How the Synod of 2015 Ignored the Real Problem, 50 Years in the Making

It’s hard to believe now, but at the beginning of the year, Synod 2015 was predicted to be a possible game changer for the Church. According to various media reports, the Synod promised to be: “stormy,” “intense,” a time of “great expectations,” and (the ultimate, irresistible comparison), “the equivalent of the Super Bowl.”1 Instead—to continue the game analogy—it may be more accurate to say the Synod ended in a draw.

Yes, it did result in some direct exchanges, even challenges, and produced an acceptable document. The bishops who were so eager to raise the “red flag” questions about the irregularly married being able to receive communion, have returned to their cathedrals and universities, apparently satisfied that they were able to make their case. While they did not convince the majority of the bishops, they continued to voice words of dissent about the decisions of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith.2 In other words, it appears that we’re back to business as usual.

It’s probably too much to ask that sophisticated, self-confident bishops, who feel secure in their theological positions would change their minds about anything. No, the real danger to the Faith is the likelihood that “ordinary” Catholics around the world are still confused about the truth when it comes to divorce, remarriage, and communion. If you doubt that this is the case, here’s a test: round up a small group of Catholics and ask them: “What was the main message of the Synod? What did the Synod finally say about Church teachings about the Eucharist, and Catholics who had divorced and remarried outside the Church?”

I think you’ll find that everybody believes exactly what they believed before the Synod—and that the Synod’s final document didn’t do a thing to change their “opinion.” That’s because the Synod failed to inspire. The Synod should have been a rousing defense of the Catholic faith. It should have strengthened Catholics, and focused their minds on the truths of the faith, so they could stand up and defend the Church’s teachings on faith and morals in the midst of a degenerate society—in fact, in a degenerate world. But most of all, the Synod should have resulted in strong, unambiguous, concrete action by the Pope and the bishops, aimed at solving the faith and moral divisions occurring within the Church. Yes, that’s right—within the Church.

The bishops knew this—at least, we can assume most of them did—but for some reason they drew back from engaging in the fight for truth. They sorely needed the famous reminder from St. John Paul II: “Be not afraid.”

Perhaps, fear is the real problem in the Catholic Church today. It certainly looks like that. There is a fear that the world will hate us. There is a fear of ridicule. There is a fear that to stand up against modern ideas will produce a backlash that cannot be contained. Fear is a powerful force, and when it’s combined with a pride that is rooted in the desire to be loved and accepted by the world, the result is that the Church appears to be powerless. (We know the Church isn’t truly powerless—“The gates of hell will not prevail” (Matt. 16:18)—but at this point in history, she is appearing that way to the world, and sadly, to many Catholics.)

This problem—fear, combined with a pride that seeks the love of the world—is as old as the human race. But when it invades the heart of the Church, it becomes like a cancer. It goes to the core of our Catholic faith. In other words, it’s unhealthy that so many bishops and pastors are worrying about winning approval from the world, and from each other, as if they were members of a stuffy country club. Whether it’s caused by fear, ambition, or “political correctness” doesn’t matter. It would be healthier if they would have a roll-up-the-sleeves, knock-down, drag-out fight about what they really believe.

Could it be that the desire to get the fight started, and to bring it out in the open, was what Pope Francis had in mind when he chose Cardinal Walter Kasper (a key radical) to give one of the initial talks at Synod 2015? It certainly seems to fit with Pope Francis’ advice to the young on July 25, 2013, at World Youth Day. He told them to go back to their dioceses, and make a “mess.” He said: “I want trouble in the dioceses.”3 Even though the official Vatican translation of the Pope’s words toned down his speech, everyone knows this Pope has come to stir things up.4

It’s my belief that, yes, the Holy Father is trying to breathe some fight into the Church by showcasing what we’re up against, as for example, by clearly showing the desire by some powerful bishops (like Cardinal Kasper) to transform the Church into the world’s “buddy.” The Holy Father’s tactics have caused many Catholics (I hear from them all the time) to think that this Pope is weak. I do not agree. I am persuaded that, in his own clever way, Pope Francis is drawing out all the opponents into the open, onto the battlefield. It’s as if he’s silently encouraging the Church: “It’s time to fight back!”

But fighting back takes strength, and right now the Church appears to be weak because fear, worldly ambition, and pride have resulted in a sickness of leadership called “dissent.” I believe the sickness of dissent can be traced to three very specific moments in history: when numbers of bishops, theologians and teachers decided to reject three Church documents. This rejection, on a worldwide scale since the mid-20th century, has resulted in a growing sickness in the Church, whose main symptom is a lack of will. This sickness has led to a widespread, institutionalized dissent which now has come out into the open, most recently in the events surrounding Synod 2015.

I would like to explore, in detail, the effects of dissent from these three core documents. They are: (1): The Second Vatican Council’s 1964 “Dogmatic Constitution on the Church” (Lumen Gentium), which clearly established the authority of the Pope; (2): the 1965 encyclical, Mysterium Fidei, re-proclaiming the truth that the Eucharist is the true Body and Blood of Christ; and (3) the great, pro-life prophecy of Pope Paul VI, promulgated in his final encyclical, Humanae Vitae (1968). Each of these documents represented historic teaching moments in the Church, and each of them was rejected, almost immediately, by great numbers of Church leaders. Over time, the result has been a great diminishing of the Church’s teaching strength. While we must continue to hope for the best, it’s clear that the ability of the Church to teach the Catholic Faith has become largely paralyzed by an eagerness to be accepted by the world, and a fear of “pushing back.”

As we know, dissent within the Church is found throughout the world. However, for simplicity’s sake, let’s use the Church in the United States as our main model of how the dissent, that rose from the rejection of three, key Church documents, became institutionalized in documents, parishes, universities, and in seminaries.

Lumen Gentium (1964): Institutionalized “dissent” begins in the Church
For the past 50 years, Catholics, especially bishops and theologians, have been dissenting from no. 25 of the Second Vatican Council’s 1964 Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (Lumen Gentium), which taught that everyone must “adhere to” the decisions of the Pope in matters of faith and morals “with a loyal submission of will and intellect … even when he does not speak ex cathedra.” And this means that “the judgments made by him are sincerely adhered to, according to his manifest mind and will.”

Even prior to the Second Vatican Council, however, a theological opinion had been gaining traction, namely that a person could dissent from a pope’s non ex cathedra “faith and moral” teachings as long as he had good reasons. Gradually, this opinion worked its way into the theological training of seminarians.5

So, many Church leaders, who were under the impression that they were just following the advice of good theologians, perhaps inadvertently, rejected an essential teaching in no. 25 of Lumen Gentium. And now the Church is in the position of a man who leaves a small wound untended: by ignoring an apparently insignificant lesion, he must now contend with a cancer that has grown and multiplied throughout his entire body. This lesion—which began when dissent over Lumen Gentium went largely unchallenged in 1964—festered and grew, leading to the next stages of rebellion and, ultimately, to the widespread divisiveness we see in the Church today.

