The National Catholic Review

Depending on who you have on your Facebook feed, you might have seen a post from University of St. Thomas theologian Massimo Faggioli yesterday about the letter he and a number of other theologians have sent to The New York Times in response to columnist Ross Douthat’s Oct. 18 piece, “The Plot to Change Catholicism.”

Here is that letter in full:

On Sunday, October 18, the Times published Ross Douthat’s piece “The Plot to Change Catholicism.” Aside from the fact that Mr. Douthat has no professional qualifications for writing on the subject, the problem with his article and other recent statements is his view of Catholicism as unapologetically subject to a politically partisan narrative that has very little to do with what Catholicism really is.  Moreover, accusing other members of the Catholic church of heresy, sometimes subtly, sometimes openly, is serious business that can have serious consequences for those so accused. This is not what we expect of The New York Times.

October 26, 2015
John O’Malley SJ (Georgetown University)
Massimo Faggioli (University of St. Thomas, Minnesota)
Nicholas P. Cafardi (Duquesne University)
Gerard Mannion (Georgetown University)
Stephen Schloesser SJ (Loyola University Chicago)
Katarina Schuth OSF (University of St. Thomas, Minnesota)
Leslie Tentler (Catholic University of America, emerita)


If you haven’t read Mr. Douthat’s piece, it’s worth a look—just keep a nitroglycerin pill handy, because it is a shocker, depicting the pope as a figure of “ostentatious humility” (naughty pope, rubbing his simplicity in our overfed faces) who is attempting to change that which Mr. Douthat says “the pope is supposed to have no power to change,” namely “Catholic doctrine.”

Now, if you find yourself wondering, since when is the pope (or a synod, for that matter) unable to call for a change in church doctrine, well, that's a good question. The pope and the synod can in fact change doctrine, but not dogma. 

Put simply, dogma is the stuff you have to accept if you’re going to call yourself Catholic. It's the Creed we recite every Sunday—things like the incarnation, the Trinity and the communion of the saints that we hold as undeniable tenets of our faith—plus any pronouncements that popes have invoked infallibly, which has happened almost never. The Assumption of Mary was such a pronouncement; so is the Immaculate Conception.

Doctrine, as the term is most commonly used (including here by Mr. Douthat), refers to the church's moral teachings, which develop over time as new questions and also new insights arise. Doctrinal teachings—of which the church’s stance regarding divorce is one—do not change often or easily. They can even be mistaken for dogma by the amount of resistance made at the suggestion of any alteration. But they are certainly capable of development. In fact that was one whole point of the synod—to reflect on the various questions of family today, in light of our tradition and the lived experience of Catholics, and consider what if any comments, including potentially changes in practice, should be offered.

It is indeed an embarrassment that The New York Times would publish a piece that is so sloppy (and just plain wrong) in its understanding of these basic distinctions.

If you read the piece, you may also find it a wee bit surreal. Mr. Douthat’s proposition that the pope is engaged in a “plot to change Catholicism” is painted in the courtly, power-hungry intrigues of another era. “A Jesuit pope is effectively at war with his own Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the erstwhile Inquisition,” he writes.

But in fact this pope is not attempting to seize power for himself or overthrow some item of Catholic dogma. He’s just pushing for a greater pastoral care for families. So when Mr. Douthat writes, “Speaking as a Catholic, I expect the plot to ultimately fail; where the pope and the historic faith seem to be in tension, my bet is on the faith,” what he’s saying is not, as it sounds, “I’m betting that the pope will be prevented from changing the fundamental tenets of our faith,” but rather “I’m betting the bishops will continue to prevent divorced Catholics from being able to go to Communion.”

(Because how dare the leaders of a faith that believes in a god who spent his time with sinners and the outcast consider such a move. What are we, Unitarians?)

Certainly there’s plenty of ongoing brouhaha to cover regarding the synod, and oodles of inter-episcopal conflict, which is both surprising and fascinating. Have we ever seen bishops uncork like this?

Personally, I think it’s good news. It’s uncomfortable, and it risks divisiveness, but better this church than the one in which whole groups of people are intimidated into silence.

But either way, we’re not talking about the fundamentals of Catholicism being secretly changed in the back rooms of soup kitchens and homeless shelters while our supposed “look how poor I am" pope gives away his furniture. We will not go to church anytime soon and discover we now believe not in a Trinity but an unlikely buddy cop pair of divinities who share a wacky pet dove.

But we may find that some of our peers who come to Mass every Sunday but never go to Communion are finally welcomed to the table. And whether he personally agrees with that possibility or not, you’d expect a columnist for The New York Times (particularly one who is a Catholic) to understand the difference.

Thank goodness we have theologians like John O’Malley, S.J., Katarina Schuth and Massimo Faggioli to speak to that truth. 

