The Catholic Thing
Acting in Light of the Faith Print E-mail
By Bevil Bramwell, OMI   
Sunday, 04 September 2011

When he was cardinal of Krakow and the diocese faced a problem, Karol Wojtyla used to ask those working with him: “What is the truth of faith that sheds light on this problem?” He was head of a large diocese and yet he could work from the mind of the Church. In contrast, there are the memorable words of Cardinal Cushing (1895-1970), archbishop of Boston, to Catholic political leaders: “If your constituents want this legislation, vote for it.”

A blank check for Catholic politicians – and by extension for every other Catholic – to go with what society believes rather than what the Church believes. And Cardinal Cushing was not the only one. Archbishop Wojtyła, on the other hand, made his starting point the teaching of the Church. His stance had a consistency – one of the reasons for his journey to sainthood – that needs to be recovered in the United States.

And the point does not stop with the clergy. Vatican II explained that:

Since, in our own times, new problems are arising and very serious errors are circulating which tend to undermine the foundations of religion, the moral order, and human society itself, this sacred synod earnestly exhorts laymen – each according to his own gifts of intelligence and learning – to be more diligent in doing what they can to explain, defend, and properly apply Christian principles to the problems of our era in accordance with the mind of the Church. (Apostolicam actuositatem)

The secular sphere should not have precedence in our thinking, if we believe in Jesus Christ. The secular sphere and the mind of the Church are often opposed to each other because secular society is shot through with concupiscence and the effects of sin. The Church, in the person of Cardinal Cushing, as just one example, is affected by this same concupiscence and sin, when it uncritically goes along with societal thinking.

Critical thinking does not mean merely thinking a lot about something, and then coming, in a self-satisfied way, to the wrong conclusion. Thinking with the mind of the Church, according to Saint Ignatius of Loyola means that: “All judgment laid aside, we ought to have our mind ready and prompt to obey, in all, the true Spouse of Christ our Lord, which is our holy Mother the Church Hierarchical.”

This still stands, half a millennium later, because it is true. The problem sometimes appears to be that a particular bishop does not care to know the teaching of the Church. But aside from that, given the sheer availability of Church teaching (and even in all sorts of new formats), it actually is possible to find out what the mind of the Church is and bring that thought to bear on particular situations, as John Paul did.

Cardinal Wojtyla

    The damage of uncritically going along with societal thinking is vast and almost unimaginable, given how many decades it has continued, largely unopposed, in America. At the very least, such thinking has deeply fragmented the Church, so that while we have one group working very hard to think with the mind of the Church, we have another confused and misled because this cardinal, or that senator, or a bishop or a priest is giving away the farm.

And finally, there is a group working to make sure that the Church only teaches what is approved by secular culture – although why we would need yet another organization to promote that culture is beyond me. The great scandal of the fractures of the Church in the twentieth century has gone mostly unanswered and unchallenged, and no heads have rolled.

Thinking with the mind of the Church would, for example, have nipped many of the sex scandals in the bud. Clergy who did things like that could not possibly continue in ministry. It is entirely irrelevant if the personnel director does not “understand” the culprit’s behavior. The actions are violations of the moral law and the Church can act on those grounds. It does not have to wait for psychological studies.

But of course this would take unshakeable faith in the Church, and that faith was a casualty of a wrong reading of Vatican II. Having faith in the Church would have saved two billion dollars in payouts to victims, which could have been used to help the poor – whose patrimony it is.

Thinking with the mind of the Church involves much higher level thinking than thinking in step with any cultural group or political party. Culture groups can only have partial perspectives. Political parties are about interest groups and power. The Church is quite simply about the truth of existence itself.

One of the many things at stake here is that: “Truth preserves and expresses charity’s power to liberate in the ever-changing events of history.” (Benedict XVI) Without truth and the Church as the guardian of truth, we’re simply tossed about by the currents of history – instead of bringing the truth of Christ, and his love, to bear on every situation, as John Paul worked so hard to do.

Bevil Bramwell, priest of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, teaches theology at Catholic Distance University. He holds a Ph.D. from Boston College and works in the area of ecclesiology.

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Comments (5)Add Comment
written by Greg, September 04, 2011
Excellent analysis. Extremely helpful description of the factors in play. I have been working on methods we can use to structure and convene meaningful conversations when there are differences. In other words, how do we bring about unity and consensus at this point without fireworks ... but rather with the fire of the Holy Spirit.
written by senex, September 04, 2011
The failure of the popes to rein in the dissident bishops and clergy(e.g., Bishop Hubbard)leads to the practical conclusion that what the dissidents are sayhing is not all that bad. The diffeent standard applied to priests and bishops in the sex scandals is scandalizing. Rome needs to act vigorously.
written by Graham Combs, September 04, 2011
Is there a no more glaring example of Catholic constituents voting for what they want rather than what is right than the national elections of 2008? When the new Archbishop of Los Angeles spoke before the Napa Institute, no where did he mention the voting record of hispanic Americans (and anyone who has lived in New York knows that even the the word "hispanic" is questionably if usefully vague) even as he diplomatically assailed "anglophone" Catholics and Americans for their narrow world view. A record, by the way, that Spanish-speaking Americans share with upper middle class Catholics who see themselves as enlightened and "progressive." "Too often mercy is meant letting off anyone who breaks the natural or Divine law... such mercy is an emotion, not a virtue... the divorce of mercy from justice is sentimentality." So wrote the late Bishop Fulton J. Sheen. As good a description of the current state of the American Church as I've read. This quote is from Sunday's parish bulletin. I have no doubt it reflects the pastor's thoughts. But this is something that should be said from the pulpit by priests and bishops alike. It seems that the Catholic faith must negotiate with every historical event, every political movement, every cultural trend. Only the Fads of our Founders are undeserving of such deference. Yet it is the liberty of the church basement as well as the sanctuary that gives Catholics the freedom to live their faith in opposition to the decontented rhetoric of politicians and the priests and bishops who may treat with them. (I refer readers to Seth Lipsky's recent WSJ essay on the famous Washington letter to the Truro synagogue.)
written by Ken M, September 04, 2011
Unfortunately, the facts of the clerical abuse scandals do not permit us the comfort of thinking that greater fidelity to the Catholic faith would have led to stronger measures against the offenders. All too often, the abusers made successful appeals to the Christian principle of forgiveness and were returned to priestly service and allowed to offend again. An old-fashioned punitive sense of sin and against cheap forgiveness would have been better policy -- and perhaps ought to be recognized as a better expression of Christian faith.
written by Michael, September 06, 2011
Spanish-speaking Americans?
Isn't that a contradicton in terms?
Perhaps, rather, an American who speaks Spanish or whose mother tongue is Spanish?
I always thought being an American was to put English first even if one had some other mother tongue?
Unless, of course, I missed some recent presidential executive order declaring the USA a bilingual country with Spanish as one of its official languages.
In officially bilingual countries such as Canada one can be either an English or French speaking citizen but despite multiple USA presidential executive orders (Clinton)or continuation thereof (Bush/Obama) to make this country into some kind of bilingual or multi-lingual utopia, English is still the de facto official language of the USA and yearly Rasmussen polling shows the vast majority of all Americans supports this position.
Why English isn't made the official language of the USA is very puzzling.

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