrible, even placing them within the traditional Catholic Fall-Redemption paradigm. The fact that they do not even acknowledge the scientific discoveries with regard to creation and the continuing work of the new cosmologists is enough to discredit them from any serious consideration by anyone who has done any reading whatsoever.

Comments are closed.