Show Comments (53)

Comments (hide)

Henry George | 1/10/2016 - 7:52pm

My point was: Should there be a distinction between those who have been wholly and absolutely abandoned
by their spouses - through no fault of their own and those who sought to break up their own marriages and in
fact may have been committing active and purposeful adultery before divorce.

Guillermo Reyes | 11/3/2015 - 12:23pm

Religion is a deeply personal resource when people are at their worse. As a physician I often tell colleagues and patients, the removal of God in our American culture has created an insecure society, left a blackness and loss of hope. We are not surprised that Americans use so many prescription medications far more than any other nation: anti-depressants, anti-anxiety, insomnia and others are used in high volumes

Yet today the NYTimes published a disturbing yet not surprising article:

"Dr. Deaton noticed in national data sets that middle-aged whites were committing suicide at an unprecedented rate and that the all-cause mortality in this group was rising. But suicides alone, he and Dr. Case realized, were not enough to push up overall death rates, so they began looking at other causes of death. That led them to the discovery that deaths from drug and alcohol poisoning also increased in this group."

With God being thrown out of American culture, it is expected people will seek peace in the world and not in the divine. We know where that leads: the destruction of the soul, to paraphrase St Teresa of Avila in the Way of Perfection

At least there is Ross D. planting doubts in his readers minds by denigrating the Church. And now that Robert Barron has granted Ross his Imprimatur, we can count on Ross attacking the Church moreso

Congratulatuons Robert Barron for encouraging an attacker of the Church to give them a reason to lose hope and commit suicide

At least Ross has a paying job, and Barron has his blog to keep money in his pockets

Tim O'Leary | 11/2/2015 - 4:42pm

I wonder if the Theologians would agree they cannot or should not expound on scientific or economic topics if they are not professionally qualified in those areas:). Come to think of it, do they think the Holy Father needs a PhD in one of the environmental sciences to write an encyclical on climate change?

Douglas Fang | 11/2/2015 - 11:37pm

Tim O’Leary – are you comparing Pope Francis to the paid columnist Ross? Either you are extremely ignorant or utmost dishonest in making this comparison. You know too well that the Pope did not write this encyclical on his own. He did an extensive consultation with the good number, +80, of prestige scholars in many scientific fields, include several Nobel laureates. Shame on you for making this cheap and nonsense comparison.

Tim O'Leary | 11/3/2015 - 4:18pm

Doug - you completely missed my point. I was critiquing the academic theologians for their ill-conceived attempt to silence a columnist by writing to their supposed allies at the NYT (the editors who they expect more from), and not Pope Francis. Shame on you for not reading carefully before you condemned.

Douglas Fang | 11/3/2015 - 7:06pm

Tim – then what is the reason for you to refer to the story of the Pope’s encyclical, its scientific contents, and its vicious criticism from some Catholic groups using pseudo-science (you know whom) in this debate about the op-ed of the NYT paid columnist, its theological contents, and its strong criticism from a group of prestigious Catholic theologians? The two stories are at the opposite end of the informative spectrum and I completely fail to see any analogy or relationship between the two of them. Here is the way I can interpret your comment:

1. You are on the side of the theologians as you can see that they have all the good credentials to correctly evaluate and rightly criticize the nonsense of the theological contents of Mr. Douthat’s paid op-ed. If this is the case, then I have to admit that I made a wrong assumption and I do want to apologize for the comment I made above.

2. You are on the side of Mr. Douthat and you defend his op-ed against the criticism of the theologians, then I have no more to say and my comment above stays.

Now, it’s up to you to clarify your position.

Tim O'Leary | 11/3/2015 - 9:30pm

Doug - Neither. My position is a couple of comments below here. You jumped in before reading that comment. As to Pope Francis's encyclical, much of it is very beautiful and wise. My only reservation is that I think the Holy Father has too much confidence in UN committees and government solutions, to solving problems of the poor, and too much skepticism in free markets and free people's.

Douglas Fang | 11/3/2015 - 9:22pm

One more thing – Tim. I did not fail to point out your cheap, pathetic, and ridiculous attempt to put the encyclical written by our Holy Father and the “for money” op-ed written by the NYT paid columnist on the same level. You can see it for yourself:

“Do they think the Holy Father needs a PhD in one of the environmental sciences to write an encyclical on climate change?” the Holy Father does not need a PhD because he has a cadre of scientists with PhD to help him on this subject.

Changing the sentence a little bit, it seems that you imply the following “Do they think Mr. Douthat needs a PhD in theology to write an op-ed dealing with theological matters on the NYT?”. Who are the prestigious theologians that the NYT columnist consulted for his op-ed? If there is none, then his op-ed has no theological value whatsoever and is just full of nonsense FUD – Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt.

