Friday, May 29, 2009

St Thomas on scandal

Recent events like the sad and strange case of Fr Albert Cutie in Miami have gotten me thinking about how to handle scandals in the Church. As Jesus said, it's inevitable that they will occur. But they needn't disturb our faith.

I looked up what St Thomas had to say about it. He treats the topic of scandal as a vice opposed to the virtue of charity. Scandal means to put a stumbling block in the way of another person (understood as a spiritual block). The word comes from the Greek word "skandalon" which literally means stumbling block. It's opposed to charity because the virtue of charity enables us to help our neighbors, not trip them up.

In question 43 of the part of the Summa on the virtues, St Thomas asks the question if holy persons are scandalized -- that is, if a holy person sees or knows about the sins of others, does that trip them up? Thomas says no, because a person who is firmly anchored in virtue looks to God alone. He emphasizes that besides active scandal (that is, actually giving scandal), there can be a passive scandal. That means to "take" the scandal, so to speak, to actually be scandalized in the sense of letting it upset us or disturb our faith. If we look to God alone, the sins of others won't shake our faith because our trust is in God, not fallible human beings. All of us can sin. Just as I know my own weaknesses, it shouldn't disturb me that others have weaknesses too. Here are Thomas' own words (from the public domain version of the Summa):

"Passive scandal implies that the mind of the person who takes scandal is unsettled in its adherence to good. Now no man can be unsettled, who adheres firmly to something immovable. The elders, i.e. the perfect, adhere to God alone, Whose goodness is unchangeable, for though they adhere to their superiors, they do so only in so far as these adhere to Christ, according to 1 Corinthians 4:16: 'Be ye followers of me, as I also am of Christ.' Wherefore, however much others may appear to them to conduct themselves ill in word or deed, they themselves do not stray from their righteousness, according to Psalm 124:1: 'They that trust in the Lord shall be as Mount Sion: he shall not be moved for ever that dwelleth in Jerusalem.' Therefore scandal is not found in those who adhere to God perfectly by love, according to Psalm 118:165: 'Much peace have they that love Thy law, and to them there is no stumbling-block [scandalum].' "

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Fr Alberto Cutie some thoughts

Bishop Favolora's statement in the post below this one is a heartfelt expression of the grief that a good pastor feels upon losing a member of his flock. At the end he comments on the parable of the prodigal son, in the hope that Fr Cutie will return to the Catholic Church.

When I heard this news, I thought of something from the rules of St Ignatius about making discernments. A few years ago Fr Timothy Gallagher, OMV, gave an excellent workshop about St Ignatius and discernment. He said that if we were to forget everything about it except one thing, this is the one thing to remember:
Never make an important decision, especially a life-changing, vocational decision, when you are in a time of darkness and confusion. The decision will very likely be wrong-headed. Ignatius always stressed that the Holy Spirit speaks in calmness and peace.

We can pray for Fr Cutie and ask God to give him the courage and strength to come back to the Catholic Church. As Bishop Favolora says, Cutie's decision to renounce his Catholic faith is certainly a bad one, and for a priest in particular, it carries with it grave scandal and is very serious. While this is not to judge Fr Cutie's soul, since only God can do that, his external actions objectively give scandal. It seems likely that since his 2-year relationship with a woman was suddenly made public, he's probably not in the best emotional state of his life. To make a decision about changing one's church at such a time is exactly what St Ignatius was talking about. It's too bad that Fr Cutie took this action without first going away for a time of retreat, reflection and prayer.

He's going to be preaching in the Episcopal Church next Sunday. Since it's been revealed that Fr Cutie has been carrying on an affair for the past two years, to me it seems incongruous that he will now be preaching, as if he did nothing wrong.
I'm not writing this as a judgment on his state of soul, for that is not up to me. But Jesus also said, "By their fruits you will know them." I take that to mean we ought not to let ourselves be discouraged from leading a good life by the bad example of other people. The letter to the Hebrews says "Keep your eyes fixed on Jesus." If we do that, we'll never be scandalized.

Bishop Favolora's statement about Fr Alberto Cutie

Here is the text of what the Catholic bishop of Miami, Bishop Favolora, said upon hearing the news that Fr Cutiee has formally renounced his Catholic faith and entered the Episcopalian communion:

I am genuinely disappointed by the announcement made earlier this afternoon by Father Alberto Cutié that he is joining the Episcopal Church.

According to our canon law, with this very act Father Cutié is separating himself from the communion of the Roman Catholic Church (c. 1364, §1) by professing erroneous faith and morals, and refusing submission to the Holy Father (canon 751). He also is irregular for the exercise of sacred orders as a priest (canons 1041 and 1044, §1) and no longer has the faculties of the Archdiocese of Miami to celebrate the sacraments; nor may he preach or teach on Catholic faith and morals (cannon 1336, §1). His actions could lead to his dismissal from the clerical state.

