Cardinal Sarah and the Innovators

Robert Cardinal Sarah recently gave an address that bears the image of a prophetic warning about the nature of the Church’s present crisis of faith. He says plainly and without hesitation numerous things that are certain to inspire many – and to annoy many others. I am sure he aims at both effects. His indictment harkens back to the title of his first book, God or Nothing. Catholics inflict great harm upon the Church when they exalt themselves and put their own theories above God and his revealed doctrines.

This attitude, seen in all areas of the life of the Church, is most plainly manifest in the liturgical realm. Cardinal Sarah states:

As Benedict XVI often emphasized, at the root of the liturgy is adoration, and therefore God. Hence it is necessary to recognize that the serious, profound crisis that has affected the liturgy and the Church itself since the Council is due to the fact that its CENTER is no longer God and the adoration of Him, but rather men and their alleged ability to ‘do’ something to keep themselves busy during the Eucharistic celebrations.

The concepts of adoration, worship, reverence, homage are unknown to vast numbers of Catholics, including many Mass-goers. A priest friend of mine recently described a large new church as not being a place “where you can pray.” I have been in such “spaces.” They are best described as sets for performances for a comfortably accommodated audience. The tabernacle may be found using Google Maps.

Cardinal Sarah continues:

Even today, a significant number of Church leaders underestimate the serious crisis that the Church is going through: relativism in doctrinal, moral, and disciplinary teaching, grave abuses, the desacralization and trivialization of the Sacred Liturgy, a merely social and horizontal view of the Church’s mission.

Many believe and declare, loud and long, that Vatican Council II brought about a true springtime in the Church. Nevertheless, a growing number of Church leaders see this “springtime” as a rejection, a renunciation of her centuries-old heritage, or even as a radical questioning of her past and Tradition. Political Europe is rebuked for abandoning or denying its Christian roots. But the first to have abandoned her Christian roots and past is indisputably the post-Conciliar Catholic Church.

As a student priest in Rome, I was informed that the interiors of her numerous magnificent churches had been preserved from destructive “renovations” due to the fact that the Italian government had to approve any changes affecting these national artistic treasures, which their artistic curators were loathe to do.

Alas, the liturgical and doctrinal innovators were not constrained by any equivalent external or internal restraint. Fr. Thomas Reese, S.J., for instance, has recently written a stunning rejection of Jesus’ teaching on the indissolubility of marriage: “What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder… and I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for unchastity, and marries another, commits adultery; and he who marries a divorced woman, commits adultery.” (Mt.19:6-9)

Robert Cardinal Sarah

Fr. Reese, not convinced by the Church’s clear and unambiguous teaching that Our Lord meant exactly what he said, observes: “Jesus said a lot of things that we do not observe literally without exception. . . .Jesus does not list any punishment for divorce and remarriage. . . .I look upon Jesus’ teaching on divorce as the first feminist legislation because a divorced woman was kicked out on the street with no assets or alimony. Today we live in a different world. How can we be so certain that Jesus would respond in the same way to divorce today?”

The Church has taught indissolubility in many different ages and circumstances, in every part of the Earth, ever since Jesus laid down that teaching. How is Fr. Reese so sure that modern conditions give him and those who agree with him a license to change what has been taught always and everywhere?

Cardinal Sarah sees this kind of insidious subversion for what it is, and is not afraid to speak plainly:

Many refuse to face up to the Church’s work of self-destruction through the deliberate demolition of her doctrinal, liturgical, moral, and pastoral foundations. While more and more voices of high-ranking prelates stubbornly affirm obvious doctrinal, moral and liturgical errors that have been condemned a hundred times and work to demolish the little faith remaining in the people of God, while the bark of the Church furrows the stormy sea of this decadent world and the waves crash down on the ship, so that it is already filling with water, a growing number of Church leaders and faithful shout: “Tout va très bien, Madame la Marquise!” [“Everything is just fine, Milady,” the refrain of a popular comic song from the 1930’s, in which the employees of a noblewoman report to her a series of catastrophes].

For some in the Church today, Catholic doctrine is subject to rewriting, liturgical worship of God is primarily a chance for people to assemble and express themselves, Catholic moral teaching is now to be considered an example of outmoded rigorism, and pastoral care of the faithful means telling them to do whatever they want as long as it makes them “happy.”

But are we really happy when we reject Our Lord’s teachings and try to convince ourselves that that is what Our Lord would want us to do? Is it not rather the case that any such manipulation of the truth of Christ produces a spirit of anxiety and bitterness that inexorably manifests itself in a frenzied attempt to tear down the rest of Catholic teaching and practice?

It really does come down to God or Nothing.

The Rev. Gerald E. Murray, J.C.D. is a canon lawyer and the pastor of Holy Family Church in New York City. His new book (with Diane Montagna), Calming the Storm: Navigating the Crises Facing the Catholic Church and Society, is now available.