Tim O'Leary | 11/3/2015 - 10:14pm

Doug - you are just doubling down on your misreading. The theologians are saying that non-academics should not be allowed by the NYT leadership to opine in their newspaper on theological or church governance issues. Yet, I don't recall they have ever written such letters against the other self-identifying (non-practicing) Catholics like Bruni and Dowd when they attacked or disparaged the previous popes. Their ill-considered letter never addressed the arguments of Douthat. They just want him fired. The opposite of academic or journalistic freedom. I disagree with Douthat and consider his alarms overwrought and wrong, even as I know he believes and loves the Church (he is a convert) - far different from the other attacks in the NYT pages that the academics never thought to respond to in such a manner.

By the way, Douthat is not exactly an intellectual slouch. From Wiki he "graduated magna cum laude from Harvard University in 2002, where he was also elected to Phi Beta Kappa. While there he contributed to The Harvard Crimson and edited the Harvard Salient."

Douglas Fang | 11/4/2015 - 5:06pm

Tim – regarding your statement “I know he believes and loves the Church (he is a convert)”, I have two comments:

1. I don’t agree that all converts authentically love the Church. It depends on the reason for their conversion in the first place. I know quite a few converts that come to the Church because they marry a Catholic. These conversion are mostly on shaky ground and a lot of these converts abandon the Church when their marriage collapses.

2. I don’t doubt that Mr. Douthat honestly loves the Church. My problem is that he loves a certain image of the Church that he constructs in his own mind based his own characters, his cultural and personal background, his political bias, etc. The Church that he loves seems to be on the rigid side with emphasis on doctrinal orthodoxy, on rules and regulations, on clean cut boundary between “us vs. them”… He seems to be extremely uncomfortable when he has to confront with another image of the Church that the Pope is trying to present to modern society, the Church that emphasizes on mercy and love, on personal experience, on openness and inclusiveness, on being smelly and messy… This the Church that I love too. As a consequence, I feel extremely uncomfortable to fit into the image of the Church that Mr. Douthat is trying to preserve.

So, what will be the image of the Church going forward? Honestly, I don’t know but I completely trust on the infinite wisdom and providence of God that will guide the Church to grow into something that only God can do and that will surprise us all. Please don’t pigeon hole God into something that can only fit into our narrow mindset!

Douglas Fang | 11/4/2015 - 4:24pm

Tim – you accused me of doubling down on my misreading while you are the one who keep on evading to answer directly to my question. I remember quite well your style of debating against Michael Barberie a while back…

The debate on this article is about the qualifications and the credentials of the paid NYT columnist, Mr Douthat, with regard to the theological contents of his op-eds.

Please tell me the motive and the reason for your statement “Do they think the Holy Father needs a PhD in one of the environmental sciences to write an encyclical on climate change?” in the context of this debate. What are you trying to imply here??????

Tim O'Leary | 11/4/2015 - 7:24pm

Doug - it is getting tiresome to have to answer the same question repeatedly. My question was for the theologians - 1) do they think they can speak on scientific or economic questions when they don't have professional qualifications in those areas, 2) do the theologians think cardinals or the pope can speak on these questions if they do not hold such qualifications, 3) why haven't the theologians written to the NYT to complain about Dowd or Bruni, since they have been attacking the Church continuously for years?

I implied nothing about the pope. I was asking the theologians if they did?
You misspelled Michael's name.

Michael .mpc | 11/2/2015 - 11:37am

One aspect of this I have yet to see anyone mention is Mr. Douthat is an opinion-editorial columnist. He is not, strictly speaking, a feature journalist. That is not to say, as a self-professed orthodox Catholic, he could not or should not know the difference between "dogma" and "doctrine"; however, he is certainly both entitled, as a Catholic, and paid, as a journalist, to write "Op-ed" articles. And, as auxiliary Bishop Robert Barron of Los Angeles recently opined, if you don't like his opinion, then write to the New York times asking not that he be silenced, and this is what I do not understand concerning the writers of the blog rejoinder, but to have their contra-point "op-ed" published as a rejoinder or contrary interlocution. Instead, they wrote to a newspaper, protected by the second amendment to the U. S. Constitution, and asked why they would publish something contrary to their understanding of religious propriety and Mr. Douthat's piece. They would have been better served, in my opinion, to have written an opposing "op-ed" piece and ask that it receive equal opportunity consideration for publication rather than ask the NY Times editors to sequester Mr. Douthat's second ammendment protected writes as a journalist. As learned as they may be, looking at their credentials, as Catholic theologians, they seem to be blissfully ignorant of protected speech.

Guillermo Reyes | 11/2/2015 - 6:53pm

On another article with a contentious thread of posts, the comments were closed. The moderator reminded members to follow the magazine's rules on posting comments including using a full name. I would add commenters should use an authentic name, not a bogus, made up name. If you arent courageous to use your full and real name then obviousky the messenger is not being genuine.

Sign Dr. Guillermo Reyes...

Tim Reidy | 11/2/2015 - 11:25am
Comments have been closed on this thread. In the future, please remember to use full names as per our comments policy.

Tim O'Leary | 11/2/2015 - 12:16pm

Very good point, Michael.

