Thursday, June 21, 2012


One can scarcely do better than the words of Dignitatis Humanae, the Decree on Religious Liberty from the Second Vatican Council in 1965, which said in part:

This Vatican Synod declares that the human person has a right to religious freedom.  This freedom means that all men are to be immune from coercion on the part of individuals or of social groups and of any human power, in such wise that in matters religious on one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs.  Nor is anyone to be restrained from acting in accordance with his own beliefs, whether privately or publicly, whether alone or in association with others, within due limits.
The Synod further declares that the right to religious freedom has its foundation in the very dignity of the human person, as this dignity is known through the revealed Word of God and by reason itself.  This right of the human person to religious freedom is to be recognized in the constitutional law whereby society is governed.  Thus it is to become a civil right.   [paragraph 2]

As the first "Fortnight for Freedom" is set to begin today, with a two weeks' period leading up to Independence Day, the Vatican II document takes pride of place in American Catholic thinking.  It is worth observing that bishops from countries under communist rule were strongly in favor of this decree, rightly seeing in it an affirmation of the Church's right to exist even in a State formally atheistic.  Among the supporters of Dignitatis Humanae was the Polish Abp Karol Wojtyla, whom some of us were to know better from his subsequent ministry in the Church...

Friday, June 15, 2012


I begin this post with a snippet from a recent item on Roccos Palmo's Whispers in the Loggia, which concerns Bishop Bernard Fellay, leader of the schismatic "Society of St Pius X":

In an extended interview with the Society's official news organ released last week, the SSPX superior said that "Rome no longer makes total acceptance of Vatican II a prerequisite for the canonical solution" of the fraternity's return.
"[T]he attitude of the official Church is what changed," Fellay said. "We did not."

He added that the Society "were not the ones who asked for an agreement; the pope is the one who wants to recognize us."

This is disturbing on a number of levels, presuming it reflects accurately the mind-set of the Vatican officials (including Pope Benedict) with regard to the authority of the documents of Vatican II.  If the SSPX need not make "total acceptance of Vatican II" a criterion for good standing as Catholics, the fundamenal questions are 1.  why not?  and  2.  which teachings are now going to be regarded as "optional," and on what basis?

The flag-waving issue for this breakaway group has long been the Novus Ordo Missae, the revision of the Church's liturgy of the Mass made in 1969 under the authority of the Consilium set up to implement the Vatican Council's liturgical constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium.  If the issue is their permission to carry on with their preference for the older form of the Mass (presumably the 1962 edition of the "Tridentine Mass") then it seems they are only in line with the permission that has already been given by Pope Benedict with his motu proprio decree Summorum Pontificum (sadly, only in Latin and Hungarian on the Vatican's website) which gives great freedom for priests to celebrate the "Extraordinary Form" (aka, Tridentine Mass).

So what, then, are the aspects of Vatican II that Bp Fellay implies do not need to be accepted?  This is the worrisome part, for famously the SSPX rejected Vatican II not only for its (to them, unauthorized) changes in the liturgy, but also for their embrace of non-Catholic Christians, non-Christian religions (especially the Jews), and its advocacy of religious liberty.  While the pastoral constitution on the Church and the modern world Gaudium et Spes was certainly offensive to this group, other documents are far more problematic for them:  Nostra Aetate on the Church's relation to non-Christian religions; Unitatis Redintegratio on ecumenical relations with non-Catholics; and Dignitatis Humanae on religious freedom. 

Are there implications (not, at this point, anyway, denied or clarified by the Vatican) that one or more of these documents (or specific content in them) is now to be considered "optional"?

Beyond this, the idea that there can be a soft-pedaling of Church teaching in the name of reconciling a defiant faction is at least curious. 

More to come?  I hope not much more...

But as our observance of the 50th anniversary of Vatican II will begin later this year, in conjunction with Pope Benedict's calling for a "Year of Faith," Our Savior's Adult Religious Education will focus on precisely these Vatican II documents, along with special presentations on the issues by guest speakers.  Stay tuned (or see for updates.

Friday, June 8, 2012


The Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith recently issued a "Notification" about a book by Sr Margaret A Farley, RSM entitled Just Love.  A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics.  The Notification has been described as an example of the Vatican's heavy-handed censorship of scholars, but please read below its conclusion:

With this Notification, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith expresses profound regret that a member of an Institute of Consecrated Life, Sr. Margaret A. Farley, R.S.M., affirms positions that are in direct contradiction with Catholic teaching in the field of sexual morality. The Congregation warns the faithful that her book Just Love. A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics is not in conformity with the teaching of the Church. Consequently it cannot be used as a valid expression of Catholic teaching, either in counseling and formation, or in ecumenical and interreligious dialogue. Furthermore the Congregation wishes to encourage theologians to pursue the task of studying and teaching moral theology in full concord with the principles of Catholic doctrine.

In light of this, I offer some reflections for consideration--

First of all, the book has not been condemned; it will not be burned; Sr Margaret has not been excommunicated; neither has she been ordered to be removed from her teaching post.

Second, and what should be obvious to those who look at the whole Notification with its quotes from Sr Margaret's book, it is truly not in line with official Catholic moral teaching as enshrined in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. 

Third, this is all the Notification says.  It is patent that by defiinition the book cannot be held up as a paradigm of Catholic teaching.  This does not mean the book is worthless, nor that the author is a heretic.  It means that since the book does not conform with Catholic teaching, no one should pretend that it does.  The book reflects Sr Margaret's theological opinion (or perhaps her willingness to initiate a discussion) and nothing more.

This is surely the mildest of all possible censures; it scarcely merits the idea of its being a censorship of any kind.

"Big Brother" may indeed be watching, but in this case he did not come down with a sledge hammer.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012


In honor of Her Majesty's Jubilee, here is an anthem composed specially for her coronation in 1952 by Ralph Vaughn Williams:


What a long distance this letter is from the Bull Regnans in Excelsis by which Pope Pius V excommunicated Elizabeth I--and thank God for the distance!

To Her Majesty
Queen Elizabeth II

I write to offer my warmest congratulations to Your Majesty on the happy occasion of the Diamond Jubilee of your reign. During the past sixty years you have offered to your subjects and to the whole world an inspiring example of dedication to duty and a commitment to maintaining the principles of freedom, justice and democracy, in keeping with a noble vision of the role of a Christian monarch.

I retain warm memories of the gracious welcome accorded to me by Your Majesty at Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh at the beginning of my Apostolic Visit to the United Kingdom in September 2010, and I renew my thanks for the hospitality that I received throughout those four days. Your personal commitment to cooperation and mutual respect between the followers of different religious traditions has contributed in no small measure to improving ecumenical and interreligious relations throughout your realms.

Commending Your Majesty and all the Royal Family to the protection of Almighty God, I renew my heartfelt good wishes on this joyful occasion and I assure you of my prayers for your continuing health and prosperity.

From the Vatican, 23 May 2012