August 19, 2016 (LifeSiteNews) – In his book Magisterial Authority, Fr. Chad Ripperger, PhD, says “the Church will not climb out of this tumultuous period” without reversing the “practice since the Second Vatican Council onward not to police the doctrinal integrity” among bishops, priests and theologians. The crucial observation comes at the end of nearly fifty years of destructive leniency, which has in the Francis pontificate taken on new dimensions.
While under the pontificates of Pope St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI dissident bishops were indeed appointed, there was still the understanding that they had to keep their heads down. Should their doctrinal errors become too manifest they knew they would have to be corrected. Faithful and doctrinally orthodox priests could appeal to Rome for help from pressure to act against their consciences and expect at least some assistance. The situation is now very different.
What was formerly considered open dissent seems now to be seen as avant garde and those bishops who engage in it are not warned by the Vatican, but rather promoted and held up as examples to follow. And what has emerged is a new and alarming trend in the Church which threatens orthodox belief and practice in ways that we have seldom experienced in our 2,000-year history.
There are plans currently underway for national and diocesan synods on marriage and family based on the controversial Apostolic Exhortation, Amoris Laetitia. While these could, given the ambiguity in the papal exhortation, go either way, seeing who has taken up this proposal gives evidence of a very concerning development.
San Diego Bishop Robert McElroy and Brisbane Archbishop Mark Coleridge have both embarked on the synod pathway with McElroy planning his diocesan synod for October and Coleridge planning a national synod for all Australia in 2020. Coleridge said he expects the national synod to address homosexual “marriage” and “ordained ministry” (a likely reference to female clergy), and any other issues of interest. He adds the caveat that they should not “infringe on the Church’s faith, teachings or morals,” but what exactly Coleridge means by that is unclear as he eschews the traditional understanding of Catholic teachings on sexual matters.
During the Synod on the Family in 2015 Coleridge argued against using the terms “intrinsically disordered” or “evil” to describe homosexual acts. Moreover he argued that the traditional Catholic understanding of loving the sinner while hating the sin “no longer communicates” “in the real world” where sexuality is “part of [your] entire being.”
Changing the language of the Church is also on the agenda for the San Diego Synod. “During the diocesan synod in October, existing rules and practices which are alienating must be examined,” said McElroy in a statement. In response to the June killings in the Orlando gay club, McElroy said that the Orlando tragedy “is a call for us as Catholics to combat ever more vigorously the anti-gay prejudice which exists in our Catholic community and in our country.” Labelling homosexual acts as “intrinsically disordered,” as the Catechism does, is “very destructive language that I think we should not use pastorally,” McElroy said in an interview with America magazine.
Amendments to the Catechism on the issue is a realistic possibility. Already Pope Francis has set up a commission to study revising the Catechism on the death penalty. Moreover, expectations that conservative bishops would never allow such a drastic change in the language of the Church to describe sexual behaviours that lead to physical and spiritual death should be tempered with the unfortunate realities of the past few years.
In an interview with Crux, Archbishop Charles Chaput voiced support for doing away with the Church’s language of “intrinsically disordered.” “I think it’s probably good for the Church to put that on the shelf for a while, until we get over the negativity related to it,” Chaput told Crux. “That language automatically sets people off and probably isn’t useful anymore.” Chaput’s concession is troubling given that the Catechism language pales in comparison to the Scriptural condemnations of homosexual acts as gravely depraved and abominable.
The McElroy synod is likely to go far beyond changing the language of the Church. He has repeatedly stressed changing the Church’s priorities and has had the backing of Pope Francis’ ‘favored son,’ Chicago Archbishop Blase Cupich. McElroy created a furor at the U.S. Bishops Conference meeting last November over a document instructing Catholics on how to vote. McElroy made a pointed argument that the document was out of step with Pope Francis’ priorities — specifically, by putting too much emphasis on abortion and euthanasia, and not enough on poverty and the environment. Cupich later praised McElroy’s intervention as a “real high moment” for the conference and supported the move to put degradation of the environment and global poverty on par with abortion and euthanasia.
To understand the vast departure from the Catholic Church as it has been known throughout the centuries from what is being proposed, one need only to look to the statements of Cardinal Raymond Burke and Pope Benedict XVI on those subjects. Cardinal Raymond Burke has said, “It is heresy to teach that homosexual relations…are not disordered, to teach that they have positive elements.”
Pope Benedict just prior to his election to the pontificate wrote: “Not all moral issues have the same moral weight as abortion and euthanasia. … There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia.”
In his encyclical The Gospel of Life, St. Pope John Paul II specifically addressed bishops when he said, “In the proclamation of this Gospel, we must not fear hostility or unpopularity, and we must refuse any compromise or ambiguity which might conform us to the world's way of thinking (cf. Rom 12:2).”
Fr. Ripperger’s call to “police the doctrinal integrity” of bishops, priests and theologians is therefore indeed a crucially necessary way out of the crisis of the Church today. It is a work of mercy and charity needed now more than ever before. We must pray that Pope Francis will begin to take up this essential duty, or failing that, that his eventual successor will.