While I do not agree with Ross Douthat's characterization of the synod, and I think Pope Francis is a great gift to the Church, I did not find the piece (or the follow up) to be particularly defective from a theological or philosophical perspective, the only area of common expertise of the critics who wrote the letter. For those interested in reading Bishop Barron's piece, here is the link

For me, the most surprising part of the Theologian's letter was that they ended saying "This is not what we expect of The New York Times." I hope by this they didn't mean that they only expect attacks on the papacy from the left, which is something the NYT has a long history of. It's a rare occasion when the NYT writes about the Church with goodwill (as when they praised Pope Pius XII as a lonely voice in Europe against Hitler in 1941).

Enrique Lopez | 11/1/2015 - 12:47pm

How many these "theologians" have even attempted to obtain the mandatum, especially since it requires them to attest, “I am committed to teach authentic Catholic doctrine and to refrain from putting forth as Catholic teaching anything contrary to the Church’s magisterium.”

As I recall, most theologians at Catholic colleges refuse to tell students and parents whether they have obtained the mandatum — a credential required by Canon 812 of the Catholic Church’s Code of Canon Law.

However, most faithful theologians have no problem providing anyone who asks with that information.

Beth Cioffoletti | 11/1/2015 - 12:42am

Douthat's most recent column claims that "effacing Jesus’ own words on the not-exactly-minor topics of marriage and sexuality certainly looks more like a major reversal than an organic, doctrinally-deepening shift."

Maybe this is a really dumb question, but what ARE Jesus' own words on marriage and sex, and how do Catholic theologians interpret them? Is this what the heart of the disagreement is all about?

Or is it something else/more?

Richard Murray | 10/31/2015 - 10:17am

William Rydberg, in response to your comment below, people are generally allowed to say whatever they want.
Democracy will not pass judgment on this.
But God will.
Have you ever read the Wisdom Literature in the Old Testament (Proverbs, Wisdom, Sirach (Ecclesiasticus), Psalms, and more?
Well if you have, you'll notice that there are hundreds of sayings about How We Use The Gift Of Speech.
Ross Douthat is a verbal slob of the spoken word. A moron.
And the New York Times gives a national venue to his drivel.

William Rydberg | 10/30/2015 - 11:33am

With respect, and in my humble opinion the point made in the Ross Dothan blog entitled "Liberal Catholicism’s Catholicism Problem" at:

does make a strong point and I think does lay out the case.

Speaking as a Catholic "ARE WE PROTESTANTS?" do we have to have our relationship with Jesus mediated through Scripture Scholars and "Theologians" as well as the Sacerdotal? Technically, anybody with a M. Div here in Canada is a "Theologian" because its one of many pre-requirements for a man to become a priest.

Not sure about this category of "professional theologian" that is hinted at either?

In my humble opinion people are forgetting that Catholicism is a mass movement initiated by Jesus, and anybody who seriously takes the teachings of the Church and has a reasonable knowledge of them, along with a relationship with Jesus, is entitled to their opinion.

Patrick Murtha | 10/29/2015 - 9:10pm

"It is indeed an embarrassment that The New York Times would publish a piece that is so sloppy (and just plain wrong) in its understanding of these basic distinctions."

Ought America be now ashamed or embarrassed, Mr. McDermott, that you yourself speak things that are erroneous, or perhaps requires clearer distinctions from you? You say, "The pope and the synod can in fact change doctrine but not dogma." (The synod is really irrelevant to the final decision as it has an advisory role and can make no declarations. That is the prerogative of the Sovereign Pontiff.) Anyhow, the pope cannot change doctrine. That is clear from the words of the apostle and from apostolic tradition, which has been handed down through the ages. (It would be good to go back and read the Encyclical of Pius X on Modernism, Pascendi.)

Remember St. Paul's words in Galatians 1: 6-10: I wonder that you are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ, unto another gospel. Which is not another, only there are some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ. But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach a gospel to you besides that which we have preached to you, let him be anathema. As we said before, so now I say again: If any one preach to you a gospel, besides that which you have received, let him be anathema. For do I now persuade men, or God? Or do I seek to please men? If I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ."

What you confuse is that the Church, through the Sovereign Pontiff and him alone, has the authority to make declarations or clarifications of doctrine. The Sovereign Pontiff might declare a dogma that is based upon doctrine--for Church doctrine is founded either on Scriptures or Sacred Tradition--but those declarations, whether doctrinal or pastoral, whether on matters of faith or on matters of morals, can never differ or be contrary to what the Church has always taught. In other words, doctrine does not change. Doctrine provides the principles for dogmas, for morals, for all teaching and acting. A new and different doctrine can come only from a new and different church.

America and her writers should be more wary about the doctrine they promote. And instead of being critical of another who seems to see the ambiguity in Rome that is not characteristic of the Catholic Church, creating confusion and chaos in an already too confused and chaotic world, perhaps they ought to look at their own "beam" and test their own doctrine against what St. Basil calls the measure--Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition.

