What Are Bishops Supposed to Teach?

Note: TCT Editor-in-Chief Robert Royal will join Fr. Gerald Murray and Raymond Arroyo (the Papal Posse) on EWTN’s The World Over this evening at 8:00 PM ET. They will be discussing recent changes that Pope Francis has announced  for the Roman Curia, the growing efforts by Catholic clergy in Europe and America to accept homosexuality, and various other developments in the Church and the world. Consult local listing for broadcast times. The World Over episodes are usually also available on the EWTN YouTube channel shortly after initial airing.

What is a Catholic bishop supposed to teach? The Oath of Fidelity on Assuming an Office to be Exercised in the Name of the Church supplies a succinct answer: “In fulfilling the charge entrusted to me in the name of the Church, I shall hold fast to the deposit of faith in its entirety; I shall faithfully hand it on and explain it, and I shall avoid any teachings contrary to it.”

What are the qualities that are required in a man being considered for promotion to the episcopate? Canon 378, §1, 1º answers thus: “To be a suitable candidate for the episcopate it is required that he be outstanding in strong faith, good morals, piety, zeal for souls, wisdom, prudence and human virtues, and possess those other gifts which equip him to fulfill the office in question.”

What are the qualities that the Church seeks in a man to be promoted to the College of Cardinals?  Canon 351, §1 states: “Those to be promoted Cardinals are men freely selected by the Roman Pontiff, who are truly outstanding in doctrine, virtue, piety and prudence in practical matters.”

Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich, Archbishop of Luxembourg, recently said in an interview: “The Church’s positions on homosexual relationships as sinful are wrong. I believe that the sociological and scientific foundation of this doctrine is no longer correct. It is time for a fundamental revision of Church teaching, and the way in which Pope Francis has spoken of homosexuality could lead to a change in doctrine.”

The teaching of the Church on the intrinsic immorality of sodomy, which sinful act brings into being a homosexual relationship between two men or two women, is described by the Cardinal first as “positions,” and then as a “doctrine” or a “teaching.”  Whatever he considers it to be, he thinks it “wrong” because it’s based, apparently, not on Scripture, Tradition, or the natural law, but on “sociological and scientific foundation[s]” that are “no longer correct.” Thus he calls for a “fundamental revision of Church teaching.”

Such statements reveal the thinking of a man who has rejected his solemn obligation as a bishop and a cardinal, let alone as a baptized follower of Jesus Christ in the Catholic Church, to “hold fast to the deposit of faith in its entirety.” He has publicly rejected what he is duty-bound to uphold and defend. He has lamentably characterized the unchanging and unchangeable teaching of the Church on the immorality of homosexual acts, which is clearly taught in Sacred Scripture, Tradition and the natural law, as wrong.

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If he truly believes that this teaching is “wrong,” then he should do one of two things (I pray he does the first): 1) if he wishes to remain faithful to Christ and His Church he must repent and recant his grave error, publicly embrace the Church’s teaching; or 2) if he mistakenly decides that he is right and the Church is wrong, then he should take the only morally and intellectually honest step possible and resign from his positions of authority in the Church, since he is no longer willing to fulfill his duty to avoid “teachings contrary to the [deposit of faith],” a duty which he freely took upon himself but which he now rejects outright.

For him to remain the Cardinal Archbishop of Luxembourg while refusing to carry out his duty to teach Catholic truth would be malfeasance of the highest order. It would be an opportunistic use of power in the Church to attempt the destruction of the Church’s teaching, causing great harm to the salvation of souls. Such bold subversion in plain sight is the height of clericalism, by which he counts on being listened to, and not contradicted, because that is what the Catholic faithful are ordinarily supposed to do when a cardinal archbishop speaks.

Cardinal Hollerich’s scandalous rejection of the Church’s teaching on the grave immorality of homosexual acts will inevitably confirm people in sin by giving the false impression that the Church could be on the verge of changing her teaching, finally realizing – like Cardinal Hollerich – that this teaching, not sodomy, is wrong. Sodomy would no longer be a mortal sin, a grave misuse of the sexual faculty that offends God and leads others into sin. Rather, sodomy would now be recognized as part of God’s plan for mankind.

Cardinal Hollerich is the Relator General of the 2023 Synod on Synodality, now in its initial preparatory and consultative phase. Will he use that crucial role to foist his call for a “fundamental revision of Church teaching” about homosexual acts upon the Synod?

Cardinal Hollerich also misleads people by positing that Catholic teaching on morality is changeable because its truth is not founded upon divinely inspired Scripture, Tradition, or the natural law, but rather depends upon the ever-changing findings of “sociology and science.” The Church’s mission, handed on to the Apostles by Our Lord himself, is to transmit faithfully the deposit of faith. The truths of the deposit of faith can never be contradicted by any true finding of human science. Reason and revelation, the Church teaches, work in harmony and not in opposition to each other.

Cardinal Hollerich has betrayed the obligations he freely assumed when he accepted ordination as a bishop, when he was given the charge of being an authoritative “teacher of doctrine.” (canon 378, §1) He now calls for a “fundamental revision of Church teaching.” This is the perennial quest of heretics from Arius to the Modernists. It is a vain conceit, involving a tragic embrace of the lie promised in the first temptation: “and you will be like God.” (Genesis 3:5)

God alone establishes and makes known to man what is true and false, including matters of sexual morality. Our fidelity to Christ requires that we reject any notion that we can or should rewrite Catholic doctrine in pursuit of a “new revised teaching” that is in fact an old error. We must pray for Cardinal Hollerich – may he reject his error and proclaim Christ’s truth with love and conviction.

 

*Image: A Tedious Conference by Francesco Brunery, c. 1900 [Musap – Fondazione Circolo Artistico Politecnico Onlus, Naples, Italy]

You may also enjoy:

Robert Royal’s Who Needs Synodality?

Brad Miner’s Homosexuality in Scripture

Fr. Gerald E. Murray

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, will be published on April 7, 2022.

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