(LifeSiteNews) — The following is an essay written by Archbishop Héctor Aguer titled, “More radiographic approaches.” Read the previous approaches here. Scroll down to the end to read his brief remarks in support of Bishop Joseph Strickland, who was deposed by Pope Francis on November 11.
1. October 25, 2023 should be remembered as a notable date in the annals of the Argentine Church. On that day, Bishop Gabriel Barba of San Luis reformulated the dogma of the Holy Trinity. An ecumenical event with a very wide audience was held in the cathedral of the diocese. Even the Umbanda superstition was present: it was invited or “sneaked in.” The ceremony concluded with the episcopal blessing – a memorable one “in the name of the Father and of the Holy Spirit.” The bishop’s “ecumenism” also included non-Christians, who must not be offended by mention of the Son, the second Person of the Trinity, who with the Father and the Holy Spirit is one God. And the dogma of Nicaea? So much time has passed since 325! Progressivism did not participate in that assembly because it had not yet been invented.
I know the Diocese of San Luis very well; on numerous occasions the unforgettable Bishop Juan Rodolfo Laise asked me to speak to young people at conferences and retreats. His two immediate successors also invited me. Bishop Laise, during his long 30-year episcopacy, erected a magnificent spiritual and pastoral edifice that Bishop Barba is now engaged in systematically destroying.
What happened on October 25 was a desafuero. Desaforar in Spanish means to break, to deprive, to decompose, to dare. A desafuero is something unconscionable, unrestrained, daring. The name of the Son must not be avoided. Among Christians the blessing is made “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” It cannot offend anyone.
2. Argentina’s clergy shortage is a historical reality that has worsened over the last decade, in contrast to an increase in the population. “Shortage” means poverty or a lack of what is necessary to subsist. At present there is an overabundance of bishops, but a great shortage of priestly vocations. This misfortune is one of the causes of the Church’s ineffectiveness in Christianizing society.
Journalism provokes confusion when referring to statements of the episcopate as “the Church.” But the reality, the substance, of the Church is the priests in immediate relationship with the lay faithful and in immediate contact with the social reality on the ground. The lack of priests is proportional to de-Christianization.
An old Argentine phenomenon is that most of the baptized do not go to Mass. The dies Dominica has become secular, a world without the Eucharist. Moreover, the family founded on sacramental marriage has left its place vacant to other forms of “pairing,” and the number of children has decreased enormously; they are increasingly replaced by dogs and cats. Where then are vocations supposed to come from?
On many occasions a child’s vocational intention is outlined when he identifies with a priest: “I want to be like him.” Moreover, it is the priest who can accompany and support the vocational process. He does so by knowing and living what the Church teaches today about the second-degree priesthood that is proper to the presbyter. Here are some facts on the subject.
Presbyterorum Ordinis, a broad and profound exposition on the ministry and life of priests, was promulgated at Session IX of the Second Vatican Council, on December 7, 1965. In several documents the Council presented presbyters as true priests of the New Testament and collaborators of the episcopal order and also pointed out their place in the Church. Furthermore, Optatam totius addressed the topic of priestly formation, the roadmap proposed to the candidate for ordination. Young men of faith and vocational interest should be familiar with this teaching. Without exaggerating, one can think that the future of the Church is at stake in this matter.
3. In Argentina the Church is absent from the spheres where new cultural vigencies are developed. This social fact has an ideological aspect. It is not thought (it is not believed!) that it is also the Church’s mission to forge a Christian society. It was not always so. This tendency was imposed after the Council; progressivism, in a silent way, persuaded the lay centers that this tendency of evangelizing culture was a nostalgic leftover of Christianity.
Two historical moments remain as models of what lay Catholics can come to promote with present-day characteristics. In the 1880s a group of Catholics became present in the politics of the time, confronting the dominant Freemasonry. I mention only a few names: Estrada, Goyena, Achával Rodríguez, Pizarro. They were politicians who fought lucidly for Christian freedom, prolonging the best of our patriotic origins.
