Questions Answered – June 2020

Absence of God?

Question: Pope Emeritus Benedict published a letter last year in which he attributed the pedophilia crisis in the clergy to an absence of God. Our Church and clergy are wholly dedicated to God, right? Can you explain how this happened and why he said this?

Answer: Pope Emeritus Benedict gives a sad summary of the intellectual history of the Church for the last 50 years, especially in moral theology, and its confrontation with the sexual revolution of the 1960s. Though this was originally a controversy about contraception and the encyclical Humane Vitae, it went viral with the questioning of all objective truth. This was due in some ways innocently to a desire of the fathers at Vatican II to clothe Catholic doctrine in a language and philosophical explanation which was perhaps more accessible to the 1960s than Scholasticism. Many theologians had been engaging in controversies caused by Scholasticism immediately prior to this which produced what was then known as the nouveau theologie or new theology.

As far as most of the bishops were concerned, they did not tend to engage much in theological disputes and were more practical pastors. Many had financially built up dioceses with many institutions after World War II. The Church was greatly expanding, especially in its clerical and religious life expression. Even in the reform of the liturgy, the bishops were generally happy with the liturgy but wanted some innovations they thought would make it more accessible to the laity, especially in missionary lands. These included things like less Latin and some limited use of the vernacular languages.

The characteristics of the “New Theology,” however, basically originating in Europe, created a restlessness with the question of the actual effectiveness of the preaching of the Gospel to the post–World War II world. Two words which characterized this trend were adopted in Vatican II and developed a sort of cult around them were resourcement and aggiornamento. The former came from the “New Theologians”; the latter from Pope John XXIII and his desire for the Council. In practice, resourcement referred to a rejection of the theology of the Scholastic manuals then in widespread use in seminary education and a return to the primary sources of theology. This was especially a return to the Fathers of the Church, but it did include those who wanted a reading of Scholastic authors, notably Aquinas, using the texts themselves. Aggioramento was much vaguer and simply came to mean taking the expressions of the past and making them accessible to the people of today.

In both cases, the casualty was the concept of philosophia perennis (objective perennial philosophy) which had been the servant of Catholic doctrine for many centuries with the interruption of the Enlightenment. More significantly, this led in the late ’60s to a general rejection of objective metaphysics and universal truths. Truth became conditioned not just in its expression by time and place but in itself. In this, theology came to reflect the culture. In other disciplines this led to a wholesale questioning of all the truths of the Creed. In morals, however, this was most disastrous with its rejection of the whole natural law tradition which was the foundation of Catholic moral theology and, some would argue, of Western democracy.

With the rejection of metaphysics, the philosophy of the Enlightenment came completely to dominate Catholic doctrine. A whole school of metaphysics developed called “Transcendental Thomism,” which maintained that the philosophy of Immanuel Kant could be reconciled with Thomas Aquinas.

One will remember that Kant bridged the Enlightenment and really summarized it. He agreed with Hume that objective knowledge could not go beyond description in the five senses and so denied metaphysics. But as a pious Lutheran he wanted a place for God, law and religion and so with Rousseau he shifted them to the subjective sentiments. God exists because I need him to. In other words, there is no absolute truth even of God to be found in nature. My subjective need creates the truth of nature and nature creates whatever truth is found in God. Faith became sentiment. Whatever I feel must be true unless someone else is harmed by it. One of the followers of Kant declared that a religion without God was just as good as a religion with God as long as it creates sentiments of dependency on some higher power and philanthropy towards others. This is what we are living with today. Nietzsche called this for what it is. If man creates God, then man is God and such a crutch must finally be put to death if man is to take his full place.


What to Do about Bad Hierarchs

Question: The recent clerical crisis highlighted the hitherto unexamined problem of the morally corrupt bishop or cardinal. Why did this happen, why was it covered up, and what can be done to assure that even the hierarchy have accountability for their own moral corruption?

Answer: There has not been a time since Caiaphas and Judas that the Church has been without corrupt members of the hierarchy. There have been times when they were very few and times when they were quite common. This is also true of popes.

One is reminded of the story of Ercole Cardinal Consalvi, who lived in the time of Napoleon. He was sent by the Pope to negotiate the treaty between the Vatican and the French Republic (it was not yet an Empire) which would restore the rights of the Church and the practice of Catholicism. When he entered the court where Napoleon was first Consul, Napoleon is reported to have said: “Though I am signing this peace with the Catholic Church I am still the most powerful man in the world and can destroy the Church anytime I want.” Consalvi, an astute Roman lawyer and one of the last of the cardinal deacons, is said to have replied: “It is an idea. But if the bishops have not been able to destroy the Catholic Church for 1800 years, the first consul of France will not succeed.”