After 1964, the ugly cancer of dissent metastasized when great numbers of prominent Catholic leaders (beginning with theologians, professors and intellectuals) publicly rejected the two other crucial documents: Mysterium Fidei (Divine Life), and Humanae Vitae (Human Life).

Mysterium Fidei (1965): Dissent over the truth of the Eucharist
Mysterium Fidei supported and bolstered the core teaching of the Council of Trent (1545-1563) which taught as a dogma of divine faith that, at the words of consecration of the Mass, there is a “conversion of the whole substance of the bread into the body, and the entire substance of wine into the blood” of Jesus Christ, a change the Church calls “transubstantiation.”6

However, when this teaching from the Council of Trent was defended by Paul VI in Mysterium Fidei, bishops and theologians boldly dissented. They rejected Pope Paul VI’s statements in numbers 44 and 46, that the Eucharist is not merely a “symbol” but rather the “physical ‘reality'” of Christ which is “bodily” and “substantially” present.”

In fact, the German Jesuit Karl Rahner, one of the most prestigious theologians of the 20th century, with influence around the world (and with a powerful following in the United States), offered this statement in his Theological Dictionary about the meaning of “transubstantiation”: “Hence transubstantiation means a change of finality and being in the bread and wine, because they are raised to being symbols of Christ who is present there, and invites men to spiritual union.” 7

Rahner’s view, which reduced transubstantiation to a mere change in the bread and wine as a “symbol” or sign of Christ, spread throughout the Church like a wildfire. The Catholic Bishops in the United States even permitted a bestselling book , Christ Among Us, to be used as a catechism for children and adults for well over a decade, starting in 1969—until the Vatican made the bishops remove the imprimatur.

This book sold between 1.6 million to 2 million copies, and continued to sell even after the Congregation of the Doctrine for the Faith ordered Archbishop Peter L. Gerety of Newark to remove the imprimatur.8 In this book, the author, Anthony Wilhelm, explained transubstantiation in the following, very un-Catholic, manner: “When we say that the bread and wine ‘become Christ’ we are not saying that bread and wine are Christ, … (but) … that the bread and wine are a sign of Christ present, here and now, in a special way—not in a mere physical way, … “.9 So, beginning about fifty years ago, throughout the United States, in countless classrooms, religious education courses, and even in seminaries, the Church’s teaching on transubstantiation was gradually diminished or cheapened. It was replaced by the heresy that, after the consecration, Christ is not “bodily” and “substantially” present, but is in the Eucharist merely as a “sign” or “symbol” (Code of Canon Law, no. 751)

Humanae Vitae (1968): Dissent intensifies and hardens within the Church
However, the biggest firestorm of dissent was still ahead. It came in 1968, with the release of the encyclical, Humanae Vitae, the magnificent defense of life, and the rejection of the idea that human beings are morally free to interfere in God’s creation of life.

Let’s remember that Paul VI had kept an open mind about artificial birth control. He commissioned a major study to determine if, in addition to abstinence, there was a non-contraceptive method which the Church could approve, as a possible manifestation of God’s will. While the commission could not find another non-contraceptive method, they decided on their own: that in some cases contraception, itself, could be used because it was not intrinsically evil. Paul VI, exercising his papal authority, came to the conclusion that the commission had no authority to change a 2,000- year-old Church doctrine, and that no, God’s will did not permit the use of artificial birth control in any manifestation.10 Could there be a clearer sign that the Holy Spirit was truly guiding this fearless Pope? Of course, the world was outraged. The uproar of dissent that came from the United States, and around the world, was deafening. 11

Since then, that dissent has affected (and infected) everything in our world. As Paul VI predicted, when sexual activity is absolutely separated from the God-given gift of procreation, social chaos follows. We can see the effects for ourselves. Men and women are now free to “use” each other sexually, and the result has been the devaluation of marriage, and a culture of broken families. Abortion is legal, widely accepted, and has led to the “Culture of Death,” which has successfully persuaded people, and governments, to embrace euthanasia, and “mercy” killings. This evil culture has brought misery into every aspect of our lives, from widespread pornography and sex trafficking, to violence directed against women and children, to mayhem and killings on colleges campuses and public places, to the collapse of the very concept of wholesome family life. No one in 2015 can deny that our society today is drenched in violence, and every kind of perversion.

Paul VI warned of this national and global collapse of Christian values in no. 17 of Humanae Vitae. However, most influential Catholics ignored his warning that to open the floodgates on contraception was to open a “Pandora’s Box” of evils. As soon as the encyclical was published in 1968, dissenting bishops and theologians pounced. They first targeted no.14 from the document, by rejecting the teaching that contraception is “intrinsically wrong” or evil, and that no one could morally practice it in any circumstance without committing grave sin.

From there, dissent from within the Church grew and hardened. No doubt acting from what they thought was an accepted theological opinion with regard to non-infallible teaching of the Magisterium, the then National Conference of Catholic Bishops (NCCB) in 1968 responded to Paul VI’s teaching on Humanae Vitae by publishing their “Pastoral Letter on Human Life in Our Day.” In this document, the bishops hold to the opinion (and continue to hold to this day), that: “The expression of theological dissent from the Magisterium is in order only if the reasons are serious and well-founded; if the manner of the dissent does not question or impugn the teaching authority of the Church, and if such (dissent) does not to give scandal.” 12

In many respects, “Human Life in Our Day” was a good document, and supported the teachings of the Church. But, this statement, quoted above, was used to support all kinds of dissent, because it implied that it was permissible to reject a teaching of Vatican II essential to “The Dogmatic Constitution of the Church”—namely, the requirement to “submit in will and intellect” to the teachings of the Pope, in all matters of faith and morals, even “when he does not speak ex-cathedra.” But in actuality, this teaching in no. 25 of Lumen Gentium put to rest (as incorrect) the opinion that one could dissent from a papal teaching of faith and morals when a pope does not speak ex cathedra. Bishops and theologians, therefore, could no longer appeal to this theological opinion.

In 1968, at the time of the publication of “Human Life in Our Day,” Cardinal Joseph Bernardin became the first secretary of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops. Undoubtedly, he had a great influence on the writing of this document. Later, when Cardinal Bernardin was Archbishop of Chicago, he left no uncertainty about the exact meaning of the U.S. bishops’ 1968 statement when, as part of his own legacy, he stated that “limited and occasional dissent” from the magisterium of the Church is “legitimate.”13

After the highly influential and media-savvy Cardinal Bernardin aligned himself with the concept of legitimate dissent, the die was cast. Along with the official publication of “Human Life in Our Day,” the idea spread everywhere that dissent was permissible in every way, including dissent from the Pope. For all intents and purposes, dissent was seen as a legitimate choice for Catholics, among both religious and laity. Tragically, among many bishops and theologians in universities and seminaries, and in religious books, dissent was now “institutionalized” in the Church in the United States, and throughout the world.

