Fr. J. Michael Venditti

Subj: Authority of the Pope
Date: 93-03-05 22:13:24 EST
From: BrianMcN

I am a cradle RC. I am well schooled in the teachings of the Christian Church at Rome. I follow them faithfully. I know that in the Documents of Vatican II, that we profess to be of origin from the Holy Spirit who guided the meeting of the Church Fathers, a hierarchy of truths should be understood in relationship with other Christians. In my experience in an inner city parish, the Primacy of Peter is not high on the list of that hierarchy. The Orthodox view of "First Among Equals" is reasonable and should not be dismissed since revelation is to the Christian Church should be a discussion among all equal in baptism with a moderator, that person in our tradition is the Bishop of Rome. I agree with that, but it is not a condition to accept the baptism, belief, or union with others who have accepted the Risen Christ into their life and lifestyle.


The exact quote in Vatican II you are referring to reads, "When comparing doctrines with one another, [Catholic theologians] should remember that in Catholic doctrine there exists an order or 'hierarchy' of truths, since they vary in their relation to the foundation of the Christian faith" (Unitatis Redintegratio, 21 Nov. 1964, #11). But remember that two paragraphs before that, at the beginning of that number, a qualification is made: "It is, of course, essential that the doctrine be clearly presented in its entirety. Nothing is so foreign to the spirit of ecumenism as a false irenicism which harms the purity of Catholic doctrine and obscures its genuine and certain meaning" (UR, # 11).

In the example you give of your experience of an inner city parish, you seem to allude to that hierarchy of doctrine being something decided on the local level; but, that is clearly not what the council is teaching here. It is not up to individual Catholics, nor to local communities, to determine what doctrines are more important than others. That is a function reserved to the authentic teaching authority of the Church alone.

You describe the function of the Holy Father as a "moderator," who oversees discussion among all Christians who, in your view, seem to share an equal role in defining a hierarchy or doctrine. But, again, this is clearly not what the Council calls for when it describes the role of the Holy Father: "...loyal submission of the will and intellect must be given, in a special way, to the authentic teaching authority of the Roman Pontiff, even when he does not speak 'ex cathedra' in such wise, indeed, that his supreme teaching authority be acknowledged with respect, and that one sincerely adhere to decisions made by him...his definitions are rightly said to be irreformable by their very nature and not by reason of the assent of the Church, in as much as they were made with the assistance of the Holy Spirit promised to him in the person of blessed Peter himself; and as a consequence they are in no way in need of the approval of others, and do not admit of appeal to any other tribunal" (Lumen Gentium, 21 Nov. 1964, # 25).

I've found that it's very common for people today to latch onto this or that "phrase" or "idea" found in Vatican II, without really knowing what is being said there. You found a sentence that spoke of a "hierarchy of doctrine," and from there developed a theology of your own that has nothing to do with what the council taught. In fact, as you can see from the above quote, Vatican II goes beyond Vatican I in it's definition that obedience must be given to the Holy Father even when he does NOT speak "ex cathadra." Remember that the purpose of an ecumenical council is to teach the truth, not to simply provide us with slogans to support our own ideas.

Subj: Confession
Date: 93-03-28 04:36:47 EST
From: DougyC


Hasn't the Sacrament of Penance, as you describe it, been "gutted"? In the early Church, penitents would state their sins before the entire congregation. I talked to a woman who now attends a service (at the local Catholic church) in which they are now trying to get back to the earlier forms of worship, and some of those groups are now doing just that.

In my mind, quite intense and unneeded, but if they want to, why stop them. As I understand the sacrament today, the priest represents both God and his People. For me, the sacrament permits me (in synergy with the proper priest) to understand what drives me to sin (some crop up over and over), and to get another opinion as to what to do to avoid sinning. In addition to getting a Warm and Fuzzy "God Loves You Anyway" kind of feeling. Somehow, both the "do it in front of everyone" position and the "do it in front of God only" positions lack certain elements.

With regard to the Seal of Confession, does that mean that if a guy says in confession that he IS going to kill someone, that you cannot be proactive in halting that activity?

Dear Doug,

I'm afraid, Doug, that you've made a very common error: that of thinking that in the early Church there was only public confession and penance, and that the private reconciliation of sinners before a priest alone was a later development; but, historically, that is simply not true.

The kind of public penitential service that you describe was celebrated in the early Church only for the benefit of those who had committed grave public sins, which required a public reconciliation to calm the scandal of the community.

It's form was not unlike that of baptism, and was reserved for those who had committed the sins of apostasy, adultery, or murder.

