All Believers Have Right to Receive Catholic Doctrine In Its Integrity

Author: Pope John Paul II


Pope John Paul II

Address on 18 October 1995 of to a group of Brazilian Bishops.

Dear Brothers in the Episcopate,

1. I offer you my sincere welcome on the occasion of your visit to the Eternal City and to the tombs of the Apostles, Peter and Paul. You have been entrusted with responsibility for the Church in the Dioceses of a country which, on the threshold of the 21st century, will be celebrating the fifth centenary of its discovery and should therefore be ready for the enormous challenges which the People of God expects its Pastors to face.

Your <ad limina> visit thus has a profound historical meaning: the ways of God are unfathomable, but with regard to the normal course of events, Providence calls you to enlighten future generations of Brazilians as <heralds of the Truth>: "continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the Gospel" (Col 1:23).

Young people are anxious to serve Christ

I recall with gratitude to God the days filled with grace when I accepted your fraternal invitation in 1991 and was able to make my second Pastoral Visit to the Church in Brazil. I still have a grateful memory of the witness to the faith of many men, women and children, the sincere and joyful welcome I received throughout your immense country. In everyone I could glimpse a genuine desire for goodness and truth, and an atmosphere of trust and respect for their Pastors. The Brazilian "spirit" is tangible in the letters that confine to arrive in Rome, seeking enlightenment, consolation and help, and which demonstrate sincere devotion to the Successor of Peter. When you write to me, you yourselves open your hearts, honestly describing the situation and life of your particular Churches. I sincerely wish to encourage and sustain you in your frequently exhausting and challenging work. With God's help you must overcome your trials, so that you may remain united in fraternal spirit and openly witness to your communion with the Pope and with your Brothers in the Episcopate.

I warmly greet Archbishop Altamiro Rossato, who, on behalf of the ecclesiastical Provinces that make up Southern Regions Three and Four, <Rio Grande do Sul> and <Santa Caterina>, has given me an overall picture of your Dioceses with their worries and their concerns. Thank you! May the light of the Divine Consoler ever inspire you as you fulfil your mission as Bishops with trust in Providence!

2. The quinquennial reports give an objective impression of the state of your Dioceses, their positive progress and also of certain developments which require careful reflection. Whatever happens anywhere in the Church today has repercussions throughout society. In a world advancing towards unity, the responsibility of each for everyone becomes a direct experience. Therefore carry out your episcopal ministry with sensitivity and skill; may it be increasingly a ministry of unity with the universal Church, thus contributing to unity of doctrine in the teaching of faith and morals, just as the latter binds the Magisterium.

Indeed the Church preserves a truth, a doctrine, a wisdom and an experience which people need if they are to follow the path of true liberation and to reach authentic goodness. This is the framework in which to understand the Encyclical <Veritatis splendor>, which I wished to publish, moved by the urgent need to present anew, in the light of the Gospel, the Church's official teaching in the face of the unhealthy confusion felt by many about the basic issues of good and evil, of what is right and wrong. The reaffirmation of the Church's moral teaching-which is constant and at the same time ever new-is the Magisterium's necessary response to the widespread ethical crisis affecting contemporary society.

I was particularly moved at my recent meeting with European youth in Loreto at seeing so many young people anxiously seeking to love and serve Christ in his Church. I am sure, since I have already had the opportunity to become acquainted with its inner dynamism, that the same thing is happening in your country. These men and women of the third millennium expect their Bishops and priests to help them live according to the truth which represents the precious gift Christ has given them (cf. Gal 5:1).

The faithful look to the Bishops of the Church as "authentic teachers ... endowed with the authority of Christ, who preach the faith to the people assigned to them" (<Lumen gentium>, n. 25). As experienced Pastors, you must be deeply aware of the enormous consequences of this crisis for people's daily lives, and you must recognize your responsibility, which consists in offering pastoral direction in conformity with the mind of Christ and the Church.

Faced with the certainly painful challenge of the rejection of faith and morality in Christian countries, we must continuously renew within us that charism of vigilance which led St. Augustine to remind us of the gravity of our responsibility, when he said: "In addition to being a Christian ... I am also responsible, and this is why I must account to God for my ministry" (Sermon 46: On Pastors, n. 2).