In an extended period of time since the 1920s, Catholic Culture Courses were developed, bringing together the best philosophers, writers, and artists (poets and painters, for example) of the time. Non-Catholic individuals also convened; their testimony was often printed, and they encouraged the creation of the Catholic university, whose first years were brilliant. Small is beautiful; but today it is an enormous factory of academic titles, not a center of Christian thought in dialogue with the world and cultivation of the arts. But the past made present can be the future.
4. I have no doubt about the legitimacy of infant baptism. I say this because it is known that in Christian antiquity the beginning of life in Christ implied a personal conversion: one became a Christian, one chose the way of the Lord. History records the elaboration of a theology of baptism as the source of the life of grace and the path to heaven, to salvation. In this context nothing could be more natural than for Christian parents to desire this supernatural gift for their children. The Church has established the conditions for a child to receive baptism: namely that there be a well-founded hope he or she will be educated in a Christian manner, hence the commitment of parents and godparents.
My experience as a priest and bishop has allowed me to recognize pastoral problems that have arisen in Argentina and are aggravated in a de-Christianized society. In the first place, the number of baptisms has decreased considerably. Therefore, let’s record some main problems that are also urgent, taking into account that changing habitual attitudes takes time.
Catechizing parents is necessary on the occasion of the child’s baptism so that they may perceive their responsibility and be able to assume it consciously. The relationship between baptism and conversion cannot be forgotten. Herein lies a possibility for the gradual evangelization of society. Sponsorship has been distorted; godparents could also receive a brief catechesis to recover a sense of their condition. The community should learn about and accompany the baptism of children so that it becomes an ecclesial event and is not confined to the private or merely familial order. This possibility requires preaching to bring the mystery of baptism to fruition and its deepening for the faithful.
These suggestions propose an attempt at pastoral renewal that will certainly have cultural and social effects as well. The ideal is a Christian society.
5. This approach continues and complements the previous one. Just as it was very common to baptize children, it was also common to send them to the parish for preparatory catechesis for First Communion, or rather, the Only Communion, since later perseverance was a problem that could never be overcome. This is not an insignificant fact: it is a misunderstanding of the Eucharist and its importance and centrality. I have once defined Argentina as a country where those baptized in the Catholic Church do not go to Mass. The cultural and social effect is a loss of the religious sense of the dies Dominica, of the Lord’s Day. The defect is chronic, and markedly greater in the big cities; it indicates the pace of de-Christianization.
Likewise, confirmation was forgotten or postponed indefinitely. In my opinion, the main issue was – and still is in many places – the lack of familiarity with the historical and theological order structuring Christian initiation. The sacrament that transmits the Holy Spirit must be received before First Communion. In a three-year catechetical cycle, one can be confirmed after the second year; it is the occasion for formation in the way of the Church and of belonging to it.
There remains the question of the age of confirmation. After the Second Vatican Council it was very common to postpone the second sacrament of Christian initiation until well into adolescence. This was a response to a theological and pastoral error that confused the gift of spiritual adulthood granted by the sacrament with a presumed maturity that would be proper to the young. This confusion was quite common in education in the faith, and as a consequence many Catholics remained unconfirmed. Bad theology has ruinous effects on the pastoral order. I do not understand how many Catholics enthusiastic about the Council have not understood the meaning of the Church as reflected in Lumen Gentium. The renewal of ecclesial life necessarily presupposes a knowledge of the origins of Christian antiquity.
The approaches presented here correspond to the Argentinean reality, but they are equally valid across the diverse environments of the Church. They correspond to my studies and my episcopal experience.
Response to Bishop Strickland’s removal by Pope Francis
I had already finished writing the fifth approach when I learned of the strange dismissal of Bishop Joseph Strickland of Tyler, Texas. Another “feat” of the absolute papal monarchy. It reminds me of how St. Paul confronted Peter and reproached him for his hypocrisy. Could this apply today to the relations between the successors of the apostles and the successor of Peter?
Without limiting my intention to write in more detail on this matter, I wish to express my solidarity with Bishop Strickland, to whom I promise my poor prayers for his future status as a “canceled” bishop and his intentions.
I also pray for the American bishops faithful to Tradition, of whom there are many. Progressivism is sterile; young people aspire to a Catholic Church faithful to its origins and the best of its history. They are the future of the Katholiké.
+ Héctor Aguer
Archbishop Emeritus of La Plata