But there was also a private administration of the sacrament from the beginning, as attested by a severe letter of Pope Leo I in 459 censuring those who presume to act "against the apostolic regulations" by demanding public manifestation of sins. "It is sufficient," he says, "that the guilt which people have on their consciences be made known to the priests alone in secret confession." Historical evidence clearly shows that the practice of public penance, contrary to much current thinking, was very rare even in the early Church, and that from the beginning there was the private confession of secret sins, which the Church approved and which Rome insisted was of apostolic origin. Consequently, in spite of abuses to the contrary, the Church's position has always been that secret sins, no matter how grave, could and should be confessed privately and expiated privately.

It is interesting to note that the Church maintains a form of public confession and absolution called "General Absolution." The conditions under which it can be administered are extremely narrow, such as when a large number of people are in danger of death, and there is no time to hear their confessions privately. The fact that some priests abuse this by absolving large numbers of people who are not in danger of death does not make the practice legitimate, nor is it a return to some practice of the early Church. In the United States, as in most countries, General Absolution may only be given with the expressed permission of the bishop for each instance it is used, and anyone absolved in this way is bound to confess his sins privately to a priest at his earliest opportunity.

With regard to the seal, as I said before, the priest cannot act in any way that would reveal to anyone a sin confessed along with the identity of the one who confessed it. So, no, he could not act, even if someone confessed that he was going to kill someone.

Subj: A question
Date: 93-04-01 22:05:00 EST
From: JaeLB

What is the communion of saints?

Dear Jae,

To put it too simply, the Communion of the Saints is the Church, but in a sense not often used by most people. We so often use the word "Church" to refer to the Church on earth; but, the Church, as expressed in the Apostles' Creed, not only includes those of us struggling here on earth, but also those who are now with God in Heaven as well as those on their way to God in Purgatory. In short, the Communion of Saints is the whole Church, including it's heavenly and purgatorial branches. All the members of the Communion are bound together under Christ their head, forming one mystical body, and cooperate by sharing their merits and prayers with one another. Thus, the members of the Communion in Heaven and in Purgatory can intercede with us to the Father, and we can help to lighten the burdens of the souls in Purgatory through our prayers for them. It is this interaction between all the members of Christ's body that is properly called the Communion of Saints.

The belief in a spiritual relationship linking the souls on earth with those who have gone before us has it's roots in Sacred Scripture, and has been confirmed by decrees of the Second Council of Nicea, the Council of Florence, the Council of Trent, and the Second Vatican Council. As St. Paul says, "We give thanks for having been called to share the lot of the saints in light."

Subj: To Fr M
Date: 93-04-03 00:17:46 EST
From: Bordeleau


I went to Catholic High School in the '60s, and we were taught that Purgatory wasn't a "place"; it was a purging "state" that took place at the point of death. It was a purging "process". The more sins you had to make up for, the more intense the instantaneous purging process.

So is your phrase "those on their way to God in Purgatory" a kind of expression, rather than an implication that Purgatory is still a place?

Dear Bordeleau,

It's important to remember that whenever we talk about spiritual realities, we have to use words that are fashioned for our world. For example, the Church will often refer to the passage of time in Purgatory, all the while knowing that time is something that exists on this world only; yet, since we have no other way of talking about it, we continue to speak in those terms, since it would be impossible to speak about it at all otherwise.

Regarding Purgatory, the Council of Trent said, "The Catholic Church, instructed by the Holy Spirit and in accordance with sacred Scripture and the ancient Tradition of the Fathers, has taught in the holy councils and most recently in this ecumenical Council that there is a purgatory, and that the souls detained there are helped by the acts of intercession of the faithful, and especially by the acceptable sacrifice of the Altar" (ND 310). But even in using terms like "detained there," the council fathers knew that they were simply using terms that were relevant to our own condition here on earth; and, so they added, "But let the more difficult and subtle questions which do not make for edification and, for the most part, are not conducive to an increase of piety, be excluded from popular preaching..." In other words, the Church often teaches these realities in ways she feels most people will be able to understand them, without necessarily giving the most thorough definition possible.

In 1979, Pope John Paul II published a letter answering certain questions concerning eschatology. Regarding Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory, it states: "In fidelity to the New Testament and Tradition, the Church believes in the happiness of the just who will one day be with Christ. She believes that there will be eternal punishment for the sinner, who will be deprived of the sight of God, and that this punishment will have repercussion on the whole being of the sinner. She believes in the possibility of a purification of the elect before they see God, a purification altogether different from the punishment of the damned. This is what the Church means when speaking of Hell and Purgatory."

So, Purgatory could be a place, or it could be "state" like your high school teacher told you. But we won't know for sure till we get there. It probably would have been better had your teacher told you, "Here's what the Church teaches; now, here are some possible explanations..."

Subj: Question ...
Date: 93-04-13 04:33:40 EDT
From: NancyC21

Dear Father,

First of all, hope you had a blessed Easter!

Now for the question ...