3. At the heart of <Veritatis splendor's> message is the reassertion of the essential relationship between truth and freedom (cf. n. 32). The universal truth about the good of the human person and the ever valid norms which safeguard this good are really accessible to human reason; in fact, we can share in God's knowledge of what we must be and do in order to reach the goal for which we were created.

To help men and women rediscover the "inseparable connection between truth and freedom" (ibid., n. 99) is the pressing need of our pastoral ministry, both individual and collective. By providing unambiguous teaching of the basic truths contained in the Church's moral doctrine, we shall promote a new affirmation of the dignity of the human person, the correct understanding of conscience, which is the only sound basis for the exercise of human freedom, as well as the foundation for life in common, in solidarity and civil harmony. All this constitutes a basic service to the common good. How can modern society check the growing decadence and its destructive course—which includes the violation of human rights—without recovering the inviolable nature of the moral norms that must always and everywhere direct human conduct (cf. ibid., n. 84)?

God is the author of the natural law

Everyone knows that our age has acquired a particularly acute sense of freedom. However, this perception is expressed in many ways which sometimes stray from the truth about man. Some trends of thought have come to exalt freedom to the point of transforming it into an absolute value. The prerogatives of a supreme tribunal of moral judgement have been attributed to the individual conscience. The demand for truth has disappeared to the point that a radically subjective concept of moral judgement has been reached. When the idea of universal truth about the good has been lost, there is a tendency to grant the individual conscience the privilege of autonomously establishing the criteria for good and evil and of acting accordingly. This vision is identified with an individualistic ethic in which each sees himself faced with "his own truth", different from that of others; thus one can understand the difficulties which arose :'t the recent Women's Conference in Beijing with regard to a clear, unequivocal assertion of the universal moral values inscribed in the human heart.

It will always, but especially in the current cultural context, be our duty to affirm human dignity as the basis of freedom, justice and peace, and also to safeguard the family, the concept of motherhood and the responsibility of parents for their children's education.

These subjects are too important to be set aside. The Church will never cease to put the faithful and all people of goodwill on guard against any attack on the dignity of man and woman, always proclaiming with the proper pastoral courage the perennial values of the natural law, confirmed by Christ in the Gospel.

4. Some cultural trends today are at the root of many ethical attitudes which are focused on a supposed conflict between freedom and law. These are teachings which attribute the faculty of determining good or evil to individuals or social groups.

This erroneous claim of autonomy has also influenced the field of Catholic moral theology, and some have theology about the complete sovereignty of reason over the moral norms regarding the just ordering of life in this world. As a result, the point has been reached, in opposition to the teaching of Sacred Scripture and the Church's constant doctrine, of denying that God is the author of the natural law, and that man, through his rational nature, participates in the eternal law, which however he did not establish (cf. <Veritatis splendor>, n. 36). Autonomy conceived in this way denies the Church and her Magisterium a specific doctrinal competence regarding the concrete moral norms associated with the so-called "human good".

However, it should always be remembered that freedom, understood as arbitrary choice, separated from the truth and the good, freedom separated from God's commandments, becomes a threat to man and to woman, and leads to slavery, turning against the individual and against society. The Church, which has always defended human rights, cannot be silent, even at the risk of losing popularity. The Council teaches us: "There is no human law so powerful to safeguard the personal dignity and freedom of man as the Gospel which Christ entrusted to the Church" (<Gaudium et spes>, n. 41).

I thank God for the recent news about the new projects in the social communications field, both by the Church and by private groups, to proclaim revealed Truth with fresh missionary zeal. However, it is not enough to speak to the great masses who are frequently ambivalent, people need to be treated individually as persons, in the knowledge that Christ shed all his Precious Blood for each of them. Freedom needs to be guided by a well-trained conscience which is able both to distinguish between moral good and evil, and to choose good in every situation. Freedom is not moral relativism but is based on clear and transparent moral criteria. Brazilians must be properly guided by their Pastors today in order to resist the trends they encounter from many directions regarding modernity and liberation. tendencies which in reality are very often lacking in true moral principles.

5. Evangelization is undoubtedly the greatest and most sublime challenge the Church is called to face. The moment we are living in spurs us above all to the "new evangelization", new in its ardour, in its methods and in its expression. However, this evangelization "also involves the proclamation and presentation of morality" (<Veritatis splendor>, n. 107), lived in holiness by so many members of the People of God.