While the bishops surely did not intend it, one of the most shocking things about this dissent from Humanae Vitae was the moral confusion it created in the minds of lay Catholics. Practically every bishop in the United States in 1968 knew that Catholic couples sincerely wanted to know what the Church position was on contraception. (That was the whole reason Paul VI had called a commission together—to explore the issue!) Catholics everywhere had very serious questions to ask: “Is contraception a serious sin?” “Can a Catholic use the ‘pill’ and still receive communion?”

The moral confusion created by the dissent from Humanae Vitae raised new questions when Pope John Paul II visited the United States in 1987. He was asked directly by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB): “How should the Church in the United States respond when “good Catholics” say they cannot accept the Church’s teaching on human sexuality, contraception, divorce, and remarriage, abortion, etc.?” Implicit in the question was the question which arose at Synod 2015: “Can these ‘good Catholics’ still come to communion?”

Clearly, St. John Paul II understood the implied question, because he replied that: “It is sometimes reported that a large number of Catholics today do not adhere to the teachings of the Church on a number of questions, notably sexual and conjugal morality, divorce, and remarriage … (and) on abortion.” Then the Pope immediately made this point: “It is sometimes claimed that dissent from the Magisterium is totally compatible with being a ‘good Catholic’ and poses no obstacle to the reception of the sacraments. This is a grave error (italics added) that challenges the teaching office of the bishops of the United States, and elsewhere.”14 John Paul II’s answer could not have been more simple, or more clear: If you dissent from the Pope’s teaching on matters like contraception and divorce and remarriage, it is “gravely” wrong to receive communion.

In addition, seldom noticed in John Paul II’s answer, but nevertheless clearly there, is this truth: It is not just using contraceptives that bars a person from receiving communion, but the mere dissent, or not adhering in “will and intellect” to the Pope’s decision, that contraception is evil, that bars a Catholic from communion. The logical conclusion is that even cardinals, archbishops, and theologians who dissent are barred from receiving communion.

What’s more, St. John Paul II’s answer was absolutely in line with the teachings of Vatican II. The requirement to assent to all papal magisterial teachings in matters of faith and morals, even when he does not speak ex cathedra, in order to receive the sacraments, was no doubt part of the “step forward toward a doctrinal penetration and a formation of consciousness in faithful and perfect conformity to the authentic doctrine (of the Church)” which was the hoped for goal of the Second Vatican Council.15

The Effects of Dissent: Silence in the pulpits and throughout the media
Given that the pope’s answer in 1987 was completely ignored, it is important to repeat that John Paul II could not have been clearer: It is “a grave error” to dissent from the Magisterium on contraception, divorce, and remarriage, and still to receive holy communion. But this moral teaching, contained in the words of John Paul II, never reached the Catholic people in the United States—at least not from the pulpits, or from religious teaching documents.

But why? Why didn’t the bishops make this decision and instruction known to Catholics in the United States? Were they afraid to be “politically incorrect?” The New York Times reported what John Paul II said to the U.S. bishops, but few, if any, Catholic news sources reported his reply, despite the fact that this question was pressing on the minds of so many American Catholics.16 It is as if, when it came to this critical issue, the American Catholic hierarchy, theologians, and Catholic news sources were afraid to connect the mind of the Vicar of Christ to the minds of American Catholics.

For example, America magazine ran an editorial on Oct. 3, 1987, about the exchange between the Pope, and the U.S. Bishops titled: “The Pope and Bishops: ‘Telling It Like It Is.'” Curiously, the editors of America themselves failed to “tell it like it is” when they failed to report the other side of the story, that the Pope had clearly stated that dissent bars one from the sacraments! In fact, I doubt that most Americans today even know that this question was settled by Pope John Paul II in 1987—that no Catholics may receive communion if (1) they deliberately and intentionally dissent from the Pope’s teaching that contraception is intrinsically evil, or (2) use contraception themselves.

Unchecked, the cancerous sickness of dissent has continued to spread. Yes, the Pope had clarified this issue on contraception and communion, but the American hierarchy appeared to not disclose this matter to the Catholic media and people. On the other hand, Catholic resistance (the politically popular view) grew and hardened over the nature and role of the Church (Lumen Gentium); the Eucharist (Mysterium Fidei), and human life and love in the family (Humanae Vitae).

The result has been a spreading of the sickness of dissent throughout our whole culture, and into the very heart of family life. After all, it is only a matter of logic. If a Catholic can simply decide that it’s OK to “disagree” with the Magisterium of the Pope in a matter of faith and morals (which is the lesson taught by 50 years of unchecked dissent) then it’s OK to rebel against other Church authorities closer to home, such as the local bishop, pastor, teacher, mom, dad, and the rest of the family. The result is what we see today in homes throughout society: Families are wounded by disrespect, lying, fighting, and seduction, and the end result is often family breakups, divorce and remarriage, which in turn has led to the instability and violence we see on our streets and in public places.

The Church must face this cultural tragedy with courage and honesty! What can we learn from this state of sickness in the Church? Our first task is to make the correct diagnosis: While the Synod of 2015 identified “the family” as the main problem on the agenda, in actuality, the first problem the Church needs to tackle is the cancer of dissent which continues to spread throughout the Church body itself. Next, let’s not waste time lamenting this loss of “health;” what can be done now to correct this “legacy of dissent”?

First, the Church in the United States (represented by the USCCB) must correct the harm done by the grave error in “Human Life in Our Day.” While the error may have been inadvertent, and the language poorly understood, and while the document offered general support for the pope’s encyclical on life, its approval of dissent as a valid option for Catholics has, in the long run, proved to be devastating to the Church. Should this error be corrected through future teaching documents, or in a letter specifically addressing the issue of dissent? That’s for the bishops to decide, but it must be done.

The bottom line is: Catholics in the United States have a right to ask: “Does the present USCCB agree with all the pronouncements made by the USCCB in 1968, namely, that ‘licit dissent’ from papal teaching is compatible with being a ‘good Catholic’”? Unless the USCCB is willing to correct the concept of “licit dissent,” it will continue to encourage—even if inadvertently—a concept of dissent which is not permitted by core Church teachings.

Equally important, the USCCB should identify and support the pronouncement of John Paul II in 1987 that dissent from Humanae Vitae bars a person from receiving communion. I believe that unless this correction is made by the teaching authorities of the Church (namely, the bishops) the Church will continue to descend into more confusion and infighting. If, however, Church leaders together, or individually, acknowledge and rectify these mistakes of the past, then the Church can move forward to resolve the doctrinal confusion.