Alan Mitchell | 10/29/2015 - 7:00pm

Frank Damrell

Whether divorced and remarried Catholics are able to receive Communion is not a dogma of the Church. Dogmas are the elements of the Creed and any infallible teachings of the Church. You do exactly what Douthat did. You confuse dogma with doctrine. The latter develops and can change as it has throughout the history of the Church. And this is one of the points made in the NYT letter. He does not represent the teaching of the Church accurately. He also claimed that the Pope does not have the authority to change doctrine. Another misrepresentation of Catholic teaching. That is why his qualifications to comment on this matter were questioned. It certainly was not because he is a hymn, or does not have a Ph.D. in Theology.

Enrique Lopez | 10/30/2015 - 2:26pm

Here are the definitions I was taught about Dogma and Doctrine in my RCIA class. Are they incorrect?

DOGMA. Doctrine taught by the Church to be believed by all the faithful as part of divine revelation. All dogmas, therefore, are formally revealed truths and promulgated as such by the Church. They are revealed either in Scripture or tradition, either explicitly (as the Incarnation) or implicitly (as the Assumption). Moreover, their acceptance by the faithful must be proposed as necessary for salvation. They may be taught by the Church in a solemn manner, as with the definition of the Immaculate Conception, or in an ordinary way, as with the constant teaching on the malice of taking innocent human life. (Etym. Latin dogma; from Greek dogma, declaration, decree.)

DOCTRINE. Any truth taught by the Church as necessary for acceptance by the faithful. The truth may be either formally revealed (as the Real Presence), or a theological conclusion (as the canonization of a saint), or part of the natural law (as the sinfulness of contraception). In any case, what makes it doctrine is that the Church authority teaches that it is to be believed. This teaching may be done either solemnly in ex cathedra pronouncements or ordinarily in the perennial exercise of the Church's magisterium or teaching authority. Dogmas are those doctrines which the Church proposes for belief as formally revealed by God. (Etym. Latin doctrina, teaching.)

Mary Keane | 10/29/2015 - 7:50am

Rather than castigate the NYT for an embarrassing piece about Catholicism, perhaps it would be preferable to characterize Douhat's opinion piece as "one in a series of ill-informed, agenda-laden New York Times publications about Catholicism."

G Miller | 10/29/2015 - 5:16pm

Ms Keane, This is not the first time that Mr. Douthat has written questionably about the Catholic Church. The only blame the NYTimes has in this is letting it be printed. I think their overall coverage of the Church is fair and Maureen O'Dowd, Frank Bruni, and David Brooks, more than compensate for Mr Douthat. (And no, I am not an employee of the NYTimes.)

Richard Murray | 10/29/2015 - 8:14pm

Ms Keane, that is an excellent point. The NYT coverage of Christianity in general, and the Catholic Church in particular, is lopsided and intends harm to the Church.
And G Miller, Dave Brooks writes badly about the Church too. He said silly things about Laudato Si'.

Nick Arthur | 10/28/2015 - 10:38pm

I've noticed that the professional "catholics" like O'malley, Schuth, Faggioli, etc. all have affiliations with non-Church approved - and even LGBT groups that call for gay marriage to be blessed by the Church. Why is that?

Frank Damrell | 10/28/2015 - 8:50pm

Jude writes, "Dogma says that to receive the Holy Eucharist in an unworthy manner (ie with mortal sin, like adultery) is guilty of sacrilege (as understood from Holy Scripture). Dogma says to leave your spouse and marry another is adultery (Christ’s words)." Correct me if I am wrong, but even one who commits a mortal sin can confess with a contrite heart and receive communion. They don't have to wait years for an "annulment" blessed by the Church. So, where in Dogma or scripture is the annulment process explained? Christ does not speak of annulments, but he forgives the adulterer, the thieves and those who killed him and were casting lots for his things. "Father forgive them for they know not what they do." It amazes me that common criminal can confess his sins with a sincere heart and receive the Eucharist; but an emotionally and/or physically abused spouse, or one whose spouse was an unrepentant adulterer, that person cannot find love again and receive Christ's forgiveness without a long drawn procedural investigation with testimony from many over the course of years. That is not Dogma.

Timothy Berryhill | 10/29/2015 - 3:56am

The difference with your examples is that Jesus told the adulterous woman to "go and sin no more". There are necessary adjudications in the process of reconciliation to ensure that a heartfelt and sincere confession is made. Confession is not a 'get out of jail free card', it requires a continuous call to conversion. A priest is not obligated to grant absolution if the necessary elements of a contrite confession and penance don't precede the absolution. For example, if you are not sorry for your sin and don't plan to amend your life a priest cannot grant absolution. In the same way a divorced and remarried person who had a previous valid marriage and did not receive an annulment can receive the sacrament of confession... however they too have to adhere to the call to 'go and sin no more', which means they can't live invalidly remarried, that would be a continuation of mortal sin and an invalid confession.