In the context of the new evangelization, which must generate and nourish the faith, we can understand the place in the Church for the reflection on moral life that theology must make, just as we can present the mission and the responsibility incumbent on moral theologians. A grave responsibility falls to them if the new evangelization is to involve everyone.

Be vigilant regarding formation of seminarians

So that the Church may fulfil her prophetic mission, an ever deeper faith reflection is necessary under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. It is at the service of this reflection that we find the theologian's vocation in the Church. This is why I make my own the clarifications concerning the Church's Magisterium, whose task is "discerning, by means of judgements normative for the consciences of believers, those acts which in themselves conform to the demands of faith and foster their expression in life and those which, on the contrary, because intrinsically evil, are incompatible with such demands" (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, <Donum veritatis>, 24 May 1990, n. 16).

I would like to recall to all those who teach moral theology, through the mandate of legitimate Pastors, the serious duty to instruct the faithful-especially future priests-in the Church's authoritative teaching. In particular, we must be committed to organizing the study of theology to ensure the fruitful development of the faculties and institutes

for advanced theological studies. In the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation <Pastores dabo vobis>, I expressed the fundamental principles of the academic-intellectual and spiritual formation of candidates for the priesthood: "The intellectual formation of candidates for the priesthood finds its specific justification in the very nature of the ordained ministry, and the challenge of the 'new evangelization' to which our Lord is calling the Church on the threshold of the third millennium" (n. 51).

I recommend above all that you be particularly vigilant regarding the formation of your seminarians in the area of moral theology. One day they will be responsible for forming Christian consciences as confessors, spiritual directors and community leaders. They must therefore be prepared to carry out this important function of their priesthood in total harmony with the Church's doctrine. For this reason it is indispensable that the manuals and teachers of moral theology be carefully chosen to ensure that no form of dissent is introduced into seminaries and ecclesiastical faculties of theology, which would undermine such an important area of study.

What is involved in the theological formation of future priests, professors and all those who assist in the teaching of religion is not only the scholarly quality of the intellectual training, but also the "<sentire cum Ecclesia>" among professors and students. It is worth pointing out that it is the particular task of moral theologians to explain the Church's teaching by giving an example of loyal internal and external adherence to the teaching of the Magisterium, in both dogmatic and moral theology (cf. <Veritatis splendor>, n. 110). Theologians have an intellectual, spiritual and pastoral responsibility, and are obliged to teach the Church's moral doctrine without altering it in any way. Dissent from moral teaching shown by opposition and polemics in the social communication media is contrary to ecclesial communion and to its proper understanding of the hierarchical constitution of the People of God. Opposition to the teaching of the Church's Magisterium cannot be considered an expression of Christian freedom and of the diversity of the Spirit's gifts. All the faithful-laity, religious or priests-have the right to receive Catholic doctrine in its purity and integrity. In this case, Pastors must see These prerequisites become even more timely when we consider the influence of the Church's Magisterium in explaining, in the light of the Gospel, the common journey towards the development and integral liberation of man. It is obvious that the formulation of moral judgements about situations, structures and social systems requires attentive and diligent reflection; moreover, the Church has repeatedly made pronouncements in the defence and the promotion of human rights. I myself reaffirmed this in the Encyclical <Centesimus annus> (cf. n. 22).

Preach the word in and out of season

Nevertheless, it is worth remembering the words I addressed to seminarians in Brazil during my last Pastoral Visit to your land: "Always be guided in your studies by the authentic and universal Magisterium of the Church. Only when the Magisterium is accepted docilely in a spirit of faith ... can you avoid the temptations caused by the superficial fascination of theological trends which disfigure and obscure the truth" (Address to seminarians, 15 October 1991

n. 4, <L'Osservatore Romano> English edition, 28 October 1991, p. 9). A sociological analysis can never be the ultimate authority in formulating a theological discussion. If one made an objective analysis of the data and facts in a logical and causal sequence, it might serve to know human reality better, but it is Revelation in itself and Revelation alone that can offer the theologian the necessary light to understand ever more deeply the truth about man, which is intimately linked to the truth of God and about God. Only in this way will it be possible to avoid the risks of an ideological exploitation of theology.