What is this doctrinal confusion? The Church must define the nature of the Church, the Eucharist, and human sexuality in a final, authoritative form. But how would the Church teach such a huge, historic lesson? I think the answer is that we need another Synod. Better yet, given the grave perils we face in the Church, and in the world, perhaps the real answer is that we need a third Vatican Council. If such a historic milestone is ever reached, there is one more major action the Church should take: She should canonize Paul VI, and declare him a Doctor of the Church for his magnificent defense of the Constitution of the Church, the Mystery of Faith, and of Human Life.

After all, from the vantage point of our sad 21st century, we are experiencing the chaos and violence which Paul VI saw so clearly, almost 50 years ago, as the consequence of turning away from God’s law, which the Church has properly defined as the “Culture of Life.” It is time to definitively and categorically proclaim, ex cathedra, certain truths of his teachings found in these documents. Then, we can honestly move forward, and begin the necessary work to change our modern “Sodom and Gomorrah” to a modern day “Nineveh.” But we need to do it soon, before it is too late (Gen. 19; Jonah 3).

  1. John Allen Jr., “Forecast: 2015 Synod of Bishops will be just as stormy as the last time,” Crux, Feb. 3. 2015.
  2. Edward Pentin, “German Bishops: ‘WE Are Not Just a Subsidiary of Rome’,” National Catholic Register, Feb. 27, 2015.
  3. Raymond Arroyo, “The ‘Messy’ , Alluring Grace of Pope Francis,” National Catholic Register, August, 1, 2013.
  4. Apostolic Journey to Rio De Janeiro on the Occasion of the XXVIII World Youth Day Meeting with Young People from Argentina, Address of Holy Father Francis, Thursday, July 25, 2013.
  5. Dr. Ludwig Ott, p. 10; J. M. Herve, Manuale Theologiae Domaticae, 19th edition, Vol. 1 (Westminister, Md: The Newman Bookshop, 1943), 523.
  6. Henry Denzinger’s Enchiridion Symbolorum, Thirtieth Edition, no.884.
  7. Engelbert Gutwenger, Encyclopedia of Theology: The Concise Sacramentum Mundi, “Transubstantiation” ed., by Karl Rahner (New York: Crossroads, 1984), pp. 1754-1755.
  8. April L. Goldman, “Book’s Popularity Tests the Vatican,” New York Times, November 29, 1984.
  9. Anthony Wilhelm, Christ Among Us, 5th revised edition (San Francisco: Harper Collins Pub., 1990),  the cover and p. 216. My emphasis.
  10. Benjamin Mann, “New documents reveal inner workings of papal birth control commission,” Catholic News Agency, Mar. 16, 2011.
  11. Richard A. McCormick, “‘Humanae Vitae,’ 25 Years Later,” America, July 17, 1993.
  12. National Conference of Catholic Bishops, “Pastoral Letter on Human Life in Our Day,” Nov. 15, 1968, no. 51.
  13. Joseph Bernardin, “Address on the Common Ground Project,” Oct. 24, 1996, Origins: CNS documentary service (Nov. 14, 1996), 353-356.
  14. Apostolic Journey to the United States of America and Canada, Meeting with the Bishops of the United States of America, Address of His Holiness John Paul II, Minor Seminary of Our Lady of the Angels (Los Angeles) Wednesday, September 16, 1987, Part II, no. 5.
  15. Pope John XXIII, “Pope John’s Opening Speech at the Council,” found in The Documents of Vatican II, edited by Walter M. Abbott, S; J. (New York: Corpus Books, 1966), p. 715.
  16. New York Times, “Papal Visit; Pope Counsels Bishops to Hold to Christ’s Teaching in the Face of Dissent.” Sept. 17, 1987.
Fr. Regis Scanlon, OFMCap About Fr. Regis Scanlon, OFMCap

Fr. Regis Scanlon, OFMCap, was ordained in Aug. 26, 1972. He is currently in the process of developing the Julia Greeley shelter for homeless, unaccompanied women in metro Denver. He is spiritual director and chaplain for Mother Teresa of Calcutta's Missionaries of Charity in Denver, as well as being one of the spiritual directors for the Missionaries of Charity in the western United States. He was director of prison ministry for the Archdiocese of Denver, from 1999 to 2010; a chaplain for Missionaries of Charity at their now-closed AIDS hospice, Seton House, and at Gift of Mary homeless shelter for women in Denver from 1989 to 2008; and in 1997, he was sent by Mother Teresa to instruct Missionaries of Charity in Madagascar and South Africa on the subject of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist . His articles have been published in Homiletic & Pastoral Review, The Catholic Faith, Soul Magazine, Pastoral Life, and The Priest. He has also made two series for Mother Angelica's EWTN: "Crucial Questions," "Catholic Answers," and "What Did Vatican II Really Teach?"

Comments

  1. Ted Heywood says:

    Well thought out, well said, well done!!!
    Hellooooo NCCB, Bishops, Pastors, priests, wandering lay folk ! Is anyone home?

    • André W. says:

      I’ve found a group of priests who aren’t afraid to speak out the truth. Reading their studies has helped me to put into the perspective the times we are going through. Their website is: http://en.denzingerbergoglio.com/
      What we need is more people like Fr. Regis and these other priests to say the truth, even if it hurts. its the only way things can get better.

  2. Charles E Flynn says:

    “Take this, all of you, and eat it: this is a symbol of my body which will be given up for you. ‘Which’ refers to ‘body’, not ‘symbol’. Do not be afraid. Karl Rahner will explain all of this to you in about two thousand years.”

    There is something seriously wrong when a “prestigious theologian” is outperformed by a writer of short stories (Flannery O’Connor):

    Well, toward morning the conversation turned on the Eucharist, which I, being the Catholic, was obviously supposed to defend. Mrs. Broadwater said when she was a child and received the Host, she thought of it as the Holy Ghost, He being the ‘most portable’ person of the Trinity; now she thought of it as a symbol and implied that it was a pretty good one. I then said, in a very shaky voice, ‘Well, if it’s a symbol, to hell with it.’ That was all the defense I was capable of but I realize now that this is all I will ever be able to say about it, outside of a story, except that it is the center of existence for me; all the rest of life is expendable.”

  3. Pat Cullinan, Jr. says:

    “I want trouble in the dioceses,” said the Pope. And why DIDN’T HE STIR UP TROUBLE?! Mercy, mercy, mercy.

  4. Dear Fr. Regis:
    Of course, you are correct. Confusion reigns. In one of Fr. Groeschel’s last broadcasts, he was interviewing a physician. Suddenly the doctor launched into a riff on how millions of Catholics
    who used abortifacient contraception were routinely going to communion. Fr. Groeschel more
    upset than I have ever seen him interrupted the doctor to proclaim that they probably didn’t know
    what they were doing. We don’t need another council. We were not prepared for the last one.
    Henry Sire exposes the illegality of the liturgical reform in his new book, “Phoenix from the Ashes.”There is no substitute for Catholic tradition. The experiment in modernism has cost millions of souls eternal life.

