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Friday August 13, 2010

Pro-Condom Bishop Corrected by Southern African Bishops’ Conference

By Patrick B. Craine

SOUTH AFRICA, August 13, 2010 ( – After the release of a talk given by a disgruntled South African bishop that criticized the Vatican and various Church teachings, the local conference of bishops has issued a public correction. Their response was published Thursday by the National Catholic Reporter (NCR).

Bishop Kevin Dowling of Rustenburg, who is famous for his promotion of condoms in the AIDS crisis, told NCR on July 8 that his June 1 talk in Cape Town was intended as an “open and honest” analysis of the state of the Church for a group of “influential lay Catholics.” The talk became public because, unbeknownst to the bishop, a reporter was in the audience.

He opened by criticizing the traditional vestments used by American Bishop Edward Slattery when he celebrated the extraordinary form of the Mass in April at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington. “What happened there bore the marks of a medieval royal court, not the humble, servant leadership modeled by Jesus,” he said.

Bishop Slattery’s celebration of Mass in this way is a symbol of the “restorationism” taking place in the Church since Pope John Paul II, he said. He described this phenomenon as “the carefully planned dismantling of the theology, ecclesiology, pastoral vision, indeed the ‘opening of the windows’ of Vatican II — in order to ‘restore’ a previous, or more controllable model of church through an increasingly centralized power structure.”

According to the bishop, the decrees and decisions of the Pope and Vatican since the Second Vatican Council “are simply the theological or pastoral interpretations or opinions of those who have power at the centre of the church.” In particular, he criticized clerical celibacy and the refusal to “ordain” women.

This “restorationist” approach has led to “an inward looking church,” said the bishop, that is “fearful of if not antagonistic towards a secularist world.”

He further charged that the Church’s leadership “undermines” the Catholic principle of subsidiarity, which holds that higher levels in society should leave to lower levels what they can do or decide on their own. He also suggested that the Church today is lacking an appreciation for the importance of conscience.

In their response, the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference, which represents bishops from South Africa, Botswana, and Swaziland, affirmed the “positive changes” brought about through Vatican II, but stressed that “it is nonetheless true that the council itself must be interpreted and applied in the light of the history of the Church’s teaching and cannot be divorced from it.”

The bishops’ remarks echoed the sentiments of Pope Benedict XVI, who has stressed the need to apply a “hermeneutic of continuity” to Vatican II, rather than the “hermeneutic of discontinuity” that has guided various aberrations in Catholic teaching and practice.

They explained that “even between councils” the Pope, in collaboration with the Cardinals and Bishops, “exercises teaching authority and governs the church.”

They stressed, further, that disagreements between bishops should be handled with “tolerance and sensitivity.” “Above all care should be taken not to label bishops e.g. as ‘restorationists’, conservatives or progressives but rather to address the issues,” they wrote.

According to the bishops, the Church engages in dialogue by consulting experts, Episcopal conferences, and her members. “It is precisely through such dialogue that the Church is not inward looking as sometimes claimed,” they wrote.

Further, they affirmed the Church’s teaching on the principle of subsidiarity, insisting that “the very structure of the church,” from the parishes up to the Pope, “is evidence of the principle of subsidiarity in the Church.”

They agreed with Bishop Dowling that each person must follow his conscience, but stressed the need for a proper formation of the conscience. “An upright and true moral conscience is formed by education and by assimilating the Word of God and teaching of the Church,” they wrote, quoting the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (# 374).

Concluding, the bishops called on Catholics to be “bold in standing up for the doctrinal, social and the moral teaching of the Church.

“Doing so is a crucial part of the evangelizing mission of the Church for transforming society.”