This is why the Church desires-as has been opportunely declared-professors and ecclesiastical formation centres "to be chosen from among the best and to master solid doctrine and adequate pastoral experience together with a good spiritual and pedagogical formation"; at the same time, "their close collaboration must be encouraged with professors of morality, dogmatics and pastoral care in order to ensure the coherence, unity and solidity of their teaching" (Guidelines for the Study and Teaching of the Church's Social Doctrine in the Formation of Priests, Rome, 1988, n. 67).

Dear Brothers in the Episcopate, you are entrusted with the task of supervising the transmission of theological teaching and of having recourse to timely measures so that the faithful may be preserved from any doctrine or theory that contradicts it. In this task the Bishops are helped by theologians, but theological opinions do not constitute the rule or the norm of their teaching, here the principle applies that the teaching of the Magisterium-thanks to God's assistance - has greater weight than mere human reasoning. Furthermore theological pluralism, sometimes invoked uncritically, "is only legitimate to the extent that the unity of the faith in its objective meaning is not jeopardized" (<Donum veritatis>, n. 34).

6. Faced with a society that seems more and more to live without regard for moral values, assumes attitudes not only contrary but even indifferent to these values and is thus reaching the point commonly known as "the civilization of death", the Church untiringly defends those moral norms which, since they are universal and unchangeable inasmuch as they stem from the law of her own nature, constitute the necessary condition for the existence of freedom. The Church counters the culture of death with the culture of love. Only by the observance of these norms that prohibit all intrinsic evil and regulate a just and peaceful human coexistence do the sound development of social structures, the public good as such and the personal harmony of the human being become possible.

It is precisely for this reason that the words of the Apostle Paul are so timely in our age: "preach the word, be urgent in season and out of season.... For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching" (2 Tm 4:2-3). The Church's mission then must always be to interpret the moral norm, proposing it to all men and women of goodwill, without concealing its demands and its duties.... Even though true doctrine may not be popular, it cannot seek easy popularity!

It is obvious that in her constant caring for the faithful, the Church, Mother and Teacher, always has in mind the conflictual and extremely complex situations in the life of man and contemporary society, whose moral journey is often tiring because of difficulties, weaknesses and painful situations (cf. <Veritatis splendor>, n. 95). However, in her pastoral concern the Church cannot forget that true compassion and true understanding involve a love for the human being, for the Supreme Good and for genuine freedom which cannot be separated from a basic option for the Supreme Good. It will not be by weakening moral truth and disregarding true values that the Church will fulfill her mission for man.

The Church, obedient to the Lord who came not to judge but to save, must show people mercy, but without renouncing the principle of truth and consistency that evil cannot be called good nor good evil. Not in any way to diminish Christ's redemptive teaching is an eminent form of charity to souls. We cannot fail to take into account that, in all ages, the strength of the Church was and is found in the witness of the saints that is, of those who made Christ's truth their own. To the question "What must I do to have eternal life?" (Mt 19:16) the Church replies, like Mary "Do whatever he tells you" (Jn 2:5).

Of course, all of us, especially you, the Bishops of Santa Caterina, recall those days of the beatification of Mother Paulina, which Providence granted me the grace to celebrate. I told you on that occasion: "Today, more than ever, the Church needs saints!" (<Homily>, 18 October 1991, n. 5; <L'Osservatore Romano> English edition, 28 October, p. 11). This is precisely why modern society has an extreme need for Truth since it is possible to build soundly the edifice of moral and ascetical life only on the basis of Truth. Only from truth is born authentic, objective and universal morality.

7. Dear Brothers in the Episcopate, in bringing this meeting to a close, I would like to strengthen you in your personal service to the Church, this Mother in whose womb we must "learn everything" and who foreshadows the heavenly Jerusalem already present in our midst. Among all the saints, Mary most holy shares the human condition with us in total transparency to God's grace. She understands man the sinner and loves him with a mother's love. For precisely this reason she is on the side of truth and shares the Church's burden in constantly reminding all of what the Faith requires. With hope, I ask the Virgin Mary, who has been given the lovely name of <Nossa Senhora da Conceicao Aparecida>, to intercede for you every day with her Son, so that your mission may bring you great joy. With all my heart I grant my Apostolic Blessing to you, to the priests, to the religious and to the faithful entrusted to your care, as well as to your country, that it may always be an example of the new evangelization and a witness to it in a Latin America renewed in Christ.

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