Eugene Cullen Kennedy 30/7/.14
A public-relations guru once explained his work to me: “When the city gas main blows up, I convince everybody that it is really urban renewal.” Is the new document from the International Theological Commission an explosion in St. Peter’s Square that is described as church renewal?
The document, ” ‘Sensus Fidei’ in the Life of the Church,” concerns a twofold concept: the sensus fidei, the sense of the faithful believer, and the sensus fidei fidelium, the sense of faith of the faithful believers. It has been welcomed by many theologians who seem pleasantly surprised by its contents.
Fordham University’s Bradford Hinze describes the document’s “posture of openness,” noting that, in effect, it says “that the hierarchy has to recognize that they may not have it right yet” and that Catholics may “deny assent” to church teachings “if they do not recognize in that teaching the voice of Christ.”
That is also a good description of “reception,” which has been understood as one of the munera, or gifts, of the church from its beginning. This gift is exercised by the People of God who constitute the church and is given to the everyday Catholics who express the sensus fidei fidelium and the sensus fidei that are the subjects of this Roman instrument.
“Reception” is defined in The HarperCollins Encyclopedia of Catholicism as a process whereby the faithful accept a teaching or decision of the church. In the ancient church, confessions of faith, liturgies, and the decrees of councils received general recognition and authority by means of reception.
Reception by the believing community has always been the test of whether a teaching is to be regarded as authoritative or not. Furthermore, “recognition by reception is a form of consensus formation in a Church that understands itself as a community of local churches.”
In the course of history, “as the particular role of the local churches diminished and the role of a centralized ‘lawgiver’ became more prominent reception was reduced to obedience.” That reduction of reception to a caricature of its traditional meaning remains a vivid memory for many Catholics. Since the Second Vatican Council, “the Church is being rediscovered as community and the role of reception is regaining respect.”
Reception is, then, no small gift of the believing community that it can give but withhold as well when the teaching or practice in question does not ring true to apostolic tradition. Examples of non-reception, on matters great and small, abound in the history of the church.
The canon of scriptural books was decided through reception by the community of believers. In a historically small matter, Pope John XXIII’s 1962 encyclical restoring Latin as the language of theological education (Veterum Sapientia) was turned into a dead letter by its non-reception by the Catholic community.
As a historical matter of far greater influence and relevance, the non-reception by the churches of Pope Paul VI’s restatement of the church’s ban of birth control in Humanae Vitae (1968) is understood as rejection by the believing majority.
When non-reception occurs, the teaching in question is erroneous, inadequately expressed or, so to speak, judged unbelievable by the majority of good, faithful Catholics. This gift of reception is a long-accepted expression, then, of the sensus fidelium, the “sense of the faithful” with which the present document concerns itself.
Although often misunderstood, this sense of the faithful is also expressed in other behavior, as, for example, in the drop in the number of confessions after Vatican II. Some have claimed that this “neglect” of penance is part of what its critics call the chaos and confusion sown by that council.
This less frequent use of confession was not a rejection of the sacrament of penance, but rather a healthy rejection of the exaggerated sense of sin and guilt that had, for example, made eating meat on Friday as grave a sin as murder.
The Christian community expresses the sensus fidelium by its operational judgment that trivialities, foibles and the imperfection of the human condition are not sins that need to be confessed regularly or at all. This should be considered a healthy rebalancing of the scales of moral intuition and judgment.
A rear-guard action is still being carried out by those leaders in the church who misread this sense of the faithful as a loss of devotion rather than the recovery of a truly Catholic perspective on the relative gravity of sins.
In the present document, reception is acknowledged but is hemmed in with spears of qualification. It may be easier to pass the initiation for third-degree membership in the Knights of Columbus than to be recognized as a Catholic who shares the gift of reception.
These include active participation in the life of the church, especially through the liturgy; a “heartfelt” endorsement of the Gospel preached to them; and “openness to reason,” which is described as “acceptance of the proper role of reason in relation to faith” that “purifies” it.
