By Patrick B. Craine

OTTAWA, Ontario, October 5, 2009 ( – The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) has responded to criticism against their choice of a plenary speaker by posting a letter of rebuttal from the speaker, Dr. Richard Gaillardetz, and reaffirming his invitation to address them at their October 19-23 plenary assembly in Cornwall. A few Catholic academics, however, have responded to Gaillardetz's claims and are asserting that there is indeed good reason to question his faithfullness to Catholic teaching.

Gaillardetz, professor of Catholic studies at the University of Toledo, is scheduled to address the Canadian bishops on the priesthood.  On Thursday, the CCCB issued a statement on their website, indicating that “well-known and award-winning Catholic author and theologian Richard R. Gaillardetz has responded to attacks circulating on a blog,” which “questions whether Professor Gaillardetz is faithful to the doctrine of the Church.”

This “blog” in question is “SoCon or Bust,” which is operated by Canadian Catholic activist John Pacheco, who published evidence last week documenting Dr. Gaillardetz's history of public dissent from Catholic teaching.  In Gaillardetz's September 25th letter, he responds strictly to Pacheco's initial post, without dealing with evidence revealed in LSN's subsequent coverage of the issue or further posts by Pacheco.

In the letter Gaillerdetz points to the support he has received from numerous bishops in the U.S., as well as his holding of the “mandatum,” which allows him to teach Catholic theology. He goes on to address specific issues brought up by Pacheco, including his criticism of Pope Benedict, issued following the Pope's decision to lift the excommunications against the Society of Saint Pius X earlier this year.  “It is our duty as Catholics to always show respect to the Holy Father,” he insists.  “Surely, however, one can show due respect while also questioning certain prudential actions taken by the pope and/or Vatican staff.”

According to the National Post, Gaillardetz called the Pope's action “an abysmal decision.”  Indicating that Pope Benedict does not have an appreciation for “the symbolic gesture” as John Paul II did, he stated, “[Benedict] doesn't think about or consider … the larger consequences of his actions.”  He said, further, “many of us in the Catholic Church have become accustomed to putting the best face on some politically ill-considered moves by the Vatican.”

In the letter Gaillardetz explains his role on Obama's National Catholic Advisory Council, emphasizing that he spoke out against Obama's position on abortion, but that he nevertheless believes that “Obama was the candidate whose views were most likely to further central Catholic convictions across a broad range of issues.”

Gaillardetz's own bishop, Leonard Blair, rebuked the theologian's arguments on the issue in a response to an article in which Gaillardetz advocated Obama as “the pro-life candidate.”  Referring to Obama's support for anti-life measures, such as the Freedom of Choice Act, the bishop stated: “The failure to protect and defend life in its most vulnerable stages renders suspect any claims to the 'rightness' of positions in other matters affecting the poorest and least powerful of the human community.”

Pacheco had also criticized Gaillardetz for having written that the teaching on the resurrection of the body could become “tentative” should it become controversial among the faithful. However, Gaillardetz responds by insisting that he believes fully in this article of the creed.  “I am not sure that he [Pacheco] really understands the technical nuances of the topic I was treating,” he says.

“What I have held is that if there is an article of faith taught infallibly by the ordinary universal magisterium that becomes controversial,” he writes, “it may be necessary for its dogmatic status to be asserted in a more self-evident manner, namely by way of solemn definition by either pope or council.”

Dr. Lawrence Welch, associate professor of systematic theology at Kenrick School of Theology in St. Louis, however, has responded to Gaillardetz's claims. Welch has observed that, “It should be perfectly legitimate for a bishop or pope who faced such a heresy [denial of the resurrection of the body] to simply appeal to what is confessed in the creed.”

“Gaillardetz's argument leads to rather unsound conclusions and massive problems,” he wrote.  According to Welch, based on Gaillardetz's understanding, “It would become legitimate, in the face of controversy, to doubt the infallible status of a doctrine that is utterly fundamental to the deposit of faith at least until there was a head count of bishops or a solemn definition.”

Regarding his position on women's ordination, Gaillardetz maintains, “I have never challenged the truth of this teaching in any of my work.”  Instead, he says, he has “critically analyzed the claim of the CDF's Responsum ad Dubium that this teaching has been taught infallibly by the ordinary universal magisterium.”

However, Gaillardetz did not respond to the fact that he has allowed his article questioning the infallible status of the teaching on women's organization to be used by a website devoted to promoting the practice.

According to John Allen, Jr. of the National Catholic Reporter, at the 2005 Los Angeles Religious Education Congress, Gaillardetz called into question the Church's handling of the issue. Allen wrote: “Large numbers of laity, Gaillardetz said, are not persuaded by the theological rationale for mandatory celibacy or the ban on women's ordination, and there is little serious effort to consult either the laity or theological and Biblical scholarship across a wide range of perspectives.”

Gaillardetz had also been criticized by Pacheco for counselling Catholic couples simply to 'follow their consciences' if they find they cannot obey the Church's teaching on contraception. The theologian does not back away from his position on this issue.

Instead he calls the encyclical condemning artificial contraception, Humanae Vitae, “authoritative,” saying it is not to be “dismissed or ignored,” but nonetheless stops short of telling couples that obeying its teaching is obligatory.

In an article for U.S. Catholics entitled 'Who's the Boss?', Gaillardetz admits that the Church may have erred in its teaching on contraception.  “Catholics are obliged to do their best to give the presumption of truth to such teachings, to try and assimilate them,” he wrote.  “But if in doing so, Catholics at the end of the day say: 'I simply cannot internally assent to that,' I would argue they have genuinely done all the church has asked of them.”

Finally, Gaillardetz's responds to an e-mail posted as evidence by Pacheco, from Dr. Robert L. Fastiggi, professor of systematic theology at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit.  Dr. Fastiggi had gone through several of Gaillardetz's books and noted his observations on what he deemed to be Gaillardetz's numerous departures from authentic Church teaching.  Gaillardetz calls the e-mail “misleading,” and “malicious.”

Dr. Fastiggi has penned a defense of his position in response to Gaillardetz.  According to Fastiggi, Gaillardetz misrepresents his objections in numerous places. He indicates that he will be sending a letter to Archbishop James Weisgerber, President of the CCCB, to defend his position and advise the archbishop as to the serious problems with what he says is Gaillardetz's failure to adhere to magisterial teaching.

“As I will explain to Archbishop Weisgerber,” he writes, “my major concern in all this is simple: the defense of Catholic faith and morals and fidelity to the Magisterium. Let's pray for all concerned, including Professor Gaillardetz.”

Related Information:

CCCB Statement

Gaillardetz's Letter to Archbishop James Weisgerber

SoCon or Bust's Gaillardetz Files

See related coverage:

CCCB Plenary Presenter Advocated Obama as the 'Pro-Life Candidate,' Was Criticized by His Bishop 

Canadian Bishops' Plenary to be Addressed on the Priesthood by Women Priests Advocate