"Christ did not speak of annulments... That is not Dogma". That seems like a very fundamentalist approach to the scriptures. By virtue of Christ not speaking it he therefore implicitly denies it? Priestly vestments, rosaries, saints feast days, hymnal choices and Federal Reserve Monetary Policy are also things that Christ did not expressly speak of. Does his silence on those subjects preclude that he is implicitly against them? No. Annulments are necessarily administered by the church so as to identify those instances in which a marriage was not valid so a person is not closed from the great gift of the Eucharist or from pursuing a valid marital union.

B Hagel | 10/31/2015 - 11:25am

The woman caught in adultery passage was a trap set for Jesus by the Pharisees. Jesus did not marginalized the woman at the well but gave her his promise of eternal new life, with no strings attached. And not only was she living with a man she was not married to, she had 6 previous marriages. Anthropologists, scripture scholars and theologians constantly advance and develop our understanding of Jesus, his Word, and the Traditions of our faith. Let us allow The Spirit to continue to enlighten us, as He has always done, and continues to do.

Timothy Berryhill | 11/8/2015 - 8:55am

You don't find it particularly worthwhile to mention that Jesus did not forgive the Samaritan woman's sins like the paralyzed man in Mark? Nor does he "promise" her eternal life either. What can be said about the passage is he tells her of the living water, she asks for the living water (“Sir, give me this water, so that I may not be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.”), then he bids her to call her husband. “I do not have a husband.” Then Jesus says, “You are right in saying, ‘I do not have a husband.’ For you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true.” He knew she didn't have a valid husband but asked her anyways. Why? To pre-empt the fact that she was living in sin. In doing so he has exemplified two of the seven spiritual works of mercy: to admonish the sinner and bear wrongs patiently. At no time did he ever forgive her sins or tell her she had eternal life (least of all with no strings attached), regardless of the tone of the conversation. This passage is a call to conversion to the Gentiles- Jesus is proclaiming that drinking of the living water is available to all who will accept it regardless of heritage (Jew or gentile), that salvation is not found in blood ties. This makes available the great mercy given to all of God's people in the most holy sacrifice of our Lord on the cross. For if we are given salvation without penance or a call to conversion then Jesus literally died for nothing- at all times we are called to continued conversion through living the Gospel message by implementing the corporal and spiritual works of mercy as exemplified by our Lord and worshiping our Lord by being a party to the most holy sacrifice of the Eucharist in the mass.

On a separate note: can you quote me the scripture scholars and theologians who say that the passage on the woman at the well is really about Jesus promising eternal life with no strings attached? Preferably a scholar recognized by he Holy See and not an experimental theologian. I've only ever heard that interpretation of scripture well outside of Catholic teaching and never has that interpretation been recognized by the Holy See. Any person can claim revelation through the Holy Spirit but only the Seat of Peter and the Church established thereby can recognize those holy truths.

Guillermo Reyes | 10/28/2015 - 3:46pm

"Above all - Charity"

"25 To conclude this Prologue, it is fitting to recall this pastoral principle stated by the Roman Catechism:

The whole concern of doctrine and its teaching must be directed to the love that never ends. Whether something is proposed for belief, for hope or for action, the love of our Lord must always be made accessible, so that anyone can see that all the works of perfect Christian virtue spring from love and have no other objective than to arrive at love.19"

From the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Prologue, Paragraph 25:

Jude Rodriguez | 10/28/2015 - 10:25am

Dogma is doctrine, formally called Doctrine of Divine Faith. The other is Doctrine of Catholic Faith. The first is revealed by God, the second is given to us through Church Infallibility (fyi, Church Infallibility is ‘dogma’), that may or may not be later revealed by God.

Either way, both Doctrine of Divine Faith (dogma) and Doctrine of Catholic Faith, require belief and obedience. So, as the author stated, dogma is the stuff you have to accept if you are going to call yourself Catholic, but dogma is only part of all the Doctrines that must be accepted.

Dogma says that to receive the Holy Eucharist in an unworthy manner (ie with mortal sin, like adultery) is guilty of sacrilege (as understood from Holy Scripture). Dogma says to leave your spouse and marry another is adultery (Christ’s words).

Logical connection is: Leaving your spouse to marry another is a mortal sin (dogma) + to receive Holy Eucharist with a mortal sin on your soul is also a mortal sin (dogma) = Divorced and remarried Catholics cannot receive communion (Doctrine of Catholic Faith)

Now, for that which has changed within the Church, albeit slowly and over time, would be ecclesiastical practices, as provided by the Catechism of the Catholic Church. (Such practices as, say priestly celibacy). But the Holy Eucharist, recounted thru Holy Scripture (dogma) and the requirement to be without mortal sin to receive It as directed in Holy Scripture (dogma) is not an ecclesiastical practice.