The real kicker is found in the fourth demand that believers must adhere to the magisterium, a qualification that, on its face, means that a genuine sense of the faith and of the faithful depends on accepting exactly what the magisterium says – a pre-emption, it would seem, of the community’s using the gift of reception except in accord with what the pope and bishops already teach or, as the document expresses it, “attentiveness to the magisterium of the Church, and a willingness to listen to the teaching of the pastors of the Church, as an act of freedom and deeply held conviction.”
Only in the church must you accept the magisterium’s every word as if you were doing it freely when, in effect, you are being forced to do it, or, as the ITC paper expresses it, as “an act of freedom and deeply held conviction.”
In a similar squeeze play, believers must practice a catalog of virtues, including humility and holiness, that would humble a monastery of Trappists before they can be graced with the sensus fidei. To claim the latter, believers must edify the church and avoid anything that would divide it.
- How about – in view of the sex abuse scandal, money laundering by the Vatican bank, and embezzling archbishops – the church’s doing something to edify the ordinary, everyday Catholics who put up with a lot and ask for very little?
The document is at pains to distinguish what its authors seem to believe to be the temptations of those with a sense of the faith. The authors labor mightily to distinguish the sense of the faith from what they deride as popular religiosity or, God forbid, public opinion that they think believers frequently follow instead of the teachings of the church.
As one distinguished traditionalist commentator, Jeff Mirus, sums up the thrust of this central portion of the document, “Thus what has been enunciated by the Magisterium is received by the Church as belonging to the deposit of faith.” In short, Catholics can employ their gift of reception only when they go along with what and how the church has expressed some teaching.
The document is, as Boston College’s Richard Galliardetz observes, thin on developing ways to consult with the faithful on theological questions. The document’s claim that sometimes a “remnant” preserves the faith is a romantic cliché rather than a convincing argument against reception as a gift through which the sense of the faith of the faithful is authoritatively expressed.
The examples of past consultation with the faithful are dismaying.
The authors cite Pope Pius IX’s writing to bishops to find out if there was, in their dioceses, a history of belief in the Immaculate Conception before he unilaterally defined it as a dogma of faith in 1854. So, too, Pope Pius XII consulted with bishops in the same wide-ranging way before his unilateral declaration of the dogma of the Assumption in 1950, regarded by commentators as an infallible ex cathedra statement.
That so many Catholics have become theologically sophisticated and that so many laypeople are now outnumbering the clergy as highly trained theologians should motivate the authors to explain the theological challenges that need to be explored and explained before these dogmas can be used as examples of consultation or as naively accepted by believers.
- Are these teachings to be accepted as literal truths about the Virgin Mary?
- Or does extensive scholarly work remain to be done to understand these as mytho-poetic statements with many precedents in other mythological traditions that abound in virgin births and varied ascents into the heavens?
Before adult Catholics can give wholehearted assent to these teachings, their superficial literal casings must be removed to discover the spiritual meanings of the Immaculate Conception or the Assumption. A magisterium that presents the concrete denotation of a mytho-poetic statement and ignores the connotations in which its deeper religious meaning is enfolded does not inspire confidence in believers who bear the sense of the faith and of the faithful.
Reading this document leaves the reader asking whether it is intended to recognize and extol the gift of reception that is the foundation of the sense of the faith and of the faithful community, or to repress it, granting it a wax dummy setting in the Madame Tussauds of the Vatican’s curial offices, whose occupants should be open to its living expression rather than taking pride in turning it into a trophy of their daily hunt for concrete orthodoxy.
One may now appreciate theologian Karl Rahner’s resigning from this commission, saying as he departed that it “stews in its own juices.”
It is said that it is immoral to bet on a sure thing, but let me wager recklessly that this document will not be received by the majority of sane, humble, reasonable and faithful Catholics.
http://ncronline.org/blogs/bulletins-human-side/new-sensus-fidei-document-can-catholics-disagree-only-when-they-agree [Eugene Cullen Kennedy is emeritus professor of psychology at Loyola University Chicago.]