Can you please tell me exactly what the Church teaches about Jesus' Real Presence in the Eucharist? I have come to believe, based on what I thought the Church has always taught, that at the Consecration the bread and wine become Jesus Flesh and Blood. In other words, they become Jesus'-Body & Blood-the-same-as-when-He-walked-amongst-us-on-earth. So, His REAL Physical Presence.

Am I correct in this understanding? I do realize that the bread and wine remain as, what is it called, the 'accidents'(?) Yet, despite the remaining bread and wine, JESUS' FLESH & BLOOD become their real substance, that our human senses can only see as bread and wine. Right?

Was on another network and got into a debate with another "Catholic" who claims I'm all confused about this. The other person states that Vatican II and/or Canon Law describes it as more "the substance of Jesus' Body and Blood" (whatever that means). And that the Body and Blood are not physical (as in His Physical Body when He walked amongst us), but rather His Sacramental Body (again ... whatever that means).

PLEASE explain this to me! It has been bothering me lately, and I have not had the opportunity to talk (in person) to a priest about it. I will eagerly await your response!

Thank you, Father

Dear Nancy,

Thanks for your Easter greetings, and the same to you.

It's a good thing you wrote about this. Let me say, without any qualification, that the Eucharist is the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ, as present to us in the sacred species as he was when he walked this earth as a man. Yes, he is really, physically present, as you are to those around you.

What's more, it is the certain teaching of the Church that ABSOLUTELY NOTHING of the bread and wine remain, but that it has been COMPLETELY changed into the Body and Blood of the Lord. Neither the Code of Canon Law, nor the Second Vatican Council, could change the Church's faith in the Eucharist. Pope Paul VI wrote, in 1968, "Every theological explanation which seeks some understanding of this mystery must, in order to be in accord with Catholic Faith, maintain firmly that in the order of reality itself, independently of our mind, the bread and wine have ceased to exist after the consecration, so that it is the adorable body and blood of the Lord Jesus which from then on are really before us..."

The word "accidents," in the context in which you use it, is a philosophical term meaning "appearances." In other words, the substance of the Lord's flesh and blood is disguised to appear as bread and wine, but without being bread and wine. The Church explains this change with the word "transubstantiation," meaning that the substance of the thing is changed while the form remains the same; as opposed to "transformation," in which the form is changed while the substance remains the same. For example, when you freeze water, the substance of the water, H2O, remains the same, but the form has changed from liquid to solid. In transubstantiation, the form remains, but the substance itself is changed, as in bread and wine into flesh and blood. So even though the Eucharist continues to look, feel, and taste like bread and wine, the substance of it has been completely changed into the flesh and blood of Christ. Likewise, since the substance has been completely changed, the whole Christ exists in either species, so that even if you receive only from the cup or the host, you still receive the whole body and blood of the Lord.

Protestant groups who cling to a Eucharistic tradition often come up with different theological theories about the Eucharistic presence; and, sadly, some of these sometimes find their way into the writings of Catholic authors. For example, a popular Protestant theory is called "Consubstantiation," which holds that the bread and wine continue to exist along with the body and blood of Christ. It's possible that your friend from the other network has been confused by one of these. In any case, an informed Catholic would never think that an ecumenical council has power to change the deposit of Faith.

I hope this is helpful, and, once again, have a blessed Easter.

Subj: Taking communion elsewhere
Date: 93-04-30 16:16:12 EDT
From: JaeLB

I went to a funeral today for the wife of a Lutheran minister in town and I had a real eye-opener. I never imagined that the eucharistic rite was virtually identical to the Roman Catholic rite and, except for the fact that there were no kneeling rails, I felt very much at home. In fact, given the lovely hymns and the enthusiastic singing of the congregation, I was very moved.

The minister invited all Baptised Christians to receive communion kneeling at the front and his discussion of his understanding of the bread and wine was, well, very Catholic.

Now, by chance I was sitting by the priest of the local parish that I should attend, and I noticed he, of course, didn't take communion. But I did. So, what do you all the sky going to fall? I thought Jesus was present there in that bread and wine. And so did the Lutheran minister.

The thing that really cinched it for me was that these Methodist-types I know did not want to take communion because they just felt it was "meaningless ritual." (This is pretty odd because I have a copy of the Discipline of the Methodist Church and the communion rite is very similar.) Anyway, I got up right then.

Dear Jae,

It's important to remember that an understanding of the Eucharistic mystery on the part of a non-Catholic minister—even though it may seem close (or identical) to our own)—does not make that minister's Eucharist a valid one. In order for bread and wine to be completely changed into the Body and Blood of Christ, the words of consecration must be said over them by a validly ordained priest, who can trace his priesthood back to the Apostles in an unbroken line. This particular character of the Priesthood is commonly called "Direct Apostolic Succession." Without it, even though the words and liturgical actions may be identical to those found in the Catholic Mass—and even though the personal faith of the minister may be identical to that of Catholics—without direct apostolic succession, the Eucharist cannot be confected.

