Will 'Veritatis Splendor' Curb the Dissenters?

Author: Frank Morriss

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 such dissenters.

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.