WILL "VERITATIS SPLENDOR" CURB THE DISSENTERS?
by Frank Morriss
Pope John Paul II's encyclical will make it
difficult, if not impossible, to claim the compatibility of dissent and
the Catholic faith. Reports before its publication cite these passages:
"Opposition to the teachings of the pastors of the Church cannot be seen
as a legitimate expression of Christian liberty or a diversity in the
gifts of the Spirit.
"Dissent, in the form of well orchestrated protests and polemics conducted
in the mass media, is in opposition to ecclesiastic communion."
Much dissent has somewhere within it motives involving morality (or
perhaps I should say immorality)-some chosen "life-style," some vice or
habit, some self-assertion of conscience against decency and goodness and
in favor of the forbidden satisfaction of appetites unsubjected to law and
reason. Abortion, homosexual practice, contraception, impermanent
marriage, unrestricted sexual use are involved in much dissent in our age.
Will the Catholic lobbyists and politicians, the Catholic promoters and
defenders of these things, use the encyclical to correct their consciences
in this regard? Now, especially they must consider that the excuses of
freedom of conscience, pluralism, and so on, can no longer justify their
disagreement with Catholic moral teaching.
I think particularly of the Catholic politicians who vote for abortion
funding, of nuns and lay women who defend the right of a mother to kill
her unborn children, of activists who claim the homosexual life-style, of
theologians and sociologists who say that Catholics know better than the
Church when they use contraceptives.
I cite this from the Meriden, Conn., reporting about
"the young Church":
"The best thing my priest ever said to me: 'The Church teaches a lot of
things, but don't worry about what the Church teaches,' said Tom Wellman
17, of Connorsville, Ind.
"These teens 'will remain Catholic, but they will remain Catholic on their
own terms,' says sociologist Andrew Greeley...."
Young Tom of Indiana evidently has a priest who takes the place of the
Pope and the whole of the Church for him. He will probably
never consider the state of disloyalty or schism that this priest reveals
in his advice that one should not "worry about what the Church teaches."
But the priest himself must consider that state and the scandal he is
giving by using his priestly prestige to create separatists like himself.
I would advise that priest and all the assorted dissenters I have
discussed above to study an article by Fr. Basil Cole, O.P., who teaches
moral and spiritual theology at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas
Aquinas in Rome. The article is entitled "New Sins Against Faith" and was
presented in newsletter (375 N.E. Clackamas
St., Portland, Ore., 97232).
After citing , no. 25, on the duty of assent to the
, and the new , no. 2004,
Fr. Cole writes:
"The gift of our Catholic faith enables us to give religious assent of
mind and heart to the word of God as interpreted and handed on by the
sacred . Consequently, one who withholds religious assent
from the teaching of the sins against the virtue of faith, a
sin of deliberate nonassent. Worse still, to do this and communicate one's
nonassent to others with the intent of getting others to share in
nonassent is to commit the sin of public dissent (grave or light,
depending upon the circumstances and motive). Being an act of human faith
grounded in divine faith, religious assent affirms ecclesial solidarity.
Open dissent causes disunity and begins the groundwork of schism, which
will then be a grave sin against charity.
"Since the time of so much confusion has entered the life
of many dioceses in the U.S. and abroad, that many people in good faith
find it impossible to give religious assent to the teaching that
contraceptive birth control is intrinsically sinful. They have formed
their consciences in such a manner as to believe that it alone is the
authentic guide in moral decision-making as if it were an independent and
infallible faculty (, no. 1784). It
really means that no one, not even the authorized persons who speak in the
name of Jesus, can be a source of truth for them. One wonders why they
choose to remain in the Catholic Church unless for accidental motives such
as private devotions. One must assimilate the teachings of the Church in
faith and prayer and put them into practice in order to form an authentic
moral conscience (Ibid., no. 1802).
"What are the reasons for this failure to form one's conscience in line
with the teachings of the Church? Beyond question, the principal cause for
this breakdown in communication between the Church's official teaching and
ordinary Catholics has been due to radical theological dissent tolerated
and permitted by the Church authorities for many years, with an occasional
public or private reprimand for certain theologians. Radical dissent
basically comes down to letting believers have it both ways: they call the
Church their Mother but not their Teacher. They can say yes to things in
their faith which they like and reject the truths they dislike, and so
become 'cafeteria Catholics' picking and choosing on the basis [of] the
feeble lights of their favorite theologians. Further, some have claimed
that the of the Second Vatican Council,
, gave them a religious liberty to ignore the
teachings of the Church when they are inconvenient, when in fact the
decree on religious liberty had to do with civil government not coercing
anyone to join a particular faith.
"Faith is a free gift, but it can be sinned against and lost. So, we must
nourish it by prayer, think about it lovingly, live it morally, and
celebrate it liturgically. We received our faith from our Mother the
Church. Loving her means learning to trust her teachings in her ordinary
and everyday instructions even when those teachings are not easy to live
nor popular with the culture around us."
Fr. Cole's words are most apropos in considering the new encyclical. Time
will tell whether it was prudentially right or wrong for the authorities
to tolerate the radical dissent he writes about. But now we can certainly
conclude that it will be far harder for those in disagreement with the
Church's moral stands to claim the "good faith" Fr. Cole ascribes to many
This encyclical demands that all consider the state of ecclesial communion
they truly have on the basis of whether they give religious assent of the
will to what the document teaches. It is Peter speaking, and surely those
of true Catholic heart and mind must consider the causes it addresses to
be ruled upon with finality. Not that these dissents had any validity
before the encyclical; but it serves a kind of magisterial notice that
those in disagreement are in a state of contempt for the Church that
amounts to separation.
This article was taken from the October 14, 1993 issue of "The Wanderer,"
201 Ohio Street, St. Paul, MN 55107, 612-224-5733. Subscription Price:
$35.00 per year; six months $20.00.