  5. Steve Paolucci says:

    Bravo, Fr Regis! In an era of sound bites, snippets and abbreviated characters, it is refreshing and enlightening to examine the issue from its origin…to its fateful results, in this case. I have flashes of anxiety every time the Holy Father seems to speak ‘off-the cuff’ with seemingly little regard for clarifying the truth of the matters he discusses. I have no doubt he is sincere in his attempts to draw in a wider audience than those who daily attempt to live the fullness of the faith, but my enthusiasm is tempered when he fails to take that final step and clearly state the church’s teaching on the matter, rather than leaving it to conjecture. I can only trust that the Holy Spirit will bridge the gap that so often grows to a gaping hole of confusion and doubt about motives and the message. I continue to pray for courage and wisdom for our church leaders to pass on the gift of knowledge, insight, and understanding from the likes of Paul VI, whose prophetic teachings we would do well to heed. Thank you, Fr. Regis, for not keeping your lamp under the bushel basket!

    • Steve,
      You are bothered that Pope Francis “… does not take that final step and clearly state the Church’s teaching…” Have you forgotten that Popes John Paul ii and Benedict xvi did state clearly Church teachings on all these issues and got nowhere. Pope Francis is smarter than that; he knows he needs to get the ‘better’ bishops to come out swinging against the majority of pretty useless bishops if any lasting improvement is to occur. No Pope in modern times has been able to right the Ship of Faith on his own because bishop’s leave everything to the Pope in Rome to solve all problems. That way they don’t have to tackle thorny issues like refusing to give Jesus to manifest sinners. It never happened. They sat on their hands instead.. Francis deliberately gave those bad bishops a prominent platform at the Synod so others would see clearly their heresies and correct them in no uncertain terms. The old boys club mentality prevailed again ie. bishops reluctant to criticise each other EVEN when the very Heavens ( and concerned catholics everywhere ) cry out for them to do so.
      As long as mass going catholics continue to accept – without protest – the watered down catholicism our Bishops are handing down to us it is useless to believe that one man in Rome can bring about improvement on his own.
      I will go out on a limb here and say the majority of lay catholics in leadership positions are more concerned with their own needs than those of Christ and his Church. Why? Because the bishops have the power and they know they themselves will suffer at their hands if they speak up. I have. So they stay quiet on all matters that would show their bishop in bad light. And those matters are legion. Try bringing such matters up on a catholic radio station or EWTN and see how quickly they will shut you down.

  6. This is a stirring article, Fr. Scanlon. It is deeply troubling to sit down at a table set with so many hard and hurting truths. The final truth that always anchors me in reality, when I look at the state of things in our time, is that the answer rests in faith: holy, supernatural, Christ-centered and life-receiving faith.

    I agree that dissent is lethal, and that obedience is essential. I am reminded, however, that it is the obedience of faith (Rom 1:5, 16:26) that must be the goal, the intention and the effect of our work. Obedience without supernatural faith may give the appearance of catholicity, the appearance of fraternity and of peace, but it would be only superficial. And it would be no match for the forces of chaos that are growing in the world, becoming more and more bold, invading all nations, organizations and cultures today. Our enemy is not flesh and blood, but a darkness not of this world (Eph 6:12), and the victory is in Christ, in faith.

    So yes, a clear symptom of the problem in the Church is love of this world, to the exclusion of love of God. Jesus indicted the Jews who did not believe in Him, with the rhetorical question, “How can you believe, who receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?” (Jn 5:44). Many in the Church – including many teachers and preachers and leaders “in the faith” – receive what they should not and rest where they should not, instead of seeking on the one path where they should be and remain.

    “Pharisaism is the number one temptation of religious people.” That was an observation of a holy Jesuit priest who led me back to Christ, now many years ago. Pharisaism is deadly, and poisonous, but life is in Christ. Not the mere label “Christian,” but the reality of life in Him – without which, without Whom, no institutional restructuring, no meetings or synods, no “parish missions,” no continuing formation programs in how to preach better homilies, no writings or conferences or anything can be fruitful.

    “Apart from Me you can do nothing.” (Jn 15:5) When that truth actually pierces to the heart of those elevated and entrusted with leadership, as well as of those sitting in the pews, then the teaching moment has arrived. Until that happens, I don’t see the renewal and rebuilding of the Church, so needed in this time, as coming.

    Isa 66:1 Thus says the LORD: “Heaven is my throne and the earth is my footstool; what is the house which you would build for me, and what is the place of my rest?
    Isa 66:2 All these things my hand has made, and so all these things are mine, says the LORD. But this is the man to whom I will look, he that is humble and contrite in spirit, and trembles at my word.

  7. Dave Jamieson says:

    “It’s my belief that, yes, the Holy Father is trying to breathe some fight into the Church by showcasing what we’re up against, as for example, by clearly showing the desire by some powerful bishops (like Cardinal Kasper) to transform the Church into the world’s “buddy.” The Holy Father’s tactics have caused many Catholics (I hear from them all the time) to think that this Pope is weak. I do not agree. I am persuaded that, in his own clever way, Pope Francis is drawing out all the opponents into the open, onto the battlefield. It’s as if he’s silently encouraging the Church: “It’s time to fight back!”” Fr. Scanlon, on what do you base this conclusion? Where is the evidence that is the pope’s strategy? To the contrary, his silence in the face of dissenters, his muddled pronouncements and his well-documented off-the-cuff gaffes which reveal surprising ignorance and lack of charity suggest the pope is who we think he is – weak, confused and rooted in worldliness.

  8. Colette Carrasco says:

    I completely agree with Fr. Regis. What are we teaching our young people? It just seems that the Ten Commandments were just thrown out the window. We(catholics, religious) need to get some backbone and stand up for our CORRECT religious beliefs.

  9. Donna Bethell says:

    While the USCCB does need to correct its error on the allowability of dissent, it should also make it clear that, as a national conference, it has no teaching authority. The apostolic authority to teach, govern, and sanctify belongs to individual bishops and it would be healthy if they would start to exercise it vigorously in their dioceses instead of waiting to the USCCB to act.

    Given the obvious inability or unwillingness of the powers that be in Rome to run an orderly Synod, I shudder to think what a new Council would look like. I don’t think we need any more documents. There is no lack of clarity or certainty in Catholic teaching on the questions raised at Synod 2015. There is a shameful lack of clarity in its Final Report, nn. 84-86, where it fails to make clear what St. John Paul II wrote in Familiaris Consortio n. 85: those who are divorced and living in a civil marriage may not receive Holy Communion unless they are completely continent. This has been the constant teaching of the Church based on our Lord’s own words.

    What we need are bishops and priests to do their jobs: teach, govern, and sanctify, clearly, courageously, and constantly.