What our parish does about contraception and family planning
Peter Daly’ 28714
- What does our parish do about contraception?
We teach as the church teaches.
- Are we having any significant impact? No.
Most couples in our parish, like couples in most parishes in the developed world, are certainly using artificial contraception. Practically every young family has two or three children. I doubt that they are practicing natural family planning.
- How do we teach in regard to contraception?
Once a year or so, I try to preach on the topic. It is not easy. There are almost no Scripture readings that lend themselves to homilies against contraception. When I do preach on it, I try to keep the emphasis on the positive aspects of NFP than the negative of birth control as a sin.
Whenever people come in for marriage preparation, I give them a CD by Janet E. Smith titled, “Contraception, Why Not?” I also give them some brochures from Our Sunday Visitor and brochures from our family life office on NFP. I also encourage each couple to take a class in NFP. It is hard to “require” an NFP class because many couples live in different parts of the country, and often, they are in religiously mixed marriages. We also cover the church’s teaching in RCIA, adult education classes, and in the confirmation classes for youth.
There is very little awareness of the church’s view on artificial contraception, and engaged couples don’t really think that it is any of my business.
I have a standard 20-minute talk that I give, encouraging couples to use NFP. I stress that it is good for five reasons: It is natural. It works. It is mutual. It is respectful of women. And it is open to life.
It must be admitted that NFP couples are not always “open to life.” Pope John Paul II spoke of how a “contraceptive mentality” can pervade even the practice of NFP.
Again, I try to emphasize the positive values of NFP rather than the negative value of sin. Young people are not much impressed by the magisterium, and they certainly don’t think God will send them to hell for all eternity for using the pill. Do our bishops actually believe that?
Our teaching isn’t having much of an effect on our people. I once asked a doctor in my parish, a very devout Catholic, what percentage of his Catholic patients were practicing some form of artificial birth control. “Do you think it is as high as 80 percent?” I asked. He thought for a moment and replied, “No, more like 90 percent.”
As Bishop Robert Lynch from St. Petersburg, Fla., said back in February, on the matter of artificial contraception, “That train left the station long ago. Catholics have made up their minds and the sensus fidelium [the sense of the faithful] suggests the rejection of church teaching on this subject.”
The FDA approved birth control pill for contraceptive use in 1960. In the early 1960s, birth control was the hot topic in Catholic circles.
From 1962 to 1968, the question of contraception was an “open question” in Catholic moral theology. Some bishops, mostly in Europe, even came out in favor of some contraception so long as Catholic marriages were overall open to the transmission of life.
In 1968, Pope Paul VI’s encyclical Humanae Vitae (“Of Human Life”) sparked a firestorm. The pope wrote that “direct interruption of the generative process already begun” was “absolutely excluded as lawful means of regulating the number of children.” He also condemned sterilization and any action before, after, or during intercourse that was intended to prevent procreation. Each and every act of intercourse must be open to procreation. It was not enough, he said, that a marriage be open to life overall. Inconsistently, the pope allowed for NFP, which has a contraceptive intent.
The pope’s words were a bombshell. He rejected the report of his own special commission of advisers, which included some laypeople. They had recommended some openness to contraception in the totality of marriage.
Humanae Vitae is a well-written encyclical, but it has two fundamental problems, both of which arise not from the text, but from its implementation.
First, it appears to be doing what Jesus accused the Pharisees of doing: “They tie up heavy burdens and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they will not lift a finger to move them” (Matthew 23:4). Celibate bishops and priests appear to be putting a burden on married couples that they themselves will not and could not lift.
Second, it became a struggle over authority, not the substance of the issue. In 1968, many bishops framed the issue in terms of obedience to them rather the persuasiveness of their argument. By making it a question of their magisterial authority, the magisterium actually lost credibility. Parents know their argument is weak when they have to resort to the old argument-closer, “Because I said so, that’s why!”