This means that Father Cutié is removing himself from full communion with the Catholic Church and thereby forfeiting his rights as a cleric. Roman Catholics should not request the sacraments from Father Cuité. Any sacramental actions he attempts to perform would be illicit. Any Mass he says would be valid but illicit, meaning it does not meet a Catholic’s obligation. Father Cutié cannot validly officiate at marriages of Roman Catholics in the Archdiocese of Miami or anywhere.

Father Cutié is still bound by his promise to live a celibate life, which he freely embraced at ordination. Only the Holy Father can release him from that obligation.

To the Catholic faithful of Saint Francis de Sales Parish, Radio Paz and the entire Archdiocese of Miami, I again say that Father Cutié’s actions cannot be justified, despite his good works as a priest (statement of May 5, 2009). This is all the more true in light of today’s announcement. Father Cutié may have abandoned the Catholic Church; he may have abandoned you. But I tell you that the Catholic Church will never abandon you; the Archdiocese of Miami is here for you.

Father Cutié’s actions have caused grave scandal within the Catholic Church, harmed the Archdiocese of Miami − especially our priests – and led to division within the ecumenical community and the community at large. Today’s announcement only deepens those wounds.

When Father Cutié met with me on May 5th, he requested and I granted a leave of absence from the exercise of the priesthood. Because of this, he could no longer be the administrator of St Francis de Sales Parish or the General Director of Radio Paz. For the good of the Church and to avoid the media frenzy, I chose not to impose publicly an ecclesiastical penalty, although his admitted actions clearly warranted it. Since that meeting, I have not heard from Father Cutié nor has he requested to meet with me. He has never told me that he was considering joining the Episcopal Church.

I must also express my sincere disappointment with how Bishop Leo Frade of the Episcopal Diocese of Southeast Florida has handled this situation. Bishop Frade has never spoken to me about his position on this delicate matter or what actions he was contemplating. I have only heard from him through the local media. This truly is a serious setback for ecumenical relations and cooperation between us. The Archdiocese of Miami has never made a public display when for doctrinal reasons Episcopal priests have joined the Catholic Church and sought ordination. In fact, to do so would violate the principles of the Catholic Church governing ecumenical relations. I regret that Bishop Frade has not afforded me or the Catholic community the same courtesy and respect.

In my nearly 50 years as a priest, I have often preached on Jesus’ parable of the Prodigal Son – which really should be called the parable of the Forgiving Father (Luke 15, 11-32). Perhaps the story told by the Lord so long ago is applicable to our discussions this afternoon.

A father had two sons. One of them took his inheritance early and left home, spending his money wantonly. The father waited patiently for the return of his prodigal son, who after he had seen the error of his ways, repented and returned home. Upon his return, the father lovingly embraced him and called him his son. I pray that Father Cutié will “come to his senses” (Luke 15, 17) and return home. The Catholic Church seeks the conversion and salvation of sinners, not their condemnation. The same is my attitude toward Father Cutié.

We must not forget, however, that there were two sons in the Lord’s story. The other son, who never left home, was angry that his erring brother was welcomed home by the father. To all faithful Catholics, I say what the father said to this second son: “You are with me always and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice. This brother of yours was dead and has come back to life. He was lost, and is found” (Luke 15, 31-32).

In this beautiful parable Jesus teaches us that God is a loving and forgiving Father. Each of us has experienced that love, each of us needs that forgiveness; for we are all sinners. If our brother comes home, let us celebrate with the Father.

In conclusion, I commend and salute the priests of the Archdiocese of Miami and all priests who faithfully live and fulfill their promise of celibacy. By their fidelity to their promise they reflect more clearly to the world the Christ whose total gift of himself to the Father was pure and chaste love for his brothers and sisters. In our times so pre-occupied with sex, the gift of celibacy is all the more a sign of the Kingdom of Heaven where, as scripture says, there will be “no marrying or giving in marriage” (Matthew 22, 30). I encourage all Catholics to pray for and support our dedicated priests.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Great review of one of our new books

Check this out for a great review of our new children's book, Beginnings, about the treasure of each human life.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

About the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano

In this article George Weigel has some good information about the authoritativeness of articles that appear in L'Osservatore Romano. The gist of it is that basically, the articles and editorials in the Vatican newspaper have no special authority, but they just reflect the opinions and insights of the various writers.
However, he mentioned something that I didn't know. When an editorial is followed by three dots, that's a sign that the editorial in question came from someone of high rank in the Vatican. That doesn't make it an official church teaching, of course, but could reflect the thinking of Vatican "higher-ups".

Monday, May 18, 2009

Bishop D'Arcy's letter

In view of the ongoing controversy about Notre Dame's honoring of Obama with an honorary doctorate, here is Bishop D'Arcy's letter about it. He is the bishop of the diocese in which Notre Dame is located. Many other bishops have spoken out about this, too, and I for one am glad that the bishops are acting as true pastoral leaders concerning this issue.

My Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Recently, Father John Jenkins, CSC, in a letter of response to Bishop Olmsted of the Diocese of Phoenix, who had written him, critical of the decision to invite President Obama to speak and receive an honorary degree of law at Notre Dame, indicated that it was his conviction that the statement “Catholics in Political Life” (USCCB) did not apply in this matter. Father Jenkins kindly sent me a copy of his letter, and also at a later meeting, asked for a response.

In an April 15th letter to Father Jenkins, I responded to his letter.

Now the points made in his letter have been sent by Father Jenkins to the members of the Notre Dame Board of Trustees and have been publicized nationally, as well as locally in the South Bend Tribune. Since the matter is now public, it is my duty as the bishop of this diocese to respond and correct. I take up this responsibility with some sadness, but also with the conviction that if I did not do so, I would be remiss in my pastoral responsibility.

Rather than share my full letter, which I have shared with some in church leadership, I prefer to present some of the key points.

1. The meaning of the sentence in the USCCB document relative to Catholic institutions is clear. It places the responsibility on those institutions, and indeed, on the Catholic community itself.

“The Catholic community and Catholic institutions should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles. They should not be given awards, honors or platforms which would suggest support for their actions.” — “Catholics in Political Life,” USCCB.

2. When there is a doubt concerning the meaning of a document of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, where does one find the authentic interpretation? A fundamental, canonical and theological principal states that it is found in the local bishop, who is the teacher and lawgiver in his diocese. — Canon 330, 375 §§ 1 & 2; 380; 381 § 1; 391 § 1; 392, & 394 §1.

3. I informed Father Jenkins that if there was any genuine questions or doubt about the meaning of the relevant sentence in the conference’s document, any competent canonist with knowledge of the tradition and love for Christ’s church had the responsibility to inform Father Jenkins of the fundamental principle that the diocesan bishop alone bears the responsibility to provide an authoritative interpretation.

4. I reminded Father Jenkins that he indicated that he consulted presidents of other Catholic universities, and at least indirectly, consulted other bishops, since he asked those presidents to share with him those judgments of their own bishops. However, he chose not to consult his own bishop who, as I made clear, is the teacher and lawgiver in his own diocese. I reminded Father Jenkins that I was not informed of the invitation until after it was accepted by the president. I mentioned again that it is at the heart of the diocesan bishop’s pastoral responsibility to teach as revealed in sacred Scripture and the tradition. (“Lumen Gentium,” 20; and “Christus Dominus,” 2.) I reminded him that it is also central to the university’s relationship to the church. (“Ex corde ecclesiae,” 27 & 28; Gen. Norm., Art. 5, §§ 1-3.)

5. Another key point. In his letter to Bishop Olmsted and in the widespread publicity, which has taken place as the points in the letter have been made public, Father Jenkins declared the invitation to President Obama does not “suggest support” for his actions, because he has expressed and continues to express disagreement with him on issues surrounding protection of life. I wrote that the outpouring of hundreds of thousands who are shocked by the invitation clearly demonstrates, that this invitation has, in fact, scandalized many Catholics and other people of goodwill. In my office alone, there have been over 3,300 messages of shock, dismay and outrage, and they are still coming in. It seems that the action in itself speaks so loudly that people have not been able to hear the words of Father Jenkins, and indeed, the action has suggested approval to many.

In the publicity surrounding the points Father Jenkins has made, he also says he is “following the document of the bishops” by “laying a basis for engagement with the president on this issue.” I indicated that I, like many others, will await to see what the follow up is on this issue between Notre Dame and President Obama.

6. As I have said in a recent interview and which I have said to Father Jenkins, it would be one thing to bring the president here for a discussion on healthcare or immigration, and no person of goodwill could rightly oppose this. We have here, however, the granting of an honorary degree of law to someone whose activities both as president and previously, have been altogether supportive of laws against the dignity of the human person yet to be born.

In my letter, I have also asked Father Jenkins to correct, and if possible, withdraw the erroneous talking points, which appeared in the South Bend Tribune and in other media outlets across the country. The statements which Father Jenkins has made are simply wrong and give a flawed justification for his actions.

I consider it now settled — that the USCCB document, “Catholics in Public Life,” does indeed apply in this matter.

The failure to consult the local bishop who, whatever his unworthiness, is the teacher and lawgiver in the diocese, is a serious mistake. Proper consultation could have prevented an action, which has caused such painful division between Notre Dame and many bishops — and a large number of the faithful.

That division must be addressed through prayer and action, and I pledge to work with Father Jenkins and all at Notre Dame to heal the terrible breach which has taken place between Notre Dame and the church. It cannot be allowed to continue.

I ask all to pray that this healing will take place in a way that is substantial and true, and not illusory. Notre Dame and Father Jenkins must do their part if this healing is to take place. I will do my part.

Sincerely yours in our Lord, Most Reverend John M. D’Arcy