  10. Kevin Rupp says:

    BRAVO!!!

  11. Charlie Johnston says:

    Along with George Weigel’s piece at Frist Things a few months back, this is the finest commentary on the Synod and the underlying issues concerning it I have read. Thank you for your clarity – and your fidelity to the Holy Father and the Magisterium.

  12. Father Regis has done it again.
    He not only goes to the heart of the problems in our
    weakened Church but boldly states the solutions.
    Oh that he were a bishop. Then we would have at least
    ONE true shepherd to guide inform and inspire us as he does.
    It only takes one good bishop to stand up to the many bad ones,
    seemingly out to destroy our beautiful Faith – making it unrecognizable
    from the Faith of Our Fathers.
    Reading the thought , the wisdom, the passion Father has, one has to
    conclude our bishops just don’t seem to care OR are too cowardly to do
    the right thing, like he suggests. It is heartening too that Fater Regis, a great
    theologian, gives Our Holy Father, Pope Francis the benefit of the doubt over many
    of his decisions that so many other prominent Catholics find unforgivable in him.
    I agree with Father about Pope Francis. I am convinced Francis knows things we don’t
    know with the — ‘ the method to his madness ‘ – becoming clear before too long.
    I will be sending Father Regis important article to every bishop and priest I know.
    Anyone out there able to send it to our Pope?

  13. Fantastic! This article is like a breath of fresh air! I can’t be the only one who longs for writing supported by historical truths and current day reality.

    Choices and decisions have consequences and time will tell if the consquences are negative or positive. Indeed, in this case, time has proven the results as tragic. We have seen the destruction of morality in God’s country during my lifetime (51 years).
    The question: Is this moral decline a result of the US Catholic Church’s inconsistent teachings on, dissent, the Eucharist, and Life during that time? Answer for yourself and while you do, imagine a current moral culture if, over the last 50+ years, the US Church had strictly adhered to non-dissent, the Eucharist IS the body and blood of Christ, and the use of birth control a grave sin.
    Catholics deserve solid grounding on these issues, and I agree with Fr. Regis, a Third Vatican Council is needed It would truly be a Godsend.

  14. The message needs to be clear and consistent from the top down in all parishes. There is a lot of confusion in the church today and many don’t seem to realize some of their practices are against church teachings. I think the church needs to be better received in the world, but not by changing to “Catholic Lite” and looking the other way when many are living by society norms rather than the teachings of the church.

  15. Another great article by Fr. Scanlon. In the article, he speaks about fear, pride and a desire to be part of as some of the reasons for dissent. As a layman, it wasn’t those factors that made me a willful Catholic. In my intellectual arrogance, I thought I knew it better than the Holy Father and the Magisterium. I was suffering from that ubiquitous spiritual disease known as rationalism. It’s not that I was a bad person. I just felt that the Church was all wet about a number of different issues, and I knew it better and could do it my way. Many Catholics and others, including clergy, are infected with rationalism. One might even call it the spiritual scourge of our times, the spirit of disobedience and the spirit of the anti-Christ.

    When I was suffering from this malady, I also ran into priests who were infected. It was the Faith according to Fr. _______ I remember looking for a confessor in the 80s who was fine with our using the pill. Had no problem finding one.

    So what was the remedy that cured my infection? In 1993, I started reading True Life in God, the mystical work being written thru Vassula Ryden. After some discernment, I became convinced that the author is Our Triune God. In the work, He makes it very clear that He wants us to be obedient to the Holy Father and the Magisterium. Enough for me. Changed my life and way of thinking. In fact, He instructs Vassula to “teach them the obedience of Faith.” So we pray, and pray we must.

  16. It is true that Fr. Regis has identified three significant areas of dissent; however, the real dissent is from faith in God. It would appear that we no longer understand the very nature of faith: faith as belief in God; indeed, faith as a gift from God which brings us into a relationship to Him; faith, finally, as that hope in the one who can help us, precisely because He is the one who made and redeems us.
    In other words, then, behind the rejection of the ministry of Peter, the mystery of the Eucharist and the wondrous cooperation between husband and wife and the action of God in the transmission of human life – behind all this lies unbelief. We no longer believe in the possibility of a divinely inspired authority, of a power of God to bring about substantial change and the providence of God to support marriage and family life throughout their trials and joys.

    If it is true, then, that unbelief has had a hidden reign in the life of the Church, then why is this?

    There is the problem of believing that God can create out of nothing; for, if He cannot create He cannot do anything. He can neither inspire an amazing account of the mystery of creation nor can He help us to understand and be changed by it. But if can create out of nothing then He can do anything. He can even provide for the needs of a shrinking earth and a growing population! But this is faith in the God who loves life and want us to life it to the full: the glory of God is man, male and female, fully alive!
    There is the problem of believing that an invisible change has occurred in the Eucharist and that it is not a change that leaves the bread and wine untouched in the words of consecration. In other words, not only is there a problem with believing God can change the “substance” of bread and wine into the substance of Jesus Christ – there is a problem believing that faith is different from natural philosophy. There is a problem believing, ultimately, that the weakness of Peter is an opportunity for the grace of God to show its mysterious strength.
    There is a problem believing, then, that at the beginning of each one of us there is an action of God which loves us into life; and, as it were, this action of God is as essential to each one of us being a human person as it is that we received a bodily inheritance from our parents. God has received the gift of a bodily inheritance and has taken it up into the indivisible mystery of the personal life of relational human beings.

    In the end, then, we need to rediscover that the doctrinal nature of our faith arises out of a lived experience of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ in our lives. Just as Christ really died and rose again, so are we called to live the paschal mystery of death and resurrection. The Blessed Trinity is a reality of love before it is possible for us to understand how integrally, intricately and beautifully the reality of “relationship” echoes throughout the whole of creation, particularly the creation of man, male and female. Finally, we need to rediscover the love expressed for us in the Church of Christ: in the very gifts of the sacraments, the communion and the outreach which impels someone to say: God loves you!

  17. Once again Fr. Regis Scanlon has hit the “nail on the head.” Excellent reviews and I agree with those who have already submitted their comments. Being a lay Catholic and not anyone of any importance I am still hanging on to the beautiful traditions, beliefs, and the basic principles that our Catholic Community should keep. After all, who gave them to us? It wasn’t the social media.

    I often wonder if the Synod is like the U.S. Congress . . . All talk and nothing is solved. Just more opinions, arguments and problems that are never taken care of. Is it any wonder that the Catholic Community that is made up of everyday individuals are more confused than ever. For there is no teaching or communication from the pulpit letting the parishioners know what is changed, why it was changed, and if so, is it for the better or worse for the Church? But are the changes better for the faithful who want to hold on to the “old” principles of the Church? We don’t know for no one is telling us.

