Deborah Gyapong has written a report here about the recent controversy regarding my objection to the appearance of Dr. Gaillardetz at the CCCB’s plenary session this coming October. (The article incorrectly reports that I asserted that Dr. Gaillardetz supports women’s ordination. Technically speaking, I did not.)
Commenting on Gyapong’s article on their blog page, U.S. Catholic.org’s Bryan Cones wrote a stinging post about yours truly and my critique of Dr. Gaillardetz’s views. You can read it here. To be honest, the hornet’s nest that was disturbed originally had nothing to do with what I said, but what other competent and faithful sources said about Dr. Gaillardetz’s writings. So, my liberal friends, don’t shoot the messenger.
At first, I was concerned that I might have overstepped my boundaries when I first started reading Mr. Cones’s blog post. With a rather ostentatious name like “U.S. Catholic”, after all, they sound pretty official. Then, I went to their home page to find out a little bit about them. When I saw their little poll on the Vatican’s “apostolic visitation” of the radical feminist U.S. Nuns and then saw that their readers thought the “visitation” was either “insulting and unjustified” (57%) or “unnecessary” (15%), it demonstrated to me all that I needed to know about U.S.Catholic.org. While I was there, though, I did vote for the visitation being “necessary”. I encourage Socon or Bust readers to do the same.
A couple of points to make about Mr. Cones’s blog post….
#1 – Regarding his comment here: “What they should know is that slander–the use of information, true or not, with the intent of harming someone’s reputation–is considered a sin against charity.” (emphasis mine)
Actually, Mr. Cones, if an allegation is true, it cannot be slanderous. Before you start your own mudslinging, therefore, you should bone-up on some basic definitions in the English language. The sin I think you are looking to label me with is detraction. But then again detraction cannot be a sin when the circumstances are serious enough to demand engagement and exposition…like this one, for instance.
#2 – Why does U.S. Catholic.org care about this skirmish? Because Dr. Gaillardetz is a contributor to their website. In fact, in one of his articles for them, he makes some remarkable claims….
Now when you’re talking about non-dogmatic teaching, I think there’s even more room for revision, and historically there have even been instances of reversal. The classic example is slavery. I should be clear that the church never said slavery was a good thing, but it did teach that in some instances it could be tolerated as a manifestation of the brokenness of the human condition. Certainly the church does not teach that anymore.
For a theologian, Dr. Gaillardetz uses very sloppy language to describe the Church’s position on slavery as a “reversal”, just like he does in other places in his writings which I will be highlighting in my rebuttal to his letter. Suffice it to say that St. Paul made no general defense of slavery, any more than he defended the pagan government in Rome. It is more appropriate to say that the Church moved away from tolerating slavery in the “brokeness of the human condition”, as Dr. Gaillardetz says, to a positive renunciation of it. Can that be declared a “reversal”? Not quite. It is more fitting to describe it as a development in the Church’s teaching on the dignity of the human person which has come to fruition in the 20th century. A “reversal” of the teaching in this context implies that the Church was initially saying slavery was “good” while now saying it is “bad”. That’s not what happened. So why does Dr. Gaillardetz insist on using “reversal”, even implicitly admitting his poor descriptor in the very next sentence – “I should be clear that the church never said slavery was a good thing.” You may think that I am splitting hairs in my criticism of Dr. Gaillardetz on this point, but I assure you all that I am not since this is par for the course in how he chooses his words. After all, if the Church can “reverse” Her teaching on slavery, well, She can reverse Her teaching on contraception, right?
Then there’s a second category that’s somewhat controversial, called “definitive doctrine.” These teachings are not themselves divinely revealed but are in some way necessary to safeguard and faithfully expound divine revelation. A classic example is the canon of books we have in the Bible.
The same category that Dr. Gaillardetz places the canon of the bible – his so-called “definitive-doctrine” category – is the same terminology used by John Paul II in Ordinatio Sacerdotalis:
Wherefore, in order that all doubt may be removed regarding a matter of great importance, a matter which pertains to the Church’s divine constitution itself, in virtue of my ministry of confirming the brethren (cf. Lk 22:32). I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church’s faithful. (Source: Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, 4)
Furthermore, the Tridentine canon of the bible has always been considered to be infallible: “The Tridentine decrees from which the above list is extracted was the first infallible and effectually promulgated pronouncement on the Canon, addressed to the Church Universal. Being dogmatic in its purport, it implies that the Apostles bequeathed the same Canon to the Church, as a part of the depositum fidei.” (Source)
If the Canon is infallible, then why does Dr. Gaillardetz believe that Ordinatio Sacerdotalis is not, given it too is part of his own “definitive-doctrine” category, as made clear by John Paul II’s teaching that the prohibition on women priest is to be “definitively held“?
Beyond that you have “authoritative doctrine”-binding teachings of the church that Catholics must give a presumption of truth to. But since they’ve not been taught infallibly, there’s at least a remote possibility of error. An example of that would be the church’s condemnation of in vitro fertilization or the prohibition of artificial contraception. These are binding teachings. You’re not allowed just to blow them off.
So there is a remote possibility of error? Even though the Catholic Church has condemned contraception since its inception, indeed right back to the book of Genesis itself? Even though Gaudium et Spes, Humane Vitae, Veritatis Splendor condemned it and Paul VI included the teaching as part of the universal and ordinary magisterium of the Church?
Relying on these principles, sons of the Church may not undertake methods of birth control which are found blameworthy by the teaching authority of the Church in its unfolding of the divine law. (Gaudium et Spes, 51)
Therefore We base Our words on the first principles of a human and Christian doctrine of marriage when We are obliged once more to declare that the direct interruption of the generative process already begun and, above all, all direct abortion, even for therapeutic reasons, are to be absolutely excluded as lawful means of regulating the number of children. Equally to be condemned, as the magisterium of the Church has affirmed on many occasions, is direct sterilization, whether of the man or of the woman, whether permanent or temporary. (Humane Vitae, 15)
With regard to intrinsically evil acts, and in reference to contraceptive practices whereby the conjugal act is intentionally rendered infertile, Pope Paul VI teaches: “Though it is true that sometimes it is lawful to tolerate a lesser moral evil in order to avoid a greater evil or in order to promote a greater good, it is never lawful, even for the gravest reasons, to do evil that good may come of it (cf. Rom 3:8) — in other words, to intend directly something which of its very nature contradicts the moral order, and which must therefore be judged unworthy of man, even though the intention is to protect or promote the welfare of an individual, of a family or of society in general”. (Veritatis Splendor, 80)
Finally, the fourth circle really isn’t doctrine at all; it’s church law or discipline, things like the General Instruction of the Roman Missal. It’s binding here and now for the life of the church, but it could be revised tomorrow. We can have altar girls now; we couldn’t before. But maybe a more pertinent example is celibacy for diocesan priests; that’s simply a matter of church law. If a Catholic has a disagreement with the church on this lower level, it is not as serious as denying a dogma.
Actually, that is not true either. Celibacy is not “simply a matter of Church law” but an Apostolic discipline with immense and irreplaceable spiritual and temporal value which the Church would be much poorer for, if it was forfeited. And if She does give it up (which She never will), She won’t concede it in this sex-crazed culture; we can be most sure of that.
The Catechism says that “celibacy is a sign of this new life to the service of which the Church’s minister is consecrated; accepted with a joyous heart celibacy radiantly proclaims the Reign of God.” (1579)