Back in the last century, many people speculated that the orders of Anglican priests might be considered valid, since their liturgy was so identical to ours. Pope Leo XIII appointed a commission to study the issue, then issued his judgment that the orders of Anglican priests his words..."totally null and utterly void." He pointed out that the orders of non-Catholic ministers may be invalid for a variety of reasons:

The most common reason is that the minister is not ordained by someone who is a true bishop, who himself enjoys direct apostolic succession. Another reason may be that the rite used to ordain the minister may be defective, and deviate from the required form. A third reason may be that the ordaining bishop, even if he is a true bishop, does not have the manifest intention of passing on a sacramental priesthood, even if the proper rite is used.

Martin Luther made it very clear that he did not believe in the sacrament of Holy Orders, and that the ministers of his church were not ordained to a sacramental priesthood. Even if the faith of the Lutheran Church were to change so as to accept the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, this could not make up for the lack of direct apostolic succession.

The Catholic Church recognizes as valid the priestly orders of those confessions who, even though separated from union with the Holy Father, still possess direct apostolic succession. These would include the Orthodox churches, and any other schismatic group who's separation from Rome is purely juridical (for example, the church to which User bishop belongs).

Another very important point is that in order for any sacrament to be valid, the minister of that sacrament must have the proper intention. In other words, if a Catholic priest were to cease believing in transubstantiation and the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, then his own Masses would be invalid, since he cannot intend to do something he does not believe in. That is why, before a man is ordained to the priesthood, and again before he becomes a pastor, he must make a profession of faith in the presence of the bishop's delegate, declaring that he believes everything taught by the Catholic Church. A couple of years ago, Pope John Paul II revised this profession of faith to include specific references to the celebration of the Eucharist and the sacraments, as well as the infallibility of the Church's teaching authority. This profession is also required of anyone who teaches sacred subjects in a seminary or Catholic university.

With regard to receiving communion in a non-Catholic church, in 1973 the Holy See issued directives regarding intercommunion between Catholics and non-Catholics. Relying heavily on Vatican II's Declaration on Ecumenism, they pointed out that "there is an indissoluble link between the mystery of the Church and the mystery of the Eucharist or between ecclesial and Eucharistic communion; the celebration of the Eucharist itself signifies the fullness of profession of faith and ecclesial communion" (SPUC, Dopo le publicazione, 17 Oct, 1973). What that means is that, in addition to being our spiritual sustenance, the Eucharist is also our source of unity. It is the mortar that binds together those who share a common faith (common in a complete sense, which also must include our faith in the mission of the Holy Father and in everything else taught and believed by the Catholic Church). Therefore, for a Catholic to share communion with those not in union with the Church is a declaration of a unity which does not yet exist.

The Catholic Church charges her faithful to pray and work constantly for the unification of Christians, but always keeping in mind that unity can only be truly achieved within the truth.

Subj: Question
Date: 94-03-06 11:28:24 est
From: ****

Father M,

I have been divorced for almost ** years. I am disabled and have never remarried. My question is, is flirting over the computer a sin? It seems harmless enough but I must admit that it can get very explicit. Also, is masturbation a sin? I am sorry to have to ask you these questions, but I'm too embarrassed to ask my parish priest. I'm worried because I don't want to offend the Lord but he did make me a woman and even though I am disabled and alone doesn't mean I don't have the same needs and desires as other women. Can you help me with this? Thank you.


Dear ****,

Thanks for your letter and your question.

First, with regard to masturbation: Even though the Church has always regarded it as an unnatural act, its increase in certain affluent cultures has led some people to wonder if it's all that sinful. "What can be so wrong about relieving emotional pressure?'" people ask. But those who defend masturbation as a normal sexual release follow the expedient of reducing the morality of human acts to the intention. Self-abuse then becomes sex release, and the sin that St. Paul said excluded one from the kingdom of heaven is described as a form of recreation.

The Church has consistently proscribed masturbation as objectively contrary to the will of God, while at the same time recognizing that the subjective responsibility of the person involved is greatly affected by the culture in which he or she lives. Hence the Church's insistence that her priests and teachers not only present the moral doctrine to the faithful, without dilution and with perfect candor, but also help the person to cope with their moral problems and train them to Christian maturity, understanding that there is a correlation between the urge to masturbate and physical or emotional fatigue, insecurity, or lack of acceptance by others.