Fr. Andrew Greely wrote in the 1970s that Humanae Vitae was the beginning of the wholesale erosion of lay respect for magisterial teaching. It is no longer true that when “Rome commands, America obeys.”
I remember vividly a Labor Day church picnic in 1968, when people got into a shouting match over the encyclical. They probably would have come to blows if our pastor had not intervened. Back then, people cared what the church said. Today, I don’t think they would care too much. We cannot just stand on our authority. Besides, after the child abuse scandals of the last decade, we have no credibility on sexual matters.
In some ways, Humanae Vitae was prophetic. Pope Paul predicted that public authorities might be tempted to resolve social problems, like overpopulation, by imposing contraception on everyone. It happened in China with the one-child policy.
He also predicted that people would start to see themselves as the “masters of the source of life” rather than its ministers. Today, we see children as a “choice.”
Paul VI also said contraception would “open wide the way for marital infidelity and a general lowering of moral standards.” Today, sexual activity has little or nothing to do with marriage, and marriage seems to have little or nothing to do with child-rearing. People see sex as recreational and child-rearing as a lifestyle choice unconnected to marriage. The availability of contraception has certainly contributed to and helped foster this attitude.
This attitude in turn is responsible for a huge increase in out-of-wedlock births. In 1960, about 7 percent of U.S. babies were born out of wedlock. Today, about 40 percent of U.S. babies are born out of wedlock. That upward trend is consistent with most developed countries.
Partly as a result of consequence-free sex, young people don’t see why they have to wait for marriage to have sex. “Hooking up” and “friends with benefits” are phrases that reflect the ethical atmosphere. Certainly, contraception has facilitated such ethics.
But some of the pope’s predictions do not seem to have come true.
Paul VI said contraception would cause men to “forget the reverence due to a woman” and “disregard her physical and emotional equilibrium, reducing her to a mere instrument for satisfaction of his own desires.” But surely, that train also “left the station” long ago, well before contraception came along. No doubt, men often reduce women to mere objects. But that phenomenon is not new. Men have objectified women for centuries. Women have been the targets of brutality and disrespect quite apart from contraception. I would argue that the feminist movement has made men see women as equals for the first time in history.
As a pastor, I have to say that the teaching of the magisterium on contraception does not seem to take into account the reality of most people’s lives.
While we pay lip service to the difficulties married couples encounter in living the church’s teaching, we don’t provide much of an answer.
- What are people supposed to do in difficult situations like the ones I have encountered in ministry?
What do I say to a mother of six children in her late 30s, who came to me once? She had chronic high blood pressure and diabetes. Her doctor told her that another pregnancy would be life threatening. Her periods were very irregular.
- What should she and her husband do?
They also did not see how they could care for more children in their family, since her husband had recently lost his job. They were overwhelmed with trouble. Neither abstinence nor NFP seemed to be an answer. She clearly had a responsibility to her six children and her husband, as well as to an openness to life.
- What do we say to women in abusive marriages?
- Leave your husband?
- Abstain from sex with him and risk his increased anger?
How can we tell families struggling with unemployment, mental illness, alcoholism, drug addiction, natural disasters, or other serious problems that they should risk another pregnancy?
Is it prudent for families facing long separations because of things like military service or deportation to have another child?
We don’t seem to have a good answer for the complex ethical struggles that beset our people. Our teaching, at times, seems inadequate. Even worse: At times, it seems insensitive. But we just continue on as before.
What does our parish do about contraception? We teach as the church teaches.
- Are we having any significant impact?
http://ncronline.org/blogs/parish-diary/what-our-parish-does-about-contraception-and-family-planning [Fr. Peter Daly is a priest in the archdiocese of Washington, D.C., and has been pastor of St. John Vianney parish in Prince Frederick, Md., since 1994.]
Vatican, Family Planning