Saturday, August 25, 2007

Archbishop DiNardo responds...

I wanted to make sure I blogged about this. In his pastoral letter of August 10th, Archbishop DiNardo summarizes the intent of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith's recent clarification on the nature of the Church. I encourage you to read it. In it, he also responds to an angry email he received concerning the document:
Last week, even as I was already intending on publishing an article about the recent text of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, I received an e-mail from a Catholic in this archdiocese. That e-mail intensified my motivation. The second sentence of the e­mail states that the Catholic laity think the Pope is a complete idiot for this latest statement "on the solo legitimacy of the Roman Catholic Church as a Christian religion." That is not what the text of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith states. Further it is unbecoming and at the very least lacks Christian charity to call the Successor of St. Peter a "complete idiot." Such a statement is empirically false, is highly tendentious and is not conducive to create dialogue with the Archbishop of Galveston-Houston. (I phoned the person involved and said as much.) I have tried to disengage three arguments in the e-mail from the general nastiness and overly angular rhetoric in order to attempt a somewhat rational response to the writer. The arguments, as I see them, are: (1) the statement could hurt world peace since Muslim radicals also call their religion the only permissible one to rule the world; (2) the statement is the muttering of a Pharisee (i.e. the Pope); (3) it is insulting to non-Catholics.

On Number 1, it is to be recalled that the truth claim affirmed is made on the basis of an understanding, not on the basis of a political program. As I stated above, the formal theological language of Catholicism is traditional and is offered as a way to unpack the truth of God's revelation to us. The language is used in theological dialogue with other Christian groups to get at the meaning of the identity of the term "Church." The statements are not slogans or paths "to rule the world" but ways to understand the New Testament and the ongoing teaching of the Church. The author of the e-mail in question is a lawyer; surely he would not be opposed to the technical language of law which itself is based on a series of reasonable legal principles. Because of the complexity of issues, a technical language is needed, frequently opaque to others, because one is being reasonable within the methods of legal principle and custom. Not everyone can enter into such reason because not everyone is trained in law, though everyone can understand some of the basis for complex legal reasoning and technical language and can appreciate its use. An analogous situation is meant here. The desire to understand God's revealed word and truth leads in a variety of directions. One way is through the development of human reasoning on Revelation that results in a more technical and refined language to make some terms more precise, even though we are always dealing with Mysteries of Faith and not purely human realities. Even ordinary Catholics understand that the everyday language we use in faith is always saturated with a deeper level of meaning, and, while not hostile to reason and its everyday use let alone hostile to a person outside the faith, this language is always addressing a spiritual reality that meets us and embraces us, but is also transcendent to us. The Catholic Faith has an objectivity and a truth that is not fabricated but is accepted as true and life-giving. This total experience/expression is called the fullness of truth, not out of pride but out of wonder of being called to the Catholic Faith. This fullness of truth includes the teaching about the inestimable worth and dignity of each human person, even the person with whom we might disagree. This is a far cry from some aspects of radical Islamic fundamentalism. (I would also add that the vast majority of faithful members of Islam would also disagree with Islamic fundamentalism on this point, even though they would state that their faith is the true faith.) Thus the text of the document cannot be viewed as a long term harm to world peace. Far from such an effect, the document clarifies and invites other Christians to enter into a deeper conversation about the meaning of the Church and Christian faith, a conversation meant to highlight our inestimable dignity as human persons.

The second point of the e-mail is that somehow the Pope is a Pharisee. I must confess that I cannot fathom what this point means. In approving the text of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith the Pope was giving approval to what the faith of the Catholic Church has always stated. There was nothing of a Pharisee there at all.

The third point of the e-mail concerns a fact: the statement of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is insulting to non-Catholics. On this point I would repeat some comments from above. At a psychological level the statement may indeed seem too stringent. At this level it may have been helpful if the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith had given a more ample Press Conference on the day of the document's publication. At a theological level, the statement is meant to clarify how Catholic teaching authority understands the Church, its continuity in time, its being founded as one by Christ, the importance attached to apostolic teaching authority and sacramental life, all elements that are seen as essential for the fullest expression of what the New Testament and the Early Church, as well as the Church through the ages, means when it speaks of "ecclesia," "Christ's flock," the "Kingdom of God," and many other statements and images concerning this fundamental reality of our incorporation by faith through the Holy Spirit into Christ's Body to the glory and praise of God the Father. Though the document initially may have received negative comments from some non-Catholics, I think that the 40+ years of ecumenical dialogue with a wide variety of non-Catholic groups in addition to the wise comments by Cardinal Walter Kasper, the President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, on the document would more than balance such negativity. There are various affirmations in the document and these statements must be held together, particularly the balance between the fullness of expression of truth in the Catholic Church and the genuine elements of truth and sanctification in other Christian Churches and communities. The unity of the Church, for which Christ prayed, requires courage and perseverance. It also requires a respectful yet clear statement of our understanding. Such an understanding is not hurtful but an invitation to think and examine what is said.

I have tried to summarize the main points of the recent document on the Doctrine of the Church prepared by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. I have also tried, within the limits of my patience, to respond to a recent e-mail from a member of this local Church on the same document. May I finally add that the role of civility and prudence in expression, even in disagreement, is always necessary in our Church and in our country. The level of discourse in our country at the moment is not very healthy. I have a difficult time abiding insults to any human person; I have a very difficult time abiding insults to the Holy Father, especially by members of the household of the Faith. Let us try to regain our simplicity and purity of heart even in disagreements.

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