Thus, the discussion of masturbation should involve not only the fact that it's a sin, but also as it reflects the lack of a fully developed personality, one of whose features is a balanced control of the sex impulses and a harmonious unity of all the experiences of one's personal, social, and spiritual life. What must be kept in mind is that such maturity is not some starry ideal but an attainable reality. Of course, this means self-mastery, with the help of grace. As Pope Paul VI said, "If we wish, we can keep our body and spirit chaste. The Master, who speaks with great severity in this matter, does not propose an impossible thing. We Christians, regenerated in baptism, though we are not freed from this kind of weakness, are given the grace to overcome it with relative facility." As St. Paul said in Galatians, one of the fruits of the Spirit is self-control.

With regard to online flirting, it seems the question here is not so much one of sin, but rather one of an "occasion of sin." An occasion of sin is something which, while in itself may not be sinful, places us or another in a situation in which we are susceptible to temptation or sin. For ourselves, we bear the full responsibility for whatever sinful consequences should arise should we willfully expose ourselves to actions or environments which we know will cause us to become sexually excited, often beyond our ability to resist temptation. Hence, putting oneself willfully into an occasion of sin can become, itself, a sin in this way. Only you can say what is an occasion of sin for you and what isn't. If online flirting causes a person to become sexuality excited, leading to a temptation to masturbate, then it is clearly something to be avoided.

But this is in regard only to ourselves. With regard to others, the question takes on a whole new dimension: one of charity toward our neighbor. Even if we have judged that such activity is not an occasion of sin or temptation for us, we have no way of knowing how it will effect the other person involved. Should we, by our actions, place someone in an occasion of sin that they otherwise would have avoided, then we bear a great measure of responsibility for whatever consequences result. Since we have no way of knowing what constitutes an occasion of sin for another, charity requires that we always act on the side of caution.

Subj: Predestination
Date: 94-03-09 09:36:48 EST


What is the church's opinion/stand on predestination? Do we have free will on our choices, or is everything we do preordained by God?

Dear Meonion,

Many people have become confused about the notion of salvation they seem to find in Romans 9, which leads to confusion when taken out of the context of Paul's purpose; such was the case with John Calvin in the 16th century in formulating his doctrine of "predestination," which was the central teaching of his Reformed Church (more recently known as the Presbyterians) until the middle of this century, when they more or less abandoned the belief. I put the word predestination in quotes because the meaning ascribed to it by Calvin means something entirely different when used by Catholics or most of the main-line Christian communities.

In the passage in question, Paul points out how all of the events leading up to Israel's election as God's chosen people all happened because of the simple choice of God, and not by any merit on the part of the Hebrews as a people. He then says: "What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God's part? By no means! For he says to Moses, 'I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.' So it depends not upon man's will or exertion, but upon God's mercy. For the scripture says to Pharaoh, 'I have raised you up for the very purpose of showing my power in you, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth.' So then he has mercy upon whomever he wills, and he hardens the heart of whomever he wills" (Rom. 9:14-18).

You can see right away the problem: it appears as if Paul is saying that people are good or bad because God causes them to be such, without any effort or purpose on their part involved. Traditional Calvinist teaching asserts, therefore—and I emphasize again that few believe this today—, that the human race is divided into two camps: those who are righteous and who are "predestined" for salvation, and those who are corrupt and are "predestined" for damnation. It was much later that the American Baptists, who's roots are found in early Calvinism, would modify this belief into the idea that all of us are unrighteous before God, and it is only due to his mercy that we can be saved; leaving open the possibility of salvation to everyone, but still discounting any idea at all of a possibility of transformation in grace.

A more critical reading of Romans shows this interpretation of "predestination" not part of Paul's message at all, in as much as his whole point is to show that the Hebrews, who had been elected by God as his own special chosen, invalidated the call by rejecting the Son; and the Gentiles, not originally called, became the heirs to this call by their acceptance of Christ. So obviously this "predestination" is not written in stone. This is, in fact, the Catholic notion of predestination: that all of us are called by Christ to glory, but that whether or not that call is fulfilled in us depends on our acceptance of it and our cooperation with grace. It is in this sense that the Catholic Church declares it's belief in predestination, and will use the more accurate word, "predetermination," to describe the old Calvinist idea.

I hope this answers your question; thanks for posting.

Subj: Indulgences
Date: 94-03-09 17:24:33 est
From: Irish24

People that I know that were born before 1957 are talking about indulgences. Would you please refresh my memory. Again, thanks a lot for all the information you are providing through you folder.

Dear Irish,

An indulgence is the remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sins forgiven as far as their guilt is concerned, which the follower of Christ with the proper dispositions and under certain determined conditions acquires through the intervention of the Church, which, as minister of the redemption, authoritatively dispenses and applies the treasury of the satisfaction won by Christ and the saints.

Indulgences therefore apply only to forgiven sins, where the forgiveness refers to guilt before God, whereas the penance to be expiated refers to the disorder that sin produces in the world.

Indulgences can be gained by Christians who are rightly disposed but who also fulfill the requirements the Church sets down as the dispenser of Christ's redemptive merits.