    Unfortunately during the time of change I feel that the Shepherds have left the gate open and we as the sheep (parishioners) are wandering around trying to hang on to our faith and beliefs. A lot have drifted in a direction of not even believing, for the answers are not there, or because the changes are too radical. The social media is not helping, for anything that is printed or transmitted through the multiple ways of communication is turning out on the negative side for the Pope. Pope Frances is more grounded and humble than any other world leader. One must not forget he has the Holy Trinity, St. Joseph and our Blessed Mother along with all the Saints in Heaven on his side. It is more than possible that he is listening to them, and not to the outside world that so many bishops and priests want to remain in. After all, the real power comes from Heaven where the real answers are. We cannot turn that communication off.

    When there is a problem bigger than one person can handle who do they turn to? And who does the Catholic Community that belongs to Christ pray to if we do not have the faith and love for our leader, Pope Frances? I often wonder how some of those that are critical of Pope Francis would respond if the weight of the world were on their shoulders? How would anyone be able to get through this kind of pressure without prayer and the help of the Holy Trinity and Saints? That is where prayer comes in, from all of us to support our beloved Pope, for he needs our prayers, strength and our basic beliefs to help him through the horrendous problems that he faces each hour of the day.

    It takes time, and sometimes more time than we wish, to get things back in the order they need to be in. It is going to take every parish in this world to pray for the basic principles of our beautiful religion that has been given to us so long ago by our Lord. Everyone can pray, be humble, and be a faithful Catholic. There is only one question that needs to be asked, and to me it is the only answer . . .
    What would Jesus do? I am sure He would say to pray, and it will be done according to His will, we just have to do it.

  18. G. Valente says:

    I think a big part of the problem might be that Pope Francis “appears” to be a leading contender in the contest to be liked by the world. Where is his heroic effort to stand up for the “truths” of the faith?

    His Yoda-like pronouncements are only helping to increase the constant battle between “conservatives” and “progressives”. An atheist acquaintance recently said, “I might have some respect for the Catholic Church if you could all decide in what you believe?” How could I disagree with him? In what do we believe?

    This pope speaks about the importance of confession, but then speculates that people living in a sin from which they cannot, or will not extricate themselves, can possibly receive communion. So of what use is confession? It becomes little more than an inexpensive form of analysis.

    He speaks about peace, but then encourages impressionable young people to “cause a mess”. One might point out that the angry young need little help in creating chaos. What they need are positive roles in creating change.

    I did not always agree with John Paul the Great, but I always knew where he stood. I miss that.

  19. In his statement, Fr. Scanlon writes: “The requirement to assent to all papal magisterial teachings in matters of faith and morals, even when he does not speak ex cathedra, in order to receive the sacraments, was no doubt part of the “step forward toward a doctrinal penetration and a formation of consciousness in faithful and perfect conformity to the authentic doctrine (of the Church)” which was the hoped for goal of the Second Vatican Council.”

    My question is, are all past papal teachings in matters of faith an morals considered as doctrines of the Church? What about the Church’s condemnation of Galileo? What about the Church’s medieval teaching about the immorality of usury (charging interest on borrowed money)? What about some of the earlier papal writings about the evils of modernism? Does it really come down to the requirement that every Catholic must in conscience submit to all encyclical statements regarding faith and morals, from the first recorded encyclicals to the present, in order to legitimately receive communion? Or are there times when, not speaking ex cathedra, a pope can make statements that simply are in error?

    • bill bannon says:

      Lumen Gentium itself is not infallible and that’s what Father Scanlon is quoting. I receive Communion weekly, and I hold that this reversal of the death penalty teaching by these last three Popes (they verbally have sought abolition) is getting people…murder victims …killed where it has been influential. The Church affirmed the death penalty from Romans 13:4 until 1950 (same length of time as the sexual topic mentioned) under Pius XII for the same reason the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed it in 1976 after four years of comparing deterrence studies while it halted executions for those four years.
      It protects human beings. The two largest Catholic countries are non-death penalty Brazil and Mexico, and both have murder rates twenty times that of largely death penalty East Asia. Think of that. Your family is 20 times safer traveling in largely non-Christian East Asia, which unwittingly follows Romans 13:4 on executions, which countless Popes also followed prior to the last three. Likewise, in 1520, Pope Leo X was mistaken to insist that “killing heretics” was in accord with the Holy Spirit in Exsurge Domine. In that area, St. John Paul II was correct in correcting Leo X in section 80 of “Splendor of the Truth” by calling “coercion of spirit” an intrinsic evil.

    • Carl Shy you are right on target. Since Vatican II did teach that every catholic must assent to the Pope’s teachings in matters of faith and morals “even when he does not teach ex cathedra,” the implied teaching is that the Pope cannot be in error when he “officially” teaches any matters of faith and morals through his ordinary magisterium. The cases you site are not teachings of the ordinary magisterium of the pope. Usury is not the simple taking interest on money. It is the unjust taking of interest on money, and like modernism (giving a different meaning to the words of the Church’s teaching), it is still condemned by the Church. Your examples were either non-doctrinal decisions made by the Church and signed in common form (no papal signature) as in the case of Galileo, or they are “alleged papal errors” which in many cases have been proven to lack credibility. In fact, Fr. Scanlon himself has written an excellent article (http://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/view.cfm?id=520) on this matter earlier in the Homiletic and Pastoral Review and can be easily gotten in Catholic Culture. org (Resourses)

      • bill bannon says:

        Attalus,
        Read Vix Pervenit online by a Pope in the mid-18th century which really does forbid the smallest of interest no matter how tiny. It has proved incorrect and in the 1830s, the Vatican, in answer to dubia from dioceses as whether those taking moderate interest were to be corrected, the Vatican said they were not to be disturbed…and that moderate interest position has lasted til this day and Vix Pervenit fell into disuse.

  20. Albie in Angelus says:

    Wow Fr. Regis….wow. After reading this, I am reminded of my years at Fort Hays while you were teaching math at TMP and I was studying nursing. When I prepared to marry, I asked one of your Capuchin confreres about using birth control. He responded with a typical esoteric answer centering on existentialism which lost me, and after which I interpreted to mean that I could use pills. So I married, used the pill, and lived the “good life” in a city, never to return to rural America. Then God (and my husband) moved me back to western Kansas, and in my struggle to stay married while I lived at the end of the earth, God got my attention. And once I really turned to Him, I turned away from birth control, and I have no end of stories about how God worked through subsequent children, both living and deceased. And so I thank Him. And I thank you for being you, and for being so predictable, and so eloquent. I am also reminded of 1997 when you presented a weekend seminar in Victoria centering on Lumen Gentium and Mysterium Fidei, two documents which were relatively foreign to us at the time. The teaching just goes on and on, so thank you again. And as we commemorate the 43 years yesterday, we acknowledge our sins of commission and omission and we are reminded, as you model for us, to perpetually speak the Truth in love.