One writer pointed out, on the occasion of Pope Emeritus Benedict issuing a letter on the abuse crisis, that though he blames the sexual revolution of the ’60s and a defunct moral theology, there have been abusive priests long before the 1960s. There were eras in the Church when the immorality of the clergy was rampant. The ninth and tenth centuries were notorious. It was one of the things which led the Western Church to simply impose celibacy on all the clergy. Before, there were married priests in both the Eastern and Western churches, but once a man was ordained, both he and his wife had to abstain from intercourse. In 692, at Constantinople there was a local council of Trullo which for the first time allowed ordained priests to consummate their marriage, but with the stipulation that the day after this occurred the priest could not celebrate the liturgy. The Western Church chose simply to impose celibacy as a way to remedy for rampant clerical problems with sexuality. St. Peter Damien (998–1072) and Pope Gregory VII (1015–1084) were at the center of the movement to reform the clergy.

Peter Damien’s Liber Gomorrhianus was published and he condemned the sexual crimes of bishops and priests. As Wikipedia puts it:

Bishops and priests were involved in every kind of immorality, publicly living with concubines or illicit wives, or furtively engaging in homosexual practices, following an example set by the scandalous Pope Benedict IX. ‘For Damian, the issue of homosexuality within the clergy is deeply related to the dignity of the priesthood.’ Damian believed that the profligate and licentious behavior of the clergy undermined ecclesiastical authority and was beginning to provoke outbursts of violence from an outraged laity, which threatened civil order.

For Damian, one who practices homosexual sodomy suffers from a fundamental disorientation regarding the natural complementarity of the sexes. ‘What do you seek in a man that you are unable to find in yourself?’ He railed against such practices of solitary masturbation, mutual masturbation, as subversive disruptions against the moral order occasioned by the madness associated with an excess of lust. He viewed such actions as progressively more unnatural in that they involved another person in shameful acts.

He was especially indignant about priests having sexual relationships with adolescent boys. He singles out superiors who, due to excessive and misplaced piety, have been lax in their duty to uphold church discipline. He opposes the ordination of those who engage in homosexual sex and wants those already ordained dismissed from Holy Orders. Those who misuse the sacraments to defile boys are treated with particular contempt.

As to why in this day and age there should be a cover-up of these crimes when they occur, that is more difficult to evaluate. I would hazard to say that the primary reason, as Pope Benedict suggested, is that with the decline of faith in the supernatural order, the more the Church takes on the character of a secular corporation, the less accountable the officers seem for moral problems unless they involve lawsuits or loss of power. This is not to say that such people are bad men. But when there is a deadening of faith, the community based on faith loses its reason for existence. The crisis of faith after Vatican II and the ’60s cannot help but affect the clergy. The positive effect should be to strengthen the faith and courage of the priests. For those who have a weaker faith or perhaps weaker constitution the negative effect is that people simply try to ignore problems.

Contributing factors may be a talent for fundraising, as was the case with McCarrick; shortage of clergy, which leads to a bishop trying to do all he can to save a valuable worker; or simply the difficulty of proving such a thing for a public figure. Also, the first people who were consulted in the present time were psychiatrists who assured the bishops that such conditions were curable or at least manageable and so lulled them into a false belief that programs would resolve these issues. As to the lack of accountability for bishops, certainly a contributing factor was that they removed themselves from the requirements of their own charter in Dallas. Given the fact that that policy itself was contrary to canon law in giving the accused no rights to answer his accuser, still, for the bishops to remove themselves from their own standards smacked again of corporate management, certainly not spiritual fatherhood. The bishops are to be like fathers to priests, affirming them by correct doctrine and moral practice with punishment for amendment if their guidance and direction is ignored. But they are to be personally present to them and support them even in the application of punishment. Many bishops have at times been like absent fathers and left all to their assistants. There was not theology of spiritual presence in the diocese.

The Vatican and Pope Francis have correctly tried to extend the requirements for reporting abuse to bishops. Metropolitans were given the task of investigating this, although some of them were abusers themselves. Also, there is no strict requirement to report such crimes to the police, which seems a glaring omission and one which again portrays a corporate mentality of the Church. Just how effective these will be has yet to be determined. The Church must be a community of God which transcends time. The recovery of this idea must occur, followed by a courageous mentality based in faith and charity to protect the abused, punish the abusers, protect those wrongly accused, and seek to return the Church to a stable situation where the Gospel can again be preached without ambiguity.

Fr. Brian Mullady, OP About Fr. Brian Mullady, OP

Fr. Brian T. Mullady, OP, entered the Dominican Order in 1966 and was ordained in 1972. He has been a parish priest, high school teacher, retreat master, mission preacher, and university professor. He has had seven series on EWTN and is the author of two books and numerous articles, including his regular column in HPR, “Questions Answered.”

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