Nowhere in Dogma, Doctrine of Catholic Faith, or Catechism of the Catholic Church does it say that a deacon, priest, bishop, or pope can change what is revealed by God or what is logically connected to what is revealed by God. No matter what you call it- compassion, pastoral care, “being more welcoming” or “A better understanding of doctrine”, or whatever.

Brian McDonough | 10/28/2015 - 10:22am

Regarding those Bishops who opposed Francis at the Synod, he has the numbers in his favor. Francis not only "holds the cards," he is the "House."

Francis has appointed 32 Cardinals since February 22, 2014 or about 16 Cardinals a year. 18 of them are younger than 70, and 26 are younger than 80. Francis need only appoint 35 more Cardinals younger than 80 to have appointed 61 Cardinals younger than 80, and he will have appointed a majority of the 120 Cardinals younger than 80 who shall elect his successor.

It is probable that Francis will reach that number over the next 3 years because 46 current Cardinals are over 85, and 22 of those are over 90. The probability that some of these Cardinals sadly may die over the next few years is relatively high, and Francis shall appoint their successors. Francis may also create new Cardinals in places where none existed because he already has done this 5 times.

This Bishop of Rome also has been and shall continue to appoint Progressive Bishops and Archbishops [as he just did with Fr. Zuppi in Bologna and Fr. Lorefice in Palermo], some of whom he shall elevate to Cardinals.

Finally, if Francis is Pope another 5 years, then 46 of the current Cardinals, who were NOT appointed by Francis, shall be over 80 and unable to vote for a new Pope in 5 years. In 5 years, only 44 of the current Cardinals, who were NOT appointed by Francis, shall be younger than 80 and still be able to vote for Francis' successor; and many of them are Progressive because they voted for Francis as Pope.

Therefore, Francis' successor shall be as Progressive as, or more Progressive than, Francis. It is written in the numbers.

Francis not only "playa the game," he decides who "playa the game" that chooses his successor.

Nick Arthur | 10/28/2015 - 10:40pm

and that is frightening.

Brian McDonough | 10/28/2015 - 9:21am

If you want to read how Papal mainstream Francis is on Social Justice issues, consider reading the 600++ page text, PAPAL TEACHINGS ON ECONOMIC JUSTICE which is found at the very, very bottom of this page:

If you want to read how Biblically mainstream" the PAPAL TEACHINGS ON ECONOMIC JUSTICE are, consider watching and listening to [music] the following 4 YouTube videos:

Francis is as Communist, Marxist, Liberal and Progressive as the Old Testament, the New Testament and at least 9 Popes before him.

Henry George | 10/28/2015 - 12:42am

Can anyone give me an absolute distinction between Dogma and Doctrine ?

If you believe, as I think we must as Christians, that Jesus Christ is the only Son of the Living God,

then what Jesus said about Marriage and Divorce would have to be accepted as the norm for the Church.

Thus is not Jesus speaking "Dogmatically" about the "Doctrine of Marriage" ?

So are the Bishops free to water down/modify/charitably change the teaching of Jesus on Marriage ?

I do not know.

I do know it is a horrible experience to be alone in this life and if your spouse abandoned the marriage,

through no fault of your own, making it clear that they are never coming back, then it seems to me that

Jesus would allow that wronged spouse to be remarried - nice if the Church grants an annulment -

but is it a mortal sin not to want to go through life alone and to want to receive the Body of Christ ?

J Cosgrove | 10/28/2015 - 10:54am

I have come across more than once situations where one of the partners in marriage had from the start, attitudes that were not conducive to a valid marriage. More than a few I have met told me that they only went through the marriage ceremony because of outside pressure and if they could have waived a magic wand would have cancelled the ceremony. One woman told me her mother forced her into the ceremony. Then there was the case where one said she was very uncertain about the marriage on the day she was married but turned out to be the best decision she ever made.

Others have said to me or another they never wanted children even thought they wanted to go through with the marriage.

I am sure there are other attitudes that prevent a valid contract but someone told me that the two situations above were not enough to invalidate the marriage.

Somehow the Church should be more explicit about what constitutes a valid marriage.

Timothy Berryhill | 10/28/2015 - 3:43am

That's an interesting dilemma you've posed. On the one hand you've identified that there is very clear teaching (straight from the source of sources, Jesus) on our definition and understanding of marriage. On the other hand you've also identified the misfortune of people slighted by a spouse and their lives after the fact (of which my mother is a party to). At the same time though, it has to be asked of formerly married persons: did you take an oath before God to love and cherish for better or for worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and health, till death do you part? That's a very specific set of words that has huge implications and even bigger obligations- even in spite of a spouse that is for worse, and poorer, and sick (mentally included). When God called to Cain and asked "where is your brother Abel?", Cain replied "am I my brothers keeper?" When we take insincere oaths we further Cain's unholy reply. Most certainly a wayward spouse has a lot to answer for, but does that fact negate our covenant oath to love and cherish even in the most dire of marital situations? Let's continue to ask for the guidance and intercession of the saints, Joseph and Mary in particular whose holy family produced the light of the world.