  21. This in no way detracts from Fr. Regis’ excellent article, but there are many who believe that Humanae Vitae was indeed an infallible document in itself; see, for example, this article:

    https://www.ewtn.com/library/DOCTRINE/FR93102.TXT

  22. Dave & Bill,
    Actually, “that contraception is intrinisically evil,” is infallible by Sacred Tradition (spilling the seed has always been condemned from the beginning of the church). It was called “Onanism” from Genesis 38:9. But Humanae Vitae as a document was not issued ex cathedra or by the extraordinary magisterium of the Pope with the full infallible authority. Rather, Humanae Vitae was an exercise of the Supreme Ordinary Magisterium of the Pope which must be accepted with an assent of both mind and will. Thanks.

    • bill bannon says:

      Moral theologian Germaine Grisez agrees with you that the sexual issue is infallbly solved there but two periti from Vatican II, Fr. Karl Rahner and Fr. Bernard Haring disagreed with you and HV and were never censured or restricted in publishing in regard to that issue by Paul VI or by St. John Paul II and Rahner edited the Enchiridion Symbolorum for years which ranks issues as to various levels of authority. That Onan was punished for coitus interruptus was not said by all saints but it was said by Augustine whom Pope Pius XI quotes in Casti Connubii in 1930. Why were some saints silent on that interpretation? Well St. Thomas, St. Jerome, St. Albert, and St. Alphonsus may have been swayed by the levirate obligation as the real sin. There is in my view another consideration. God kills individuals throughout the Bible for only one sin that I could find…sacrilege. Uzzah touches the ark…God kills him.
      Unwitting I must say but Uzzah, despite good intentions, is killed by God. Achan is killed by God for stealing the precious metals deemed sacred at Jericho. Seventy two descendants of Jechoniah are killed by God for not greeting the ark. The sons of Heli are killed by God for abusing the priesthood. Herod is killed in Acts 12 for letting the crowd call him “god” and in Acts 5, Ananias and his wife are killed by God for lying to the Holy Spirit. Sex? David and Bathsheba are not killed for murder and adultery though God does kill their infant born of sin as punishment to them.
      Return to the Onan story. Tamar commits incest and Judah commits fornication in the same Onan story and neither is killed by God for sexual sin. Could there be a sacrilege in Onan’s choice? Yes.
      Onan was risking the non appearance of Christ because Christ had to come from that tiny House of Judah which was four men…Er, Onan, Shelah and their father Judah. The first two were killed by God for not truly mating with Tamar which left Shelah who would not go near her but was not killed by God which knocks down St. Jerome’s liverate obligation idea. So God then permitted, not morally but in the sense of His permissive will, Perez to be born from the sin of Judah and Tamar and Perez is then listed in the gospel (Luke?) as the next ancestor of Christ.
      Back to the universal ordinary magisterium…why would two periti disagree that contraception was always and everywhere condemned? I suspect two reasons. They saw scientific ignorance about the coition to pregnancy process as influential for centuries and they observed that the early saints espoused an idea identical to the Stoic Musonius Rufus…that any sex that was not done to produce a child was immoral which was much later overturned by the Vatican (1853) in answer to dubia about whether couples could use the newly explained infertile times for sex. The early saints did not really agree then thoroughly with the post 1853 Church…they agreed with some stoics. Augustine and Aquinas also did not accept sex sans willing children but they were mild by comparison to Jerome. They saw asking for the debt without willing childbirth explicitly as venial sin…and not in the spouse agreeing to the request but only in the asker. Jerome seems to see it as mortal. But the view of all three is overturned post 1853 and then with the gradual papal writing on the use of the infertile times which only happens in the twentieth century.

      • Thank you, Bill Bannon, for all this. I would have appreciated even more, citations and references to help me follow your path more carefully – but even as written, it was a very interesting journey.

        The sentence key for me was this: “God kills individuals throughout the Bible for only one sin that I could find…sacrilege.” Reading it, I immediately thought “yes!” to your one word of explanation for God’s punishment of Onan, “sacrilege”. The union of conjugal love with the fruit of life is holy; it is sacred. To violate this union of these two realities – realities that God joined together, in His creation of human nature – is nothing less offensive than sacrilege. It is an insult to God, in whose divine image our own nature is created.

        The extent of desecration of this union, and human nature itself in these days, in this depraved culture, is profoundly troubling. The overt intentional act of keeping sexual union safely sterile, lest life be a possible outcome, is now a “human right” – so far have we fallen. May God stand us up – us, His Church – sent as we were to be witnesses of His holiness.

      • bill bannon says:

        Thomas Richard,
        The problem with your interpretation is:
        A. You made the risk to Christ appearing at all, vanish….why?
        B. Were you correct then one would then expect at least hundreds if not tens of thousands of men in the old testament to be slain by God for coitus interruptus but it only happens once because the non appearance of Christ is only at risk once…in the house of Judah.
        The Jews were unfaithful to God for centuries via idolatry toward Baal and in the north via the sin of Jeroboam…idolatry of the calf statue. That’s why God punished them with the exiles under Assyrians etc. Are we to believe that a people sinning through idolatry repeatedly were chaste and far above Onan’s behaviour? Doesn’t make sense. They would have used coitus interruptus yet God slays only one ( Onan ) or two ( Er ) because only in their case was there a bigger issue…they were risking the non appearance of Christ….”the lion of Judah” …Revelations.

      • Bill, you are saying that God killed Onan for a reason that he had no way of knowing and could have had no way of knowing – that the Christ would have come (if he had raised up a child for his brother) through that “not-generated” child? God killed him for his refusal to be in a line of ancestors that he knew nothing of? Makes no sense to me.

      • bill bannon says:

        Thomas,
        Onan did not have to know specifically that Christ would come from Judah. He had to obey the obligation to procreate if circumstances were appropo (as in the levirate obligation) as did all eleven families of the brothers of Judah in case the Messiah would come from any one of them. If any male anywhere in the twelve families avoided procreation, they would have subjectively risked the non appearance of Christ to that date. But God knew Onan was not only risking like anyone else might have sinfully risked in the other eleven families…but was risking in the very family from which Christ was to come.

      • bill bannon says:

        Not many chapters later in the Bible the Judah prophecy is given in Genesis 49:10 and explains to readers of those days why Onan “had” to be killed aside from wrath. Tamar couldn’t move to the next son as long as Onan lived.. Avoid the NAB version on this detail. Follow the Douay Rheims which followed the official Catholic Bible, the Vulgate, which is now the New Vulgate which also has ille “he”….not the “they” of the NAB….sigh.

        Douay-Rheims Bible
        ” The sceptre shall not be taken away from Juda, nor a ruler from his thigh, till he come that is to be sent, and he shall be the expectation of nations.”

        Christ came from Judah but also ended Judah as a source of any rulers from God.

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