Please see my previous response on the subject of sacramentals for a another explanation of the same thing.

Subj: Papal nuncio
Date: 94-03-09 17:09:45 EST
From: Irish24

I was wondering if anyone could write to the Pope. Is the papal nuncio his intermediary? What is the address of the papal nuncio and what exactly are his duties?

Thanks, Father M, I am learning a lot from your message center.

Dear Irish,

The Papal or Apostolic Nuncio is a bishop whose duties lie in two main areas...

First, he represents the Pope to the local bishops of the country or region to which he is assigned, both as individuals and as members of the local episcopal conference. In this capacity, he is charged with faithfully representing the Holy Father's wishes to the bishops, as well as reporting back to him on their activities and progress. He also has a key role to play in nominating to the Holy Father the names of suitable candidates for the episcopate.

Secondly, the Nuncio also serves as the ambassador of the Vatican City State to those countries which enjoy full diplomatic relations with the Holy See. In this capacity he serves in much the same way as any ambassador from another country, reporting to the Holy Father through the office of a Cardinal known as the Secretary of State. In a country which has not exchanged ambassadors with the VCS, he serves only in the first capacity mentioned above, and is then known as an Apostolic Delegate (The United States has had diplomatic relations with the VCS only since 1984). The Vatican diplomatic corps is one of the oldest in history. Priests destined for diplomatic service are trained at the Vatican Diplomatic School, which is the oldest school of its kind for the training of foreign diplomats.

The proper manner of communicating with the Holy See depends entirely on the subject and intent of the communication. Most communicating between the Holy See and bishops, priests, or lay people is done through one of the dicasteries of the Roman Curia. To assist the Holy Father in the governance of the Church, the Roman Curia was created—and has existed in various forms—since before the middle ages, and has been restructured many times. The last reorganization of the Curia took place only a few years ago by our present Holy Father. The Curia is made up of various offices known as "congregations," each entrusted with a particular discipline, each under the direction of a Cardinal who is called the Prefect, and composed of men and women appointed by the Holy Father who are considered experts in the particular field of the congregation to which they are assigned.

The purpose of the congregations is three-fold: first, they keep abreast of what's going on in the world regarding the discipline with which they are concerned, and report this to the Holy Father; second, they are empowered by the Holy Father to answer questions regarding their particular areas of concern which may be put to them by Catholics around the world; and third, they express clearly the teaching of the Church on specific issues when asked to do so by the Holy Father. All statements issued by a Roman Congregation are approved by the Holy Father and published only by his order.

At present there are nine congregations in the Roman Curia, dealing with areas such as the clergy, the laity, the causes of saints, Catholic education, liturgy, evangelization, etc. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, formally called the Holy Office, is considered the supreme congregation, in that it deals with anything pertaining to the truth of the faith; and, as such, it has the power to review and correct whatever is done by the other congregations. The current prefect of the congregation is Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, formerly Archbishop of Munich. The Prefect of the CDF is often regarded as the "second in command" next to the Holy Father.

Catholics are free to write directly to the particular congregation which deals with the subject in question; and an answer received from a Roman congregation is always considered authoritative. One can also write via the Apostolic Nuncio, who would merely forward the question to the proper congregation concerned, and would also forward back a reply, if any.

Letters addressed simply to the Holy Father are usually reviewed by a member of the pontifical household known as an assessor, who would determine the proper destination of the letter.

The addresses of the various congregations of the Roman Curia are listed in the front portion of the Catholic Directory published by Kenedy Publishers, along with the names of the Cardinal Prefects and their secretaries. The Apostolic Nuncio to the United State is Archbishop Agostino Cacciavillan, 3339 Massachusetts Ave., Washington, DC 20008.

Subj: Walk with God and faith
Date: 94-03-10 01:28:03 EST
From: JRidout

I hope you answer me. I use to go to church and was apart of a Christian family. I realized that the family seem a fake to me so I began to drift away. I still have faith in God. But I have come to realize that I need to find my faith in Church and the people. I guess apart of me feels lost. Even though God is very much apart of me, I would like to be able to talk to people that have felt the same way.

I use to enjoy the nights were we all talked about God and faith, at those moments I felt a great peace around me. I have lost that feeling and I would like to be apart of that again. I hope that you'll be able to direct me in the right direction. At this point in time in my life, I have questions and have no one to turn too that I could trust.

Dear JRidout,

Sooner or later everyone who seeks to follow Christ must deal with the difference between the Christian ideal and the way that individual Christians, and even Christian communities, live. The super-idealist who thinks that the true church must be made up of perfect people is missing the point of the incarnation; and he usually leaves the Church as soon as he find hypocrites there. But people are people, and the true Church is no more marked by perfect people any more than a doctor's skill is marked by how often he himself is sick.