Henry George | 1/10/2016 - 7:56pm

If one spouse is faithful to the marriage, yet the other spouse abandons the marriage and makes it clear
that they never entered honestly into the marriage, should the abandoned spouse be allowed to remarry ?
What is an annulment but an acknowledging that the first marriage was not an honest marriage ?

ROBERT STEWART | 10/27/2015 - 9:15pm

I have never found Douthat's articles in the NY Times helpful when discussing matters relating to the Church and leadership in the Church. His failure in understanding and articulating the distinction between dogma and doctrine is not surprising, but it is symptomatic of the problem with so much of his writing on the Church as well as other issues.

His failure to master the facts on various subjects has, to my knowledge, never impeded his pontificating on the op-ed pages of the NY Times. Ideology routinely prevails, and he, unfortunately, frequently violates the Moynihan rule (the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan of New York): "Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts."

My recommendation: Read Douthat with great caution.

Guillermo Reyes | 10/27/2015 - 11:15pm

It is marvelous to see the names of professors and teachers from prestigious, scholary Catholic Universities who teach faith and reason in such forums. Blessed are the students to be so fortunate to receive such an education! Truly fortunate!

Many of us lament the lack of intellectual discourse that one sees today: people with keyboard and internet access give new meaning to the "pen is mightier than the sword" yet in these scenarios, people who lack any formal training in Catholic intellectual thought toss all reason to the wind, thinking their opinions carry as much weight as those who's intellectual formation has been formed in the crucible of many arduous years of studying truly complex Catholic works and skilled authors. Pick up Bonaveture, Anselm or Augustine and see if you can make much sense of these solo. Praise God for the gift of Catholic Universites.

A "convert" such as Ross, especially at his young age, knows better than to cast his words with such hubris. Pride, as we all know, was the reason Lucifer was cast from Heaven and is the worst of all Cardinal Sins.

"He who has ears to hear, let him listen"
Gospel of St Matthew 11:15



alan macdonald | 10/27/2015 - 6:59pm

A quick look at the universities these people represent is a who's who of anti-Catholic policies. They all have staff and events that support same sex marriage, abortion and female ordination. These schools are about as Catholic as UCLA.

Alan Mitchell | 10/29/2015 - 7:07pm

Alan MacDonald

The signers listed their institutional affiliation. Where did you get your harebrained idea that they are associated with the issues you identify. Isn't Detraction still a sin? Your ad hominem has no basis in fact.

joseph o'leary | 10/27/2015 - 2:49pm

"An unlikely buddy cop pair of divinities who share a wacky pet dove"? What are you trying to do, make us all lighten up for a brief moment? (Thank you!)

Robert Lewis | 10/27/2015 - 11:04am

This is a lie: Sullivan did NOT suggest that Pope Benedict was engaged in a "homosexual affair" with Ganswein. Sullivan suggested that, based on certain observable affinities, Benedict might easily be perceived as having a preference for members of his same sex. He did reference Ganswein as somebody Benedict might be attracted to. The rather vicious suggestion made by the commentator above is that being "same-sex-attracted" automatically means "engaging in a homosexual affair." This kind of accusation is gay-bashing at its worst because it leaves the "same-sex-attracted" nowhere to go in the Church, even if they DO conform absolutely to the Church's rule regarding how a "gay" person should "bear his/her cross." What does it matter, to Sullivan or anybody else, if a pope or a bishop is "gay" so long as he is chaste and celibate?--unless he or she, as Sullivan DOES suggest (with ample justification, I should add) that the person suffers from so much "gay panic" that he goes way beyond what the Church used to call "the pastoral care of those suffering from same-sex-attraction," to so actively persecute those of his own temperament as to label them as "intrinsically disordered"?

Joshua DeCuir | 10/27/2015 - 11:49am

I suppose that by "observable affinities" you mean stereotyping?

And here's what Sullivan actually said in one of his posts in reference to Ganswein & Benedict: "This man – clearly in some kind of love with Ratzinger (and vice-versa) will now be working for the new Pope as secretary in the day and spending the nights with the Pope Emeritus. This is not the Vatican. It’s Melrose Place."

Robert Lewis | 10/27/2015 - 12:27pm

I don't like Sullivan's innuendo there, but it's a long way from saying that there was any kind of sexual connection. A same-sex desire, maybe, but that STILL does not amount to a sin, to a "sexual act." You also are forgetting that, by Ecclesiastic distinction, there is NOTHING "sinful" (meaning, in this case, genitally sexual) in "some kind of love." Considering how close they were for years, I certainly HOPE that Ganswein loves the emeritus pope.


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