For many people, the Church has come to mean nothing more than a place where they are made to feel good, and experience a sense of community and togetherness. Certainly these are things which every parish should strive to achieve. But these are not the marks of the true Church, nor are they the reason that the Church exists. She exists to provide for the holiness of her members through the sacraments and through the preaching of the word of God. Those who have, in recent years, left the Catholic Church for one of the many evangelical sects because there they find the people more "friendly" forget that they are abandoning Christ in the Holy Eucharist for a mere human emotion. Sooner or later they reach the point where you seem to be, where they finally realize that chasing after the perfect "feeling of community" is a fruitless effort compared to the ultimate consolation brought to us by Christ, his sacraments, and the certain, infallible teaching of his Church.

I would like to suggest to you that you seek out your parish priest and ask him for guidance, praying daily that the Lord will lead you to the truth. And please feel free to ask here any questions about the Catholic faith that you have.

Thanks for you post.

Subj: Christ on the cross
Date: 94-03-12 04:43:09 est
From: QuietSun


Why was it that God left Jesus on the cross to die. It seems to me that at Jesus' most profound moment of pain and loneliness, his prayers were ignored. Should we expect the same?


Dear QuietSun,

The great Latin poet, Venantius Fortunatus (AD 530 - 609) said it best...
"Thirty years among us dwelling
His appointed time fulfilled,
Born for this (Natus ad hod),
He meets His Passion,
For that—This he freely willed
On the Cross the Lamb is lifted
Where His life-blood shall be spilled."

In other words, Jesus came to earth for the purpose of dying for our sins. This much he said himself when he walked among us...

"Now my heart is troubled and what shall I say? 'Father, save me from this hour'? No, it was this very reason I came to this hour" (John 12:27).

"Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?" (Luke 24:26).

"Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?" (Matthew 26:53-34).

The whole point of God becoming man in the person of Jesus was so that God could pay, in blood, the price for man's sin. Jesus makes clear time and again that he is aware of his fate, that he understands its purpose, and that he fully wills it. The crucifixion was not a surprise to him. Redemption depends on the freely-willed death of Jesus who must have foresaw it—both the death itself and its consequences. Without such knowledge, his death as redemptive could not have been freely willed and thus there would either be no redemption or there would be one which would have to posit the thesis that his humanity, through which the redemption was effected, was something akin to a mechanical, blind instrument in the hands of the Divinity. In other words, Jesus freely willed his death to save us and thereby had an awareness commensurate with such a decision; or, his humanity served as a virtually inert pawn through which God accomplished the restoration of the human race, something which would make the incarnation unreasonable.

It's possible you may be confused about our Lord calling out from the Cross, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me." These words, from Psalm 22 verse 2, are spoken by our Lord in fulfillment of Old Testament prophesy. In no sense should they be taken as a complaint against God's plans or a desire on his part to be delivered from the cross. Rather they are a testimony to the fact that, as man, our Lord's suffering on the cross was real. In the context of the mystery of Jesus Christ, God-and-Man, we should notice how his humanity—both body and soul—suffers without his divinity assuaging that suffering, as it could have done. This is because Jesus both fore-knew and willfully went to his Passion; this was his purpose in coming to earth.

Thanks for your question.

Subj: Baptism
Date: 94-03-16 17:43:22 est
From: CathDRE

Dear Father,

I have a question concerning the baptism of an illegitimate baby. I conduct the Baptismal Catechesis for our parish and a new mother (a parish member) came to the class. She is unmarried, but wants to have her child baptized during a Sunday Liturgy. (The baby's father attended the class too) They were honest about their lives. They understood that they had made a mistake and see marriage in the future. (Not near future...the father works out of town, jobs in our area are scarce.) I did the preliminary paperwork and gave the information to our parish pastor. He refuses to baptize the baby during Mass because it is illegitimate. (He really isn't too fond of baptizing the baby at all.) I have searched through my Canon Law and Rites books and can find no such "rule." Is this just a personal preference-or am I missing something? If is a personal preference how to I approach him and discuss the problem? The mother and father are extremely upset. I don't want to see them as another..."We left the church because of Fr..." Please respond ASAP—the showdown is tomorrow night...


Dear CathDRE,

As the Code of Canon Law indicates, a pastor may delay the baptism of a child if there is little of no indication that the child will be raised in an environment in which it will be taught the faith by both words and example. If, in fact, he wanted to delay the baptism until the marriage has taken place, he would be within his right to do that. t, as long as he didn't refuse to baptize outright. But, there is nothing to completely prevent the baptism of an illegitimate child.

However, the decision as to where or when the baptism takes place is entirely up to the pastor. Here in our parish we never baptize during Mass, but always on Sunday afternoon. I can't say why your pastor may want to do this baptism apart from the others, but that is his decision.

Subj: Covering
Date: 94-03-16 18:05:03 EST
From: MarriaE

Fr, I Corinthians, Chapter 11:5 states that every woman that prayeth with her uncovered, dishonors her head. Does this mean we should still wearing a chapel veil or hat when we attend church for the bible is the truth.

Dear Marria,

To understand what Paul is talking about in 1 Corinthians 11:2-6, it is necessary to have some grasp of the situation that Paul is addressing. In his day, the practice of women covering their heads extended to all public gatherings, not just Christian worship. But Corinthian women, either from a tendency to emancipation deduced from Paul's own teaching on Christian liberty, or from imitation of the practice of Greek women at pagan religious services, had begun to attend liturgical gatherings with their head uncovered, which was scandalous not only to the Christians. In Paul's day, for woman to appear bareheaded was just one step short of shaving her head all together, which he mentions would be disgraceful. He mentions that the man stands bareheaded before God for he is subject only to God; but the woman covers her head as a symbol of humility and deference to her husband. The reason he gives is a theological one: man was created first, and is the primary image of God and manifestation of his glory. Woman was created from man and for man, and hence is a reflection of his glory. This hierarchy, says Paul, should be evident in their respective dress.

The reason we are able to see this passage in the context of Paul's time and not take it literally is because of what Paul himself adds to the end of the section: namely, that what he has said about the subjection of women does not mean that she is essentially inferior to man. In the supernatural order, both are necessary and mutually dependent, and are equal as members of Christ. The very process of procreation proves their solidarity, for if man was created first, he now comes into existence only through the medium of woman. Both are from God and have the same supernatural destiny.

The Church no longer clings to the custom of requiring women to cover their heads in Church because the circumstances that moved Paul to mention it here, namely, the imitation of pagan practices, no longer exists, and would reflect concern about a problem which would emphasize the wrong points in Paul's message.

Thanks for your question.

Subj: Call no man your father...
Date: 94-03-18 23:30:14 EST
From: DougJM

Why do priests take on the title of "Father" when Jesus said that we should call no man on earth Father?

Dear Doug,

It seems that how one views this depends on how one views the Holy Scriptures and interprets them. That was the reason, in a post some time back, that I mentioned how Catholics will refer to the teaching authority of the Church—not to belittle the meaning of the Scriptures for the individual, but because the Scriptures, having come out of the Church, are a PART of the revelation of God to his people, Tradition and the living Spirit of God working through the Church today being the other "parts."

Let me give you a few examples...

Many Christians will use 1 Timothy 4:3 to show that the Catholic Church is wrong in requiring her priests to be celibate, but without any reference to 1 Cor. 7:1. Like all literature, the Bible can be made to mean just about anything, since the meanings of words, in any language, are never exact. In this case, the Church guides her faithful to understand that since no man is forced to be a priest, she is forbidding marriage to no one. And, in fact, she has never claimed that the reasons for celibacy are to be found in Scripture alone. But that can't prevent an individual from deciding, on his own, that Paul's words to Timothy mean something else. So, naturally, a Christian who holds that everything believed and done by Christians must be found in the Bible is going to be confused by this practice.

Sometimes confusion results from a faulty translation of the original into the vernacular language. Take, for example, Matthew 19:9, where Jesus seems to allow for divorce on the grounds of marital infidelity. How does one translate the Greek word "pornea"? Some scholars will translate this to mean "sexual infidelity;" while others say that it more probably means "unlawful cohabitation," and is a reference to a practice of some Greeks at the time who entered into marital unions with their widowed parents, or even their siblings. It's important because which meaning you choose will determine whether a person can divorce his or her spouse on grounds of adultery. For the Catholic it is not a difficulty because he knows, from writings of the sub-Apostolic Fathers and the Spirit-filled teaching of the Church, that marriage is indissoluble; so, he knows that, whatever the Lord means by the word "pornea," he does not mean that you can divorce your wife if she's unfaithful. It's in this way that God's revelation to man through Tradition and the living authority of the Church can clarify the Word of God in Scripture. If one, however, believes that Scripture must stand alone, as in Martin Luther's "solas scripturas" theory, then there can never be a definitive answer, and each individual will continue to interpret the passage as he sees fit.

It's on the basis of this kind of approach to Scripture that I can satisfy myself that Jesus is not concerned that I am referred to as Father, anymore than he is concerned that you call your own father, Father. Or do you suppose that it's ok to call your father "Daddy" but not "Father" because of what our Lord says? To me, as indeed to the Church, it seems incongruous that the Lord would reveal Himself to us in the Gospel in order to police our vocabulary. Surely his concern must be for something else, such as not attributing to any man what truly belongs to the Lord alone. And if I thought that any Catholic were thinking me to be God because I am called Father, then I would have them call me something else, to be sure. :)

— Fr M